Jewish President Isaac Herzog has said that a “very strong force” by Israel might need to remain in Gaza for the near future to prevent the Hamas militant group re-emerging after the war, a proposal the US advises against.
However, US President Joe Biden warned that occupying Gaza would be “a big mistake”.
“If we pull back, then who will take over? We can’t leave a vacuum. We have to think about what will be the mechanism; there are many ideas that are thrown in the air,” Herzog said in an interview with the FT published on Thursday.
“But no one will want to turn this place, Gaza, into a terror base again”, he added.
Herzog told FT that Israel’s government was discussing many ideas about how Gaza would be run once the war ends and added that he assumed that the United States and “our neighbours in the region” would have some involvement in the post-conflict order.
However, Biden said on Wednesday that he had made it clear to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a two-state solution was the only way to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict and that occupying Gaza would be “a big mistake”.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says Gaza, where Hamas has ruled since 2007, is an integral part of what it envisions for a future Palestinian state.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, but has not put forward a plan to determine who would govern Gaza after the war. Netanyahu has said that Israel would have to maintain overall security responsibility in Gaza for an indefinite period.
Israel’s military focus on Thursday remained on Gaza’s biggest hospital Al Shifa where it says Hamas stored weapons and ran a command centre in tunnels beneath the buildings.
Israeli troops forced their way into Al Shifa hospital in the early hours of Wednesday and spent the day deepening their search, the army said. An army video showed automatic weapons, grenades, ammunition and flak jackets it said were recovered from an undisclosed building within the complex.
“The troops continue to search the hospital in a precise, intelligence-based, manner,” army spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a press briefing late on Wednesday.
Biden said that Hamas was committing war crimes by having its military headquarters under the hospital. He said Israel had gone into Al Shifa with a limited number of troops with guns.
“They were told…we discussed the need for them to be incredibly careful,” Biden told reporters on Wednesday.
The Israeli military made no mention of finding any tunnel entrances in Al Shifa. It previously said Hamas had built a network of tunnels under the hospital. Hamas has denied it and dismissed the latest army statements. “The occupation forces are still lying … as they brought some weapons, clothes and tools and placed them in the hospital in a scandalous manner,” Qatar-based Hamas senior member Ezzat El Rashq said. “We have repeatedly called for a committee from the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the Red Cross to verify the lies of the occupation.”