Netanyahu hints new negotiations under way to recover Gaza hostages

Netanyahu hints new negotiations under way to recover Gaza hostages

Shafaq News/ Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on Saturday to hint that new negotiations were under way to recover hostages held by Hamas, after his chief of Mossad intelligence met the prime minister of Qatar, a country mediating in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a televised press conference a day after Israeli forces mistakenly killed three of more than 100 hostages held by Hamas, Netanyahu called the Gaza conflict an existential war that must be fought until victory, despite pressure and costs, and said the territory would be demilitarized and under Israeli security control.

He said Israel's offensive in Gaza had helped clinch a partial hostage-release deal in November. "The instruction I am giving the negotiating team is predicated on this pressure, without which we have nothing," he said.

Netanyahu spoke after the head of Israel's Mossad spy agency David Barnea met Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Europe late on Friday, according to a source with knowledge of the matter, and attention turned to a possible new Gaza truce and a prisoner and hostage deal.

Netanyahu sidestepped a question about the meeting, saying he wouldn't divulge information to Hamas. He said Israel had requests for a ceasefire and to remove troops in Gaza talks, but would not do so.

Israel bombarded targets across Gaza on Saturday, but two Egyptian security sources said Israeli officials now appeared more willing to work towards a ceasefire and an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

An Israeli military official said the three hostages who were killed had been holding a white flag, according to an initial inquiry. Their deaths have put increased pressure on Netanyahu to find a way to secure the release of those held.

As Netanyahu spoke, several hundred people staged a protest in Tel Aviv, with some holding placards, including one saying "get them out of hell." A speaker shouted: "Bring them home now!"

The meeting in Europe was apparently the first between senior officials from Israel and Qatar, which has been acting as a mediator, since the collapse of a seven-day ceasefire in late November.

Combat has intensified in the past two weeks since the collapse of the truce, which had allowed dozens of Israeli hostages held in Gaza to be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Israeli forces bombarded targets across Gaza on Saturday including a crowded YMCA building, with dozens of Palestinians reported killed or wounded, despite a renewed U.S. call to scale down the campaign and focus on Hamas leaders.

Two Christian women who had taken refuge in a church complex in Gaza were shot dead by an Israeli soldier, Roman Catholic Church authorities said. Seven other people were shot and wounded. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

In Khan Younis in Gaza's south, Palestinian health officials said the Nasser Hospital had received 20 Palestinians killed in air strikes overnight, in addition to dozens of wounded, including women and children.

Palestinian health officials also said Israeli strikes on Gaza City in the north had hit the YMCA headquarters, which is sheltering hundreds of displaced people and reported several dead and wounded.

The Israeli military said it was "operating to dismantle Hamas military and administrative capabilities".

The official WAFA news agency said at least three dozen people had been killed in strikes on three houses in the Jabalia refugee camp, which health officials were unable to confirm.

Rescue workers believed some casualties remained buried under the rubble in some of those areas. Gaza residents reported intense overnight fighting.

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