Israel insists its campaign against Hamas won’t end before the Palestinian militant organization capitulates and returns all the people it took captive over three months ago, a senior official said, despite mounting international pressure to wind down the offensive.
“We have to have the total surrender of Hamas, we have to have our hostages back,” Nir Barkat, Israel’s economy and industry minister, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Monday. “Hamas has to raise a white flag.”
Israel has suggested it has little appetite to ease off the offensive in Gaza that began after Hamas attacked from the territory on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people in southern Israel and taking around 230 hostage. The military pulled some forces out of Gaza earlier this month and said it accomplished much of what it set out to do in the northern part of the Hamas-controlled territory.
Even so, fighting continues to rage in the enclave and Israeli officials have said it could continue for months, if not longer. Much of the Gaza Strip has been reduced to rubble and more than 24,000 people have died, according to health officials there.
Israel’s focusing most of its ground and air offensive on the center and south of the strip at the moment.
Barkat, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, sees “no other alternative” to the complete defeat of the group, designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union. Some Arab states have said signaled that, given Hamas’s deep roots within Gaza and the fact it’s run the territory since 2007, it will have to have some post-war role.
“We have to look at somebody out there that is going to recognize Israel, that doesn’t want to slaughter and kill and wipe Israel off the map,” Barkat said.
Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and does not recognize the Jewish state.
Barkat said it’s “difficult to tell” if there would be elections in Israel this year. Netanyahu’s poll numbers have dived since Hamas’s attack and his coalition, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, contains many extremist parties unwilling to countenance any steps toward an eventual two-state solution with the Palestinians, something the U.S. and Israel’s European allies are calling for.
“Leave all this to the end of the war,” he said. “Everyone here understands that we’re all united. We’re focusing on one major thing: winning the war and bringing our hostages back.”
Barkat said Israel’s economy should see a quick rebound after the war, with the focus now on growth, tech investment and defense spending. The “smart money” is continue to flow into Israel, he said.
With the U.S. and its allies having conducted airstrikes against the Houthis to counter their shipping attacks, Barakat said the Yemeni militants are now are a “global challenge.” They operate, he said, in alignment with Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, movements backed, armed and funded by Iran.
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