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Netanyahu says there were "strong indications" Hamas hostages were held in Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital

Netanyahu on a potential cease-fire, hospital raid
Netanyahu on a potential cease-fire, Al-Shifa hospital raid 09:00

Washington — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that there were "strong indications" that hostages held by Hamas were at Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital, but they were no longer there when the Israeli military launched a ground operation there earlier this week. 

"We had strong indications that they were held in the Shifa Hospital, which is one of the reasons we entered the hospital," Netanyahu told "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell. 

"If they were [there], they were taken out," he said. 

Netanyahu said his government has "intelligence about the hostages," but declined to be more specific. 

"The less I say about it, the better," he told O'Donnell. 

The Israel Defense Forces said it carried out a "precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area" of the hospital early Wednesday after it warned the terrorist group against using the medical complex as a base. Israel has accused Hamas of having a command center underneath the hospital. Hamas has denied the charge. 

Roughly 240 hostages were taken during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Only four have been released, including two Americans. 

Israel is considering a proposal in which Hamas would release some of the women and children it's holding hostage in exchange for a cease-fire that would last between three and five days, CBS News' chief foreign affairs correspondent and "Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan reported earlier Thursday. A number of Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons could also be released as part of the proposed deal, an official with knowledge of the negotiations said. 

Asked about the proposed deal and how close Israel is to securing the release of hostages, Netanyahu told O'Donnell, "We're closer than we were before we began the ground action." He said the ground operation has "put pressure on Hamas to achieve a cease-fire." 

"We'll have a temporary cease-fire if we can get our hostages back," he said. "I don't think it serves that purpose for me to elaborate further on that." 

He declined to say whether Israel would agree to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for hostages, saying it's "confidential." 

There was nearly a deal at the end of October for a hostage release, but it was scrapped at the 11th hour, as CBS News previously reported.

Netanyahu also insisted Israel is trying to wipe out Hamas "with minimal civilian casualties" and that it is "not seeking to occupy" Gaza. 

"We want overall military responsibility to prevent the reemergence of terror," he said. "We're not seeking to occupy. That's not our goal. But our goal is to make sure what happens there is different. To do that we have to [do to] demilitarize Gaza and we have to deradicalize Gaza." 

"Just as you had to have a different future after the conquest of Germany, you deradicalize, denazify Germany," he said. "After the conquest of Japan, you make sure that the aggressive policies of Imperial Japan are different. There was a cultural change. We need a cultural change here. We can't have a civilian administration enter Gaza that will not fight terrorists, that is committed to funding terrorists as opposed to fighting terrorists." 

He said that liberating Palestinians from Hamas will "give them a real future." 

When O'Donnell asked whether that also means moving forward with a two-state solution, Netanyahu said the Palestinians need a leadership change. 

"I say let the Palestinians have all the powers to govern themselves, but none of the powers to threaten Israel," he said. "And that means not only making sure that Gaza is demilitarized, but also that Gaza is deradicalized. And if you ask me, we need a different civilian leadership than the one that has been offered to the Palestinians today." 

Netanyahu also said that anyone committing violence against innocent Palestinians in the West Bank should be held accountable. 

"We hold anyone taking the law into their own hands or committing vigilante violence: that is out," he said. "We cannot accept that." 

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