Israeli settlers hold conference on resettlement in Gaza

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Hundreds of members of the Israeli settler community gathered for a convention in Jerusalem on Sunday calling for Israel to rebuild settlements in Gaza and the northern part of the Occupied West Bank.

Israel withdrew its military and settlers from Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said it does not intend to maintain a permanent presence again, but that Israel would maintain security control for an indefinite period.

There has been little clarity, however, about Israel’s longer-term intentions, and countries including the United States have said that Gaza should be governed by Palestinians.

The conference was organized by the right-wing Nahala organization, which advocates for Jewish settlement expansion in territories including the West Bank, where they are classified as illegal by international and humanitarian groups and where violent clashes between settlers and Palestinians are frequent.

The conference, titled “Settlement Brings Security,” was not organized by the Israeli government, though its hard-right coalition has been criticized for supporting settlement expansion, a position seen as hindering a possible future two-sate solution with the Palestinians.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported that 12 ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party, along with public security minister Itamar Ben Gvir and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich – both from far-right parties in the governing coalition – attended the conference.

Smotrich said that many of the children who were evacuated from settlements in Gaza had returned as soldiers to fight in a war with Hamas and that he stood against the government’s decision to evacuate Jewish settlements from Gaza in the past.

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“We knew what that would bring and we tried to prevent it,” Smotrich said in a speech. “Without settlements there is no security.”

The crowd roared with enthusiastic chants to rebuild Jewish communities in Gaza.

Ben Gvir said he had protested the evacuation of Jewish settlements from Gaza and warned it would bring “rockets upon Sderot” and “rockets upon Ashkelon” in southern Israel.

“We yelled and we warned,” Ben Gvir said. “If don’t want another October 7, we need to return home and control the land.”

(Reporting by Emily Rose; Editing by David Holmes)

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