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Israel, Hamas dig in as international pressure builds for cease-fire in Gaza

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday blasted a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a Gaza cease-fire that his country’s top ally, the United States, chose not to block. He said the resolution had emboldened Hamas and he vowed to press ahead with the war.

As the war grinds through a sixth month, both Israel and Hamas have rejected international cease-fire efforts, each insisting its version of victory is within reach. The passage of the U.N. resolution has also escalated tensions between the U.S. and Israel over the conduct of the war.

Netanyahu has said Israel can only achieve its aims of dismantling Hamas and returning scores of hostages if it expands its ground offensive to the southern city of Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge. The U.S. has said a major assault on Rafah would be a mistake.

Hamas says it will hold onto the hostages until Israel agrees to a more permanent cease-fire, withdraws its forces from Gaza and releases hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists. It said late Monday that it rejected a recent proposal that fell short of those demands — which, if fulfilled, would allow it to claim an extremely costly victory.

Netanyahu said in a statement that the announcement “proved clearly that Hamas is not interested in continuing negotiations toward a deal and served as unfortunate testimony to the damage of the Security Council decision.”

“Israel will not surrender to Hamas’ delusional demands and will continue to act to achieve all the goals of the war: releasing all the hostages, destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and ensuring that Gaza will never again be a threat to Israel.”

The Israeli military announced Tuesday that an airstrike earlier this month killed Marwan Issa, the deputy leader of Hamas’ armed wing in Gaza who helped plan the Oct. 7 attack. Issa is the highest-ranking Hamas leader to have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war.

Military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Issa was killed when fighter jets struck an underground compound in central Gaza between March 9 and 10.

In the face of Hamas’ demands for a more permanent cease-fire, Netanyahu has vowed to resume Israel’s offensive after any hostage release and keep fighting until the terrorist group is destroyed.

That approach has brought him into increasingly open conflict with President Joe Biden’s administration, which has expressed mounting concern over civilian casualties — though it has continued to supply Israel with crucial military aid and back Israel’s aim of destroying Hamas.

The passage of Monday’s resolution by the U.N. Security Council resolution further deepened the divisions. The resolution called for the release of all hostages held in Gaza but did not condition the cease-fire on it. The Biden administration, which vetoed previous U.N. resolutions calling for a cease-fire, abstained in Monday’s vote, allowing it to pass.

In response, Netanyahu canceled a planned visit by Israeli officials to Washington during which the U.S. side was set to propose alternatives to a ground assault in Rafah.

Hamas’ top political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said the U.N. resolution showed that Israel faces “an unprecedented (level of) political isolation” and was “losing its political cover” at the Security Council. He spoke at a press conference in Tehran after talks with officials in Iran, a key ally of Hamas terrorists. Iran has vowed to destroy Israel.

The war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led terrorists stormed across the border and attacked communities in southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting around 250 others. It is still believed to be holding about 100 hostages and the remains of 35 others, after most of the rest were freed in November in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

In response, Israel launched retaliatory strikes that have killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its tally.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent several weeks trying to negotiate another cease-fire and hostage release, but those efforts appeared to have stalled.

Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, which is currently hosting the talks, told reporters that the negotiations were still ongoing.

Hamas has previously proposed a phased process in which it would release all the remaining hostages in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the opening of its borders for aid and reconstruction, and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists serving life sentences.

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