Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, warned the United States on Thursday that “nothing will stop” Israel’s army from “eradicating” Hamas as he faced mounting diplomatic pressure to scale back the assault on Gaza.
As he left a meeting in Jerusalem with Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, Mr Netanyahu vowed to continue the war until all hostages were freed and the Palestinian terror group was destroyed.
“I told him we have sworn, and I have sworn, to eradicate Hamas. Nothing will stop us” said the prime minister, who faces growing demands from Washington to adopt a more restrained stance once the ceasefire in Gaza ends.
Joe Biden, the US president, has reportedly warned Mr Netanyahu that he is concerned about Israeli plans to proceed into southern Gaza, where huge numbers of Palestinans have fled to since the outset of the war.
According to a US official, Mr Netanyahu said an operation in the south was essential to meeting Israel’s main goal of eliminating Hamas.
But Mr Blinken told the Israeli prime minister that the longer his country’s high-intensity military campaign goes on, the more international pressure will build on both the US and Israel to stop it, the American news website, Axios, reported.
In a separate meeting with Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president, Mr Blinken called for the ceasefire to continue as it was “producing results”.
Since Friday, Israel and Hamas have exchanged dozens of prisoners and hostages each day as part of a truce which can be extended every 24 hours by mutual agreement.
“We have seen over the last week the very positive development of hostages coming home, being reunited with their families,” Mr Blinken said.
“It’s also enabled an increase in humanitarian assistance to go to innocent civilians in Gaza who need it desperately,” he added.
“So this process is producing results. It’s important, and we hope that it can continue.”
His remarks came as Emmanuel Macron, the French president, hailed the release of 21-year-old Mia Schem, a French-Israeli hostage from Gaza, as a “great joy”.
Ms Schem was abducted from the Re’im music festival and taken hostage during the Hamas massacre on Oct 7.
“Mia Schem is free,” Mr Macron said. “It is a great joy that I share with his family and all French people.
“I also express my solidarity with all those who remain hostages of Hamas. France is working with its partners to obtain their release as soon as possible.”
Ms Schem’s father told Israel’s Channel 12 news: “Today I have the happiest day in the world, and I tell you that all the hostages will return, I’m sure of it...I just want to hug her and not leave her.”
US media reported on Thursday that Israel is considering the exile of thousands of Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip as it seeks to shorten the war and leave the territory in a governable state once the fighting ends.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Israeli and US officials have explored the idea of expelling thousands of low-ranking members of the group to a number of countries, such as Turkey, Qatar, Iran, Russia and Lebanon.
The move would be aimed at preventing the group from retaking power after the war.
The proposal is similar to a 1980s-era agreement brokered by the US which allowed Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, and thousands of fighters to leave Beirut for Tunisia during an Israeli siege of the Lebanese capital.
Any expulsion would require the approval of the receiving countries and it is unclear if family members of those leaving would be included, the report said.
Another plan said to be under discussion in Israeli military circles is the creation of “Hamas-free zones” in Gaza ruled by a new governing power and backed by Gulf states.
Israel also said it had summoned the Spanish ambassador and recalled its envoy in Madrid, after Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister, expressed doubts that it was respecting humanitarian law in Gaza.
Eli Cohen, the Israeli foreign minister, insisted: “Israel conducts itself and will continue to conduct itself in accordance with international law.”