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Israeli leaders ratchet up war rhetoric as truce expiration looms

From Tamar Michaelis and CNN’s Sugam Pokharel

Israeli government and military leaders ratcheted up war rhetoric Wednesday as the expiration of a truce deal between Israel and Hamas looms.

“Over the past few days I’ve been hearing this question – will Israel go back to fighting after maximizing this phase of returning our hostages? So my answer is unequivocal – Yes,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

The truce is set to expire at 7 a.m. local time Thursday (Midnight ET)

Netanyahu vowed that Israel would fight until 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 is exactly what we will do,” the prime minister said.

Negotiators are working toward another potential extension of the truce between Israel and Hamas, now into its sixth day. Key mediator Qatar is “very optimistic” an extension will be announced, a foreign ministry spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday.

A senior Israeli official said earlier that Israel is trying to see “whether there is a possibility” to extend the truce with Hamas.

The Israeli military is prepared for the next stage of the war in Gaza when the truce ends, Herzi Halevi, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff said Wednesday, according to an IDF statement.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, echoing Halevi, said “IDF troops in the air, ground, and sea, are prepared to resume operations immediately [should the decision be made].”

Gallant however added that Israel was “taking every possible measure to return the hostages and to maximize the current framework in which all the women and children held hostage in Gaza, will be released.”

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, who is a part of the emergency war cabinet, noted Wednesday that “we are in complex moments, and in a window of time within the outline for the return of our hostages.”

“We will work to exhaust it as much as possible. At the same time, we are prepared and ready to return to combat, at any given moment, including these moments,” he said.

Gantz stressed that fighting would continue and that it would “expand to wherever it is needed throughout the Strip. There will be no cities of refuge.”

Halevi, the military chief of staff, on Wednesday approved plans for the next stage of the military operation in Gaza, according to the IDF.

On Tuesday, Halevi said the Israeli military was using the pause to beef up its readiness for combat.

“The IDF is prepared to continue fighting. We are using 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

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