JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Tuesday that Israel would not pay any price for the return of hostages still held in Gaza amid ongoing negotiations to secure their release.

Asked about the 134 hostages who remain in Gaza, Smotrich told Kan Radio that their return was "very important" but that they could not be released "at any cost".

He said the way to free them was by ramping up the military pressure on Gaza and defeating Hamas, the armed group that governs the blockaded strip.

His remarks drew rebukes from opposition leader Yair Lapid and minister Benny Gantz and angered some families of hostages who have been trying to up the pressure on the government to strike a deal.

But shortly after the radio interview Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office published a statement echoing Smotrich's position.

"There is a lot of pressure on Israel from home and abroad to stop the war before we achieve all of our goals, including a deal to release the hostages at any cost," Netanyahu said. "We are not willing to pay any price, certainly not the delusional cost that Hamas demands of us, which would mean defeat for the state of Israel."

The remarks came as the United States plans to send its Middle East envoy to the region for continued talks between the U.S., Egypt, Israel and Qatar that seek to broker a ceasefire and the release of hostages.

Israel said 1,200 people were killed and 253 more were abducted into Gaza during the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on its towns. Since then, Israel's air, ground and sea offensive has killed nearly 29,000 Palestinians with thousands more trapped under the rubble, according to Palestinian authorities, and laid much of the blockaded enclave to waste.

The most significant release of hostages has so far happened during the only, week-long negotiated pause in the war in November, when Hamas freed 110 Israelis and foreigners it had captured. (Reporting by Henriette Chacar; Editing by Nick Macfie)