Now 117 days into the Gaza war, with fighting having long been focused in the south, and there are already reports that Hamas militants are returning to the northern half of the Gaza Strip, which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have for months exercised control of after pacifying it early in the ground offensive.
The Guardian is among major publications to report that Hamas is newly mobilizing in the north and even trying to reestablish a system of governance, citing Israeli officials and eyewitnesses.
One former Israeli national security advisor, Eyal Hulata, has described, “We are hearing more, unfortunately, of the recovery of [an] insurgency in both central and northern Gaza … We’re hearing more and more that Hamas are doing policing in northern Gaza and governing trade, and that is a very bad outcome.”
Michael Milstein of the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israel-based think tank, explained to the publication how this could be possible. “Hamas control these areas. There is no chaos or vacuum because it is the workers of Gaza municipality or civil rescue defense forces, who are effectively part of Hamas, who are enforcing public order. Hamas still exists. Hamas has survived,” he said.
“The IDF version is that in the northern part of Gaza the basic military structure of Hamas was broken … That only works with a conventional army but not for a flexible guerrilla operation like Hamas. We are already seeing individuals as snipers, setting booby traps and so on,” Milstein continued.
Presumably small Hamas teams are also still able to make effective use of tunnels to launch ambushes or utilize other insurgent or guerilla tactics. This makes it almost impossible to stamp out Hamas completely.
Israel has meanwhile sought to actively prevent large swathes of Gazan residents from returning to their homes, also given it is still an active war zone. Some regional outlets have said the IDF is dropping leaflets warning refugees in the south against any attempts to travel back north.
Meanwhile, Israel’s plans for the Gaza Strip post-war are still unclear, but Palestinians fear that Jewish settlers will eventually move in. According to a new report in Reuters, that was precisely the focus of a controversial conference over the weekend.
“Israel’s hard-right Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir urged Jewish settlers to return to Gaza at a packed gathering on Sunday, drawing condemnation from Palestinians who said his words amounted to a call for their forced deportation,” Reuters reported.
On 29 January, a video was released by Hamas’s military wing Al-Qassam Brigades showing intense fighting with the Israeli military in Khan Younis.
The exact location and time of when the video was filmed have not been verified. Hamas has said that they destroyed two Israeli… pic.twitter.com/0ffefCIXIP
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) January 31, 2024
“The statement from the firebrand Ben-Gvir clashed with the official government position iterated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel does not intend to return a permanent presence to Gaza once the war with Hamas is over,” the report said.