Regional efforts are under way for the passage of much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza via the Rafah crossing, with the United States expected to hold talks with Israel, which blocked the crossing linking Gaza to Egypt in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack.
Hundreds of tonnes of necessary supplies from several countries and NGOs have lined up in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula just south of Gaza as the besieged enclave reels from non-stop Israeli air strikes.
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The enclave of 2.3 million people suffers from shortages of food, water, and fuel, as well as critical medical care for residents wounded in the indiscriminate bombardment for the last 11 days.
Here’s what we know about the current situation at the only possible passage:
How can aid enter Gaza?
Aid can enter through the Rafah crossing – the only passage from Gaza that is not controlled by Israel and a vital link between Gaza and the rest of the world. But due to the total blockade of the enclave imposed by Israel, nothing can go in and out right now.
A convoy of more than 100 trucks carrying aid is waiting on the Egyptian side for the Israeli nod. Several countries such as Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have sent planeloads of aid to El Arish Airport in Sinai.
The two other crossings in Gaza are Beit Hanoon, known as Erez to Israelis, and Karem Abu Salem, known to Israelis as Karem Shalom. The latter is a commercial crossing and Beit Hanoon is open only to those with Israeli-issued permits for emergencies such as medical treatment. Both crossings are controlled by Israel and have been closed under the siege.
Did Israel bomb the Rafah crossing?
Israel has repeatedly bombed the Rafah border crossing, causing significant damage to its Palestinian side.
“Israeli bombed the crossing on the third day of this operation so the roads are not really ready to be used,” Mahjoob Zweiri, director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera. He added that efforts need to be made for the roads to become functional for use.
On October 10, Israel’s military said they could “neither confirm nor deny” an attack on the crossing “at this point”, according to AFP news agency.
Has Egypt closed the Rafah crossing?
Egyptian officials have said that the crossing is not officially closed, but inoperable due to Israeli strikes on the Gaza side.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that Cairo aims to keep the crossing operational but is waiting for a green light from Israel which is not “co-operating”, according to Reuters.
According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israel’s concern with opening the crossing is that Hamas may seize or destroy aid or prevent it from reaching Gaza.
Zweiri from Qatar University said that aside from road damage, the major concern with opening the crossing is that it may be used to drive Palestinians out of Gaza.
“Egyptians want to make sure that Rafah crossing will not be used to push other Palestinians outside of Gaza and Israelis cannot give such assurances,” he said.
In an UpFront episode aired on Friday, Israel’s former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that people in Gaza should simply relocate to the “endless expanse” available in the Sinai Desert in Egypt.
This has raised fears that Palestinians, the majority of whose families were forcibly removed in 1948 from territories that are now Israel, would face a second ethnic cleansing.
Richard Brennan, WHO regional emergency director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said the decision to open the crossing is ultimately “a political one” that involves various considerations.
Will the US push Israel to allow aid?
US President Joe Biden, who is heading to Israel and later to Jordan on Wednesday, is likely to discuss the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
On Tuesday, Blinken claimed that US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would develop a plan to get humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, without providing details.
At a press conference in Cairo on Tuesday, WHO officials also stated that they had meetings with Egyptian officials to discuss the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Brennan said WHO was “vigorously advocating” for a sustained and unhindered passage of aid into Gaza at the highest levels of the organisation, including with the United Nations and government representatives.
“We have been assured by the Egyptian Red Crescent – which is managing the aid effort across the border into Gaza – that our supplies [medical supplies and water] will be given priority,” said Brennan.
Has any aid been able to enter Gaza?
Juliette Touma, director of communications at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), confirmed that no supplies had come into Gaza for UNRWA or other UN agencies.
“No supplies have come into Gaza since October 7,” she said at a press conference on Monday. “Nothing – no fuel, no food, no water, no other types of assistance.”