Middle East

Israel wants administrators ‘without Hamas or PA links’ to run Gaza

Israeli officials have said they want to use local administrators without links to either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority to run Gaza, and will set up small scale trials of the scheme as soon as “the right people step up to the plate”.

The controversial plan, which would see Israel retaining security control throughout Gaza, comes amid a deepening breakdown in public order in the devastated territory as convoys of aid are repeatedly looted and local communities form self-defence groups, some armed, to protect against thieves or help find food.

Earlier this week, the World Food Programme halted food deliveries to northern Gaza because of increasing chaos and renewed fighting. The agency has warned of catastrophic famine if aid does not reach people in need. UN secretary general, António Guterres, said that in north Gaza one in six children under two years old are acutely malnourished.

The heads of 13 UN agencies and five other aid groups issued a joint plea for a ceasefire late on Wednesday, warning that a looming Israeli offensive on the southern city of Rafah would bring “mass casualties” and could “deal a death blow” to a humanitarian operation bringing aid to Palestinians that “is already on its knees”.

“Diseases are rampant. Famine is looming,” the plea said, adding that aid workers are facing “shelling, death, movement restrictions and a breakdown of civil order”.

The foreign ministers of 26 European countries on Thursday also called for a pause in fighting leading to a longer ceasefire. They urged Israel not to take military action in Rafah “that would worsen an already catastrophic humanitarian situation”.

Israel’s bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza has killed more than 29,400 people and wounded more than 69,000, Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Thursday. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count but has said that about two-thirds of the dead are women and children.

The war in Gaza was triggered when Hamas launched attacks into Israel on 7 October that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in their homes and at a music festival. The militant organisation abducted 250 hostages, of whom about 100 were released in a swap for Palestinian prisoners during a week-long ceasefire in November.

Israel blames civilian deaths on Hamas saying it uses Gaza residents as a human shield.

On Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli’s prime minister, restated his determination to achieve “total victory”.

“We are on the way to eliminating Hamas and releasing our hostages. We will not relent until we achieve total victory,” he told soldiers in northern Israel.

Netanyahu has refused to make detailed concrete proposals for the administration of Gaza after the end of the current conflict and has so far ruled out calls to allow the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority to govern both Gaza and the occupied West Bank – Washington’s preferred option.

Israel has instead suggested some form of governance involving local power brokers or clans, with the Israel Defense Forces playing a significant supervisory role. Working groups of academics, senior soldiers and officials have been convened to consider ways of administrating Gaza.

One Israeli official said the planned “humanitarian pockets” would be in districts of the Gaza Strip from which Hamas has been expelled, but that their ultimate success would rely on Israel achieving its goal of destroying the militant Islamist organisation everywhere in the territory.

“We’re looking for the right people to step up to the plate,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “But it is clear that this will take time, as no one will come forward if they think Hamas will put a bullet in their head.”

Israel says it will have indefinite security control over Gaza after the war, but denies this would be a reoccupation.

The plan, the official added, “may be achieved once Hamas is destroyed and doesn’t pose a threat to Israel or to Gazans”.

Few analysts believe that Hamas can be completely driven from Gaza, and many predict a long-running insurgency.

After five months of conflict, much of the south of the territory is still run by Hamas, and there is already evidence that its leaders have made efforts to rebuild the militant organisation’s influence in the north. In late January, Hamas officials detained and punished thieves in Jabaliya, a stronghold in northern Gaza where Israeli forces fought fierce battles last year.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of Political Science at Gaza’s al-Azhar University but currently based in Cairo, described the new Israeli plan as an “illusion”.

“[The Israelis] might find some people who are willing to do this dirty job but the people they are looking for will be seen as a collaborators or spies and so as legitimate targets for being killed. There might be a few Palestinians ready to do this but they will need an Israeli battalion to protect them,” he said.

Israeli media reported that a trial of the plan, under which local merchants and civil society leaders would distribute humanitarian aid, could be launched in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of northern Gaza City.

The Israeli military would provide peripheral security in Zeitoun under the plan, the reports said, describing renewed troop incursions there this week as aimed at destroying remnants of Hamas forces.

Hamas said the new plan, which the Israeli official said would also exclude anybody on the payroll of the PA, was doomed to failure. “We are confident this project is pointless and is a sign of confusion and it will never succeed,” Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, told Reuters.

There was also fresh violence in the occupied West Bank, where three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on morning traffic at a highway checkpoint on Thursday, killing one person and wounding five others, Israeli police said.

In a statement, Hamas praised the attack and said it was a “natural response” to Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza and raids in the West Bank, and called for more attacks until they can achieve a “fully sovereign” Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Tensions are rising in the West Bank ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which in the past has seen increased clashes, often in connection to restrictions imposed on Palestinian worshippers going to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City during the holy month.

Israel’s hardline national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has called for tight restrictions on Muslim prayers this year, including limits on Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Further signalling wider regional fallout, a missile attack damaged a vessel passing through the Gulf of Aden off Yemen on Thursday, two maritime agencies and the US military said.

The Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who control much of Yemen, have carried out months of attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, disrupting the key shipping routes.

Agencies contributed to this report.


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