Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit the Gaza Strip in almost two decades on Sunday as he made his first visit to the conflict-torn territory since the deadly war with Hamas began, assuring soldiers that they will emerge victorious. Netanyahu's visit also came as the four-day ceasefire between the two sides is in effect.
"We have three goals in this war: Eliminate Hamas, return all of our hostages and ensure that Gaza will not go back to being a threat to the State of Israel. I am here to tell the soldiers, who all tell me the same thing, and I repeat it to you, citizens of Israel: We are continuing until the end – until victory," said Netanyahu, according to the Prime Minister's Office.
As per the PMO statement, Netanyahu also visited one of the tunnels said to be operated by Hamas and uncovered by Israeli troops. He was joined by his chief of staff Tzachi Braverman, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, military secretary Avi Gil and deputy IDF chief of staff Amir Baram.
Israel withdrew from the Strip to its internationally recognised border in 2005 after destroying 21 settlements and handing over the territory to the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, Hamas overthrew the PA in a bloody coup and expelled its Fatah party from the territory.
Israel-Hamas truce to expire today
The four-day truce negotiated between Israel and Hamas for the release of 50 hostages in Gaza and 150 Palestinian prisoners in the Jewish state is set to expire on Monday midnight until it is extended. The Palestine-based militant group has reportedly said that it will seek to extend the four-day truce with the Jewish state by releasing additional hostages in the Gaza Strip.
The group said that it hoped to extend the truce in order to secure the release of more Palestinian prisoners, in addition to the 117 released in the ongoing exchange. Hamas has released 39 hostages in the first three days of the truce.
Ahead of the agreement, Israel had said that it would extend the truce for a day for every 10 hostages released by Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that he had reiterated this offer to US President Joe Biden as 17 more hostages were released. He said that “at the end of the deal, we are returning full power to carry out our aims: destroy Hamas, ensure that Gaza won’t return to what it was, and of course to free all of our hostages.”
A Wall Street Journal report said that negotiations are underway to extend a truce between the two warring parties and expand the list of hostages who could be released in the upcoming days. The talks, being mediated by Egypt and Qatar, could see the deal being extended by four more days.
Hostages released by Hamas
Hamas released 17 more prisoners on Sunday, including 14 Israelis and three outsiders, in exchange for 39 Palestinian prisoners. The youngest hostage was Abigail Edan, a four-year-old dual Israeli-American citizen whose parents were killed in the Hamas attack on October 7.
The Israeli military said that one captive, the 84-year-old Elma Avraham, was in a life-threatening condition as “a result of an extended period of time when an elderly woman was not taken care of as needed". Three more Thai nationals were released.
On Saturday, the prisoner exchange agreement witnessed a concerning development as the hostage release was delayed by Hamas for several hours as the militant group wanted Israel to commit to allowing trucks carrying aid to enter northern Gaza.
Netanyahu's administration has received the list of the final 11 hostages to be released on Monday - the last day of the temporary truce. The US also expressed hope on Sunday that the truce will be extended for several more days, but said that "the ball is in Hamas' court".