Netanyahu Says Hostage Deal Would Delay, but Not Stop Rafah Invasion

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Sunday that progress toward a deal for a temporary cease-fire and the release of some hostages held in Gaza would require Hamas to soften its demands, while asserting that any agreement would delay, but not ultimately prevent, an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah.

Speaking to CBS News on its “Face the Nation” program, Mr. Netanyahu said in reference to a deal that would bring more hostages home that “we want it; I want it.” But he reiterated a message he has issued several times recently: That Hamas’s positions in the negotiations were “delusional.”

“If Hamas goes down from its delusional claims and can bring them down to earth, then we’ll have the progress that we all want,” he said of a potential agreement, while declining to discuss details of the negotiations.

Mr. Netanyahu’s comments came as talks between an Israeli delegation and international mediators in Paris were set to continue in Qatar this week. Hamas representatives were not in Paris, and it was not immediately clear whether they would agree to terms sketched out there.

He added that Israel would proceed with a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah whether or not an agreement was reached, saying that such an operation was essential to eliminating Hamas. Israel would be moving ahead despite fervent international warnings that a ground invasion would have catastrophic consequences for the more than 1.4 million Palestinians who are trapped in the area and struggling to survive.

“If we have a deal, it’ll be delayed somewhat,” Mr. Netanyahu said of a ground invasion in Rafah. “But it’ll happen. If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway.”

He added that he would soon meet with Israeli military leaders to review plans to clear Palestinian civilians from Rafah and advance on Hamas battalions there, insisting that Israel was “on the same page with the U.S.” on the matter.

But President Biden has yet to be briefed on Israel’s plans for Rafah, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

“We’ve been clear that we do not believe that an operation, a major military operation, should proceed in Rafah unless there is a clear and executable plan to protect civilians, to get them to safety, and to feed, clothe and house them — and we have not seen a plan like that,” Mr. Sullivan said.

International aid groups and human rights watchdogs have repeatedly warned that there is little chance that any plan to move hundreds of thousands of civilians out of the area could be carried out without resulting in a large number of deaths.

Mr. Sullivan declined to answer whether Mr. Biden was willing to withhold weapons from Israel over the issue, saying U.S. officials were waiting to hear more from their Israeli counterparts.

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