Continued control of the Gaza Strip by Islamist movement Hamas
is in Israel's security interests, the Israeli army's top commander for the region said on Tuesday.
It was the first time a senior commander had publicly stated an Israeli interest in continued control of the territory by a group with which it fought the deadly eight-day conflict – Operation
Pillar of Defense – just last November.
Southern Command chief Major General Sami Turgeman told Israel's Channel Two that only Hamas had the power to enforce broad respect for the truce that ended that conflict and limit rocket fire into Israel
from the territory.
"What we want is calm and security in the Gaza Strip," Turgeman said.
"Hamas, currently the sovereign power in the territory, has the means and the know-how. I see no alternative to control being exercised by Hamas."
The main Palestinian factions all signed up to the truce that ended last year's fighting. There has been sporadic rocket fire by fringe militant groups but Hamas has stopped most of it.
The general's comments came as Hamas faces mounting economic pressure as a result of an Egyptian
crackdown on smuggling through tunnels under the border.
Israel media say senior officials are increasingly concerned that the movement's power could collapse, prompting it to resume the armed struggle or lose ground to more radical Islamist groups.
Upon taking command of the region last April, Turgeman, 49, said
"the past few years, and even the past few days, have taught us about the high level of sensitivity of the southern arena and its influence on security and the sense of security in many parts of the country.
"A quick glance around us reveals new and old threats, close and far, that present before us a complex and sensitive reality," he said during the ceremony. "With the ability and preparedness of our units we will deter (Israel's enemies) from fighting (us), but if (there will be fighting), we will strike shrewdly and forcefully."
IDF chief Gantz
said that Gaza is "unstable and will continue to be hostile in the near future. Of course, Hamas is responsible for this, and we must not allow a reality of dripping (of rocket fire on Israel).
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