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Netanyahu touts ‘initiative’ to free hostages in Gaza as pressure mounts

Israel has offered a two-month ceasefire to Hamas as part of a prospective hostage deal, Axios reported Monday, citing two unnamed Israeli officials.

The proposal comes after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas’ call for an end to the Gaza war in exchange for the release of hostages held there, as he faces increasing public pressure to bring the captives home.

In order to release the remaining hostages, Netanyahu said Hamas was demanding an end to the war, the release of Palestinian prisoners and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. “I work on this around the clock. But to be clear: I reject outright the terms of surrender of the monsters of Hamas,” he said in a statement on Sunday, adding that agreeing to the terms goes against Israel’s security.

“If we agree to this, our soldiers fell in vain. If we agree to this, we will not be able to guarantee the security of our citizens,” the Prime Minister said.

Netanyahu has since told families of the remaining Israeli hostages in Gaza that Israel has an “initiative” to secure the release of those abducted – but that there is “no real proposal” from Hamas that would advance their freedom, according to the prime minister’s office.

According to the Axios report, Israel’s latest proposal envisions the release of all remaining hostages and hostage bodies in multiple phases, in exchange for Palestinian detainees imprisoned in Israel.

It would also see Israel move its forces out of main population centers and allow “a gradual return of Palestinian civilians to Gaza city and the northern Gaza strip.”

Out of the 253 hostages Israel says Hamas seized on October 7, Israel believes that 132 are still in Gaza, of whom 104 are thought to be alive.

The Wall Street Journal report has reported that the US, Egypt and Qatar want Israel to join a new phase of talks with Hamas that would start with the release of hostages and lead to the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

These developments come amid deepening divisions within Israel’s war cabinet about whether to prioritize bringing hostages home over defeating Hamas, and as thousands protested over the weekend in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu’s handling of the war.

War cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot last week suggested that the key war aim of defeating Hamas is unrealistic and called for elections within months. Eisenkot also said the government had failed to achieve what he says should be its highest priority: securing the release of the hostages.

‘You will not sit here while they die there’

Netanyahu is under mounting pressure from the Israeli public to secure the release of captives in Gaza. On Monday, more than a dozen people, including families of the hostages, forced their way into a meeting held by the Israeli parliament’s finance committee. The protesters held placards that read: “You will not sit here while they die there.”

Video of the scene showed security officers trying to remove the protesters amid shouting and jostling.

“It can’t go on like this. You’d better know. It can’t go on like this. You will not sit here while our children die there,” shouted one protester. There were no reports of arrests inside the parliament, known as the Knesset.

Israeli police said that in a separate demonstration dozens of protesters had blocked the entrance to the Knesset, “violating public order.” That protest called for an immediate election, and included some of the families of those killed on October 7.

After some refused to leave, a police officer announced a dispersal order, according to an Israeli police statement.

A slim majority (53%) said Netanyahu’s personal interests were the main consideration driving his conduct of the war and a third (33%) said the national interest was his main consideration.

It has been more than three months since Israel launched its war against Hamas, which came in response to the group’s brutal October 7 attack that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza on Sunday surpassed 25,000, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry in the enclave.

Netanyahu reiterated his rejection of future Palestinian sovereignty over the occupied territories on Saturday after talks with US President Joe Biden about Gaza’s future. The White House has been pushing Israel to recognize the need for the Palestinians to establish an independent state in areas Israel captured in the 1967 war.

“I will not compromise on full Israeli security control over all the territory west of Jordan – and this is contrary to a Palestinian state,” Netanyahu said in a post Saturday on X.

The Prime Minister’s public rejection of a Palestinian state has placed him at odds with Israel’s staunchest ally, which has long advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Several European foreign ministers have also joined the chorus of criticism directed at Netanyahu over Israel’s opposition to a two-state solution. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Monday that Israel’s opposition to a two-state solution is “unacceptable” and Israel cannot expect countries to drop the issue.

This story has been updated.

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