Netanyahu: 'Israel will not submit to delusional demands of Hamas'

An Israeli tank holds a position, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border, in Israel, March 26, 2024. [Reuters]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Tuesday to push forward with his campaign to eliminate the Hamas militant group, while also criticizing a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

"Israel will not submit to the delusional demands of Hamas and will continue to act to achieve all the goals of the war: to release all the abductees, to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel," Netanyahu said in a statement.

Hamas officials said Monday they told negotiators working on a temporary cease-fire deal that Hamas would not alter its proposal that includes a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and an exchange of hostages held in Gaza for prisoners held by Israel.

Also Tuesday, a senior Israeli official told Reuters that Israel had recalled its negotiators from Qatar after reaching "a dead end" in talks to release the more than 100 hostages still being held by Hamas. Israel believes more than 30 other Israelis taken on October 7 have died.

In Tel Aviv, about 300 family members of hostages and their supporters gathered outside the Israeli defense headquarters demanding a deal be reached on releasing the hostages. Some at the protest locked themselves inside cages and held placards with photos of their loved ones.

The two warring sides have shown little movement in their demands despite weeks of efforts by U.S., Egyptian and Qatari negotiators to find a way to bring a temporary halt in fighting, the release of hostages and an increase in badly needed humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.

Netanyahu said Tuesday that the Hamas position proves the terror group "is not interested in continuing negotiations for a deal and is an unfortunate testimony to the damage of the Security Council's decision."

The Security Council resolution adopted Monday "demands" an immediate cease-fire for the month of Ramadan, which is half over, "leading to a lasting sustainable cease-fire." It also demands the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, the lifting of all barriers to the provision of more humanitarian aid, and the protection of civilians in Gaza.

"This must be a turning point. This must lead to saving lives on the ground," an emotional Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, told the council. "This must signal the end of this assault of atrocities against our people."

The text, put forward by the 10 elected members of the 15-nation council, was adopted in a vote of 14 in favor with the United States abstaining, allowing the measure to pass. This was the eighth time the council attempted to agree on a cease-fire resolution, and it was greeted with applause in the packed council chamber.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Washington abstained because, while some of their proposals were taken into account, the text did not include a condemnation of Hamas — a major U.S. demand throughout months of negotiations on previous failed cease-fire resolution attempts.

"However, as I said before, we fully support some of the critical objectives in this non-binding resolution. And we believe it was important for the Council to speak out and make clear that any cease-fire must come with the release of all hostages," she said.

U.N. Security Council resolutions are international law, so it was not immediately clear why she believes it is not binding. Other council members reiterated that council decisions are binding and mandatory.

Military talks in Washington

Meanwhile, there was no halt in the fighting. Israel's military reported Tuesday conducting more operations around the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, as well as ground fighting and airstrikes in central Gaza.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held talks Tuesday with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

The Pentagon said the meeting was expected to include discussion of efforts to secure the release of the remaining hostages held in Gaza as well as the need for more humanitarian aid to reach civilians in Gaza.

"In Gaza today, the number of civilian casualties is far too high and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low," Austin said at the start of the meeting.

Other senior Israeli officials had been expected to take part in separate meetings at the White House, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled their trip Monday after the U.S. did not block the Gaza cease-fire proposal.

"We are very disappointed that they will not be coming to Washington, D.C., to allow us to have a fulsome conversation with them about viable alternatives to going in on the ground in Rafah," Kirby told reporters at the White House.

The United States has made it clear it will not support an Israeli attack on Rafah, near the Gaza-Egypt border, without a plan to protect civilians there. Israel has said it has a plan but has not publicly said where the Palestinians sheltering there would be relocated.

More than 1.2 million Palestinians have fled there on orders from Israeli forces who told them to leave their homes in northern Gaza as Israeli troops advanced in the earlier stages of the war.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has contended that "we have no way to defeat Hamas without getting into Rafah and eliminating the battalions that are left there."

The war started with the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people according to Israeli tallies and led to the capture of about 250 hostages. More than 100 were released in November during a temporary cease-fire.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip says more than 32,200 people have been killed during Israel's counteroffensive. The total includes Hamas fighters and civilians, with the ministry saying two-thirds of the dead are women and children.

Also on Tuesday, the U.N.'s top Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, briefed the council at its regular meeting on its 2016 resolution on the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.

From Dec. 8 to March 18, Wennesland said, Israel has advanced or approved more than 5,000 housing units in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Additionally, 300 Palestinian-owned buildings were demolished.

"I remain deeply troubled by the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem," he told the council in a briefing from Jerusalem. "The ever-expanding settlement footprint, including outposts, further entrenches the occupation, while severely impeding the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination."