Jan 9, 2024 - World

Blinken: Israel to allow UN to assess northern Gaza for future return of Palestinians

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv. Photo: Handout/Israeli GPO/Kobi Gideon/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Tel Aviv. Photo: Handout/Israeli GPO/Kobi Gideon/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israel will allow the UN to send experts to the northern Gaza Strip to evaluate the conditions for the future return of displaced Palestinian civilians, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said on Tuesday after his meetings with Israeli leaders.

Why it matters: While necessary, the move will only modestly advance the broader U.S. goal of allowing more than 1 million Palestinians who evacuated to the southern parts of the enclave to go back to their homes.

  • Israel's agreement appears to be, at the moment, the only tangible thing Blinken has achieved in his visit to Israel.

Driving the news: Blinken focused in his talks with Israeli leaders on the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza amid concerns over growing food insecurity.

  • Blinken said during a press conference that he told Israeli officials they need to allow more food, water and medical supplies into Gaza, distribute the aid more efficiently so that it reaches more people and allow the aid to flow through more border crossings.
  • In his meetings, Blinken also discussed the IDF's transition to low-intensity fighting in northern Gaza and how it might allow Palestinian civilians to return to their homes.

Zoom in: Israeli officials said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials opposed the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza at the moment due to the conditions on the ground.

  • One Israeli official said Israeli leaders told Blinken they want to allow the return of Palestinians as part of a new hostage deal. But a U.S. official claimed such linkage wasn't made in Blinken's meetings.
  • Blinken said in the press conference that he told Netanyahu the U.S. rejected any plan for resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza, as several radical right-wing Israeli ministers have suggested. He added that Netanyahu said this is not the Israeli government's policy.

What to watch: Blinken also said he asked Netanyahu that Israel work with the new UN Gaza reconstruction czar Sigrid Kag. Israeli officials agreed and said they would allow UN experts to enter northern Gaza soon.

  • The goal of the UN mission will be to evaluate the situation of the infrastructure in northern Gaza and determine what steps are needed before civilians can safely return.
  • Up to 1.9 Palestinians — 85% of the population — in the tiny enclave have been displaced by the Israeli military campaign that began after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, according to the UN Palestinian refugee agency, which stresses that many have been forced to move multiple times.
  • Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled northern Gaza after repeated evacuation orders by Israel and the start of the military's ground offensive. Many will have no physical homes to return to, as destruction from Israel's bombardment is widespread. Much of northern Gaza's water, sanitation electricity infrastructure has also been destroyed.
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