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Netanyahu blasts Hamas, Israel recalls negotiating team from Cairo

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of hobbling high-stakes, international cease-fire talks by sticking to “delusional” demands, a lack of compromise that compelled him to recall his negotiating team from Egypt.

Netanyahu’s remarks came hours after local media reported that the Israeli leader had ordered an Israeli delegation not to continue talks in Cairo, raising concerns over the fate of the negotiations and sparking criticism from the families of about 130 Hamas hostages, about a fourth of whom are said to be dead.

The relatives of the hostages said Netanyahu’s decision amounted to a “death sentence” for their loved ones, who are being held in neighboring Gaza by Hamas terrorists.

The mediation efforts, steered by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, have been working to bring the warring sides toward an agreement that might secure a truce in the monthslong war.

But Hamas has said it will not release any hostages until Israel ends its offensive, completely withdraws from Gaza and releases a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including top terrorists. Netanyahu has rejected those demands, saying the eradication of Iran-backed Hamas from Gaza remains Israel’s goal.

Rocket attack kills one

In northern Israel, meanwhile, a rocket attack killed a female soldier, the Israeli military said, and wounded eight people when one of the projectiles hit a military base in the town of Safed on Wednesday.

Israel carried out airstrikes in southern Lebanon in response, killing four people, including a Syrian woman and her two Lebanese children, and wounding at least nine, Lebanese security officials and local media said.

Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group, which supports Hamas, have traded fire along the border nearly every day since the start of the war in Gaza, raising the risk of a wider conflict. Hezbollah did not claim responsibility for the rocket attack.

On the hostage negotiations, Israeli media reported Wednesday that Netanyahu told his delegation not to return to the talks unless Hamas softens its demands.

The sides have been far apart on their terms for a deal. Netanyahu has vowed to continue the war until “total victory” over Hamas and the return of all the remaining hostages.

“In Cairo, Israel did not receive any new proposal from Hamas on the release of our captives,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “A change in Hamas’ positions will allow progress in the negotiations.”

Hamas, meanwhile, said Netanyahu was to blame. Hamas official Osama Hamdan said that Israel had put forward a proposal that strayed from agreements reached during earlier cease-fire talks.

On Tuesday, CIA chief William Burns and David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, attended the talks in the Egyptian capital, but there were no signs of a breakthrough. The talks continued Wednesday at a lower level.

The plight of the hostages has shaken Israelis, who see their captivity as an enduring symbol of the failure of the state to protect its citizens from Hamas’ terrorist attack.

A group representing the families of the hostages called Netanyahu’s reported decision to keep the delegation away from the talks “scandalous” and said the families would set up a “mass barricade” outside the Israeli Defense Ministry unless Netanyahu agreed to meet them.

Over 100 hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in return for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The war, which erupted after Hamas launched a surprise terrorist attack into Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 captive, ground on even as the talks appeared to be stalling.

Ground offensive

Now in its fifth month, the war has devastated Gaza’s health sector, with less than half of its hospitals only partially functioning as scores of people are killed and wounded in daily bombardments. Israel accuses the terrorists of using hospitals and other civilian buildings as cover and using Palestinian civilians as human shields.

Khan Younis is now the main target of a rolling ground offensive that Israel has said will be expanded to Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah. Some 1.4 million people — over half the territory’s population — are crammed into tent camps and overflowing apartments and shelters in Rafah, on the Egyptian border.

The Israeli military said it had opened a secure route to allow civilians to leave the hospital, while medics and patients could remain inside. Troops have been ordered to “prioritize the safety of civilians, patients, medical workers, and medical facilities during the operation,” it said.

The military had ordered the evacuation of the hospital and surrounding areas last month. But as with other health facilities, medics said patients were unable to leave or be relocated, and thousands of people displaced by fighting elsewhere remained there.

The Gaza Health Ministry said that around 300 medical staff were treating some 450 patients, including people wounded in strikes. It said 10,000 displaced people were sheltering in the facility.

At least 28,576 Palestinians have been killed, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

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