Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited troops in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, taking advantage of a four-day pause in fighting to tour the front, encourage the soldiers, and to renew Israel’s commitment to destroying Hamas when the truce ends.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu , a former special forces soldier, is the first prime minister to visit Gaza in two decades.
Israel withdrew all of its troops and civilian settlements from the territory in 2005, hoping to encourage peace; instead, Hamas launched rockets at Israel.
The Prime Minister’s office provided Netanyahu’s remarks to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops:
“We are here in the Gaza Strip with our heroic soldiers. We are making every effort to return our hostages, and in the end we will return them all. We have three goals in this war: Eliminate Hamas, return all of our hostages and ensure that Gaza will not go back to being a threat to the State of Israel.
“I am here to tell the soldiers, who all tell me the same thing, and I repeat it to you, citizens of Israel: We are continuing until the end – until victory. Nothing will stop us, and we are convinced that we have the force, the strength, the will and the determination to achieve all of our goals for the war, and this is what we will do.
“I sat with the IDF Deputy Chief of Staff and the commanders. On the wall it was written: ‘Am Israel Chai’ [The People of Israel Live]. Then Am Yisrael Chai and the people of Israel will also win thanks to you. Thank you.”
“She has no parents, but she has a whole nation embracing her.”
Netanyahu added that he had told Biden that Israel would return to the war “with full power” when the truce period had ended.
“We have no other choice,” he said.
Meanwhie, defense minister Yoav Gallant visited Israeli troops along the Lebanese border, where Hezbollah has been firing at Israeli positions and communities for the last seven weeks, and Israel has returned fire on each occasion.
In a statement, Gallant suggested that the IDF had forced Hezbollah soldiers to retreat from the border:
“Here, in the Lebanese eastern front, which also looks towards Syria, the forces are doing an excellent job. The result is the injury and elimination of over 100 Hezbollah terrorists, and the destruction of dozens of observation posts, warehouses, bunkers and headquarters. And the retreat of Hezbollah forces from the front, into the depth of the [Lebanese] territory.’
“These are very impressive results. The combination of all these tactical achievements will translate into a new situation, which will later enable the return of [Israeli] residents [to the northern communities] under completely different conditions than when we started this campaign.’
“Yesterday I visited the forces in the Gaza Strip, in the depths of the territory, in order to study the situation and see the results of IDF activities. We have someone to trust- the forces are alert, determined, and they have achieved excellent results. Their achievements on the ground created the conditions necessary for the return of hostages over the past days.”
“Every hostage that is brought [home] to the State of Israel, is important to us – we will make every possible effort to bring them all home as quickly as possible. We are committed to this – I am personally committed to it.”
“At the same time, the forces are organizing and preparing. Last week I directed the IDF to prepare for a return to high-intensity combat [in Gaza]. We will return to fight and to strike Hamas as soon as the temporary pause (intended for the return of the hostages) ends. We are ready to complete this task and we will know how to continue operating until the complete destruction of the Hamas [terrorist] organization, and until the return of the hostages to their homes.”
Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, the border region in Lebanon south of the Litani River must be demilitarized. Hezbollah has flouted this resolution and is known to have been operating right up to the border with Israel until recently.
Meanwhile, Israel continued to welcome hostages that have been released by Hamas under the terms of the four-day truce.
Hamas is reportedly prepared to extend the pause for another four days, freeing ten more Israeli hostages every day.