US and Israel considering exiling Hamas terrorists to shorten conflict

Palestinians take control of an Israeli tank after crossing the border fence with Israel from Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday October 7, 2023
Palestinian fighters who took part in the Oct 7 attack, pictured, could be sent abroad in an effort to stop Hamas retaking power - UPI / Alamy Live News

Israel and the US are reportedly discussing how to exile thousands of Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip as a way of shortening the war in the territory.

Officials have explored the idea of expelling thousands of low-ranking members of the group to countries such as Turkey, Qatar, Iran, Russia and Lebanon, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The move would aim to prevent the group from retaking power after the war, which Israel says is critical to Gaza becoming governable in the future.

The proposal is similar to a 1980s-era agreement brokered by the US that allowed the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and thousands of fighters to leave Beirut for Tunisia during an Israeli siege of the Lebanese capital.

Any expulsion would require the approval of the receiving countries and it is unclear if family members of those leaving would be included, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Another plan said to be under discussion in Israeli military circles is the creation of “Hamas-free zones” in Gaza ruled by a new governing power and backed by Gulf states.

Israel, which has vowed to completely destroy Hamas in retaliation for its Oct 7 attack, faces a major dilemma as to how it can achieve that goal without catastrophically high civilian losses in Gaza, which could erode Western backing for the war.

While the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) estimates it has killed thousands of Hamas terrorists already, it is believed that the group’s ranks inside Gaza number around 30,000.

In addition to Hamas, other groups such as Islamic Jihad control thousands of gunmen who also took part in the Oct 7 atrocities. They are also targets of the Israeli war effort.

If a large number of Hamas forces were expelled from Gaza, it would not only weaken their prospects of retaking power, but reduce the risk of a repeat of its attack on Israel – something Hamas has vowed to do.

The Wall Street Journal’s report cited an unnamed senior Israeli official who acknowledged that it wasn’t clear if Hamas would take up such an offer.

“I don’t see them as rational as the PLO was,” the official said, referring to the Palestine Liberation Organisation formerly led by Arafat. “It’s a more religious, jihadistic organisation connected to the ideas of Iran.”

They added that there had been no “practical discussion” of exiling Hamas in large numbers at this stage, but said the group may warm to the idea if no other options for its survival are on the table. Hamas has not yet issued a response to the report.

It remains unclear what body would govern the Gaza Strip after the war, in the event of Hamas completely losing power. The Palestinian Authority, which governs the occupied West Bank, has said it won’t agree to take over control unless there is a “comprehensive” solution for the West Bank as well.

Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, raised the idea of Nato temporarily having a presence in Gaza in an interview with The Telegraph, while there are also discussions about Gulf leaders stepping in.

The Wall Street Journal has reportedly also seen research by an IDF think tank that suggested the creation of “Hamas-free safe zones” in Gaza which could be governed by a new authority, backed by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

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