Threat of post-war Gaza anarchy

A visitor mourns at a memorial for people who were taken hostage or killed in the Hamas attack. Picture: AFP

A visitor mourns at a memorial for people who were taken hostage or killed in the Hamas attack. Picture: AFP

Published May 14, 2024


Israel battled Hamas in Gaza on Monday, including in far-southern Rafah, despite US warnings against a full-scale invasion of the crowded city and of the threat of post-war “anarchy” across the Palestinian territory.

Clashes also raged in northern and central Gaza as Israel marked a sombre Memorial Day, which is followed by Independence Day from Monday night, more than seven months into the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack.

Israelis marked a moment’s silence and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that “our war of independence is not over yet. It continues even today... We are determined to win this struggle.”

AFP correspondents in Gaza reported helicopter strikes and heavy artillery shelling in the east of Rafah, as well as battles in northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp and Gaza City’s Zeitun neighbourhood.

Israel last week defied a chorus of warnings, including from top ally Washington, and sent tanks and troops into the east of Rafah, the city on the Egyptian border where some 1.4 million Palestinians had sought shelter.

This has sparked an exodus of nearly 360 000 people from Rafah so far, said the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, which warned that “no place is safe” in the largely devastated territory.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that Washington had not seen any credible Israeli plan to protect civilians in Rafah, and that “we also haven’t seen a plan for what happens the day after this war in Gaza ends”.

“Israel’s on the trajectory, potentially, to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left or, if it leaves, a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy and probably refilled by Hamas,” he told NBC.

People observe two minutes of silence on Yom HaZikaron, (Memorial Day), near southern Israel’s Kibbutz Reim on Monday, at the site of the Supernova music festival in which a number of those attending on October 7 last year were killed or taken hostage by the Palestinian militant group, Hamas. Picture: AFP

Fighting has raged in northern Gaza where – months after Israel declared Hamas’s command structure had been dismantled – an Israeli army spokesperson said there were “attempts by Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities”.

“The army threw leaflets and sent a message on mobile phones warning everyone to leave Jabalia” refugee camp, said one displaced Palestinian, Umm Adi Nassar, after arriving in Gaza City. “This is not the first time we have been displaced,” she said.

“Every time we try to return and settle, there is an invasion operation, and the army with its air planes and tanks bombards the houses and kills people.” Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, also said that its militants were engaged in ground battles in Rafah and Jabalia. A strike overnight on a house in Rafah killed at least four people, said the city’s Kuwaiti hospital.

Rafah residents on Monday received more evacuation orders through phone calls and text messages, prompting yet more people to leave their homes, witnesses said.

While Israel has vowed to destroy remaining Hamas forces in Rafah, the New York Times cited unnamed US officials as saying that both US and Israeli intelligence suggested the group’s leader Yahya Sinwar was not hiding there.

Sinwar – who has not been seen since the October 7 attack which Israel says he orchestrated – “most likely never left the tunnel network” under southern Gaza’s main city of Khan Yunis, the newspaper said.

Amid the fighting, Egyptian, Qatari and US mediation efforts towards a truce appeared to have stalled.

UN chief Antonio Guterres urged “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and an immediate surge in humanitarian aid” into Gaza.

As Israel marked its Memorial Day, sirens sounded across the country, prompting a two-minute silence in honour of fallen soldiers and civilian victims of attacks. Memorial Day comes ahead of the country’s 76th Independence Day, beginning Monday at sunset, when Israelis celebrate the creation of their state in 1948.

Palestinians remember Israel’s establishment as the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were expelled or pushed out of their homes amid the war, and commemorate it annually on May 15.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1 170 people.

Israel’s bombardment and offensive in Gaza have killed at least 35 091 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory. The war has displaced most Gazans, many multiple times.

Residents of Rafah were told by the Israeli army to head to the Al-Mawasi “humanitarian zone” on the coast northwest of Rafah, though aid groups have warned it is not ready for an influx of people.

Cape Times