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Netanyahu says Israel won't 'pay any price' for release of Gaza hostages

February 20, 2024 at 9:23 pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said on Tuesday that Israel would not pay any price for the return of hostages still held in Gaza, amid ongoing negotiations to secure their release, Reuters reports.

Asked about the 134 hostages who remain in Gaza, Smotrich told Kan Radio that their return was “very important” but that they could not be released “at any cost”.

He said the way to free them was by ramping up the military pressure on Gaza and defeating Hamas, the  group that governs the blockaded Strip.

His remarks drew rebukes from opposition leader, Yair Lapid, and Minister Benny Gantz and angered some families of hostages who have been trying to up the pressure on the government to strike a deal.

But shortly after the radio interview, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office published a statement echoing Smotrich’s position.

“There is a lot of pressure on Israel from home and abroad to stop the war before we achieve all of our goals, including a deal to release the hostages at any cost,” Netanyahu said. “We are not willing to pay any price, certainly not the delusional cost that Hamas demands of us, which would mean defeat for the state of Israel.”

The remarks came as the United States plans to send its Middle East envoy to the region for continued talks between the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar that seek to broker a ceasefire and the release of hostages.

Israel said 1,200 people were killed and 253 more were abducted into Gaza during the 7 October Hamas-led attack on its towns. Since then, Israel’s air, ground and sea offensive has killed nearly 29,000 Palestinians with thousands more trapped under the rubble, according to Palestinian authorities, and laid much of the blockaded enclave to waste.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

The most significant release of hostages has, so far, happened during the only, week-long negotiated pause in the war in November, when Hamas freed 110 Israelis and foreigners it had captured.

READ: Qatar says Hamas confirms receipt of medical supplies for Gaza hostages