Netanyahu says Hamas close to elimination; US warns of Gaza vacuum

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that the IDF was close to eliminating Hamas’s military wing as the United States warned against a vacuum in the enclave, explaining that chaos is not an option.

“We are advancing to the end of the stage of eliminating the Hamas terrorist army; we will continue striking its remnants,” he said on Monday.

Netanyahu spoke as the intense phase of fighting in Rafah was nearing its completion, but a deal that would see the release of the remaining 120 hostages in Gaza remained elusive.

US Secretary Antony Blinken said in response to such statements, “We’ve heard the Israelis talk about a significant downshift in their operations in Gaza,” noting that this “remains to be seen.”

In a public interview at the Brookings Institute in Washington he said that when “this conflict ends, it cannot and must not end with a vacuum in Gaza.

Palestinian members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement seen next to a memorial named “Shehab Field,” a drone made by al-Qassam, in Gaza City, September 21, 2022. (credit: ATTIA MUHAMMED/FLASH90)

“It has to end in a way that makes sure that there are clear, coherent, achievable plans for Gaza’s governance, for its security, and of course, to start to help [Palestinians there] build their lives that have been so decimated and destroyed,” he said.

The United States has told Israel that “we expected them to develop their own plans, their own ideas, and we’ve not seen enough of that from Israel,” he explained.

‘Post-conflict plans are critical’

Blinken stressed that “post-conflict plans are critical” because otherwise there is a risk of a “vacuum” which often tends to be filled by “bad things before they get filled with good things.”

He laid out the three things that would be unacceptable once the intense phase of the Gaza war was over.

This would be an “Israeli occupation, Hamas perpetuating its leadership, or chaos, anarchy, lawlessness, which is what we’re seeing in big parts of Gaza today, absent concrete plans to have an alternative to that,” he explained.

“That should be unacceptable, and it’s unacceptable to us,” he said.

Netanyahu has been short on details with regard to day-after plans for the 2.3 million Palestinians living in Gaza, speaking vaguely of local Palestinian governance and IDF security control, with the potential of an IDF pilot plan in the northern part of the enclave.

On Monday, he focused on the two-front war Israel is fighting against two Iranian proxies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Netanyahu said that Israel was committed to achieving the following objectives: “Returning our hostages, eliminating Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, ensuring that Gaza will not constitute a threat, and also returning our residents securely to their homes in both the south and the north.”

Hamas, however, has insisted that it will not release the hostages until Israel completely ends the war and withdraws from Gaza. It has rejected a three-phase hostage deal put forward by the US a month ago.

Blinken said that the two mediating countries Egypt and Qatar were in an intense effort to see if they could “close the gaps,” but that ultimately it was up to Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar.

Everyone, including the Israelis, has supported the deal on the table, Blinken said.

“One individual, likely buried hundreds of feet underground in Gaza, has the decision-making power to say, ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and right now, he’s not saying ‘yes,” Blinken said.

Sinwar is not only holding Israelis, including those with US citizenship captive, but he is also holding Palestinians in Gaza hostage to the effects of the “horrific crossfire of Hamas’ making.”

“The question that I can’t answer for you is, will he get to yes, the world is looking for it. The world is asking for it. The world is demanding it now,” Blinken stated.

Read More: Netanyahu says Hamas close to elimination; US warns of Gaza vacuum

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