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War on Gaza: Israel 'in talks with Rwanda and Chad' to exile Palestinians

Israeli news site reports Israel offered aid and weapons to Rwanda and Chad as incentive to accept Palestinian refugees
People arrive in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, after fleeing the Israeli bombardment of Khan Younis, on 4 January 2024 (AFP)

Israeli officials are in talks with Rwanda and Chad to receive Palestinians pushed out of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli news site Zman Yisrael reported on Friday. 

Both countries expressed a basic agreement to continue talks, according to unnamed sources, unlike other countries which have refused in principle.

According to the Israeli outlet, the initiative is spearheaded by the foreign ministry and Mossad, Israel's intelligence service. 

"The business is very complex," an official told Zman Yisrael. "We must promote this channel, but be very careful of the reactions in the world and also of the fear that it will be interpreted as a transfer and not a voluntary migration. That's why we work with close legal advice," they added. 

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The basic outline of the initiative is to give a generous financial grant to any Palestinian who expresses a desire to leave Gaza, along with extensive aid to the receiving country, including military aid.

On Wednesday, Zman Yisrael reported that similar talks were held with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which appeared less willing to accept that offer.

The policy to cleanse Gaza of Palestinians wholesale “is slowly becoming the leading and official policy of the government and the coalition”, the report said. 

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The Israeli government is keen to say that Palestinians are not being ethnically cleansed from Gaza, but rather that the move would be a “voluntary immigration policy". 

The distinction has been scrutinised because Israeli politicians have gone on the record explicitly laying out plans to make Gaza unlivable for its inhabitants and replace the population with Israeli settlers. 

Voices in Israel are increasingly open about plans to remove Palestinians from Gaza after almost three months' bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory.

In November, the Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich backed a plan for the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians.

In addition to Smotrich, the far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said on Monday there should be a “migration of the residents of Gaza” to outside of the besieged enclave.

International condemnation

On Tuesday, US State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller took the unusual step of directly calling out the two ministers over their support of the plan. 

“The United States rejects recent statements from Israeli ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir advocating for the resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza. This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible,” he said in a statement.

The international community has condemned Israeli proposals to attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from Gaza. 

On Thursday the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk, said he was “very disturbed” by comments made by Israeli ministers about transferring Gaza's population to other countries.

“Eighty-five percent of people in Gaza are already internally displaced. They have the right to return to their homes,” Turk said in a post on X. 

International law bans “the forcible transfer of protected persons within or deportation from occupied territory,” he added. 

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In October, an Israeli intelligence ministry document was leaked to the Israeli news site Calcalist, detailing purported plans for the forced transfer of Palestinians in Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula.

According to the leaked policy draft, after their expulsion, Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinians would initially be housed in tent cities, before permanent communities could be built in the peninsula’s north.

Cairo has repeatedly rejected the idea that Palestinians could be displaced to Egypt temporarily as Israel carries out its military operation against Hamas in Gaza.

Israel even reportedly proposed writing off a significant chunk of Egypt’s international debts through the World Bank to entice the country's cash-strapped leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to open its doors to displaced Palestinians. 

War broke out in Israel and Gaza on 7 October, when Hamas and armed Palestinian groups launched an attack on Israel that killed 1,140 Israelis and other nationals, according to the government death toll.

Meanwhile, Israel has killed more than 22,000 Palestinians in its aerial bombing campaign and ground assault, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

In late December, South Africa filed a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians.

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