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Israel will maintain an indefinite grip over Gaza to ensure its own security, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, in his first public comments on the country’s plans for the Palestinian enclave after its war with Hamas.
The Gaza Strip should be governed by “those who don’t want to continue the way of Hamas”, Netanyahu told ABC News, without clarifying if that included a rival to the armed group, the Palestinian Authority or an international force.
“I think Israel, for an indefinite period, will have the overall security responsibility because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it,” he said.
His comments are among the first on the role Israel intends to play in Gaza after a war he has warned could take months to defeat Hamas.
In October, defence minister Yoav Gallant said Israel would no longer have “responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip” once the war was over. He added that the conflict would create “a new security reality” for Israeli citizens.
Arab diplomats last week dismissed US efforts, led by secretary of state Antony Blinken, to rally regional support for the Palestinian Authority, a rival of Hamas, as premature. The PA was ousted from Gaza in 2007 after losing elections to Hamas.
Israel has blockaded the strip for more than a decade, seeking to weaken Hamas. Now, a month into a prolonged war in which more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s aerial bombardment, according to local health officials, its army is engaged in a fight for Gaza City, the northern base of Hamas’s political and military power.
Netanyahu declared war on Hamas on October 7, after the group’s cross-border raid killed more than 1,400 people within Israel, according to the government.
Netanyahu told ABC he would be in favour of tactical pauses, especially to help free some of the 242 hostages held by Hamas, but rejected the broader ceasefire demanded by Arab leaders, the UN and other international organisations.
“As far as tactical little pauses, an hour here, an hour there — we’ve had them before,” he said. “We’ll check the circumstances in order to enable goods, humanitarian goods to come in, or our hostages, individual hostages to leave.”
In a phone call on Monday US President Joe Biden pressed Netanyahu to agree to “temporary local pauses”, said John Kirby, US National Security Council spokesperson.
“This remains something we are actively discussing with our Israeli counterparts and we consider ourselves at the beginning of this conversation, not at the end of it,” said Kirby.
The US administration does not support a full ceasefire, which it says will only give Hamas time to regroup.
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Israel has tightly restricted the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, down from more than 400 trucks a day before the war, to a few dozen a day. International observers have warned that these curbs are deepening a humanitarian crisis, after more than 1mn Gazans were told by Israel to abandon the northern part of the hemmed-in enclave and head south.
Just over 500 trucks have been allowed to cross into Israel from Egypt since the beginning of the war, with another 75 scheduled to have crossed on Monday, according to an Israeli military assessment.
Diplomats have also been racing to ensure the Rafah crossing with Egypt remains open for foreign nationals trying to flee the war, but disagreements between Israel, Egypt and Hamas on who will be allowed out have disrupted the process.
An Israeli air strike on a convoy of ambulances headed to Rafah, the only crossing not controlled by Israel, has also caused delays. Israel said one of the ambulances was carrying a Hamas militant.
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