Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would be at risk of another major attack if it did not remain engaged in the Palestinian enclave.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered the clearest indication to date about what Israel may be planning for the aftermath of the war in the Gaza Strip, warning that it will need to oversee “overall security” there once the fighting is over to prevent future attacks.
With little appetite in Israel for a return to the days of a full military occupation of Gaza, Mr. Netanyahu provided few details of what his country’s role there might look like — but he made clear that it would be significant. The goal, he said in an interview with ABC News that aired on Monday, is to prevent a repeat of the Hamas attack that killed more than 1,400 people on Oct. 7.
“Israel will — for an indefinite period — will have the overall security responsibility because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “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.”
His comments were quickly endorsed by others in Israel, including the opposition leader, Yair Lapid, who suggested that Israel did not want to govern Gaza. Israeli forces previously withdrew from the territory in 2005, and President Biden has warned that it would be “a big mistake” for them to reoccupy it.
Mr. Netanyahu’s comments came as Israelis marked the one-month anniversary of the Hamas attack with small gestures and anguished calls for the return of the more than 240 hostages taken by Hamas fighters during their raid. Across the country, people lowered flags to half-staff at city halls and courthouses and stopped for a minute of silence at workplaces, schools and college campuses. Cafes set up shrines where people lit memorial candles.
In Gaza, heavy Israeli airstrikes, intensifying ground operations and a critical lack of basic resources have led to a mounting death toll and widespread suffering. More than 10,000 people, including more than 4,100 children, have been killed in the territory, according to its Health Ministry, which operates under the political arm of Hamas.
The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said on Monday that 89 employees of the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, had also been killed in Gaza. That is more “than in any comparable period in the history of our organization,” he told reporters, saying that many of the employees had been killed with members of their family.
Even as fighting still raged in Gaza, Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, said last week that the United States was in talks with Israel and other regional leaders about what “the day after” should look like. Two things, he said, were clear: Hamas cannot remain in power, and Israel has no desire to reoccupy Gaza.
“President Biden has been very clear,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Tuesday. “We don’t support a re-occupation of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces. We do think that there needs to be a healthy set of conversations about what post-conflict Gaza looks like, and what governance looks like.”
Mr. Netanyahu did not say who he believed should govern Gaza in the future, only that they be “those who don’t want to continue the way of Hamas.” Hamas has run the territory since 2007, when it expelled the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup, a year after winning a landslide victory in Palestinian elections.
Mr. Lapid, a centrist, suggested on Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority, which exercises partial control over the Israeli-occupied West Bank, could once again govern Gaza’s more than two million residents whenever the war is over.
“We don’t want to finance schools for the children of Gaza and their hospitals,” he said in an interview on Israeli public radio. “It’s in Israel’s interest to return the Palestinian Authority.”
“But,” Mr. Lapid said, “the prime minister is right: The security control has to be ours.”
Mr. Blinken has made it clear that the Palestinian Authority should play a key role in Gaza’s future, according to a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
But the authority’s longtime president, Mahmoud Abbas, 87, is deeply unpopular with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank alike. Many consider him more a supplicant to the occupying power than a force for national self-determination, and that could make any expansion of his role difficult.
Mr. Netanyahu and his government have not made any final or formal decisions about Gaza, and are having a wide range of discussions about both its future and Israel’s role in it, according to a person familiar with the discussions who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
Mr. Netanyahu was described as leery about giving the Palestinian Authority a role. Weeks before his interview with ABC News, there were discussions about possibly dividing Gaza into different zones, similar to the West Bank under the Oslo Accords. It is unclear if that idea is still on the table.
Briefing lawmakers on Tuesday, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, said Israel was in the first of three stages of the operation in Gaza. The first, he said, involves the destruction of Hamas and its infrastructure. The second involves eliminating “pockets of resistance.”
“The third phase will require the removal of Israel’s responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip, and the establishment of a new security reality for the citizens of Israel,” Mr. Gallant said.
Israeli forces, which have recently surrounded Gaza City in the north and have begun fighting inside it, have been urging civilians to flee south. But in interviews, Gazans said that the road there was too dangerous, and that the south was no safer from Israeli shelling.
About 900,000 people remain in northern Gaza, Gaza’s Interior Ministry said on Tuesday. David Satterfield, the U.S. special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues, on Saturday put the number at 350,000 to 400,000 people.
One resident of northern Gaza, Jinan Al-Salya, said her family heeded Israeli directives to move south on Saturday, but had not gotten far before they came under bombardment.
“It was a horror situation,” Ms. Al-Salya said. “I’m in total shock.”
They returned north on foot, walking between bloodied bodies sprawled along the road, she said.
The Israeli military said it was investigating the report that its tanks had fired on civilians.
Israeli officials have accused Hamas of hindering Gazans who want to travel south; Hamas has denied the claim. The Israeli military has said in recent days that it was offering four-hour windows for residents to head south safely.
An Israeli military spokesman posted footage on social media on Tuesday of Gazans waving white flags as they walked past a tank and partially destroyed buildings.
“If you care about yourself and your loved ones, head south according to our instructions,” the spokesman wrote in the post. “Rest assured that Hamas leaders have already taken care of defending themselves.”
Reporting was contributed by Livia Albeck-Ripka, Aaron Boxerman, Nick Cumming-Bruce and Matthew Rosenberg.