Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview on Sunday that “enough” of the 132 remaining Israeli hostages still held in Gaza are alive to provide justification for Israel’s continuing military actions in the enclave.
“One thing we're not going to do is we're not going to let Hamas emerge victorious. And if we leave, it'd be a tremendous victory for the Iran terror axis. It's bad for everyone,” he warned in an interview with ABC News.
Mr Netanyahu said "enough" Israeli hostages are alive “to warrant the kind of efforts that we're doing".
“We're going to try to do our best to get all those who are alive back and, frankly, also the bodies of the dead,” he said, asserting that the previous hostage deal had come together only because Israel applied military pressure, "not because we stopped applying it."
As Israel prepares to launch a ground invasion of the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, Mr Netanyahu said the goal of destroying Hamas cannot be achieved if Hamas-affiliated brigades are allowed to remain in Rafah.
“You didn't have to kill every last ISIS terrorist, but you made sure that that ISIS was finished as a military force, you have to dismantle Hamas, a military force, it controls territory, we're well in within which we shouldn't stop,” he said.
Mr Netanyahu emphasised that executing a comprehensive military campaign in Rafah necessitates relocating civilians from areas of conflict.
“We dropped thousands of flyers, we phoned Palestinians in their homes, we asked them to leave, we gave them safe corridors and safe zones,” he said.
Some 1.4 million Palestinian civilians have crowded into Rafah, with many living in tents with increasingly scarce supplies of food, water, and medicine.
“Victory is within reach,” he said. “We're going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah, which is the last bastion.”
Mr Netanyahu added that those who urged Israel not to go into Rafah “are basically saying, 'lose the war. Keep Hamas there.’”
The Israeli Prime Minister stated that one Palestinian civilian has been killed for every Hamas fighter killed in Gaza.
"We've killed we've kind of wounded over 20,000 Hamas terrorist out of that about 12,000 fighters...and we're doing everything we can to minimise civilian casualties, and continue to do so," he said.
Health authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza estimate about 28,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the region since the onset of the conflict in October.
Mr Netanyahu advised caution regarding figures provided by Hamas.
“I can tell you that according to these urban warfare experts and other commentators, we brought down the civilian-to-terrorist casualties, the ratio down below one-to-one … and we're going to do more,” he said.
Israel's main ally, the US, has said it does not support a ground offensive in Rafah, warning that it risks "disaster" if it is not properly planned.
US President Joe Biden, in his strongest criticism of Israel yet, described the Israeli response on Thursday as “over the top.”
Mr Biden who spoke to the Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed "without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there" the White House said in a statement.
They also discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas with Mr Biden emphasising the need to "capitalise on progress made in the negotiations" to ensure their swift release.