TEL AVIV (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza increases the chance that hostages will be freed, and rejected calls for a ceasefire in the country’s war against Hamas, which he called “a battle of civilization against barbarians.”
In a statement Monday evening followed by a brief question-and-answer period with foreign reporters, Netanyahu also blamed the war’s mounting death toll on Hamas, the terror group that governs the Gaza Strip. And he said he would not resign despite dismal poll numbers.
“I want to make clear Israel’s position regarding the ceasefire: Just as the United States would not agree to a ceasefire after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or after the terrorist attack of 9-11, Israel will not agree to a cessation of hostilities with Hamas after the horrific attacks of Oct. 7,” Netanyahu said at the press conference at the Israel Defense Forces’ headquarters in Tel Aviv. “Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism.”
The press conference occurred days after the Israel Defense Forces expanded a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip following Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel, which killed 1,400 and wounded thousands. Hamas terrorists also took some 240 captives in the invasion.
Israel subsequently declared war on Hamas, and the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says Israeli strikes have killed more than 8,000 people. Hamas has also shot thousands of rockets at cities across Israel.
In response to a question about the civilian death toll in Gaza, Netanyahu claimed that “not a single civilian has to die.” He said Hamas is responsible for civilian casualties in Gaza because it fires at Israel and has its command centers in civilian areas, and prevents civilians from fleeing. He added that Israel told residents of the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate to the southeastern part of the territory, where he said there is a “safe zone.” There have been IDF airstrikes in southern Gaza as well.
“Hamas is preventing them from leaving, keeping them in the areas of conflict,” Netanyahu said. “We’re going out of our way to prevent civilian casualties, not only by asking civilians to move, calling them to move, arranging a place for them to be, which is safe — also putting in humanitarian support.”
He added however, that “even the most just war” leads to the death of innocent civilians, citing the case of a British warplane that targeted the Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen during World War II but accidentally struck a school, killing children. (Netanyahu inaccurately stated that the plane accidentally hit a children’s hospital.)
Domestically, Netanyahu is facing pressure from families of those taken hostage by Hamas to agree to a large-scale prisoner exchange to secure their freedom. He said on Monday that he and the rest of Israel’s leadership believes that the ground invasion may push Hamas to free the hostages. Israeli forces rescued one hostage soldier on Sunday, and Hamas has released four others. More than 200 remain.
“The ground action actually creates the possibility, not the certainty, but the possibility of actually getting our hostages out,” he said. “Hamas will not do it unless they’re under pressure. They simply will not do it. They only do it under pressure. This creates pressure.”
Wearing a long sleeve black button-down shirt — his standard attire in public appearances since Oct. 7 — Netanyahu also addressed a question regarding calls for his resignation. A majority of Israelis, according to a recent poll, want him to resign after the war, while another poll showed that, in a head-to-head matchup with centrist Benny Gantz, only 28% believe Netanyahu is the best person to lead the country .
He also received flak for a recent social media post, which he later deleted and apologized for, that placed blame for the Oct. 7 massacre on Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs.
“The only thing I intend to have resigned is Hamas,” he said. “We’re going to resign them to the dustbin of history. That’s my goal, that’s my responsibility and that’s what I’m leading the country to do.”