Smotrich: releasing hostages not top priority

Minister says the destruction of Hamas and winning the war comes first, later clarifying that hostages would be freed only after Hamas is destroyed; Gantz rejects Smotrich's comments calling the return of hostages a moral duty as a country and a people
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Tuesday that bringing back the hostages abducted by Hamas in Gaza is not the top priority. "No, this is not the top priority. Why have a competition? How is that important now? Hamas must be destroyed," he said in a radio interview.
"It is very important but it is clear that saying things like bringing them back at all costs is a problem," he said referring to the calls from the families of those still held captive to do all that is possible to bring about their release. "They have to be returned, there must be pressure on Hamas," Smotrich said.
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שר האוצר בצלאל סמוטריץ'
שר האוצר בצלאל סמוטריץ'
Bezalel Smotrich
(Photo: Alex Kolomoisky )
His comments sparked outrage in and out of the political arena. National Unity Party head Benny Gantz who joined the government after the Hamas massacre and is a member of the war cabinet said no opportunity to bring about the return of the hostages would be missed. "This is not only our primary objective in the war but also our moral duty as a country and a people and it is now our top priority."
Opposition Yair Lapid said Smotrich's comments were a moral disgrace and an attack on the families of the captives. "Such heartless people cannot continue to lead the country," he said.
The minister then tried to clarify his words. "I was asked in an interview if returning the hostages was more important than destroying Hamas and winning the war," he said. "My answer is clear. Only by destroying Hamas and winning the war would we bring about the return of the hostages. Any one who calls for a deal at any cost, will bring about defeat in the war and will lower the chances of the hostages being released."
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מחאה של משפחות החטופים בתל אביב
מחאה של משפחות החטופים בתל אביב
Families of hostages held in Gaza protest outside the miitary HQ in Tel Aviv
(Photo: Dylan Martinez / Reuters)
The families of hostages meanwhile demonstrated against the government calling for more to be done to bring their loved ones, home.
Itzik Elgarat whose brother is among the 132 still being held by Hamas and who is on a hunger strike outside the military HQ said Israelis should not send their children to serve in the IDF or join the reserves while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in power. "Wait until the evil prime minister is gone. If you are captured, there will be no one coming to save you," he said.
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