Blinken said late Thursday night the Israeli government had agreed to “a clear plan” to avert civilian deaths before resuming its assault of southern Gaza, amid intensifying U.S. pressure on Israel to recalibrate its approach amid the war’s grave humanitarian toll.
Israel agrees to protect civilians when Gaza war resumes, Blinken says
Blinken’s conversations with Israeli leaders were the toughest to date and, by his account, resulted in concrete assurances that they would change how their war is waged against Hamas, the group that attacked Israel on Oct. 7.
Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, 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.”
As the bombs began to fall, they were accompanied by leaflets in southern Gaza, where most people have fled in the two months of war, telling residents that these were now combat areas. The IDF also announced a new interactive map to direct residents when it was time to leave their areas — part of the strategy of reducing civilian casualties.
In a news conference, government spokesman Eylon Levy laid the blame for the renewed fighting squarely on Hamas.
“Unfortunately Hamas decided to terminate the pause by failing to release all the kidnapped women as it was obligated to do,” he said, saying that only eight instead of 10 hostages had been released. “So having chosen to hold on to our women, Hamas will now take the mother of all thumpings.”
Hamas, however, countered that it was Israel that had ended the truce when it rejected an offer to release elderly male Israeli hostages in exchange for elderly Palestinian prisoners, and to hand over the bodies of three Israeli hostages, including two children from the Bibas family.
“The Israelis refused, and it is clear that they have made a decision,” Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, told The Post in a voice message. “The [Israeli] 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 that the renewed bombing of Gaza complicates the mediation efforts that are still ongoing.
A U.S. official, speaking 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 are still 137 hostages in Hamas hands from its savage Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the vast majority of them men including many serving in the military, and Hamas is believed to calling for more prisoners to be released for them than under the current framework.
During the seven-day pause, more than 100 Israeli and international hostages, mostly women and children, were released by Hamas. In return, Israel released 240 Palestinian prisoners — also women and juveniles, many of whom had been jailed for rock-throwing and incitement. Since Oct. 7, Israel has detained around 3,400 Palestinians according to the Palestinian Commission of Detainees’ affairs.
The Hamas-led Gaza Health Ministry says more than 13,300 people have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory campaign, mostly women and children, though it is believed to be a vast undercount.
Within hours of the end of the pause, dozens of people in Gaza were killed or injured, Ashraf al-Qudra, a spokesman for Gaza’s Health Ministry said Friday. By the afternoon, the ministry reported that more than 100 people had been killed and dozens more wounded.
Reem, a mother living in Gaza City’s central Rimal neighborhood, which has been a focus of the fighting, heard the boom of tank fire Friday morning and immediately 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 Washington Post by phone on the condition that her last name be withheld to protect her privacy. “We told them to move away from the windows. 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 the 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 fierce air and ground assault to begin again this morning after nearly seven days of the pause in fighting. “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.”
James Elder, a spokesman for the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, told The Post from southern Gaza around midday Friday that the bombardment was constant.
“I can hear attacks everywhere, airstrikes,” Elder said in a telephone interview. “It’s relentless.” Streets in southern Gaza were “emptying out.” He had just left the al-Nasser Hospital, which he described as a place “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 his days in Gaza during the pause in fighting, he had joined aid convoys headed to the north of the enclave closer to Gaza City. “The way up is just devastation,” he said. The view was of destroyed apartment blocks and homes, trash collecting in the streets and the “stunned faces of those who decided to stay.”
As Israel’s offensive rumbled back to life Friday, people in southern Gaza “are terrified about having to move,” he said. “There is nowhere to move to. It’s not a cliché to say that nowhere is safe.”
According to U.S. officials, Israel intends to designate entire neighborhoods in southern Gaza as “deconfliction areas” as it restarts its offensive in southern Gaza.
One official said Israeli operations in the south would in some ways resemble a counterterrorism operation, and that the Israelis committed to not attacking the urban areas of Khan Younis and Rafah at the level of intensity they attacked Gaza City in the north, where more than 60 percent of residences are now estimated to be damaged.
Yet on Friday, the IDF dropped leaflets dropped on Khan Younis in Gaza’s south 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 from Beirut, Booth from London. Paul Schemm in London and Hazem Balousha in Amman contributed to this report.