US wants Palestinians fleeing northern Gaza to be able to return

By Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States wants Palestinians displaced inside Gaza to be able to return to their homes when it is safe to do so, U.S. officials said on Thursday, as thousands flee an Israeli ground assault in the north of the Hamas-controlled strip.

Israel agreed to pause military operations for four hours a day along two corridors that will allow civilians to flee safely, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters at a regular press briefing, adding that development was a direct result of diplomacy by U.S. officials.

The Israeli military said it had not agreed to a ceasefire and would continue its operations outside of localized humanitarian pauses.

Patel said those fleeing their homes should have the ability to return, but said Washington does not have control or jurisdiction over the areas in question.

"We do not, as a matter of fundamental principle, support or wish to see displacement of Gaza's population," U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield said in an earlier online briefing.

"Those now in the south must have every ability to return to the north when that is safe to do."

Hamas gunmen from Gaza burst through the border to Israel on Oct. 7 and killed 1,400 people, Israel says. Since then, more than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in a relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip - home to 2.3 million - by Israeli forces, say Palestinian health officials in Gaza.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has begun discussing with Israeli and Arab leaders a future for the Gaza Strip without Hamas, on Wednesday said Gaza should not be re-occupied by Israel, besieged, or reduced in territory, and must be run by Palestinians in a unified authority with the occupied West Bank.

"How you get to those goals is an issue which is going to have to be discussed over the time ahead," Satterfield said. "It of course depends very much on how this campaign ends, whether Hamas is eliminated as a threat, as a force able to dictate to the people of Gaza. The objective is not to have that happen."

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Daniel Wallis)