Amid Gaza aid delay, protests surge in Middle East and beyond

CAIRO — Waves of protests erupted across the Middle East and beyond on Friday as demonstrators blamed Israel and its allies for Gaza’s rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation and delays in providing desperately needed water, food and other essentials.

Demonstrators took to the streets from Egypt to Indonesia in marches held in front of Israeli or U.S. diplomatic missions. Some protesters burned Israeli flags and stepped on portraits of President Biden, who had delivered an impassioned Oval Office speech Thursday urging Americans to stand by Israel.

Biden has also pushed for humanitarian relief for Gaza, after Israel cut off all access into the territory last week. But as protesters gathered at Egypt’s Rafah crossing on Friday — the only link into Gaza that Israel does not control — the first 20 aid trucks remained stranded. Hopes faded that the Israeli and Palestinian sides would work out differences to allow the shipment into Gaza by the end of the day as planned. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, who visited the crossing on the Egyptian side, said the logjam left him “broken hearted.”

The blocked aid and continued Israeli bombings fired up the protesters. “Palestinians, your blood is my blood,” crowds chanted in Cairo during a rare protest approved by the military-backed government.

Haidy Mohsen, 38, a freelance artist in Cairo, said she joined the protests because “I am a mother. I have children. I feel their pain while they watch as their children get killed.”

Fuel for the main hospital in Gaza City could run out within 24 hours, according to medical officials, and the U.N. human rights office said that Israeli strikes were ongoing across Gaza, including in the south, where Israel had urged civilians to move for shelter. Some people with foreign passports also hoped to leave Gaza through Rafah.

But even amid the efforts to push through the first trickle of aid, there were some signs that Israel was moving forward with plans for a ground assault. Israeli army spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the Israeli air force were striking Gaza “at a rate not seen for decades,” ahead of the “next stage” of its operations against Hamas.

“We will finish off Hamas,” said Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, adding that Israel is in the first stage of a lengthy effort to establish “a new, secure regime in Gaza” — but without taking over the territory in the long run. Israel has imposed tight controls on Gaza since the militant group Hamas gained control in 2007.

What urban combat in Gaza could look like

At least 1,400 people in Israel have been killed and more than 4,500 injured since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, according to Israeli authorities. More than 200 people were taken hostage by Hamas after its rampage through villages and kibbutz settlements. Palestinian officials said Israeli strikes have killed 4,137 people in Gaza and wounded more than 13,200.

A ground invasion of Gaza would likely escalate tensions in the West Bank, which is led by a Hamas rival, the Palestinian Authority. But West Bank leaders have faced growing pressures from groups clashing with Israeli security forces.

At the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, funeral processions wound through the narrow streets Friday after a day-long Israeli raid in the area killed at least 13 people. Neighbors were still washing away puddles of blood from Ahmed Yunis’s doorway Friday morning. He said his 33-year-old son was killed in front of his house on Thursday by an Israeli drone strike.

At least three children were killed in the same strike, camp residents said. Among the victims was the son of Mamoon Abu al-Hayja.

“The ambulance couldn’t enter” because Israeli forces sealed off all the streets, Hayja said. “I picked up his body in my own arms.”

The United Nations human rights office said Friday that it was “extremely alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation” and “the increase in unlawful use of lethal force” there. The United Nations added that it has received reports of Israeli security forces killing 69 Palestinians, including at least 15 children and one woman, in the West Bank since Oct. 7.

With concerns over the situation in the West Bank mounting, the focus of protesters on Friday remained on Gaza, days after a deadly strike at the al-Ahli Hospital. Palestinian authorities blamed the strike on Israel and said it killed 471 people. The Israel Defense Forces disputed that death toll and said the strike originated inside Gaza. U.S. officials have also said Israel was not responsible, citing intelligence, aerial imagery and open-source material.

As protesters gathered Friday, they paid little attention to Israel’s denial of responsibility, pointing to Israeli attacks that have damaged or destroyed places of worship, hospitals, schools and homes in Gaza since the fighting began, according to satellite imagery.

In another deadly blast, the historic Church of St. Porphyrius, Gaza’s oldest active church, was struck Thursday as it sheltered hundreds of Muslims and Christians displaced by the war, according to officials. At least 18 people were killed, said Maher Ayyad, 72, a member of the religious community based at the church.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem blamed Israel for the strike. The Israel Defense Forces said in an emailed statement that a strike targeting a Hamas control center “damaged the wall of a church in the area” and that it is “aware of reports on casualties” and is reviewing the incident.

In Egypt, protests in support of Palestinians were held in Cairo and the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.

A government press release said one of the protests it was organizing would serve as a “crystal clear message” of Egypt’s “limitless” support for the Palestinian cause as well as for Cairo’s national security interests. Egypt worries that an Israeli military offensive could drive hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across the Egyptian border.

The Palestinian cause enjoys overwhelming public support in Egypt despite the country’s landmark 1979 peace deal with Israel. Banging was heard from inside a police truck full of conscripts — as the men normally sent to put down such protests signaled their support for a march near Cairo’s Al-Azhar University. Outside the truck, the protesters chanted, “Gaza, Gaza, symbol of glory.”

Hezbollah said it fired guided missiles at Israeli positions near the border with Lebanon on Friday. The Israeli military said it struck Hezbollah fighters near the border. Israel and Hezbollah have traded fire along the border in recent days, heightening concerns of a wider war.

More European countries updated their travel advice for Lebanon on Friday, with the Dutch government warning against all travel and Belgium telling its citizens to leave as quickly as possible. Russia, too, advised its citizens to avoid travel to the region.

“We don’t know if [Israel] will open a war with us,” said Ghadi Boukamel, a graduate student who organized a protest in support of Gaza at the American University in Beirut on Friday.

“The massacres have to end,” Boukamel said.

Noack reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and George from the Nur Shams refugee camp, West Bank. Mohamed el-Chamaa and Kareem Fahim in Beirut, Ellen Francis in London, Miriam Berger in Jerusalem contributed.

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