UN chief calls on Israel to open aid ‘lifeline’ for Gaza

Guterres says the UN is ‘actively engaging’ with Egypt, Israel and the US to get aid trucks into the besieged Palestinian enclave ‘as soon as possible’.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has visited the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip in a bid to get aid flowing into the besieged Palestinian enclave. However, it remains unclear when delivery of relief materials stockpiled in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula could start.

“We are actively engaging with all the parties, with Egypt, Israel, the United States … in order to have these trucks moving as soon as possible,” Guterres told journalists on Friday.

The US said details of a deal to send aid through the border were still being hammered out.

Earlier, Washington said an agreement had been reached for the passage of the first 20 trucks. However, UN officials say that aid deliveries are needed at a significant scale and under sustainable conditions.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have long depended on humanitarian aid. The coastal enclave has been under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took control of it in 2007.

Before the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza, around 450 aid trucks were arriving in the enclave daily. However, it has been under Israeli bombardment, cut off from power, water and food, and the borders have been sealed since Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7.

“We are in deep and advanced negotiations with all relevant sides to ensure that an aid operation into Gaza starts as quickly as possible and with the right conditions,” Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters in Geneva.

The UN was encouraged by reports that the first delivery was due to start “in the next day or so”, he added.

Life and death

Guterres said there was an “absolute need to have these trucks moving as soon as possible and as many as necessary”, adding that “this must be a sustained effort”.

“We are not looking for one convoy to come but we are looking for convoys to be authorised in a meaningful number to have enough trucks to provide support to Gaza’s people,” the UN chief said.

“These are not just trucks,” he stated, “but a lifeline. They are the difference between life and death.”

Israel’s siege and bombardment of Gaza, launched in retaliation for a deadly Hamas incursion into Israel, has created a humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

Laerke said Gaza was in dire need of water, food, fuel and medical supplies.

Damaged roads

Rafah is the only crossing into Gaza for goods and people that does not border Israel.

Efforts to get aid into the enclave have been complicated by the need to agree on a mechanism to inspect the aid, and a push to evacuate foreign passport holders from Gaza.

Roads leading into Gaza are being repaired after being hit by bombardments in the past two weeks.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Zaqout, who managed to gain rare access to the Rafah crossing on Friday, said: “Israeli raids have left large holes on the main road that will be used by conveys to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip, making it impossible for buses or aid trucks to use it, but Egyptian teams are currently paving over them so it will be functional again.”

A UN official said more than 200 trucks of aid were ready to move from Sinai into Gaza.

During previous conflicts, aid had been delivered to Gaza during humanitarian pauses through the Karem Abu Salem crossing, known to Israelis as Kerem Shalom, which is controlled by Israel.

But Israel has said it will allow no aid to enter from its territory until Hamas releases captives it has been holding since its October 7 attack.

Tel Aviv has said aid can enter through Egypt as long as it does not end up in the hands of Hamas.

Egypt has said it will not accept any mass displacement of Gaza residents into Sinai, reflecting Arab fears that Palestinians could again flee or be forced from their homes en masse, as they were during the Nakba, or ‘catastrophe,’ that accompanied Israel’s creation in 1948.

‘Israeli responsibility’

Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Friday said that one objective in the war against Gaza is to end “Israeli responsibility” for the enclave.

Gallant made the remarks during a briefing to parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, his office said.

“Gallant detailed the objectives of the campaign including the elimination of Hamas and destruction of both its military and governing capabilities, the complete removal of Israeli responsibility from the Gaza strip, and the creation of a new security reality in the region,” the statement said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies