Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is interviewed by CBS News on November 16, 2023. (Screenshot, CBS News; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that one of the reasons for the military raiding Gaza’s Shifa hospital was “strong indications” that some of the hostages taken by Hamas-led terrorists during their October 7 onslaught were being held there.
Speaking about the ongoing operation in the Strip’s largest medical center, Netanyahu told CBS in an interview that the captives had since been removed from the compound.
He said that Israel has “intelligence about the hostages.” But, he noted, “the less I say about it the better.”
Israel has recovered the bodies of two dead hostages in the area of Shifa.
In the interview, Netanyahu also told the US network that Israel has “concrete evidence” on the use of Shifa Hospital for military purposes, alleging leaders of the terror group and “terrorists’ minions” fled the medical facility as Israeli forces neared.
He said that on one of the lower levels, soldiers found a command post with “military communications, coded equipment… bombs, weapons, and we also found terror tunnels in the hospital compound.”
“We are doing this very gingerly because we’re trying to do the moral thing, the right thing, to deprive Hamas of having this safe zone in a hospital, but at the same time to neutralize its use as a command center for terror. And so far we’ve achieved that,” he said.
Soldiers began to raid the hospital this week, amid long-held claims by Israel that Hamas’s main command center is located underneath the medical center. The White House has said that its intelligence confirmed the claim.
Asked about the prospects of a deal with Hamas to release some of the captives, Netanyahu said: “We are closer than before we began the ground action. The ground action has put pressure on Hamas to achieve a ceasefire. We’ll have a temporary ceasefire if we can get our hostages. I don’t think it serves that purpose for me to elaborate further on that.”
Netanyahu stressed that the return of the some 240 hostages taken by Palestinian terrorists in last month’s devastating attack has been one of Israel’s main goals in the war, along with destroying Hamas and ensuring “that terrorist threat never rises again from Gaza, and that Gaza has a different future.”
The hostages were taken when Hamas-led terrorists launched a devastating onslaught on October 7, in which they rampaged through southern communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and kidnapping some 240 people. In response, Israel embarked on a massive air and ground campaign with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since taking over in a 2007 coup.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claimed Wednesday that 11,500 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, including at least 4,710 children and 3,160 women. The figures cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and terrorists, and also do not differentiate between those killed by Israeli airstrikes or by failed Palestinian rocket launches.
Netanyahu has not sat down for an interview with Israeli media since the start of the fighting, though he has taken questions from reporters in two press conferences during that period.
The premier declined to say if he’d agree to release Palestinian security prisoners in return for the Israeli hostages’ freedom. Reports have said that Israel would release a number of female and underage Palestinian terror convicts in exchange for captives.
“There are certain things we are holding confidential until we have something to tell,” he said.
The prime minister stressed Israeli efforts to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, while saying Hamas “doesn’t give a hoot” about Palestinians, noting that terrorists were trying to force civilians to remain in battle zones.
“We’ll try to finish that job with minimal civilian casualties, that’s what we’re trying to do, minimal civilian casualties, but unfortunately we’re not successful,” he acknowledged.
Netanyahu emphasized Israel wants “overall military responsibility to prevent the reemergence of terror” in Gaza, but not to reoccupy the coastal enclave.
“To do that, we have to demilitarize Gaza, and we have to deradicalize Gaza,” he said, comparing the potential post-war process to denazification or the removal of aggressive policies in Japan after World War II.
“There has to be a different regime and a different future for Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.
Additionally, Netanyahu was asked if Israeli settlers in the West Bank who engage in violence against Palestinians will be held accountable.
“We hold anyone taking the law into their own hands or committing vigilante violence — that is out, we cannot accept that,” he asserted, adding that a vast majority of settlers were law-abiding citizens, and claiming that the bulk of violence was being perpetrated by those who did not live in the West Bank.
As many as seven Palestinians have been killed by extremist settlers since a spike in violence after October 7, although the circumstances of some of those incidents are not clear and an exact determination as to whether these individuals were killed by gunfire from settlers or Israeli security forces has not been possible.
According to the left-wing Yesh Din rights group, there have been more than 185 settler attacks against Palestinians in over 84 towns and villages around the territory since October 7.