Netanyahu rejects Hamas hostage proposal as ‘absurd’, green-lights Rafah operation

More than 100 of the Palestinian prisoners Hamas wants to be released as part of the deal are serving life sentences for murdering Israelis. 

By Vered Weiss, World Israel News

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Hamas version of the Paris hostage deal that would demand the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for 40 Israeli hostages was “still absurd” and approved the IDF plan to operate in Rafah.

On Thursday night, Hamas said it would be willing to release 40 hostages consisting of women, children, elderly men, and ill hostages in exchange for 700 to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, over 100 of whom are serving life sentences for murdering Israelis.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum urged the War Cabinet to agree to the deal.

As part of the deal, civilians would be allowed to return to Northern Gaza and the IDF would withdraw from the north.

Netanyahu called the Hamas demands “ridiculous” on Thursday night before a meeting of Israel’s War Cabinet to discuss the deal on Friday.

He also gave the IDF the go-ahead to operate in Rafah, an operation Netanyahu has said was crucial to Israel winning the war against Hamas.

Netanyahu said, “The IDF is prepared for the operation and to evacuate the [civilian] population.”

The US and Qatar had been pressing for Israel and Hamas to agree to a hostage release and 6-week ceasefire deal before Ramadan, but Hamas insisted there would be no deal without a full ceasefire and a complete withdrawal of IDF troops from Gaza, conditions Israel would not accept.

Despite the impasse between Hamas and Israel on the eve of Ramadan, Qatari and Egyptian officials have been working to close the wide disagreements between both sides.

Israel had agreed to the pre-Ramadan 6-week ceasefire deal which would provide for the release of women, children, elderly and wounded men in exchange for  Palestinian prisoners at a ratio similar to the 3 to 1 arrangement during the hostage release deal in late November.

Egypt wants to secure a 6-week ceasefire deal on Friday which it hopes will transition into a full ceasefire to avoid the IDF operating in Rafah and the potential of a refugee crisis as Palestinian civilians would spill over the border.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi says the agreement would curb ” the impact of this famine on people, and also allowing for the people in the center and the south to move towards the north, with a very strong warning against incursion into Rafah.”

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However, Netanyahu has stressed that the IDF must operate in Rafah to destroy the remaining four Hamas battalions and win the war.

According to one report, the IDF has informed Egypt that it plans to begin pinpointed hostage rescue missions in Rafah, according to Lebanese media outlet Al-Akhbar. 

It is believed that many Israeli hostages are being held in Rafah, and the rescue operations would resemble the one that freed two hostages in early February.