Israeli government and military leaders resumed war talks on Wednesday as a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas expires.
“I’ve been asking this question for the last few days – will Israel go back to fighting after escalating this phase of our hostage withdrawal? So my answer is unequivocal – yes,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
The ceasefire expires at 7 a.m. local time Thursday (midnight ET).
Netanyahu vowed that Israel would fight to the end.
“This is my policy, the whole cabinet stands behind it, the whole government stands behind it, the soldiers stand behind it, the people stand behind it – that’s what we will do,” the Prime Minister said.
Negotiators are trying to extend the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas for a sixth day. Qatar, the main mediator, is “very confident” an extension will be announced, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told CNN on Wednesday.
A senior Israeli official said earlier that Israel was trying to see if it was “possible” to extend the ceasefire with Hamas.
Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzey Halevi said Wednesday that the Israeli army is ready for the next phase of war in Gaza when the ceasefire expires, according to an IDF statement.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant echoed Halevi, saying, “IDF troops in the air, on land and at sea are ready to resume operations immediately. [should the decision be made].”
Gallant said, however, that Israel is “taking all possible steps to return the hostages and increase the current framework for the release of women and children held hostage in Gaza.”
Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, who is part of the emergency war cabinet, noted on Wednesday, “We are in critical moments and we are in a window within the outline for the return of our hostages.”
“We will work to eliminate it as much as possible. At the same time, we are ready to return to war at any time, including these moments,” he said.
Gantz insisted that the fighting would continue and that it would “expand across the necessary area. There will be no cities of refuge”.
Army Chief Halevi on Wednesday approved plans for the next phase of military operations in Gaza, according to the IDF.
On Tuesday, Halevi said the Israeli military was using the pause to increase its readiness for war.
“The IDF is ready to continue fighting. We use the days of the pause as part of the framework to learn, strengthen our readiness and approve future operational plans,” Halevi told a group of soldiers in northern Israel.