Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would seek to assume overall responsibility for security in Gaza, in an early indication that Israel plans to occupy the strip after the war, raising more questions about its exit strategy.
“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,” Netanyahu said on ABC News overnight. “When we don’t have that security responsibility, what we have is the eruption of Hamas terror on a scale that we couldn’t imagine.”
Since the Hamas terrorist attacks of Oct. 7 that sparked the war, Israeli officials have said little about their long-term plans for Gaza besides destroying the ability of the militant group to rule there.
Most small communities near Gaza have been completely evacuated after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that Israel says killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians. In Ashkelon, the closest major city to the enclave, just 10 minutes by car from the border, many residents have remained. The government funded the evacuation of some smaller communities, but not Ashkelon, a city of around 150,000 people.
For those who have chosen to remain, last month’s massacre added a new dimension to the fear and anxiety they have long experienced in living within range of Hamas rocket attacks.
Israel pulled civilians out of Gaza in 2005 because officials thought Israeli rule of the territory wasn’t sustainable with around 10,000 Israelis in settlements surrounded by well over a million Palestinians. The next year, Hamas won parliamentary elections. In 2007, the group violently took control of the Gaza Strip from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which still governs most Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Israel and Egypt have since imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, which is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, has fired more than 36,000 rockets at Israel since 2005, the majority at communities and cities located near Gaza. Most have come during heightened tension between Israel and the Palestinians, but some have come at unpredictable times, giving people less than 30 seconds to find shelter.
Communities closest to Gaza have bomb shelters on almost every corner, many painted long ago with child-friendly themes such as flowers or Disney characters.
Since the Oct. 7 attack, in which Hamas militants stormed civilian communities, killing local residents and taking scores back to Gaza as hostages, tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from southern Israel. Some say they don’t know if they will ever feel safe enough to return. Others said that, with the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah threatening Israel from Lebanon in the north, nowhere is safe, leaving them no choice but to stay put.