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Israel battles resurgent Hamas in northern Gaza

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Israeli troops are engaged in close-quarters combat with resurgent Hamas fighters in devastated north Gaza, an area they previously claimed to have largely cleared of the Palestinian militant group.

Fierce fighting has continued for days in what were once the Jabaliya refugee camps and the central Gaza City neighbourhood of Zeitoun, although the Israeli military had months ago shifted its focus to Rafah, a city on the southern tip of the strip.

Five Israeli soldiers were killed at the weekend, and Hamas said it had attacked Israeli troops in at least a dozen locations in northern Gaza on Monday morning. Tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians had on Saturday been told by the Israel Defense Forces to flee Jabaliya.

Hamas also fired rockets into southern Israel repeatedly in recent days, triggering air raid sirens as far as Beer Sheva, more than 40km from Gaza — indicating the strength of its regrouping and the lingering threat of a simmering insurgency after months of full-fledged war.

In a series of seemingly co-ordinated briefings to major Israeli newspapers, unnamed senior military officials said Hamas’s resurgence was due to the fact that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had so far refused to work towards any specific plan for the “day after” the war in Gaza.

Netanyahu has refused so far to endorse a civil authority, international force or even moderate Palestinian-backed administration to which Israel could hand over control of the enclave. In their absence, Hamas can reassert control over areas from which the IDF withdraws, the officials said.

In interviews with US television networks on Sunday, US secretary of state Antony Blinken echoed that view, telling CBS’s Face The Nation that the US “needs to see a plan for what happens after this conflict in Gaza is over”.

“What are we seeing right now is parts of Gaza that Israel has cleared of Hamas, where Hamas is coming back, including in the north,” he said. Israel could be left “holding the bag on an enduring insurgency”, he warned.

If Israel “gets out of Gaza” without a credible plan, it will leave behind a “vacuum that’s likely to be filled by chaos, anarchy, and ultimately by Hamas again”, he said.

The lawless vacuum in northern Gaza has left tens of thousands of Palestinians living in the bombed-out remains of their old neighbourhoods, and hurtling towards a “man-made famine”, the UN has warned. The distribution of humanitarian assistance in the north is severely curtailed.

Local health officials have said at least 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, when Hamas launched its devastating cross-border raid, killing 1,200 in Israel and taking at least 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials. About 130 remain in captivity, but several dozen of those are believed by Israeli intelligence to be already dead.

Netanyahu, speaking on Sunday on a podcast with Dan Senor, who helped to run the US occupation of Iraq after the 2003 invasion, suggested Israel would maintain an “active military presence” in Gaza for a long time.

Israel has yet to destroy the last four of 24 Hamas battalions, he said, adding that these battalions were in Rafah, where more than 1mn Palestinians have sought refuge. “But the important thing to understand is that once you destroy these battalions, you haven’t eliminated all the Hamas fighters,” he said. “They’re still there, but they have a harder time organising [a major attack].”

The defeat of these battalions would coincide with a period he described as “mop-up”, similar to operations carried out by Israel’s military in northern Gaza in recent weeks.

Netanyahu said the final stage, in which Israel would consider the war officially over but would retain the right to enter Gaza for military operations as it believes necessary, “is a while away”.

The Israeli prime minister declined to say whether that would imply a years-long occupation of Gaza, or “it could be actions inside Gaza. You don’t have to reoccupy, you just have to demilitarise it actively, [given] the distances are so small.”

“You do what you have to do,” he said. “We’ve discovered that anyplace we left . . . immediately the radicals took over.”

Netanyahu conceded that the end of the war would require “civilian administration, which we hope to do with local Gazans who are not part of Hamas . . . and I would hope with the aid of Arab and other states, internationally”.

Israel on Monday marked Memorial Day with a nationwide moment of silence and state ceremonies for fallen soldiers and civilians.

Sporadic anti-government protests broke out at several military cemeteries where ministers were speaking. Chants of “shame” were directed at far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir in the southern city of Ashdod, while counter-protesters shouted back: “Traitorous leftists.”

Dozens of audience members walked out of Netanyahu’s speech at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery, while catcalls could be heard at the conclusion of his remarks.

The prime minister sounded a defiant note in multiple speeches on Monday, however. “It’s either us, Israel — or them, the monsters of Hamas,” he said in a speech earlier on Monday. “Either existence, liberty, security and prosperity. Or torture, massacre, rape and slavery. We are determined to win this fight.”

#Israel #battles #resurgent #Hamas #northern #Gaza

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