Gaza aid stranded at Egypt border amid wrangling at Rafah

RAFAH, Egypt — Trucks of desperately needed aid for Gaza remain stuck on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, a situation that U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said left him “broken hearted” during a brief and chaotic visit to the highly-militarized zone Friday.

In President Biden’s high profile visit to Israel to express support, he announced a deal to get aid flowing into the besieged enclave, but days later, wrangling over the conditions persists.

“We are witnessing a paradox: behind these walls, we have 2 million people that is suffering enormously — that has no water, no food, no medicine, no fuel; that is under fire; that needs everything to survive,” he said. “On this side, we have seen so many trucks, loaded with water, with fuel, with medicines, with food — exactly the same things that are needed on this side of the wall.”

“It is impossible to be here and not to feel a broken heart,” he said.

Guterres appealed again for a humanitarian cease-fire, but he made clear that this should not be a precondition for the delivery of aid, which he said needed to continue on a daily basis.

Inside Gaza, Palestinians told The Washington Post that distributing the aid would be extremely dangerous for them without a halt in Israeli airstrikes, which have continued across the coastal enclave, including in areas in the south that Israel said would be considered safe-zones.

Over the last 24 hours, Israeli shelling killed at least 352 Palestinians in Gaza and injured another 669, the Gaza-based Ministry of Health spokesperson Ashraf Qudra said Friday. Overall, at least 4,137 Gazans have been killed and another 12,162 injured in the fifth war between Israel and Gaza, the bloodiest yet, according to the ministry.

Around 70 percent of those killed have been children, women and elderly civilians, Qudra said, and another 1,400 people are missing under rubble, among them 720 children.

In a briefing Friday, Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israeli planes had been bombing Gaza “at a rate not seen for decades,” ahead of the next stage of operations.

Under a deal reached with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden said 20 trucks would be permitted to cross the border into the besieged Gaza Strip. He reemphasized his commitment to the deal Friday saying “the people of Gaza urgently need food, water and medicine” in a statement.

More than 200 trucks from the United Nations, Egyptian Red Crescent and other sources are waiting to cross into Gaza, but the details of how the aid will be verified and whether it will be a continuous flow remain under discussion, said an official with knowledge of the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the delicate negotiations.

A key sticking point has been ongoing logistical issues on the Israeli side, said the official.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, a spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was more blunt and blamed the delay on “Israel’s targeted attacks & refusal of aid entry” in a statement Friday posted to X, formerly Twitter.

“Rafah crossing is open and Egypt is not responsible of obstructing third-country nationals exit,” he added, referring to another stalled deal to allow U.S. nationals to leave Gaza through Rafah.

U.S.-approved aid faces several hurdles to reach desperate Gazans

Guterres acknowledged that a mechanism for ensuring that no illicit goods are smuggled in along with the aid has proved an obstacle in negotiations.

“We are now actively engaged with” Israel, Egypt and the United States, he said. “Those verifications need to be effective, and at the same time, those verifications need to be done in a way that is practical and in a way that is expedited.”

Ahead of his visit to the crossing, Guterres inspected an flight at the Arish airport carrying supplies destined for Gaza which gave a sense of the nature of the aid waiting to enter. The plane included 44 tons of food supplies donated by the United Arab Emirates, 17 tons of materials for tents, and 10 tons of emergency trauma kits to be distributed through the United Nations and the Egyptian Red Crescent.

Gaza is fast running out of vital food, fuel, water and medical supplies. Before the latest war broke out, about 455 trucks a day entered the blockaded coastal enclave through Rafah and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.

Since Oct. 7, Israel has tightened its siege on Gaza, and airstrikes have damaged parts of the Rafah crossing on the Gazan side. The war has also displaced around 1 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people. More than half of the displaced are sheltering in United Nation schools, hospitals and storage centers, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency.

Qudra said Friday that seven hospitals were completely closed due to Israeli shelling and another 21 medical centers have shut after running out of fuel. Fuel for the generators at al-Shifa Hospital, the main hospital in Gaza City and one of the few remaining places with electricity, will run out within 24 hours, Guillemette Thomas, Doctors Without Borders’ medical coordinator for Palestine, said Friday.

Guterres described the trucks as a “lifeline” for the people of Gaza and the difference between life and death.

From Rafah, Guterres also thanked the Egyptian government and people for rallying to support the aid effort, acknowledging “we are not in a no man’s land — we are in the land of a sovereign country, Egypt” — an apparent reference to concern President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi has raised about Israel pushing Palestinian refugees to Sinai in large numbers.

In the meantime, Palestinians in Gaza are spending hours each day waiting in line for meager supplies of bread, water and electricity.

Hani Mohammed, 36, is living with his two children and 35 other family members in an apartment west of Gaza City. He tried to move south after Israel demanded 1 million Palestinians leave the north and Gaza City, but he could not find an affordable taxi as prices for the strip’s scant fuel are skyrocketing.

“My kids are super scared,” he said. “I cry to myself when I’m on my own. I can’t protect the family. Maybe I was wrong when I decided to have children in the first place when I live in Gaza. They are punishing the civilians with no guilt. I don’t know who is alive and who is not. We listen to the radio when we charge the batteries from the neighbor who has solar power.”

“I need someone to answer me,” he continued. “What’s the guilt of those kids to be terrified or killed?”

Berger reported from Ramallah. Balousha reported from Nuseirat refugee camp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *