Israel has told Middle Eastern neighbors that it seeks to create a buffer zone in the Gaza Strip to prevent future Palestinian terror attacks after the current war concludes, according to media reports Friday and Saturday.
Jerusalem has informed Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey of the plans, three unnamed sources from the region told the Reuters news agency.
“Israel wants this buffer zone between Gaza and Israel from the north to the south to prevent any Hamas or other [terrorists] from infiltrating or attacking Israel,” one of the sources said.
Two unnamed Egyptian security sources told Reuters that Israel raised the idea during ceasefire talks with Egypt and Qatar.
According to the report, Arab officials objected to the idea. Israel’s neighbors have been largely critical of the IDF’s offensive in Gaza, which began after 3,000 terrorists burst through the border and massacred 1,200 people in southern Israel, and have expressed unwillingness to contribute to an international force in Gaza after it ends.
The Middle Eastern governments did not comment on the Reuters report.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken Thursday in Israel that the Israel Defense Forces will establish a buffer zone “deep” into Gaza after the war, Kan news reported Friday, citing two sources familiar with the matter.
An unnamed UAE official said Abu Dhabi would back any solution “agreed upon by all the concerned parties.”
Elaborating on the buffer zone idea, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Friday that its “security establishment is talking about some kind of security buffer on the Gaza side of the border so that Hamas cannot gather military capabilities close to the border and surprise Israel again.”
“It is a security measure, not a political one. We do not intend to remain on the Gaza side of the border,” the official insisted.
For its part, the US has asserted in recent weeks that there be no reduction in Gaza’s territory after the war. US President Joe Biden has called for a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority to control the enclave following the war after an interim international force, along with implementing a path to a two-state solution.
Netanyahu has indicated the PA will not return to Gaza but has been unclear on the Strip’s future.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday that Washington opposes any reduction in Gaza’s territory.
“We don’t support any reduction of the geographic limits of Gaza… Gaza must remain Palestinian land, and cannot be reduced,” Kirby said during a press briefing.
Ophir Falk, a foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu, told Reuters that the planned buffer zone was only a part of a “three-tier process” to demilitarize and deradicalize the enclave following the elimination of Hamas.
Another unnamed senior security source told the agency that the size of the area had not yet been determined.
Mohammad Dahlan, the PA’s former security chief in Gaza before the government was expelled from the Strip when Hamas violently took control in 2007, dismissed the plan.
“The buffer zone could make Netanyahu’s forces a target also in the zone,” he told Reuters.
Regional sources who spoke to Reuters compared the buffer plan to Israel’s security zone in southern Lebanon from 1985 to 2000, a belt of land some 15 miles (24 kilometers) wide from the sea to the Shebaa Farms where the IDF and its proxy South Lebanon Army attempted to keep Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorists away from the Israeli border.
After a conflict costing hundreds of Israeli lives, the IDF withdrew in May 2000, and Hezbollah swept in.
But Gaza is only 12 kilometers wide in its broadest point, and any major buffer zone would eat into a significant portion of its territory.
Israel has vowed to topple Hamas after declaring war following the group’s October 7 attack, in which Palestinian terrorists stormed across the border from Gaza and slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 hostages.
Hamas says the Israeli military campaign has killed more than 15,000 people, mostly civilians. These numbers have not been independently verified and are believed to include Palestinian civilians killed by errant rockets launched by terror groups as well as Palestinian terrorists killed by Israel.
US renews calls for more aid
In addition to disputes over Gaza’s post-war future, the US is urging Israel to allow humanitarian assistance into Gaza at the same levels that were allowed during the seven-day ceasefire, which lapsed on Friday after Hamas did not deliver a list of hostages it intended to release, and began firing rockets an hour before the end of the truce.
During the week-long truce, Hamas released 105 civilian hostages, including 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals and one Filipino. It is believed that 137 hostages remain in Gaza. In return, Israel released 210 Palestinian security prisoners, all women and minors.
Additionally, some 200 trucks, including four tankers of fuel and four tankers of cooking gas, entered Gaza each day.
The entry of fuel and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip as part of the deal was halted after the terror group violated the truce, the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said.
In response to a query by The Times of Israel, COGAT confirmed that only dozens of trucks with humanitarian aid entered Gaza Friday.
The aid included only medicine and food but not fuel, COGAT said.
“After the Hamas terror organization violated the agreement and in addition fired at Israel, the entry of humanitarian aid was stopped in the manner stipulated in the agreement,” COGAT said.
COGAT said the trucks that entered Gaza Friday included only water, food, and medical supplies. The trucks were checked by Israeli authorities at the Nitzana crossing before entering Gaza via Egypt’s Rafah crossing.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Kirby said Friday the US is urging Israel to maintain the pace of aid during the pause in fighting.
He said it’s a “good sign” that Israel allowed dozens of trucks of aid to enter Friday at the request of the US.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of 55 Congress members penned a letter to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urging him to deploy a pair of hospital ships that are in the US Army’s possession to treat wounded civilians from Gaza.
The letter was organized by Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider and Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt.
It called for the ships to be deployed to “the waters off Gaza,” though this is not likely due to the damage sustained by Gaza’s port in Israeli airstrikes. Moreover, the port isn’t suited for the docking of such large ships.
Accordingly, countries that have announced plans to send hospital ships are deploying them to Egypt to dock off the El Arish coast. A floating hospital from France arrived there earlier this week.
Israel has been pushing for field hospitals and other alternatives to the existing medical centers in Gaza, issuing evidence that Hamas is operating command centers beneath them.