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No end until Hamas destroyed: Israeli PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a permanent truce is not possible before Hamas is destroyed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a permanent truce is not possible before Hamas is destroyed. Photo: AAP

Israel says there will be no formal end to the Gaza war as long as Hamas retains power, raising questions of timing and interpretation over a truce offer advanced by US President Joe Biden and provisionally welcomed by the Palestinian faction.

Biden said on Friday that Israel had proposed a deal involving an initial six-week ceasefire with a partial Israeli military withdrawal and the release of some hostages while “a permanent end to hostilities” is negotiated through mediators.

The proposal, Biden said, also “creates a better ‘day after’ in Gaza without Hamas in power”.

He did not elaborate on how that might be achieved.

The militant group has given no indication it might step aside or disarm voluntarily.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Saturday any notion that Israel would agree a permanent ceasefire before “the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities” was “a non-starter”.

Hamas said on Friday it was ready to engage “positively and in a constructive manner”.

But senior official Mahmoud Mardawi told Qatari television that it had not yet received details of the proposal.

“No agreement can be reached before the demand for the withdrawal of the occupation army and a ceasefire is met,” he said.

Later on Saturday, the United States, Qatar and Egypt urged Hamas and Israel to finalise an agreement “embodying the principles” for an end to the Gaza war outlined by Biden.

Talks mediated by Egypt and Qatar with US backing have stumbled for months over a clash in core positions.

Israel has been willing only to suspend the war in exchange for hostages, saying it would resume the campaign to eliminate the Hamas threat.

Hamas wants any deal to entail concrete Israeli moves to end the war, like a full troop withdrawal.

A senior US government official, asked about a potential rift in the US and Israeli viewpoints on the future of Hamas, suggested this may be open to interpretation and would come down to future Egyptian and Qatari sway over the movement.

“I have no doubt that the deal will be characterised by Israel and be characterised by Hamas,” the official told reporters.

The war began on October 7 when Hamas-led Palestinian fighters rampaged into southern Israel from Gaza, killing more than 1200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing more than 250 as hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza has left the territory in ruins, led to widespread starvation and killed more than 36,000 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, who say most of the dead are civilians.

More than 290 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the Gaza invasion.

An Israeli public once solidly behind the war is showing signs of fatigue amid worry for the fate of the hostages.

Benny Gantz, a centrist ex-general who joined Netanyahu in an emergency coalition, has threatened to bolt next week if the prime minister does not form a Gaza day-after plan with him.

But in a possible sign that that could be deferred, Gantz on Saturday voiced appreciation for Biden and called for the Israeli war cabinet to be convened “to decide the next steps”.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said he expected the war to continue for the rest of 2024, at least.

Netanyahu’s office said he had accepted an invitation to address both houses of Congress by top US lawmakers – which would make him the first foreign leader to make such an appearance four times.

In another post, Netanyahu said he felt honoured and would use the opportunity to tell “the representatives of the American people and the entire world the truth about our righteous war against those who seek our destruction”.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to agree a hostages and ceasefire deal, saying his party would support it even if ultranationalist factions in the governing religious-nationalist coalition rebelled.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, head of the Religious Zionism party, demanded that the Gaza offensive be pursued until Hamas is destroyed and all hostages are rescued, saying he would not stay in government otherwise.

—AAP

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