Israel says it won’t block humanitarian aid entering Gaza from Egypt

Announcement comes as US President Joe Biden visits Israel amid mounting pressure over humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid from Egyptian NGOs for Palestinians wait for the reopening of the Rafah crossing at the Egyptian side, to enter Gaza
Trucks carrying humanitarian aid from Egyptian NGOs for Palestinians wait for the reopening of the Rafah crossing at the Egyptian side, October 18, 2023 [Reuters]

The Israeli government has said that it will not prevent humanitarian aid from entering the blockaded Gaza Strip from Egypt, following pressure from its international allies to ease its 10-day siege on the Palestinian territory.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the decision in a statement on Wednesday as US President Joe Biden wrapped up a flying visit to the country.

“In light of President Biden’s demand, Israel will not thwart humanitarian supplies from Egypt as long as it is only food, water and medicine for the civilian population in the southern Gaza Strip,” the statement reads.

“Israel will not allow any humanitarian aid from its territory to the Gaza Strip as long as our hostages are not returned,” it added.

Biden later said about 20 trucks would be allowed to cross the shuttered Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza from Friday. Egypt says the crossing area has been damaged by Israeli air raids.

The decision follows mounting international pressure, including from the United States, calling for humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of residents have been displaced amid constant Israeli air strikes.

Reporting from Gaza on Thursday, Al Jazeera’s Safwat Kahlout said the coastal enclave “had run out of everything – not just food, water and fuel”.

“Twenty trucks of aid will not do much to improve the humanitarian situation here. But the hope now is that more trucks will follow, and the opening will not just be a one-off incident,” he added.

‘You cannot starve a whole population’

Israel has imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza, cutting off access to food, water, electricity and fuel for the strip’s 2.3 million residents after Gaza-based Hamas fighters launched an attack into southern Israel on October 7. Israeli authorities say at least 1,400 people, most of them civilians, were killed in the attack, more than 4,400 were injured and 199 others were taken captive by Hamas.

Since the attack, Israel has bombarded Gaza from the air in a devastating campaign that has reduced entire neighourhoods to rubble. Palestinian authorities have said that more than 3,400 people have been killed and more than 12,000 others wounded in the Israeli assault.

The Israeli bombardment and siege on Gaza have been criticised as a form of collective punishment and triggered widespread anger throughout the Middle East.

“International humanitarian law is very clear: You cannot starve a whole population. You cannot use aid, or food and water, as an instrument of war for any political or military ends,” Marwan Jilani, director general of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told Al Jazeera

It remains unclear when aid will begin to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which Egypt says has been damaged by Israeli air strikes.

The announcement comes after an explosion at a hospital in Gaza on Tuesday killed at least 471 people and wounded hundreds of others, according to Palestinian officials.

Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesperson, Ashraf al-Qudra, said on Wednesday that rescue workers were still removing bodies from the rubble.

Palestinian officials in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas, have said the blast was caused by an Israeli air raid. Israel said the explosion was the result of a rocket launched by the armed group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that misfired. The PIJ has rejected the allegation.

Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the claims.

Biden on Wednesday said data from the US Department of Defense showed the blast was not likely the result of a strike by the Israeli military. A National Security Council spokesperson later posted on social media that an analysis of “overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information” showed that Israel was not behind the strike and that the US would continue to collect evidence.

The US president also used his trip to show solidarity with Israel as the nation grieves in the aftermath of the attack by Hamas.

“I come to Israel with a single message: you are not alone,” Biden said in remarks in Tel Aviv.

While Biden said he was working to secure an “unprecedented” package of security assistance for Israel, he also warned Israel about its response to the Hamas attack.

“I caution this while you feel that rage: don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11 we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes,” said Biden, adding that Israel should seek “clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment of whether the path you’re on will achieve those objectives”.

Biden also said the US would provide $100m in humanitarian assistance for the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies