The United States on Tuesday denounced controversial comments by two far-right Israeli ministers who said Palestinians should be encouraged to emigrate from Gaza and called for Jewish settlers to return to the besieged territory.

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In this photo taken on November 15, 2022, then-Knesset members Itamar Ben-Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich look on during the swearing-in ceremony for Israeli lawmakers in Jerusalem.
In this photo taken on November 15, 2022, then-Knesset members Itamar Ben-Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich look on during the swearing-in ceremony for Israeli lawmakers in Jerusalem. Ben-Givr now serves as national security minister and Smotrich serves as finance minister in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government. © Abir Sultan via AP

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington “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,” added Miller, who reiterated the “clear, consistent, and unequivocal” US position that “Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land, with Hamas no longer in control of its future and with no terror groups able to threaten Israel”.

Ben-Gvir, Israel’s firebrand national security minister, had called on Monday for promoting “a solution to encourage the emigration of Gaza’s residents”.

The far-right minister hit back at the US late on Tuesday over its criticism of his push for the transfer of Palestinians out of Gaza.

“The United States is our best friend, but first of all we will do what is best for the State of Israel: the migration of hundreds of thousands from Gaza will allow the (Israeli) residents of the envelope to return home and live in security and will protect the IDF (Israeli) soldiers,” the far-right minister posted on X.

מעריך מאוד את ארצות הברית של אמריקה אבל עם כל הכבוד אנחנו לא עוד כוכב בדגל האמריקאי. ארצות הברית היא ידידתנו הטובה אך לפני הכל נעשה מה שטוב למדינת ישראל: הגירת מאות אלפים מעזה תאפשר לתושבי העוטף לחזור הביתה ולחיות בביטחון ותשמור על חיילי צה”ל.

— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) January 2, 2024

The “envelope” refers to territory in Israel around the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Israel unilaterally withdrew the last of its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, ending a presence inside Gaza that began in 1967, but has maintained near complete control over the territory’s borders.

The government under Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not officially suggested it has any plans to evict Gazans or to send Jewish settlers back to the territory since the current war with Hamas broke out on October 7.

But Ben-Gvir on Monday argued that the departure of Palestinians and re-establishment of Israeli settlements “is a correct, just, moral and humane solution”.

“This is an opportunity to develop a project to encourage Gaza’s residents to emigrate to countries around the world,” he told a meeting of his ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power”, party.

His comments came the day after Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Smotrich also called for the return of settlers to Gaza, saying Israel should “encourage” the territory’s approximately 2.4 million Palestinians to leave.

Read moreFrom outrage to hate: In the wake of October 7, Israel’s far right seeks to extend its influence

Israeli officials say 1,139 people were killed in the Hamas-led October 7 attacks in southern Israel, among them 695 Israeli civilians including 36 children. 

Israel responded to the attacks with a relentless bombardment and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip that has killed at least 22,185 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave.

With heavy combat still raging, 85 percent of people in the besieged territory have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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