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Two Israeli ministers air differences over Gaza truce deal

By AFP

April 28, 2024 10:56 PM


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Two Israeli ministers publicly opposed a Gaza truce deal Sunday, saying Benjamin Netanyahu's government had no right to exist if it failed to invade Rafah, Hamas's last bastion in the Palestinian territory.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz called for Hamas to be destroyed, as planned by the government when it went to war after the Islamist movement's October 7 attack.

"If you decide to raise a white flag and cancel the plan to occupy Rafah aimed at destroying Hamas to restore security to Israel, then the government headed by you will have no right to exist," Smotrich wrote on X, addressing the premier.

"The Egyptian deal is a humiliating surrender... it sentences the hostages to death, and above all, constitutes an immediate existential danger to the state of Israel."

Gantz, a former army chief, and defense minister, also pushed for Rafah to be invaded.

"Entering Rafah is important in the long struggle against Hamas," he said in a statement issued by his party.

"If a responsible outline for the return of hostages backed by the entire defense establishment is achieved, which doesn't entail ending the war, and the ministers who led the government on October 7 prevent it -- the government will not have the right to continue to exist."

Diplomatic efforts have intensified to reach a truce and hostage-release deal in Gaza amid growing calls against a ground assault on Rafah.

Netanyahu has vowed to send troops into Rafah, where more than 1.5 million civilians have taken refuge, but is under tremendous international and domestic pressure to strike a deal to free the hostages.

A Hamas delegation will arrive in Egypt on Monday to deliver the group's response to Israel's new hostage and truce proposal that is reportedly backed by Egypt, a senior Hamas official told AFP.

The Axios news website, citing two Israeli officials, reported that Israel's latest proposal includes a willingness to discuss the "restoration of sustainable calm" in Gaza after hostages are released.

It is the first time in the nearly seven-month war that Israeli leaders have suggested they are open to discussing an end to the war, Axios said.

Egypt, Qatar, and the United States have been trying to mediate a new truce ever since a one-week halt to the fighting in November saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Israel estimates that 129 hostages seized on October 7 are still being held in Gaza, including 34 the military says are dead.

Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack resulted in the deaths of about 1,170 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 34,454 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


AFP


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