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PALESTINE

Aid trucks begin entering Gaza under agreement with Egypt to bypass Rafah

Published:Monday | May 27, 2024 | 12:06 AM
Police use water cannon to disperse demonstrators in Tel Aviv during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group.
Police use water cannon to disperse demonstrators in Tel Aviv during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and calling for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group.

Deir Al-Balah (AP):

Aid trucks entered Gaza from southern Israel on Sunday through a new agreement to bypass the Rafah crossing with Egypt after Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side of it earlier this month. But it was unclear if humanitarian groups would be able to access the aid because of ongoing fighting in the area.

Egypt refuses to reopen its side of the Rafah crossing until control of the Gaza side is handed back to Palestinians. It agreed to temporarily divert traffic through Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza’s main cargo terminal, after a call between US President Joe Biden and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

But that crossing has been largely inaccessible because of fighting linked to Israel’s offensive in the nearby city of Rafah. Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks to enter, but United Nations agencies say it is usually too dangerous to retrieve the aid on the other side.

The war between Israel and Hamas, now in its eighth month, has killed over 35,800 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count. Around 80 per cent of the population’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes, severe hunger is widespread, and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

Hamas triggered the war with its October 7 attack into Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized some 250 hostages. Hamas is still holding some 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.

Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera TV aired footage of what it said were trucks entering Gaza through Kerem Shalom. Khaled Zayed, head of the Egyptian Red Crescent in the Sinai Peninsula, which handles the delivery of aid from the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, told The Associated Press that 200 aid trucks and four fuel trucks are scheduled to be sent to Kerem Shalom on Sunday.

It was not immediately clear if the UN was able to retrieve the aid from the Gaza side.

Southern Gaza has been largely cut off from aid since Israel launched what it says is a limited incursion into Rafah on May 6. Since then, over one million Palestinians have fled the city, with most having already been displaced from other parts of the besieged territory.

Northern Gaza, which has been largely isolated by Israeli troops for months and where the UN’s World Food Program says famine is already under way, is still receiving aid through two land routes that Israel opened in the face of worldwide outrage after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers in April.

A few dozen trucks have also been entering Gaza daily through a US-built floating pier, but its capacity remains far below the 150 trucks a day that officials had hoped for. Aid groups say the territory needs a total of 600 trucks a day to meet colossal humanitarian needs.

Stormy weather sent a strip of docking and a small US military vessel ashore near the southern Israeli city of Ashdod on Saturday. The US Central Command said four of its vessels were affected by rough seas, with two of them anchoring near the pier off the Gaza coast and another two in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must take over Rafah in order to eliminate Hamas’ last remaining battalions and achieve its goal of “total victory” over the militants, who have recently regrouped in other parts of Gaza where the military had already operated.

Netanyahu faces growing pressure from the Israeli public to make a deal with Hamas to free the remaining hostages, something Hamas has refused to do without guarantees for an end to the war and the full withdrawal of Israeli troops. Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have ruled that out.

Scuffles broke out between Israeli police and protesters in Tel Aviv on Saturday, after thousands gathered to demonstrate against the government and demand the return of the hostages. The protesters called for Netanyahu’s resignation and demanded new elections.