Aid Gets to Gaza for First Time Since Israel-Hamas War Began

A small amount of vital aid moved into Gaza from Egypt for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war erupted two weeks ago, fulfilling a key demand of US, European and Arab leaders as the humanitarian situation in the besieged territory worsens.

(Bloomberg) — A small amount of vital aid moved into Gaza from Egypt for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war erupted two weeks ago, fulfilling a key demand of US, European and Arab leaders as the humanitarian situation in the besieged territory worsens.

Around 20 trucks began crossing the Rafah border point on Saturday morning, Egyptian TV channel Extra News reported. Palestinian officials said they carried medicines and limited amounts of food such as canned tuna and pasta.

“This is an important first step that will alleviate the suffering of innocent people,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “My thanks go to all those involved who made this possible.”

The World Food Program said the convoy carried 60 tons of food. The United Nations body said it had another 930 metric tons of emergency food items at or near Rafah, ready to be taken into Gaza whenever access is allowed again.

The aid came hours before Israel said it will step up aerial strikes over Gaza in preparation for the “next stage” of its military operation, likely a ground invasion that would complicate the building humanitarian crisis. 

Some critics said the amount of aid was vastly insufficient to meet the needs of Gaza residents after two weeks of warfare. But Martin Griffiths, the UN’s head of humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, said he was “confident that this delivery will be the start of a sustainable effort to provide essential supplies.”

President Joe Biden said the US “remains committed to ensuring that civilians in Gaza will continue to have access to food, water, medical care, and other assistance, without diversion by Hamas.”

In Cairo, Egypt opened a crisis summit with the leaders of Italy, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and South Africa, as well as senior officials from the European Union, Turkey and China. Many of the Arab officials reiterated calls for de-escalation as Israel continues its airstrikes on Gaza and prepares for a ground offensive.

No senior officials from Israel or the US were expected to attend. Neither were any from Hamas, which is backed by Iran and designated a terrorist group by the US and EU.

Israel has made clear it won’t agree to a cease-fire, a stance backed by major allies such as the US and the UK.

Egypt has emerged as a key player as world powers seek to ensure Gaza gets provisions of water, food and power. Israel put the enclave under a total siege after Hamas, which rules Gaza, sent militants rampaging through southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,400 people.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has pushed back against the idea of taking in Palestinian refugees on the grounds that doing so might allow Hamas fighters into Egypt. He and other Arab leaders have also said displacing people from Gaza would end hopes for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.

Egypt’s Leader Says Israel Should Take In People Fleeing Gaza

On Saturday at the summit, he said the warring sides should negotiate and urged Israel to move toward a peace deal with the Palestinians. His comments follow frenetic diplomacy from the US and Europe in the past week. They’ve sent several officials to Arab countries to rally support for Israel and stop the violence from spreading beyond Gaza.

“The message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear: Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II said in Cairo. “That is a very, very dangerous message. And the consequences of continued international apathy and inaction will be catastrophic — on us all.”

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, which rules Palestinians in the West Bank, made similar comments.

Trading Blame

The opening of Rafah, Gaza’s only non-Israeli border crossing, has been complicated by the need for Egypt, Israel and Hamas to all agree for it to happen. Egypt and Israel have blamed each other and Hamas for Rafah staying shut until now.

US and Israel Weigh a Future for the Gaza Strip Without Hamas

It’s unclear how long the crossing will be open and whether foreigners will be allowed out. The US embassy in Israel said American citizens may get a chance to leave on Saturday. Still, it warned the situation was fluid and chaotic.

“We do not know how long it will remain open for foreign citizens to depart Gaza,” the embassy said while the Rafah crossing was still shut. “We anticipate that many people would attempt to cross should the border open, and U.S. citizens attempting to enter Egypt should expect a potentially chaotic and disorderly environment.”

More than 2 million people live in Gaza, which has been suffering shortages of food, electricity and water since Israel implemented its blockade.

Hundreds of aid workers and volunteers have been waiting on the Egyptian side of the border in anticipation of being allowed into Gaza. Some, dressed in black t-shirts, have staged sit-ins to mourn the Palestinians who have lost their lives.

–With assistance from Jessica Loudis, Adrian Leung, Mirette Magdy, Ben Sills, Agnieszka de Sousa and Fadwa Hodali.

(Updates with UN official’s comment in sixth paragraph, Biden’s in seventh.)

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