Israel-Hamas War Live News: Nasser Hospital ‘Not Functional,’ WHO Director Says

Israeli soldiers near the Gaza Strip this week.Credit…Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Saturday that talks to reach a cease-fire and hostage-release deal were at an impasse and that his government was pushing ahead with plans for a ground offensive in Rafah in Gaza despite mounting international warnings over the possible humanitarian cost.

At a news conference in Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu said Hamas had refused to budge on what he called its “ludicrous demands” at a recent round of indirect talks in Cairo mediated by Qatar, Egypt and the United States. Those demands included leaving Hamas in power in Gaza, a full Israeli withdrawal and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, he said.

Both Hamas and Israeli delegations visited Cairo this week to discuss advancing a possible deal. Neither side sits down with the other during the indirect talks; instead, mediators like Qatar and Egypt act as middlemen, passing messages back and forth. Mr. Netanyahu said the Israeli delegation had been instructed to “sit down and listen” to see if Hamas had retreated from its position.

“There was no change — I mean, not even a millimeter, a nanometer,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding: “There’s no reason to go back there until we see a change.”

Nor will Israel compromise on its intention to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Mr. Netanyahu said, where roughly 1.4 million people are now sheltering in crowded homes, schools and tent camps close to the Egyptian border. Israel has battered the city with airstrikes since the beginning of the war but has yet to deploy ground troops there in force.

Mr. Netanyahu reiterated his pledge that any civilians would first be evacuated to safe zones, suggesting that there was plenty of space north of Rafah to which they could evacuate. He also conceded that the plan had evoked “a lot of opposition abroad.”

“Those who want to prevent us from operating in Rafah are essentially telling us: ‘Lose the war,’” Mr. Netanyahu insisted. “We will not bow to any pressure. We will not bow, because we are a nation of heroes,” he added.

U.S. officials have repeatedly urged Israel not to operate in Rafah without a “credible and executable plan” to ensure the safety of the Palestinian civilians sheltering there. Intensified military action there could also pose a risk to the lives of the over 100 remaining hostages in Gaza, an unknown number of whom are in Rafah.

On Friday, President Biden said he hoped Israel would not send ground forces into Rafah before there was a deal on a cease-fire and the release of hostages. The remaining hostages include both American citizens and other foreign nationals, according to the U.S. and Israeli authorities.

“I’m still hopeful that can be done,” said Mr. Biden, referring to a deal securing the release of the remaining hostages. “And in the meantime, I don’t anticipate — I’m hoping — that the Israelis will not make any massive land invasion.”

About 250 Israelis and foreign nationals were abducted by Hamas-led fighters during the Oct. 7 attack. Roughly 112 hostages have been released so far, the vast majority during a short truce that began in late November. Israeli troops have also found the corpses of at least eight others, and the bodies of at least 30 are believed to still be held by their captors, according to Israeli officials. That would leave around 100 alive, most of them men who are Israeli citizens.

Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-line stance on negotiations is not shared by all Israelis.

Two Israeli hostages rescued earlier this week in an Israeli raid into Rafah called on the Israeli government to return to the talks. The men — Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70 — had been abducted from Nir Yitzhak, a kibbutz near the Gaza border.

“It is not possible to return the remaining 134 hostages through heroic operations,” the two men said in a statement with three former hostages. “Only through a deal can everyone be brought home.”

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