Israel To Blinken: Gazans Can't Return To North Until Hostages Released

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Jan 09, 2024 - 03:20 PM

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel after previously speaking with Arab leaders in the region where he urged them to join the US in seeking to limit the spread of the Gaza war and to lessen the dire humanitarian impact.

"Palestinian civilians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow," he had stated in Qatar on Sunday. But just as Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday, Axios reported that the Israeli side is expected to say 'no'... not until a new hostage deal is reached.  

Axios writes, "Israeli officials will tell Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Tuesday that Israel won't allow Palestinians to return to northern Gaza if Hamas doesn't agree to release more hostages," based on two senior Israeli officials. Washington is expected to keep up some degree of pressure on Israel over the humanitarian situation given the Gaza health ministry has said there are over 23,000 deaths, which are mostly civilian.

Source: Times of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have just announced entry into a new phase of the war after having largely pacified the north, but there's heavy fighting expected to persist in the south and central areas of the Strip.

One of the Israeli government sources told Axios, "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 second official said, "There are Israeli and American hostages that are still held in Gaza. We think we will know within a few weeks whether a new deal to release them is possible or not."

About 130 Israeli and foreign hostages are still being held by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the two sides haven't so much as been close to striking a second major hostage swap.

The Israeli side wants to use the security situation, and the question of whether Gazans should be able to return to their homes, as leverage related to negotiations for the return of the hostages:

Israeli negotiators who are working on the issue believe the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza is significant leverage that Israel doesn't want to give up as it tries to secure a new hostage deal, a second Israeli official said.

Regional media has underscored that last week's assassination by drone strike against Hamas deputy political head Saleh al-Arouri has complicated efforts at reaching another hostage deal:

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, met with the families of six Israeli and American captives in Doha on Saturday, Israeli media reported.

During the meeting, Al Thani informed the families that Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri has complicated negotiations for the release of captives.

Blinken's words emphasizing that Gazan civilians must be allowed to return to their homes is also pushback against top Israeli officials who are arguing that Gazans must be permanently displaced. "They cannot and they must not be pressed to leave Gaza," Blinken had said in Qatar.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long said his government is entertaining the possibility. "Our problem is countries that are ready to absorb them, and we are working on it," he had stated while media reports say that even some African countries might be willing. This potential policy has been met with widespread international condemnation, and as tantamount to ethnic cleansing. Some of Netanyahu's more outspoken ministers have called for Israelis to be able to take over Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.