Netanyahu wants to maintain military control over Gaza after war: updates

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Israel seeks to set up a buffer zone and maintain sweeping military control over the Gaza Strip after its offensive against Hamas ends, according to a newly proposed plan, which is in stark contrast to the Biden administration's stated vision for the war-torn territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu detailed plans were released on Friday, amid temporary cease-fire negotiations and as airstrikes bombarded southern Gaza, killing scores of Palestinians.

Netanyahu's plan calls for indefinite military control over Gaza and said the territory would be governed by local officials who would “not be identified with countries or entities that support terrorism and will not receive payment from them.”

The plan also pushes for the construction of a buffer zone in northern Gaza, and said Israel would maintain a presence throughout in the enclave's south. Netanyahu's plans reiterate his opposition to "unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state" as well as his demand that any negotiations concerning Palestinian statehood be made directly between the Israeli government and the Palestinians.

The long-awaited plan is a far cry from the Biden administration's hopes and expectations for Gaza after the war. Top U.S. officials say they're seeking a two-state solution that would see the Palestinian Authority govern the enclave before the establishment of a unified Palestinian state, encompassing both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The Biden administration opposes a reoccupation of Gaza and any changes to its borders, including a buffer zone.

Palestinian leaders quickly rejected Netanyahu's plans, calling it a declaration of reoccupation and a pledge to change its geography.

Palestinians search for survivors after an Israeli airstrike on a residential building of the Yaghi family in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.
Palestinians search for survivors after an Israeli airstrike on a residential building of the Yaghi family in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.


∎ Since the start of the war more than 29,500 Palestinians, most of whom are women and children, have been killed, said the Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas. The ministry not distinguish between combatant and civilian deaths.

∎ Dozens of people were killed overnight by Israeli airstrikes that hit the crowded city of Rafah, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

∎ Infectious diseases in devastated Gaza could end up killing more than the nearly 30,000 who have already perished in the war, said Richard Brennan, the World Health Organization’s regional emergency director. “Infectious disease is a major concern for us in Gaza,” he said in Cairo.

Blinken signals reversal of Trump-era decision on West Bank settlements

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is "inconsistent with international law," signaling a reversal of a Trump-era decision that went against four decades of U.S. policy.

The remarks from Blinken came a day after Israeli officials announced thousands of homes would be built in the West Bank in retaliation for a deadly shooting near a settlement in which three Palestinian gunmen killed one Israeli and wounded five others.

Blinken said the Biden administration is "disappointed" in the decision by Israeli officials and that the U.S. "maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion." He added that growing settlements "only weakens, not strengthens Israel's security."

Bezalel Smotrich, Israel's finance minister, on Thursday said Israel plans to build 3,300 new homes in the West Bank, a decision made with the input of other top officials, including Netanyahu.

“The serious attack on Ma’ale Adumim must have a determined security response but also a settlement response,” Smotrich said in a post on X. “Our enemies know that any harm to us will lead to more construction and more development and more of our hold all over the country.”

In November 2019, the Trump administration announced it would no longer consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be a violation of international law, which led to a construction boom.

Peace talks begin in Paris

Representatives from Israel, Egypt, Qatar and the United States met in Paris on Friday in efforts to reach a diplomatic agreement that would secure a temporary cease-fire and the release of hostages.

The meetings started a day after the Israeli War Cabinet agreed to send a delegation to Paris for weekend talks – the first positive sign in negotiations since Israel backed out of discussions in Cairo, calling Hamas' demands "delusional."

The biggest obstacle preventing a deal has been Israel's pledge to continue its offensive until Hamas is dismantled and Hamas' demand for a permanent cease-fire and the release of thousands of prisoners in Israel.

There are about 100 hostages believed to still be in Gaza, according to Israeli figures. More than 100 hostages were exchanged for Palestinian prisoners during a weeklong cease-fire in November. At least 30 prisoners are believed to be dead.

Israeli officials have state that, barring a deal, it will press forward with its offensive into the crowded southern city of Rafah during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins around March 10.

Contributing: Associated Press; John Bacon, Jorge L. Ortiz

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel Hamas war updates: New plan pushes for buffer zone in Gaza