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Hamas-Free 'Bubble' Zones in Northern Gaza: Plan Sparks Skepticism

Photo : AFP

The Israeli military has devised a strategy to establish "humanitarian enclaves" in Gaza for civilians not associated with Hamas, starting with the northern cities of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia. According to a report from the Financial Times, citing sources familiar with the plan, these Hamas-free zones, dubbed "bubbles," will initially focus on Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia, gradually entrusting local Palestinians with distribution of aid.

Initially, Israeli forces will maintain security responsibilities under this pilot project, while civil governance tasks will transition to Palestinians, with plans to extend this model to the northwestern Atatra neighborhood in Beit Lahia. If successful in the north, Israel intends to expand these enclaves to southern Gaza, aiming to establish an alternative to Hamas governance in the region.

Aid is expected to enter through the Western Erez crossing, established during ongoing conflicts with Hamas. Earlier attempts by Israel to implement a similar approach in central and northern Gaza with local Palestinian clans reportedly faced challenges. However, recent developments have given urgency to this initiative, particularly as Israel nears the conclusion of a nine-month offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas, sparked by a devastating October 7 attack on southern Israel.

Former Israeli officials and sources cited by the Financial Times reveal that these "humanitarian enclaves" are part of a broader post-war strategy advocated by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the Israeli security establishment. This strategy seeks to engage an international coalition, including the Palestinian Authority and moderate Arab states, in assuming diplomatic and financial responsibilities for post-conflict Gaza, with oversight over the humanitarian zones.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi announced plans for the implementation of the "day after" Hamas strategy in northern Gaza, indicating that the refined IDF plan will soon see tangible progress. Israel's recent military actions in northern Gaza, where Palestinians were instructed to evacuate southwards, have aimed to prevent Hamas from regrouping in these areas.

Reports suggest that Palestinians who denounce Hamas may be offered residence in these enclaves and assistance in rebuilding their homes, according to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal. Retired Major General Israel Ziv, involved in planning these zones, envisions a gradual handover of administrative control to the Palestinian Authority, contingent on Hamas releasing hostages and disarming its military wing. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has voiced strong opposition to PA administration of Gaza, vowing instead to eliminate Hamas entirely.

Despite these plans, skepticism surrounds their success, with critics pointing to previous failed attempts to cultivate non-Hamas leadership in Gaza. Efforts since November to identify viable local leaders reportedly met with resistance from Hamas, leading to doubts about the feasibility of such initiatives.

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In early 2024, Israeli defense officials proposed involving local clans in aid distribution as a temporary measure following incidents involving Hamas seizing aid convoys or violent encounters with desperate Palestinian civilians. Plans were discussed to gradually transfer administrative control of select areas to non-Hamas factions post-conflict, though the practicality of these proposals remains uncertain.

July 2, 2024 2:46 p.m. 413

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