Blinken said the Israeli government had agreed to “a clear plan” to avert civilian deaths before it resumed its assault on southern Gaza, amid intensifying U.S. pressure on Tel Aviv to reduce the war’s grave humanitarian toll.
Israel agrees to protect civilians when Gaza war resumes, Blinken says
By Blinken’s account, he was forceful with Israeli leaders and received assurances that they would change how they wage the war.
Speaking on the sidelines of the U.N. climate conference Friday in Dubai, Blinken blamed Hamas for ending the temporary truce. The militant group “began firing rockets before the pause had ended,” he said, and “reneged on commitments it made in terms of releasing certain hostages.”
Blinken praised Israeli efforts to protect Palestinian civilians, “including making sure that they have the information they need, and that there are ways to accommodate them.”
The Gaza Health Ministry reported Friday that 178 Palestinians had died after hostilities resumed. Patients with severe injuries overwhelmed what was left of Gaza’s health system, medical officials said.
“Hospitals have reached their darkest hour yet,” said Suhaib al-Hams, director of the Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah. “There are no empty beds.”
At least 90 percent of the wounded patients that the hospital received Friday needed amputations, he said. Doctors also saw patients with severe burns, internal bleeding and head trauma.
“If it stays like this, the hospitals cannot sustain,” al-Hams said. “All of them will be out of service.”
Israel did not allow aid deliveries into Gaza on Friday, but an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity under rules set by the government, told reporters that it would be resumed. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that at U.S. request, deliveries would continue, but it would be “dozens” of trucks, not “hundreds.”
The sides agreed to the pause and extended it twice to allow the exchange of hostages kidnapped from Israel during raids by Hamas and other fighters Oct. 7 for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and to increase the amount of humanitarian aid entering Gaza.
Kirby said Friday that the administration would “continue to remain deeply engaged” in trying to reinstate the pause so that more hostages may be released and more aid may reach Gazans.
“We’re working literally by the hour” to resume the truce, he said. “We have every expectation that another pause could be executed.”
The Israel Defense Forces said Friday that it had notified the families of four more hostages of their deaths and returned the body of a fifth to Israel.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the IDF, confirmed early Friday that fighting had resumed in Gaza. “We are back at it,” he said. “Now we are preparing for the next stage — southern Gaza.”
Along with bombs, Israel dropped leaflets in southern Gaza, where most people in the north have fled in the two months of war, warning that they were now in combat zones. The IDF also announced an interactive map to tell residents when to leave their areas — part of its effort to reduce civilian casualties. The enclave has struggled with internet connectivity.
Government spokesman Eylon Levy blamed Hamas for the resumption in fighting.
“Unfortunately, Hamas decided to terminate the pause by failing to release all the kidnapped women as it was obligated to do,” he told reporters. He said the group did not provide a full list of hostages it intended to release Friday. “So having chosen to hold on to our women, Hamas will now take the mother of all thumpings.”
Hamas countered that it was Israel that ended the truce when it rejected a deal in which the militants would release elderly male Israeli hostages and the bodies of three Israeli hostages, including children from the Bibas family, in exchange for elderly Palestinian prisoners.
“The Israelis refused, and it is clear that they have made a decision,” Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, told The Washington Post in a voice message. “The aggression against the Gaza Strip preceded the resumption of the fighting, so the one who ended the negotiation situation and thwarted all the efforts made was the Israeli side.”
Qatar, which has been hosting the talks over the pause in fighting for the past weeks, expressed its “deep regret at the resumption of the Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip” and said the renewed bombing of Gaza complicates the still-ongoing mediation.
Dozens of people were killed in strikes in southern Gaza after the seven-day pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas ended on Dec. 1. (Video: Reuters)
A U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door talks, suggested that the breakdown came because Hamas may have released all or nearly all of the hostages it appears to be willing to release for now. “We’re at the end of the line.”
Here are the hostages released by Hamas and those remaining in Gaza
Israel said Friday that there were still 137 hostages in Gaza, the vast majority of them men, including many soldiers. Hamas is said to be calling for more prisoners to be released than the three-Palestinians-for-each-hostage ratio of the pause.
During the week-long pause, Hamas released more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages, most of them women and children, and Israel released 240 Palestinian prisoners, who were women and teens, many of them detained for rock-throwing and incitement.
Hamas and other fighters streamed out of Gaza early on Oct. 7 to attack Israeli towns near the enclave. They killed around 1,200 people in Israel and took 240 more as hostages. Israel has responded with a military campaign that leaders say is aimed at eradicating Hamas from Gaza.
Since the Hamas attack, Israel has detained around 3,400 Palestinians, according to the Palestinian Commission for Detainees and ex-Prisoners’ Affairs. The Gaza Health Ministry said last week that the Israeli military campaign had caused more than 13,300 deaths, but communication challenges and no-go areas have made it impossible to produce a complete count.
The Israeli official said the IDF estimates that it killed 1,100 Hamas terrorists Oct. 7 and several thousand since. The official said there could be future pauses: “We believe that applying more military pressure on Hamas could lead to further hostage releases in the future.”
For now, the official said: “We are in a high-intensity operation in the coming weeks, then probably moving into a low-intensity mode.”
The United States has insisted that after the war, the whole of Gaza must remain under Palestinian control. The Israeli official said the country did not intend to occupy the territory but was developing plans that could effect its integrity.
The Israeli defense establishment is considering “some kind of security buffer on the Gaza side of the border so that Hamas cannot gather military capabilities close to the border and surprise Israel again,” the official said.
“It is a security measure, not a political one. We do not intend to remain on the Gaza side of the border.”
Reem, a mother in Gaza City’s central Rimal neighborhood, a focus of the fighting, heard the boom of tank fire Friday morning and sprang into action.
“When we heard the sounds, we told the kids to prepare their things in case we had to go,” she told The Post by phone. She spoke on the condition that her last name be withheld to protect her privacy.
“We told them to move away from the windows,” she said. “All of the things that we became accustomed to during the war, we returned to that today.”
Aid is trickling in, but Gaza still grows hungrier
The family moved down to a neighbor’s ground-floor apartment, hoping it would be safer. As she spoke, two blasts boomed in the background.
Reem had not expected Israel’s air-and-ground assault resume Friday. “Unfortunately, we had hope until the last minute that the cease-fire would be extended,” she said. “We hadn’t prepared ourselves psychologically for the return to war.”
While aid increased during the pause, the World Food Program warned that it was not nearly enough to stave off the growing risk of famine and starvation.
James Elder, a spokesman for the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, told The Post that the bombardment in southern Gaza was constant.
“I can hear attacks everywhere, airstrikes,” Elder said in a telephone interview from the enclave. “It’s relentless,” he said, and streets were “emptying out.” He had just left the al-Nasser hospital, which he said was “on life support.” There was not enough medical staff and not enough space for the flood of patients. The hospital was at “200 percent capacity,” he said.
During the pause, Elder joined aid convoys traveling to northern Gaza. “The way up is just devastation,” he said. He saw homes and apartment blocks that had been destroyed, trash piling up in the streets and the “stunned faces of those who decided to stay,” he said.
As the Israeli offensive roared back into operation, he said, people in southern Gaza were “terrified about having to move.”
“There is nowhere to move to,” he said. “It’s not a cliché to say that nowhere is safe.”
According to U.S. officials, Israel intends to designate some neighborhoods in southern Gaza as “deconfliction areas.” One official said that Israeli operations in the south would resemble a counterterrorism operation in some ways and that the Israelis had committed to not attacking the urban areas of Khan Younis and Rafah with the intensity with which they attacked Gaza City, where more than 60 percent of residences are estimated to be damaged or destroyed.
Yet on Friday, the IDF dropped leaflets on Khan Younis declaring the city a “dangerous combat zone” and directed residents to move further south to Rafah near the Egyptian border.
Birnbaum reported from Dubai, Fahim reported from Beirut, and Booth reported from London. Paul Schemm in London, Mohamad El Chamaa in Beirut, Hazem Balousha in Amman and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.