Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?

Special Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?
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A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 10, 2023, shows Israeli armored personnel carriers driving along the border fence as smoke rises above the Palestinian enclave amid ongoing battles with the Palestinian Hamas militant group. (AFP)
Special Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?
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Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel on Dec. 9, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 11 December 2023

Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?

Is ‘demilitarization’ of Gaza a euphemism for total destruction?
  • Term used by Israeli PM Netanyahu faulted by experts for not offering clarity on status of Gaza once war is over
  • West Bank-style system would mean loss of space for movement Palestinians had under Hamas rule

LONDON: Israel’s endgame for Gaza appears now firmly set on the enclave’s demilitarization, but some experts say that goal and “total destruction” in this conflict have become indistinguishable.

Even as the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants entered its third month on Dec. 7, precisely who would govern war-devastated Gaza after the dismantling of the Palestinian militant group remained unclear.

Talk about the West Bank-based Palestine government taking charge of postwar Gaza’s governance has been doing the rounds, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has poured cold water on the idea, saying “the Palestinian Authority is not the solution.”

So, what do experts make of Netanyahu’s statement that the Israel Defense Forces will move to demilitarize Gaza, which is still regarded by the UN as occupied territory?

Tobias Borck, a senior research fellow for Middle East security at the Royal United Services Institute, believes the latest remarks represent no change in Israeli policy.

“Those comments were simply meant to justify what the Israeli military was already doing in Gaza. It is little more than a rhetorical switch, a new way of saying ‘destroy Hamas.’ But it is not one offering a clearer, more tangible image of what that looks like,” he told Arab News.

“So, when they say ‘demilitarization,’ this is nothing new, the Israeli argument across almost the entire political spectrum has been that even were there to be an independent Palestinian state, it would have to be demilitarized.”

Israeli soldiers are seen during a ground operation in the Gaza Strip on Nov. 22, 2023. (AP)

On Dec. 6, Netanyahu said the IDF alone would be responsible for demilitarizing Gaza, claiming that international forces would be incapable of achieving success.

Speaking in Hebrew, he said: “Gaza must be demilitarized, only the IDF can take care of this. No international force can. We saw what happened elsewhere when international forces tried this. I am not willing to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement.”

Borck rejected the notion that Netanyahu was warning external actors to stay away, since neighboring Arab states have already called Gaza a mess of Israel’s own making and therefore one it alone would be required to clear up.

As it stands, that “mess” amounts to over 17,700 civilians killed in the two-month assault, a further 7,800 still unaccounted for, more than 46,000 injured, and Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities alleging that the “war on hospitals and the enclave’s medical facilities is ongoing and does not stop.”

Palestinians crowd together at a food distribution center in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 8, 2023. (AP)

In the midst of such destruction, Palestinian author and journalist Ramzy Baroud said he saw little likelihood of Israeli success in efforts to demilitarize Gaza, noting that for Netanyahu to achieve this would first require him to have control over it.

“To do so, he would have to defeat the resistance. Even if Netanyahu’s army penetrates parts of Gaza, from the north, center or south, subduing Palestinians in one of the most rebellious regions on earth is not only a difficult task but it is virtually impossible,” he told Arab News.

“This isn’t just about firepower, it is about the collective mood among Gazans, in fact, all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.”


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Similarly skeptical about the prospect of Gaza’s complete demilitarization, Osama Al-Sharif, a Jordanian analyst and political columnist, told Arab News such an outcome would only be possible with Gaza’s total destruction.

“To believe that Israel can disarm Gaza means that it will have to level the entire 365 sq. km area to the ground and evacuate all the population, but the window of opportunity for the military operation is closing soon,” he continued.

“So, both goals will not be achieved unless the US allows for a biblical-like catastrophe where millions of people are driven into the desert under unprecedented and relentless bombing, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths.”

Smoke rises among destroyed buildings in northern Gaza on December 8, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)

Together with the escalating death toll, by the end of November some 98,000 buildings in Gaza had reportedly been destroyed, with estimates suggesting that 40 percent of the entire enclave was now existent only in a state of rubble.

Pointing at this, Borck stressed that what Al-Sharif defined as the only possible means of demilitarization was already playing out.

“All of this revolves around Israel’s understanding of Hamas, which tells Israel that Hamas is a terrorist military. This is an important distinction from simply being a terrorist organization as it means Hamas is capable of a combined arms maneuver,” he said.

“This is exactly what we saw on Oct. 7, with an air and land attack on Israel. So, it is a not an unjustified view, but it does mean that Hamas is the military presence in Gaza. The IDF is trying to destroy all of Hamas’ military capacity and, once that is achieved, Gaza is demilitarized.”

Children stand alongside fighters from the Al-Qassam Brigades in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 29, 2023, on the 6th day of a truce in battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP/File)

Were Israel though to follow through and successfully achieve its aim of demilitarization, Borck said that there was only one outcome for Gaza.

“There is a significant collective of Israelis around Netanyahu that see the future of Gaza as a reflection of the West Bank, which means a Palestinian leadership put in place to run schools, hospitals, and to collect garbage, ideally also running domestic policing,” he said.

Bloomberg News reported this week, citing Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, that American officials were working with the PA on a plan to run Gaza after the war is over.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and his cabinet pray for the victims killed during the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. (AFP/File photo)

The preferred outcome of the conflict would be for Hamas to become a junior partner under the Palestinian Liberation Organization, helping to build a new independent state that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Ramallah-based Shtayyeh said.

However, according to Borck, a replication of the West Bank governance model in Gaza is far from ideal. “It would be replete with the Israeli-run checkpoints that you find all across the West Bank and would be a total reordering of the way Gazans live,” he said. “Yes, in Gaza there was this force keeping them hemmed in, but within that space they could move with greater freedom than Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Stressing that he did not consider it “a good idea in any shape or form” and rather just what he saw as playing out, Borck said this also likely meant Israel would occupy the least populated part of Gaza “so it could move in and out whenever it perceived a threat.”

Concurring, Al-Sharif said Israel appeared to be working to create a buffer zone in the north while pushing the majority of Gaza’s 2.1 million population to the south and along the border with Egypt, adding “even then, this goal will not be easy to sustain.”

The Israeli military offensive has displaced, left, more than 1.7 million Palestinians, most of them women and children. (AP)

Such a move could put it into the path of a direct confrontation with the Biden administration, which has been clear in its desire for the Palestinian Authority to take control of Gaza when the fighting ends.

Al-Sharif added: “Ramallah has put its own conditions for this to happen; none of which Netanyahu will accept. The US is against any forced transfer of Gazans, the partition of the enclave, or reducing its pre-war area.”

And, despite its continuing veto usage in UN calls for a ceasefire, there is increasing pushback from within the Democratic administration over the way in which the conflict has been unfolding and a seeming retraction of what had been seen as total and unconditional support for Israel’s response to Oct. 7.

On Thursday night, the administration’s top diplomat was seen to have come his closest yet to an outright criticism of the way the Netanyahu government had been handling the war as he sought to re-emphasize the primacy of civilian safety.

Stood alongside UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “It remains imperative Israel put a premium on civilian protection. And there does remain a gap between ... the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”

Baroud said the Israelis would be wise to learn from “one of Israel's great military generals, the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,” who was responsible for the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza after 38 years of occupation.

“Under pressure from the Palestinian resistance that fought the Israeli army, which had occupied Gaza in June 1967, in every neighborhood and every street corner, Israel pulled out,” Baroud said, reiterating his position that demilitarization was an impossible task.

“Back then, the resistance fought with very few tools compared to its current military capabilities, yet Sharon knew he could not win in Gaza, thus ordering his army to retreat, or ‘redeploy,’ under the pressure of relentless resistance, carried out mostly by ordinary people.”


Hunger grips Gaza as talks resume in Cairo

Hunger grips Gaza as talks resume in Cairo
Updated 6 sec ago

Hunger grips Gaza as talks resume in Cairo

Hunger grips Gaza as talks resume in Cairo

GAZA STRIP: Heavy fighting rocked besieged Gaza on Wednesday as aid agencies warned of looming famine and new talks were held in Cairo toward an Israel-Hamas ceasefire and hostage release deal.

The White House sent Middle East envoy Brett McGurk for renewed talks involving mediators and Hamas, a day after a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire was blocked by the US.

The UN World Food Programme said it was forced to halt aid deliveries in north Gaza because of “complete chaos and violence” after a truck convoy encountered gunfire and was ransacked by looters. Hamas called the move a “death sentence.”

Colombian President Gustavo Petro accused Israel of “genocide” after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had compared the Gaza campaign to the Holocaust.

In Syria, state television said an Israeli missile strike killed at least two people in Damascus, a claim Israel refused to comment on.

Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank where the Israeli army said its troops killed three Palestinian militants during an overnight raid in the northern city of Jenin.

UK and Jordan air drop aid to hospital in northern Gaza

UK and Jordan air drop aid to hospital in northern Gaza
Updated 8 min 10 sec ago

UK and Jordan air drop aid to hospital in northern Gaza

UK and Jordan air drop aid to hospital in northern Gaza
  • The UK-funded aid was delivered by the Jordanian Air Force

LONDON: Britain and Jordan have air-dropped four tons of aid including medicines, fuel and food to Tal Al-Hawa Hospital in northern Gaza, Britain’s Foreign Office said on Wednesday.
The UK-funded aid was delivered by the Jordanian Air Force.
“Thousands of patients will benefit and the fuel will enable this vital hospital to continue its life-saving work,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement.
“However, the situation in Gaza is desperate and significantly more aid is needed, and fast. We are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow additional aid into Gaza as quickly as possible and bring hostages home.”

US diplomats decry ‘worsening humanitarian situation’ in Sudan

US diplomats decry ‘worsening humanitarian situation’ in Sudan
Updated 32 min 9 sec ago

US diplomats decry ‘worsening humanitarian situation’ in Sudan

US diplomats decry ‘worsening humanitarian situation’ in Sudan
  • 6m people face acute starvation, American envoy tells press briefing attended by Arab News
  • Assistant secretary of state on African affairs: ‘Continued fighting threatening the break-up of the country’

LONDON: US diplomats on Wednesday decried the deteriorating situation in Sudan, with the conflict there having displaced some 8 million people, according to the UN.

During a digital press briefing attended by Arab News, Assistant Secretary of State on African Affairs Molly Phee said she is “deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation” and the risk posed by Sudan’s fractious military forces.

With 6.2 million internally displaced and 1.8 million having been forced to flee abroad, “the continued fighting in Sudan is threatening the break-up of the country,” she added.

“I want to underscore upfront that the United States doesn’t support military governance, and will continue as we’ve done for decades to support the Sudanese people against military repression, and in their goal of charting a democratic future.”

More than 7 million Sudanese are contending with food insecurity, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey said of those affected by food insecurity, as many as 6 million face the very real prospect of acute starvation.

Godfrey and Phee both urged the conflicting parties to stop fighting so as to facilitate badly needed humanitarian access.

Godfrey said: “There’s urgent need to facilitate humanitarian assistance; it’s only becoming more urgent by the day.

“This includes facilitating cross-border assistance ahead of the impending rainy season, which will make roads impassable.

“We’re pressing for Sudan-related action in the UN Security Council, and insisting belligerents fulfill obligations under international humanitarian law.”

Conflict erupted last April between former allies who jointly seized power in a 2021 coup: the Sudanese Armed Forces and its breakaway paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

Efforts at broking a ceasefire between them have so far failed, as have efforts to ensure that they meet their obligations to protect civilians under both the Jeddah Declaration and international humanitarian law.

Consequently, Godfrey and Phee said neither party should participate in post-conflict governance as the US and partners, including Saudi Arabia, push for a restoration of civilian government.

Nor is Sudan the lone area of hostilities in the region, with Phee noting that during last week’s African Union Summit, the US had sought to reaffirm its committed support to those fighting against Somali militant group Al-Shabaab.    

“We consulted with our partners in the horn (of Africa) about how to focus on what we’re doing together to tighten up our effort to combat Al-Shabaab,” she said.

“That included discussions on helping Somalia develop. It was important also to speak with Somali partners about their continued focus on governance.”

Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon

Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon
Updated 21 February 2024

Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon

Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon
  • Their home is hit as Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling targets several towns and villages in the southwest of the country
  • US congressional delegation holds talks with Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and other Lebanese officials in Beirut

BEIRUT: A mother and her young daughter were killed on Wednesday in an Israeli attack on the town of Majdal Zoun in the Tyre District of Lebanon’s South Governorate.

Khadija Mohammed Salman, who was said to be in her 40s, and her 5-year-old daughter Amal Hassan Al-Durr died when their house was hit. Several other people in the vicinity were injured and taken to hospitals in Tyre.

Majdal Zoun was one of several towns and villages in southwestern Lebanon hit by Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling. Others included Shehin, the outskirts of Alma Al-Shaab, Al-Dhahira, Al-Jabeen and Tayr Harfa. The most recent targets included Hula, Blida, Aita, Kafr Kila, and Khiam. Earlier, artillery fire that hit Ramia, Al-Naqoura and Alma Al-Shaab on Tuesday night caused extensive damage to crops, olive groves and buildings.

Hezbollah responded to the Israeli attacks within hours by launching 10 military operations against Israeli army positions. The group said its forces “targeted a military position of Israeli soldiers in the Evin Menachem settlement and another military position in the Shomera settlement,” as well as “two buildings in which enemy soldiers were stationed in the Avivim settlement, the Ruwaisat Al-Alam site in the Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and a gathering of enemy soldiers in the vicinity of the Al-Marj military site and the Zibdin military site in the Shebaa Farms.” It said it also targeted “the Metulla settlement and the positions of enemy soldiers there … achieving direct hits.”

Israeli media reported that “a missile hit a building in the Metulla settlement after sirens went off in this settlement in the Finger of Galilee.”

Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier as they flew over the regions of Tyre, Sidon and Nabatiyeh, causing fear and terror among schoolchildren and families. Widely shared video footage showed teachers attempting to calm terrified pupils in a school by explaining that the sonic boom generated by the planes was just a loud noise and not an attack. Still, many people assumed the noise was caused by airstrikes or other explosions, given the ongoing Israeli attacks extending far into southern Lebanon.

A teacher from a school in Nabatiyeh said: “At first, I thought that a new raid targeted the village of Ghazieh, similar to what happened a few days ago, or that the raid was on Nabatiyeh, due to the intensity of the sound that hurt our ears. I used my phone to find out what was happening and it turned out that it was a plane breaking the sound barrier.”

Meanwhile, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi visited the city of Sidon where he chaired a meeting of security chiefs in the south. He said Lebanese authorities were “working with existing capabilities to help the displaced from the south.”

He called for “the south and Lebanon to be spared from the calamity of war” and said “the injustice to which innocent people are subjected is unacceptable.”

Amid growing diplomatic tensions between Lebanon and Israel, the Lebanese mission to the UN reacted to the Israeli envoy’s threats to “implement Resolution 1701 by force in the coming weeks.” Resolution 1707 was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2006 with the aim of resolving the war that year between Hezbollah and Israel. It called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and for all armed groups in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, to disarm.

The Lebanese delegation at the UN said: “The one violating Resolution 1701 is Israel, and its land, sea and air violations have been documented by the Security Council since 2006.

“The number of violations has exceeded 30,000, in addition to the daily attacks on southern Lebanese villages, which have led to the killing of dozens of civilians, the displacement of tens of thousands of citizens due to concentrated bombing, daily raids, the use of smart attack drones, and internationally banned white phosphorus shells, which destroyed more than 100,000 olive trees.

“Lebanon repeatedly confirmed, through the statements of its senior officials, that it never wanted a war and does not seek a war in the future. The country has also affirmed that it is fully committed to negotiating and searching for peaceful solutions that preserve its legitimate rights through the comprehensive and balanced implementation of the provisions of Resolution 1701.”

The Lebanese mission continued: “The threats made by senior Israeli officials promising death, chaos and destruction, including the statements of the Israeli representative to the UN, reveal Israel’s underlying intentions to expand the scope of the war and try to find a pretext to launch aggression against Lebanon.

“Therefore isn’t it time, Lebanon wonders, for Israel to give reason, logic and peace a chance instead of carrying on with its policy that relies on force, occupation, intimidation, killing and war?

“Lebanon asks the relevant UN bodies, especially the Security Council, to oblige Israel to stop its attacks and violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty, initiate negotiations through the UN to ensure full adherence to Resolution 1701 and withdraw from the occupied Lebanese territories, in order to work toward the desired political solution and preserve regional peace and security.”

A US congressional delegation held talks with several Lebanese officials in Beirut on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri said “he met a delegation consisting of senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons, accompanied by the US ambassador to Lebanon, Lisa Johnson. This visit comes in light of the continued daily Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon.”

Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution

Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution
Updated 21 February 2024

Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution

Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution
  • Condemnation from Cairo came after the US’ third veto of a Security Council draft resolution
  • Resolution was backed by 13 out of the 15 members — but the US vetoed it, while the UK abstained

CAIRO: Egypt’s leaders have warned that the UN Security Council’s repeated failure to adopt a peace resolution and ceasefire in the Gaza Strip was setting “a shameful precedent” for the body.

The condemnation from Cairo came after the US’ third veto of a Security Council draft resolution — proposed by Algeria on behalf of the Arab Group — demanding an immediate end to fighting.

The resolution was backed by 13 out of the 15 members. But the US vetoed it, while the UK abstained.

In a statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that obstructing the passage of a resolution “calling for a ceasefire in an armed conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 29,000 civilians, most of them children and women, is a shameful precedent” in the history of the Security Council.

It added that the international community had a moral and human responsibility to end the daily suffering of Palestinian civilians caught in the line of Israeli fire.

The ministry statement said: “Egypt strongly denounces … selectivity and double standards in dealing with wars and armed conflicts in various regions of the world, which has come to question the credibility of the rules and working mechanisms of the current international architecture, especially the UN Security Council, which is entrusted with the responsibility of preventing and settling conflicts and halting wars.”

Cairo would continue to demand an immediate ceasefire and safe passage for humanitarian aid in the Strip, while opposing any attempts to displace Palestinians outside of their territories, it added.

It also noted Egypt’s opposition to Israeli military operations in the Palestinian city of Rafah.

Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, Osama Abdelkhalek, said: “(Cairo) calls on the Security Council and all responsible international powers to save the peace option ... through the immediate implementation of the ceasefire.

“This will not hinder the ongoing mediation efforts, but rather provide them with the appropriate conditions to succeed.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the latest American veto “clearly indicates its political and moral responsibility for the continuation of the war.”

He added that the US stance “undermines the credibility of the UN system and reinforces the state of paralysis witnessed by the UN.

“(It) provides political cover for Israel to continue the aggression in light of the international community’s inability to stop the heinous crimes committed every day against Palestinian civilians.”

Algeria’s draft resolution aimed to give priority to the humanitarian dimensions in a bid to save hundreds of thousands of Palestinians “who remain vulnerable to the Israeli killing machine, starvation, and disease if the war continues.”

In a statement, the Arab Parliament warned that the Security Council was failing in its duty to control international security and stability and pointed out that system reforms were required.