Israel to test Gaza day-after vision with 'humanitarian pockets'

TOPSHOT - Palestinian men check the debris at a building on February 22, 2024, following overnight Israeli air strikes in Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel is seeking Palestinians who are not affiliated with Hamas to manage civilian affairs in areas of the Gaza Strip designed as testing grounds for post-war administration of the enclave, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.

But Hamas said the plan, which the Israeli official said would also exclude anybody on the payroll of the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority (PA), would effectively mean an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza and was doomed to failure.

The 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 hinge on Israel achieving its goal of destroying the Islamist faction across the tiny coastal territory that it has been governing.

"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."

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

Israel's top-rated Channel 12 TV reported that the Zeitoun neighbourhood of northern Gaza City was a candidate for implementation of the plan, under which local merchants and civil society leaders would distribute humanitarian aid.

The Israeli military would provide peripheral security in Zeitoun, Channel 12 said, describing renewed troop incursions there this week as designed to root out remnants of a Hamas garrison that was hit hard in the early stages of the war.

There was no official confirmation of the Channel 12 report.


Asked about the Israeli official's comments and the Channel 12 report, senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said such a plan would be tantamount to Israel reoccupying Gaza, from which it withdrew troops and settlers in 2005. Israel says it will have indefinite security control over Gaza after the war, but denies this would be a reoccupation.

"We are confident this project is pointless and is a sign of confusion and it will never succeed," Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

The Israeli official also made clear the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, would also be barred as a partner in the "humanitarian pockets" on account of its failure to condemn the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

The militants killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in that attack, Israel says, prompting an Israeli ground offensive and aerial bombardment of Gaza in which nearly 30,000 people have been killed, according to Gazan health authorities.

"Anyone who took part in, or even failed to condemn, October 7 is ruled out," the official said.

Wassel Abu Yousef, a senior official with the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation of which the PA is part, also appeared dismissive of the Israeli plan on Thursday.

"All of Israel’s attempts to change the geographic and demographic features of Gaza will not succeed," he told Reuters.

The United States has called for a "revitalised" PA to govern Gaza after the war. But Israel has been cool to the idea, noting that the PA provides payouts to jailed militants.

Still, the official said, Israel would be willing to consider "humanitarian pocket" partners with past links to the PA's dominant Fatah faction, a more secular rival to Hamas.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan WilliamsEditing by Gareth Jones)