‘Only military pressure’ will secure hostages’ release, says IDF chief

Hamas said it wouldn’t budge on its demands for a ceasefire, including a full withdrawal from Gaza.

By Joshua Marks, JNS

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said on Wednesday that a hostage release deal with Hamas will only come as a result of military pressure.

Addressing IDF commanders in the former Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, Halevi said, “We are pressing to deepen the achievement” of the military operation in Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, “and we are pressing to try to initiate movement in the negotiations, to bring about an agreement for the release of the hostages.”

This, he continued, was “a top priority, very important.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, left, and Commanding Officer of Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, during a situational assessment in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza on April 3, 2024. Credit: IDF.

The hostages’ release will only be attained “through stronger pressure,” he said, adding, “and we will press harder, as much as necessary.”

“Another [Hamas] battalion dismantled, another commander killed, another infrastructure destroyed, this is the way to eventually pressure for the release of the hostages,” he said.

Israeli forces continue to fight across the Gaza Strip nearly six months into the war. They are preparing to enter Rafah city along the Egyptian border, the last Hamas bastion.

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According to Israeli estimates, the final four Hamas battalions, comprising some 3,000 terrorists, are concentrated there.

For its part, Hamas said on Wednesday that the terrorist group will not budge on its demands for a ceasefire agreement, including a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Ismail Haniyeh, who is based in Doha under the protection of the Qatari government, commented in a televised speech ahead of “Quds Day” on Friday that the terrorist group would not change its conditions for deal, which Jerusalem has described as “delusional” and a nonstarter.

“We are committed to our demands: the permanent ceasefire, comprehensive and complete withdrawal of the enemy out of the Gaza Strip, the return of all displaced people to their homes, allowing all aid needed for our people in Gaza, rebuilding the Strip, lifting the blockade and achieving an honorable prisoner exchange deal,” said Haniyeh.

An Israeli delegation was in Cairo earlier this week for another round of talks on securing an agreement, but a Palestinian official told Reuters that there were no indications of a breakthrough in the negotiations.

The Cairo talks build on earlier summits held in Egypt’s capital and also in Paris and Doha in recent months involving American, Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari mediators.

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In Doha, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Wednesday that talks have stalled over the Hamas demand that Gazans be allowed to return to northern Gaza, which Israeli forces evacuated earlier in the war.

Another obstacle to achieving a deal is the Hamas demand that terrorists with life sentences for murdering Israelis be released from prison, he said.

Jerusalem continues to stick with its war goals of returning the hostages, destroying Hamas as a political and military entity in Gaza and ensuring that Gaza can never again threaten Israel.