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Israeli minister calls for return of settlers to Gaza

United Nations says 85% of people in Gaza have been displaced

By AFP - Dec 31,2023 - Last updated at Dec 31,2023

Displaced Palestinian children stand next to a mural painting by artist Amal Abo in Rafah in the southern of Gaza Strip, on Sunday (AFP photo)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Far-right Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday called for the return of Jewish settlers to the Gaza Strip after the war and said its Palestinian population should be encouraged to emigrate.

Israel launched a relentless military campaign against Hamas in Gaza after the Palestinian militants carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7.

"To have security we must control the territory," Smotrich told Israel's Army Radio in response to a question about the prospect of re-establishing settlements in Gaza.

"In order to control the territory militarily for a long time, we need a civilian presence."

The Israeli government under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not officially suggested plans to evict Gazans or to send Jewish settlers back to the territory since the war broke out on October 7.

Israel unilaterally withdrew the last of its troops and settlers in 2005, ending a presence inside Gaza that began in 1967 but maintaining near complete control over the territory's borders.

All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are regarded as illegal under international law, regardless of whether they were approved by Israel.

Smotrich, head of the ultranationalist Religious Zionism Party that is part of the ruling coalition, also said Israel should "encourage" the territory's approximately 2.4 million Palestinians to relocate to other countries.

“If we act in a strategically correct way and encourage emigration, if there are 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs in Gaza and not 2 million, the whole discourse of the day after [the war] will be completely different,” he said.

“We will help rehabilitate these refugees in other countries in a good and humane manner with the cooperation of the international community and Arab countries around us.”

Despite its withdrawal in 2005, Israel imposed a land, sea and air blockade on the territory and is still regarded internationally as an occupying power in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s ongoing Gaza offensive has killed more than 21,800 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

As heavy combat rages on, 85 per cent of people in Gaza have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

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