Israel to Blinken: Palestinians can’t return to north Gaza until hostages freed

The deal offer will be made to Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he arrives Tuesday, says Axios.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel will only let Palestinian civilians return to the northern part of the Gaza Strip within the framework of a hostage deal, Axios reported Monday night.

“We are not going to allow Palestinians to go back to their homes in northern Gaza if there is no progress with the release of hostages,” a senior Israeli official told the news site.

The government will give this message to Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he arrives in the country Tuesday, the report said. It follows the statement he made during a press conference with the Qatari prime minister in Doha on Sunday, when he said, “Palestinian civilians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow.”

The Biden administration has been heavily involved in hostage negotiations with Hamas through the highest political echelon in Qatar, which has influence over Hamas, having supported the terrorist organization financially for years to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Doha was the key player in arranging the exchange in November of 81 Israeli women and children and one Russian Israeli man held captive in Gaza for some 250 Palestinian security prisoners, all of them women or minors.

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Permitting Gazans to go back to the area “is significant leverage that Israel doesn’t want to give up,” the report said, citing a second unnamed official.

Jerusalem believes about 132 hostages, most but not all of them Israeli, are still alive in captivity, but is unsure because the Red Cross has not been allowed to visit them, a forgotten clause in the first hostage deal.

It is known that many are not in good condition. Several of the male abductees are elderly and do not have their medications, several were known to be injured while being taken, and freed hostages have reported that fellow captives were being beaten and repeatedly sexually assaulted.

So far, Hamas has stood behind its declaration that it will not free any more hostages until Israel stops the war and leaves the Gaza Strip, although there have been reports of a possible softening of its position. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by his entire cabinet, has repeatedly said that the IDF will not withdraw until Hamas is utterly destroyed and can never repeat its massacres and atrocities of October 7, when its fighters invaded some two dozen communities, murdered 1,200 people and abducted some 250 into Gaza.

The public Israeli stance is also that its forces would maintain security control of the coastal enclave for at least the near future.

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A return to the north could not take place very soon in any case, however. Even though the IDF says it now has “full operational control” in the north, the army is still busy with mopping up operations and finding and destroying more terror tunnels.  In addition, due to Hamas’ modus operandi of embedding its military infrastructure throughout civilian neighborhoods, making most homes into legitimate military targets, vast tracts have been turned into rubble by Israeli air and artillery power.

According to the report, an Israeli official said that they will inform Blinken that Israel is willing to start planning with the U.S. and UN how civilians can go back, if nothing else then to shelters set up to house them.

This would be a massive undertaking, as almost a million Gazans fled southward when the IDF told them to so that they wouldn’t be caught in the ground invasion that began in late October. The Israeli army set up safe routes for their evacuation, which they defended from Hamas terrorists who attacked them so the people would turn back and they could use their fellow citizens as human shields.