War on Gaza: Netanyahu rejects Hamas terms for truce as air strikes pummel Rafah
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas's conditions for a deal to release the captives it holds in Gaza on Wednesday, as Israeli jets pounded the former 'safe zone' of Rafah, killing at least 12 people.
In a press conference late on Wednesday, Netanyahu instead vowed to continue Israel's military offensive until "total victory" was secured, saying his country would achieve this "within months".
"We won't settle for less," he said. "Surrendering to Hamas's delusional demands ... will not only not lead to the release of the hostages, but will invite another massacre."
Earlier on Wednesday, several news agencies, including Middle East Eye, said they had seen the Palestinian group's proposed three-stage ceasefire plan.
According to the draft document, all Israeli women, children under 19, the elderly and sick would be released from Gaza during the first 45-day phase in exchange for the release of all Palestinian female, children, sick and elderly prisoners over 50 years old from Israeli jails.
In addition, Israel would release 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, including 500 with life sentences.
The first stage would also see Israeli forces withdraw from populated areas of Gaza, allowing freedom of movements for Palestinians across the Gaza Strip, including the return of displaced people from south to north. Additionally, the United Nations would be permitted to set up tent encampments.
This phase would also see the cessation of all forms of air activity over Gaza, including reconnaissance, for the duration of the period.
The proposal called for "a temporary cessation of military operations, a cessation of aerial reconnaissance, and a repositioning of Israeli forces far outside the populated areas in the entire Gaza Strip."
During the second phase, all Israeli male hostages, including soldiers, would be released for a number of Palestinian prisoner to be determined at a later time.
And in the third phase, the remains of those captives who have died would be exchanged. By the end of the third phase, Hamas would expect the sides to have reached an agreement on an end to the war.
The truce would also increase the flow of food and other aid to the embattled territory, where two million Palestinians are facing hunger and dire shortages of basic supplies.
In the draft's appendix, Hamas also called for an end to Israeli violence against Al-Aqsa Mosque, demanding a return to the mosque's pre-2002 security status.
Another request calls for the "resumption of all the humanitarian services offered to the population, all over the Gaza Strip, by the United Nations and its agencies, particularly Unrwa."
Unrwa is a crucial lifeline for the Palestinian people and supports some six million refugees who live within and outside of the occupied territories.
Founded 75 years ago, it provides direct assistance to the Palestinians, such as schooling, primary health care and other social services.
But, in recent weeks, Israeli officials have repeatedly sought to discredit the organisation, and alleged that 12 of the agency's more than 13,000 staff in Gaza were involved in the 7 October attacks on southern Israel.
Leading nations including the US, UK, Germany and Japan withdrew their financial support to the organisation last week, but according to a dossier obtained by MEE, which is just six pages long, Israel failed to provide any evidence that the 12 men were members of Hamas or other armed groups, or mention what role they may have played in the 7 October attacks.
A US official told NBC News the counter-proposal for a ceasefire presented by Hamas could be worked with and that it was accurate to call it "generally positive".
The unnamed source, who is a senior administration official, said a deal was unlikely to materialise in the coming days but could happen in "the next couple of weeks".
''We'll see what the Israelis have to say. There are still some difficult issues to be worked out but there is some room to work with,” the official said.
Israeli jets pound Gaza
Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli jets pounded Rafah in southern Gaza, which now shelters over 1.3 million Palestinians displaced from elsewhere in Gaza.
Among the areas struck overnight Wednesday was the neighbourhood of Tal al-Sultan, where a residential building was targeted.
The Israeli military is reportedly preparing plans to invade Rafah, which would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk according to aid workers.
During a visit to Israel on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of Washington's deep concern over the Israeli army's potential expansion of operations into Rafah, according to Axios reporter Barak Ravid.
Blinken also said more work needed to be done to bring aid into Gaza.
"We all have an obligation to do everything possible to get the necessary assistance to those who so desperately need it, and the steps that are being taken - additional steps that need to be taken - are the focus of my own meetings here," he said.
Israeli protesters and activists camped out near the Kerem Shalom crossing in order to prevent emergency aid from reaching the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
Images shared online showed dozens of tents at the location accommodating the people who are preventing trucks filled with life-saving aid from entering the besieged enclave.
Israeli forces killed at least 123 Palestinians over the past 24 hours in 16 "massacres", according to the Palestinian health ministry.
That brought the Palestinian death toll in four months to more than 27,708, with over 67,000 wounded and 7,000 missing, who are believed to be dead and buried under rubble. Over 70 percent of the victims are children and women, according to health officials.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, the Israeli army struck a building it claimed was being used by Hezbollah in the village of Marwahin, in southern Lebanon. The army added that fighter jets overnight also struck another site in Bani Haiyyan.