US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the end of the second day of the G7 foreign ministers' meetings in Tokyo on November 8, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

TOKYO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called on Israel not to reoccupy Gaza once its war with Hamas ends.

Speaking to reporters after G7 foreign ministers held talks in Japan, Blinken said that there should be “no reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict.”

"Gaza cannot be continued to be run by Hamas. That simply invites repetition of October 7 ... It's also clear that Israel cannot occupy Gaza," Blinken said in Tokyo.

"Now, the reality is that there may be a need for some transition period at the end of the conflict ... We don't see a reoccupation and what I've heard from Israeli leaders, is that they have no intent to reoccupy Gaza.

Earlier, top diplomats from the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies announced a unified stance on the war on Wednesday after intensive meetings in Tokyo, condemning Hamas, supporting Israel’s right to self-defence and calling for “humanitarian pauses” to speed aid to desperate civilians in the Gaza Strip.

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In a statement following two days of talks, the nations sought to balance unequivocal criticism of Hamas’ attacks against Israel and “the need for urgent action” to help civilians in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

“All parties must allow unimpeded humanitarian support for civilians, including food, water, medical care, fuel and shelter, and access for humanitarian workers,” said the statement, hammered out by Blinken and foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy.

“We support humanitarian pauses and corridors to facilitate urgently needed assistance, civilian movement and the release of hostages.”

The G7 meeting was, in part, an attempt to contain the worsening humanitarian crisis while also keeping broader differences on Gaza from deepening. It came “at a very intense time for our countries and for the world,” Blinken said in remarks to reporters, adding that “G7 unity is stronger and more important than ever.”

The ministers noted that the G7 is “working intensively to prevent the conflict from escalating further and spreading more widely,” and also using sanctions and other measures “to deny Hamas the ability to raise and use funds to carry out atrocities.” They also condemned “the rise in extremist settler violence committed against Palestinians,” which they said is “unacceptable, undermines security in the West Bank, and threatens prospects for a lasting peace.”

Palestinians fleeing south on foot

As the diplomats met in downtown Tokyo, a UN agency said that thousands of Palestinians in Gaza are fleeing south on foot with only what they can carry after running out of food and water in the north.

Israel said its troops were battling Hamas militants deep inside Gaza City, which was home to some 650,000 people before the war and where the Israel military says Hamas has its central command and a vast labyrinth of tunnels. The growing numbers making their way south point to an increasingly desperate situation in and around Gaza’s largest city, which has come under heavy Israeli bombardment.

“All of us want to end this conflict as soon as possible and meanwhile to minimize civilian suffering,” Blinken said. “But, as I discussed with my G7 colleagues, those calling for an immediate ceasefire have an obligation to explain how to address the unacceptable result that would likely bring about: Hamas left in place with more than 200 hostages, with a capacity and stated intent to repeat October 7th again and again and again.”

Looking ahead to after the war, Blinken said, “key elements should include no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. ... No use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism or other violent attacks. No reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza. We must also ensure no terrorist threats can emanate from the West Bank.”