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Hamas statement adds uncertainty to ceasefire talks

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But Israeli leaders have also vowed to launch a large-scale military operation in Rafah against Hamas forces they believe are gathering there. Netanyahu has repeatedly stated that Israel will invade Rafah regardless of whether a ceasefire agreement is reached.

Israel withdrew its troops from Gaza after clashes with Hamas in 2014 and 2009, but this time, Israeli leaders say it is not that simple.

Palestinian gunmen swept through neighborhoods and military bases near Gaza on Oct. 7 in Hamas-led attacks, killing about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

Israeli leaders have pledged to do whatever they can to ensure such an attack never happens again, which they say means maintaining the freedom of movement of Israeli forces in Gaza.

Israeli forces have also demolished many buildings along the Gaza border to create a buffer zone with Israel, sparking international criticism.

Hamas, at least publicly, rejects Israel’s long-term military presence in the Palestinian enclave, including the buffer zone. In March, senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said the group was willing to accept a phased Israeli withdrawal as part of a future ceasefire agreement as long as Israel committed to an eventual complete withdrawal from Gaza.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is committed to bringing Gaza’s hostages home, but his political survival depends on far-right allies in the ruling coalition who oppose the current proposed deal.

Two of the allies – Finance Minister Bezarel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir – condemned the proposed deal, saying it amounted to a victory for Hamas. They called on Israeli forces to immediately begin ground operations in Rafah.

Mr Netanyahu’s coalition holds 64 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, meaning any defection could jeopardize his premiership and pave the way for an election.

Knesset opposition leader Yair Lapid said he would support Mr Netanyahu in passing a deal to bring the hostages back to Israel. But that would leave Netanyahu completely reliant on some of his harshest critics in the opposition — a political alliance unlikely to last long.

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