Netanyahu hints new deal underway to release Hamas-held hostages

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested that new negotiations are underway to release hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In a televised press conference on Saturday, Netanyahu called the conflict an “existential war” that must be fought until victory, despite pressure and costs, and said Gaza would be demilitarised and under Israeli security control.

His statements came a day after Israeli forces mistakenly killed three of more than 100 captives.

Netanyahu stated Israel’s offensive in Gaza had helped clinch a partial hostage-release deal in November and promised to maintain intense military pressure on Hamas.

“The instruction I am giving the negotiating team is predicated on this pressure, without which we have nothing,” he added.

Netanyahu’s comments came after the chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, met the prime minister of Qatar, a country mediating between Israel and Hamas, and whose efforts resulted in a seven-day truce and exchange of hostages last month.

Earlier on Saturday, Qatar confirmed that talks were under way for a possible new truce.

Netanyahu sidestepped a question about the meeting reportedly held in Europe, but confirmed he had given instructions to the negotiating team.

“We have serious criticisms of Qatar … but right now we are trying to complete the recovery of our hostages,” he added.

A Hamas statement later said the group “affirms its position not to open any negotiations to exchange prisoners unless the aggression against our people stops once and for all”.

“The movement communicated this position to all mediators,” it noted.

On Friday, Israeli forces admitted to mistakenly killing three Hamas-held hostages, all in their 20s, in the Shijaiyah area of Gaza City, where the troops are engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas.

Israel continues to pound Gaza, killing nearly 19,000 Palestinians since October 7. Thousands more are feared buried under rubble.

The 10-week war has flattened much of northern Gaza and displaced 85 percent of the territory’s population of 2.3 million from their homes.

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