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Israeli minister makes case for depopulation of Gaza

The majority of the Palestinian Arabs living in Gaza should be encouraged to emigrate to other countries, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has said. He argued that drastic measures are needed to ensure Israel’s security and avoid further incursions by Hamas. 

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“What needs to be done in the Gaza Strip is to encourage emigration,” Smotrich told Army Radio on Sunday. “If there are 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs in Gaza and not 2 million Arabs, the entire discussion on the day after will be totally different.”

The leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party argued that a depopulated Gaza would no longer pose a threat to the Jewish state, given that the Palestinians living there under Hamas’ rule are “growing up on the aspiration to destroy the state of Israel.”

“Most of Israeli society will say ‘why not, it’s a nice place, let’s make the desert bloom, it doesn’t come at anyone’s expense,’” Smotrich said, as quoted by Reuters. He suggested that an international resettlement plan should be devised for the Palestinians who “have been forcibly held against their will in a ghetto for 75 years” and were raised on anti-Israeli propaganda.

Up to 1.9 million people – or more than 85% of Gaza’s population – have been displaced since the Israeli Army launched an assault in response to the deadly Hamas attack on October 7, according to the UN. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) first urged people to flee the northern part of the Palestinian enclave, and eventually instructed those staying in the southern city of Khan Younis to relocate farther from the area of combat operations.  

Israel continues to reject calls for an immediate ceasefire, despite repeated warnings from the UN about a humanitarian “catastrophe” in the enclave. Israeli officials and the IDF say Hamas bears full responsibility for civilian deaths and accuse the militant group of using civilians as human shields. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Saturday that “the war will continue for many months until Hamas is eliminated and the hostages are returned.”

Israel declared war on Hamas and allied groups after the militants invaded the southern part of the country on October 7, leaving around 1,200 people dead and taking over 200 hostages. More than 21,600 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the fighting erupted, according to the local Hamas-run government.

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