Israel war cabinet discusses efforts to free hostages held in Gaza

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The Israeli war cabinet held a meeting late Sunday (local time) to discuss efforts for the release of remaining hostages held in Gaza, CNN reported, citing an Israeli official. The war cabinet has four members – Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant, and National Unity Party chairman Benny Gantz. In a video statement, released by the Israel government’s press office to mark Passover on Sunday, Netanyahu said, “This night, 133 of our dear brothers and sisters do not sit at the Seder table and are still imprisoned in the hell of Hamas.”

He accused Hamas of rejecting proposals for a hostage deal “outright.” He announced that Israel will soon land “additional and painful blows” and will increase “military and political pressure” on Hamas to release the hostages, according to a CNN report. For weeks, international mediators have facilitated talks on a ceasefire and hostage deal. However, the talks have yielded no apparent breakthroughs. Earlier this month, Hamas indicated that it was not able to identify and track down 40 Israeli hostages needed for the first phase of a ceasefire deal, CNN reported, citing an Israeli official and a source familiar with the discussions.

According to the framework outlined by the negotiators, Hamas should release 40 of the remaining hostages, including all the women as well as sick and elderly men during the first six-week pause in the fighting. In exchange, Israel would release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, the report said. Amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi on Sunday gave approval to battle plans at the Southern Command headquarters in Beersheba, The Times of Israel reported.

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Head of the Israel’s Southern Command Major General Yaron Finkelman and other officers attended the “assessment of the situation and approval of plans for the continuation of the war,” according to the IDF, according to The Times of Israel report. Meanwhile, the Israeli soldiers have concluded a two-day operation in the Nur al-Shams refugee camp near Tulkarm in the West Bank, CNN reported, citing the IDF. At least 14 people, including one child, were killed in the Israeli soldiers’ operation, the report said, citing the Palestinian Ministry of Health and official news agency Wafa. According to IDF, security forces killed 10 “terrorists” and arrested “eight wanted suspects” during its “extensive counterterrorism” operation which began on Thursday.