IDF combat engineers in Gaza
IDF combat engineers in GazaIDF

The Wall Street Journal reports that Israeli forces are working to clear a one-kilometer strip of land along the entire border to create a buffer zone between Gaza and Israel. The operation has included the destruction of agricultural land, filling in Hamas tunnels, and demolishing any buildings within the proposed zone. Thus far, the IDF has demolished 1,072 out of 2,824 structures within one kilometer of the border.

The building collapse disaster that killed twenty-one IDF reservists was part of the effort. The building in question was reported to have been approximately half a kilometer from the nearest Israeli town, with the collapse occurring as the demolition charges the reservists were using detonated prematurely.

US officials have opposed the zone, claiming that it constitutes forced displacement of the Gazan population, seizing Gazan land, and will impede attempts at rebuilding the Gaza Strip after the war.

“We’ve been very clear about our opposition to the forced displacement of people. We’ve been very clear about maintaining in effect the territorial integrity of Gaza,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.

WSJ noted that Israeli officials have said little about the zone, refusing to clarify whether it would be temporary or not, what would happen to Gazans entering it, or whether there would be any alternative offered to the Palestinians with either homes or businesses in the affected area. Prime Minister Netanyahu has stressed that Israel has no intention of permanently displacing the people of Gaza, but has not specified any dates by which Gaza residents might return to their remaining homes.

Israeli officials view the buffer as a critical component of the effort to allow evacuated civilians to return to their towns in southern Israel. A similar approach was used when creating the humanitarian corridors for Gazans to evacuate the war zones, in which an area was completely cleared near the proposed route in which IDF troops could isolate fleeing Palestinians for investigation.

A similar, albeit smaller, zone existed before the war broke out, but many IDF soldiers have claimed that it was not kept clear, with many Gazans carrying on agricultural enterprises within the zone, regular disturbances and protests reaching the border beyond the former buffer zone and Hamas operatives entering it to survey Israeli positions. Analysts also warn that such a buffer is unlikely to have any effect against rocket or drone attacks from Gaza.