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Netanyahu: Hamas ‘begged’ for cease-fire

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JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hamas did not achieve any of its demands in the wake of Israel’s operation in Gaza and “begged” for a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu, speaking Wednesday in his first public statements since an open-ended cease-fire went into effect the previous evening, also said the Israeli military achieved its goals.

He said Hamas’ demands included promises of an airport, seaport and the release of prisoners in Israeli jails, and reiterated that Hamas “did not get any of its demands,” at a news conference and address to the nation. Several of the demands reportedly will be discussed in a second phase of the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire after one month of quiet on the Gaza border.

Netanyahu emphasized that Hamas was struck hard, including the deaths of about 1,000 fighters, and the destruction of tunnels and rocket launchers. He called it the worst blow to Hamas since its founding.

The Israeli leader asserted that the goals of the military were met: to hurt Hamas and to bring prolonged quiet to Israel’s southern communities.

“We brought in ground troops for that reason,” Netanyahu said. “When the mission was complete, we withdrew our troops so as not to give Hamas the opportunity to kill or kidnap them.”

Netanyahu said his government will try to take advantage of “the new diplomatic opportunities” created through the Gaza operation.

In remarks that were echoed by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and the Israeli military’s chief of staff, Benny Gantz, Netanyahu praised the strength and unity of the Israeli public, notably the residents of the South.

Yaalon and Gantz said the Israeli military and the government would do everything in their power to return the remains of Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul to Israel for burial. Both were determined to be killed in action, with their remains held by Hamas.

Gantz called the loss of 64 Israeli soldiers and six civilians “a painful price that we are familiar with.”

Several Israeli Cabinet members and lawmakers have been publicly critical of Netanyahu for agreeing to a cease-fire. Among the most vocal is Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who said in a statement posted on his Facebook page, “So long as Hamas controls Gaza, we cannot guarantee safety for the citizens of Israel and we cannot reach a political arrangement.

“Hamas is not a partner for any sort of deal, neither diplomatic nor security. We cannot trust contemptible murderers.”

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