Israel Palestine Conflict

Israeli hostages will only return after Hamas is destroyed: Far-right minister

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Israeli far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich on Wednesday said the country must first “destroy” Hamas and only then it can return the hostages to their families.

“Keep attacking me as much as you want, I will not stop telling the truth: we must win and destroy Hamas and only then, with God’s help, will we also be able to return the kidnapped to their families and free an entire country from captivity,” Smotrich said on X.

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The Israeli finance minister hit back at nationwide criticism against him after he said that securing the return of captives from Gaza is currently not a top priority for Israel in an interview with the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday.

During the interview, Smotrich replied “no” when asked whether securing the return of captives should be Israel’s top priority – the comments have sparked outrage in the country.

Mounting pressure to bring hostages back

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing increasing Israeli anger for failing to bring the captives home along with growing pressure both from politicians in his own government and from world leaders over the ever-rising death toll and destruction in Gaza.

Netanyahu and Smotrich said on Tuesday that Israel would not pay any price for the return of hostages still held in Gaza amid ongoing negotiations to secure their release.

Asked about the 134 hostages who remain in Gaza, Smotrich told Kan Radio that their return was “very important” but that they could not be released “at any cost.”

He said the way to free them was by ramping up the military pressure on Gaza and defeating Hamas, the militant group that governs the blockaded strip.

Meanwhile after the radio interview, Netanyahu’s office published a statement echoing Smotrich’s position.

“There is a lot of pressure on Israel from home and abroad to stop the war before we achieve all of our goals, including a deal to release the hostages at any cost,” Netanyahu said.

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“We are not willing to pay any price, certainly not the delusional cost that Hamas demands of us, which would mean defeat for the state of Israel.”

In January, dozens of relatives of hostages gathered outside Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, demanding a deal to release Hamas’ hostages.

Relatives and friends of hostages sit on a street outside the private residence of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Caesarea, Israel, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in support of a father of an Israel hostage held in Gaza who has begun a hunger strike to protest the government's lack of visible progress on a new hostage deal. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Relatives and friends of hostages sit on a street outside the private residence of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Caesarea, Israel, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in support of a father of an Israel hostage held in Gaza who has begun a hunger strike to protest the government's lack of visible progress on a new hostage deal. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Hamas has said it will not release the hostages it is believed to be holding without an end to Israel’s devastating military offensive in besieged Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu has long been a controversial leader, provoking months of mass protests last year against his changes to weaken the powers of the supreme court. He is facing similar protests now with thousands rallying nationwide on Saturday to demand early elections.

So far, the Israeli leader has dismissed the demands for an election to be brought forward from the scheduled days in 2026, as he continues the war in Gaza which has killed over 29,000 Palestinians.

with Agencies

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