Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this evening (Saturday, 17 February 2024), at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem [translated from Hebrew]:

"Citizens of Israel,

At the start of my remarks, I would like to send condolences to the families of those who were murdered in the abhorrent terrorist attack yesterday at Re'em Junction. I would also like to send my best wishes for a complete recovery to the wounded. This attack reminds us that the whole country is on the frontline. The murderers come not just from Gaza and they want to kill us all. We are committed to fighting them and restoring the security and quiet to the south, the north and the entire country. This victory is within reach and we will achieve it thanks to your marvelous resilience, citizens of Israel, and thanks to the amazing bravery of our fighters.

This evening I would like to tell you about this bravery. I recently visited the rehabilitation departments at Hadassah and Sheba hospitals. I met very brave fighters there. They moved me to tears. One of them lost both of his legs from the thighs down. He looked me in the eye and told me: 'Mr. Prime Minister, we must continue. Continue to the end.' I heard those same exact words from all of the heroes in the rehabilitation wards. One without a hand, another without a leg, and some even without both legs. Without exception, they all told me: 'We must continue to the end, until victory, until Hamas is eliminated.' Some of them even added: 'When we are rehabilitated, we will go back to fighting our enemies, because only victory will ensure the existence of our state.'

Citizens of Israel, I say, and you know, we have an amazing generation; we owe them much. Thanks to them, we will continue to fight until we achieve all of the goals of the war.

This week, in a brilliant operation by the National Counter Terrorism Unit, the ISA and the IDF, we freed two additional hostages and returned them to the embrace of their families. In real time, I anxiously watched the brave fighters as they actually prepared to break into the terrorists' lair. I was in the operations room at 01:40; this was the decisive moment, the moment in which the distance between success and failure is a hair's breadth. Within seconds I heard on the radio: 'The diamonds are in our hands.' We all sighed with relief and there was great joy. Despite the great risk, I approved this complex operation, because I believe in our fighters. I believe in their professionalism, determination and heroism. When I met with them the next day, I embraced them and told them: 'There are none like you. You are the best fighters in the world. The people of Israel are proud of you.'

The essence of our policy to release the hostages is strong military pressure and very tough negotiating. We have thereby freed 112 hostages up to now and this is how we will continue to act until we release all of them. The negotiations require a strong stand.

I must tell you, citizens of Israel, that up to this very moment, Hamas's demands have been delusional and signify only one thing: The defeat of Israel. Clearly, we will not agree to them. But when Hamas drops these delusional demands we will be able to move forward. I want to tell you and the hostages' families: Not for a moment have we forgotten our obligation to return all of the hostages.

I would like to say an important word to the displaced in both the south and the north: The Government of Israel is committed to returning you securely to your homes. In the south, we are close to achieving the goal. In the north, we will do this diplomatically or militarily. Total victory in the south is a clear and sharp message to all of our enemies, near and far, one which will also restore the security to all parts of the country.

On the way to achieving it, I regret that we are paying a very dear price. Heroic fighters fell this week as well, among them battalion commander Lt.-Col. Netanel Alkobi, the father of five children. Netanel's father Albert eulogized him at his funeral and said: 'The people of Israel live – this is no mere slogan. The sons of the generation of victory have gone to fight a brutal enemy. In their deaths, they have commanded us to live in the Land of Israel free of enemies.'

From here I say to Albert and all citizens of Israel, we will not stop until we defeat the brutal enemy that Netanel and his heroic friends gave their lives to defeat. We are closing in on Hamas in the terrorist capital of Khan Yunis. We recently reached places that the enemy never imagined we would reach. We have destroyed most of Hamas's battalions and will not stop until we have destroyed them all. This is a necessary condition for achieving total victory and we will not relent on it. We will pursue the arch-murderers, the heads of Hamas, who are fleeing from tunnel to tunnel underground. The day is not far away when they will have nowhere to hide. We will settle accounts with them. It is only a question of time.

On Thursday I spoke with US President Joe Biden. I speak with world leaders every day. I tell them decisively: Israel will fight until we achieve total victory. And indeed, this includes action in Rafah, of course after we allow the civilians found in the combat zones to evacuate to safe areas. Whoever wants to prevent us from operating in Rafah is telling us in effect to lose the war. I will not allow this. The diplomatic campaign that I am leading, along with my colleagues, has allowed us unprecedented freedom of military action for five months, which has not happened in Israel's wars. I want to tell you, this is not self-evident. We are achieving this thanks to your support, citizens of Israel.

We will not surrender to any pressure. We will not surrender, because we are a people of heroes. We will not surrender because we are a people that desires life. We will not surrender because we must, must, defeat the evil. Neither will we surrender to international _diktat_ regarding a future arrangement with the Palestinians.

I made it clear to the Cabinet and I reiterate it to the world this evening: An arrangement will be achieved only by direct negotiations between the parties, without pre-conditions. Under my leadership, Israel will continue to strongly oppose unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. And when do they want to give such unilateral recognition? After the terrible massacre of October 7. There can be no greater and unprecedented prize to terrorism, which will also prevent any future peace agreement.

Citizens of Israel, we are on the way to victory. Our fighters demand it. The wounded demand it. The bereaved families demand it and the vast majority of the people demand it. In order to achieve victory, we need one thing – unity, not momentary unity but genuine unity.

When I met with our heroic fighters in the hospital rehabilitation departments, I saw this unity in all its glory. I was deeply moved. I felt uplifted in a way that is hard to describe. I embraced these heroes; I was moved. But a short time later, this uplifted spirit was replaced by bitter disappointment. After I left the hospital, another visitor arrived. He turned to an Israeli hero, Noam Ben-Shloush, an IDF Golani Brigade fighter who lost a leg in combat. Instead of supporting Noam, he preached at him: 'How dare you meet with the Prime Minister?' Noam stood up on his one leg and shouted at him: 'Who are you that you talk about a rift? You are making the rift!' I embrace Noam and salute him and his friends, our heroes.

I would like to say to you all: Don't listen to those who are trying to cause rifts among us. They are a small minority which does not represent the decisive majority of the citizens of Israel. A majority of the people want one thing: Unity for victory. This unity exists inside the APC's and the tanks, and on the battlefields between Gaza and Rafah; it exists in all parts of the people and the country.

Together we will fight, and – with G-d's help – together we will win."