Israel assessing alternatives to Hamas rule in Gaza, defence minister says

FILE PHOTO: A man in a wheelchair passes near Israeli flags and pictures of hostages kidnapped during the deadly October 7 attack by Hamas, in Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's defence minister said on Sunday that Israel would not accept Hamas continuing to rule Gaza at any stage during the process to wind down the war, and that it was examining alternatives to the Islamist group.

"While we conduct our important military actions, the defence establishment is simultaneously assessing a governing alternative to Hamas," Yoav Gallant said in a statement.

"We will isolate areas (in Gaza), remove Hamas operatives from these areas and introduce forces that will enable an alternative government to form – an alternative that threatens Hamas," Gallant said.

He did not elaborate on the possible alternatives.

Iran-backed Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, a year after it won parliamentary elections and following a brief civil war with security forces from the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

Israel's war cabinet, of which Gallant is a member, is expected to meet later in the day, Israeli media reported, after U.S. President Joe Biden presented a framework deal for winding down the Gaza war. Hamas has provisionally welcomed the initiative but has given no indication it might step aside or disarm voluntarily.

Gallant, in a statement from the IDF southern command headquarters, said that Israel's military operation, together with creating the potential for governing alternatives will allow the removal of Hamas' authority and the return of hostages.

"We will not accept the rule of Hamas in Gaza at any stage in any process aimed at ending the war," he said.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ros Russell)