Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday that he planned to make the return of two Israeli civilians held captive by Hamas and the remains of two Israeli soldiers a condition of the delivery of all but humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.
“We have to permit the basic humanitarian response in the Gaza Strip as much as necessary,” Gantz said at a media briefing, adding that anything beyond that level will be conditioned on advancing and solving the issue of the captives and the soldiers' bodies.
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The defense establishment has begun working on a mechanism to deliver money and construction materials for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip while preventing Hamas from using them to rebuild its tunnels and manufacture weapons.
“It’s extremely complicated," Gantz said. "In the end you need cement in order to build and we realize some of the cement goes to the tunnels. I’m not naive about the fact that some of the materials will be used by Hamas. We have to increase the inspection at the crossings. In the past year and a half the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces tried constantly to improve the inspection capabilities at the crossings to prevent smuggling."
He added that Hamas now makes most of its own weapons rather than relying on smuggling.
The defense minister supports the establishment of a mechanism parallel to that created by the United Nations, the Palestinian Authority and Israel in 2014 after the war in Gaza that summer, through which millions of tons of construction materials have been delivered to the Strip for the repair of hundreds of thousands of residential units.
During this month's military operations, the IDF struck tunnels and weapons workshops in the Strip. “I assume [Hamas] will try to rebuild some of the things,” Gantz said, “but I don’t think that their ability will be greater than what it was before” the 11-day military operation.
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Gantz said he intends to change the way Israel deals with Hamas.
“If we return to the status quo and don’t try to lead in a different direction, that would be a waste of the campaign. It was a very successful military campaign and must be leveraged to change the situation. We have to strengthen the Palestinian Authority as much as possible and prevent Hamas from dictating the agenda – not in the Gaza Strip and not from within it.
“The way is to try hard to strengthen the alliance of the moderates, to include the United States and the European Union as much as possible, to recruit as many countries as possible from the moderate axis and Qatar, to operate via the PA," Gantz said. He also expressed concern about the increased tension between Arabs and Jews inside Israel, and called for the creation of a“reconciliation cabinet,” demanding that such a cabinet be part of a future government.