Israel plans to cut ties with the Gaza Strip when its war with Hamas is over, officials said on Friday, as the country’s troops prepare for an expected ground offensive.
In the most explicit comments yet on the government’s strategy, defence minister Yoav Gallant told the Knesset foreign and defence committee that Israel would no longer have “responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip” once the war was over.
He added that the conflict, which he said would take place in three phases, would create “a new security reality” for Israeli citizens.
Israeli forces have been bombarding Gaza since Hamas militants staged the deadliest attack on the country’s soil almost two weeks ago. But while officials have made clear they intend to destroy Hamas, they have not detailed their plans for the territory after the war.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but until the war had continued to provide some electricity to the enclave, even as it enforced a crippling blockade with Egypt on the Hamas-controlled territory. It also allowed a limited number of Gazans into the country to work, and some goods to enter.
A second Israeli official said: “Israel will not be part of the solution in terms of giving [Gazans] work. We’ve disconnected the umbilical cord.”
The official added that the crossings from Gaza to Israel that functioned before the war would not be reopened, saying: “That’s over.”
Gallant said Israel’s war with Hamas would fall into three phases, with the first consisting of the current aerial bombardment and ground operations aimed at “neutralising terrorists and destroying Hamas infrastructure”.
He said the second phase would involve lower-intensity fighting to eliminate “pockets of resistance” in Gaza, and the third would require the “removal of Israel’s responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip and the establishment of a new security reality” for Israelis.
Other ministers have hinted at how the government’s thinking is evolving, with agriculture minister Avi Dichter on Thursday saying Israel would enforce a buffer zone within the Gaza Strip once the war was over to prevent Gazans from coming close to the border.
The comments come as the long-awaited delivery of aid to Gaza’s 2.3mn people has been delayed by disagreements over how to ensure the supplies cannot be used by Hamas, said three people familiar with the matter.
Israel has cut off deliveries of electricity, fuel and goods, and severely restricted water supplies, exacerbating the dire humanitarian conditions in the coastal enclave.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday secured an agreement with Israel to let water, food and medicine into Gaza. However, the people said aid may not enter the enclave on Friday as had been hoped because a process for verifying the supplies had not yet been agreed.
Israel has demanded the UN inspect aid entering Gaza to ensure it cannot be used for military purposes by Hamas, according to a senior UN official. The discussions are centred on the movement of aid from Egypt to Gaza via the Rafah crossing on the enclave’s southern border.
Another concern is that UN officials wanted to ensure a steady flow of aid, rather than a one-off delivery of 20 truckloads, the people added. Before the war, about 450 trucks entered the strip from Egypt every day, according to a UN official.
Three people familiar with the matter said discussions over allowing dual and foreign nationals out of Gaza were also happening in parallel to those on the supply of aid.
The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Friday said it was “encouraged by [internal] reports that the different sides are nearing an agreement on the modalities and that a first delivery is due to start in the next day or so”.
Global powers are pressing to prevent the conflict from escalating into a broader conflagration. Egypt will on Saturday host a summit aimed at discussing “current developments and the future of the Palestinian cause and the peace process”, said people briefed on the discussions.
However, European leaders are split over whether to skip the event given the push from leading Arab states for a summit declaration that demands a ceasefire. According to people briefed on the draft statement, it also makes no reference to Israel’s right to self-defence.
Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz will not attend, while Emmanuel Macron, president of France, was still evaluating whether to do so, people briefed on their plans told the FT. The UK is sending foreign minister James Cleverly rather than Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Israeli jets have been bombarding the Gaza Strip since Hamas carried out its attack on the country two weeks ago. The assault killed more than 1,400 people and injured more than 3,500, according to Israeli officials, while at least 203 were taken hostage.
Palestinian officials on Thursday said 4,137 people have been killed and 13,162 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza.
Israel on Friday said it would evacuate citizens from the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, amid fears that its war with Hamas could escalate into a broader regional confrontation.
The Iran-backed Hizbollah group in southern Lebanon and Israeli forces have been exchanging cross-border fire in recent days, with the Israeli army hitting targets in Lebanon after Hizbollah fired at least 20 rockets into northern Israel on Thursday.
Additional reporting by James Politi and Felicia Schwartz