Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the United Nations and human rights organisations for taking over 50 days to condemn “unparalleled brutality” by Hamas terrorists against women during the October 7 massacre at a press conference at the Kirya in Tel Aviv this week.
Netanyahu was speaking after meeting families of hostages released with the War Cabinet. He heard heartbreaking stories of “mental and physical abuse”, children “whispering out of fear” and a “great darkness” of loved ones held in captivity.
“Up until a few days ago, I did not hear the women’s organisations, I did not hear the UN, I did not hear them crying out,” Netanyahu said. “I expect all civilised leaders, governments, nations, to speak up against this atrocity.”
Last week’s truce saw the return of 110 hostages following a ground incursion and diplomatic efforts. Over 130 hostages remain in captivity in Gaza, 84 IDF soldiers have been killed in operations.
Regarding the hostages, Netanyahu understood an “unbearable difficulty” for families.
He said, “Getting all of our hostages back home is one of the three supreme objectives that were set in the war, and those objectives serve one another.” Netanyahu added: “We will spare no effort to return their loved ones. We check every piece of information. There is a vast intelligence effort dealing only with this, around the clock. We are working to bring all of our hostages home safely.”
Past days have seen the IDF resume operations across Hamas strongholds, Jabalyia and Shajaiya in the north and Khan Yunis in the south.
The IDF continues its call for civilian evacuations to avoid casualties in Gaza. Troops have reportedly discovered 800 tunnel shafts and destroyed 500 in northern Gaza. It’s been reported this may represent a ‘fraction of the network’.
Bicom have observed Khan Yunis to be the ‘most fortified concentration of Hamas’s military forces’ including four 24 battalions. Tunnels are thought to extend to Rafah and could be a location of hostages, making any military operation ‘complicated’.
Netanyahu confirmed troops had killed “roughly half” of Hamas’s battalion commanders.
“We’re setting accounts with everyone who slaughtered our people,” he said.
Despite intense fighting, Hamas has launched rocket attacks against Israeli communities but they have suffered significant losses.
The IDF Southern Command estimate 6,000 Hamas fighters killed and thousands wounded.
Netanyahu explained: “Hamas tried to break us up, we will break it up. Many of the murderers were from the Sajaiya Battalion, they broke through the fence, went to nearby communities and perpetrated these atrocities. At the start of the week, we eliminated the commander of the battalion. We are settling accounts with all those who abducted, who were involved, who murdered the daughters and sons of our people. We will neither forgive nor forget.
“We have ordered the IDF to continue the war. Our soldiers are expanding the ground operation against Hamas throughout the Gaza Strip. The ground shook in Khan Yunis and Jebaliya. We have encircled both. There is no place we cannot reach. We took control of the base of Hamas General Security. Our brave soldiers are fighting the murderers with great force. They are conducting face-to-face battles. They are eliminating many terrorists around the clock. In every battle we have the upper hand. We are fighting until the end, until absolute victory. But all of this has an unbearable price.”
He added: “We will fight until we achieve all of our goals, returning all of the hostages, eliminating Hamas and ensuring that Gaza never again constitutes a threat to Israel. There will be no element there that supports terrorism, educates terrorism, finances terrorism and the terrorists’ families.”
Netanyahu added that the IDF would ensure ‘the day after Hamas’ Gaza must be demilitarised.
“No international force can be responsible for this,” he said. “We have seen what has happened in other places where they brought in international forces for the goal of demilitarisation. I am not prepared to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement. I again call on the civilian population in Gaza to leave the areas in which we are fighting Hamas.”
Netanyahu told allies pressing for a quick end to the war: “Our only way to end the war, and end it quickly, is to apply crushing pressure against Hamas and destroy it. If our friends want to help shorten the war they need to stand steadfast alongside us.”
Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant told the briefing: “Two months ago, at the start of the war, Hamas thought that the outcome would be different. The results are very significant, impressive and accurate. We are operating forcefully. Unfortunately, in times of war, prices are extremely heavy. Each and every fallen soldier is dear to family, friends, to us as a nation and the defence establishment. Our victory must be total, precise.
“Five days have passed since the ground manoeuvre began in its second stage. Hamas terrorists understand there is no one to come to their aid, neither the Iranians nor Hezbollah. Their fate depends on one thing, the force employed by the IDF. Our achievement in the north will be duplicated. We will hit the entire chain of command, their infrastructure, weapon storages and ammunition.”
He added: “Lately, I have been asked whether we have the legitimacy to continue fighting. There is only one legitimate thing to do, to win against Hamas, to eliminate them, destroy their governing and military capabilities and bring the hostages home. Their pain and stories are difficult to hear. We will make every effort to bring all the hostages home. It is our duty as a nation.”
Gallant concluded: “We are fighting a just war. We are fighting an unavoidable war and we must win in order to continue leading the lives we want in this region. This is why we will take all measures, we will harness all the layers of the public, we will mobilise the IDF and ensure that when this war ends, Hamas will cease to exist in the Gaza strip as an organisation.”
Netanyahu welcomed ‘sky high’ enlistment of conscripts and reservists when he met IDF recruits for combat positions at Tel Hashomer induction centre earlier this week. Reporting for reserve duty has been the highest since the Yom Kippur War. There has also been increased ultra-orthodox recruits.
He said: “We are going to defeat our enemies and wipe out this intolerable enemy. Each one of you will discover where you can contribute. Even though you may be 40 and have children, you have come here to enlist with a kipa on your head. That says everything. This is enlisting for the common good. With G-d’s help, together we will win.”
Netanyahu answered questions about the war in Gaza and enlistment.
Addressing Armoured Corps and Givati Brigade recruits, he noted: “There is a challenge here to the existence of the state. The enlistment of you and reservists will tip the scales. As you watch over the country, watch out for each other. When I send you and your comrades to battle, I think of two things, how this mission will serve the goals of the war and do our utmost to watch over you.”
Netanyahu added: “We are committed to restoring security in the south and north. I can tell you that we are erasing Hamas but there are rules of war and we are honouring them.”
President Isaac Herzog, meantime, met with US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv following COP28.
Herzog welcomed support from the US President Joe Biden’s administration and spoke about the death Henry Kissinger who laid down foundations of a peace agreement with Egypt.
This was Blinken’s fourth visit to Israel since the October 7 massacre.
“I look forward to detailed conversations with the Government of Israel about the way ahead in Gaza,” he said. “The US supports Israel and its right to defend itself.”
Netanyahu and War Cabinet members met Blinken in Jerusalem.