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DOHA/TEL AVIV, Feb 7 (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected Hamas’ latest offer for a ceasefire and return of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, but U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was still room for negotiation toward an agreement.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza, proposed a ceasefire of 4-1/2 months, during which all hostages would go free, Israel would withdraw its troops from Gaza and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war.
Calling Hamas’ position “delusional,” Netanyahu renewed a pledge to destroy the Islamist movement, saying there was no alternative for Israel but to bring about its collapse.
“The day after is the day after Hamas. All of Hamas,” he told a press conference, insisting that total victory against Hamas was the only solution to the four-month-old Gaza war.
“Continued military pressure is a necessary condition for the release of the hostages,” Netanyahu said.
But Blinken’s comments, following a meeting with Netanyahu, suggested forging a truce agreement was not a lost cause.
“There are clearly nonstarters in what (Hamas has) put forward,” Blinken said at a late-night press conference in a Tel Aviv hotel, without specifying what the nonstarters were.
“But we also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations, to see if we can get to an agreement. That’s what we intend to do.”
Blinken met the leaders of Qatar and Egypt on Tuesday and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday.
A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, described Netanyahu’s remarks as “political bravado” that showed the Israeli leader’s intention to further pursue conflict in the region.
Another Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, said a Hamas delegation led by senior Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya would travel on Thursday to Cairo for ceasefire talks with mediators Egypt and Qatar. Hamdan urged Palestinian armed factions to go on fighting.
Israel began its military offensive after Hamas militants from Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Gaza’s health ministry says at least 27,585 Palestinians have been confirmed killed, with thousands more feared buried under rubble. There has been one truce to date, lasting a week at the end of November.