Israel agrees to allow ‘minimal’ two trucks of fuel a day into Gaza

Decision was made in part to prevent spread of diseases that would ‘harm’ civilians and its own troops on the ground, Israeli official says.

A truck carrying fuel decorated with a UN flag crosses into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 15
A truck carrying fuel decorated with a UN flag crosses into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip [File:Said Khatib/AFP]

Israel is allowing two trucks of fuel into Gaza every day to keep the besieged enclave’s water and sewage system operational, as its forces continue their air and ground siege of the territory.

Israel’s war cabinet said 140,000 litres (37,000 gallons) of fuel could enter every two days after it received a “special request” from the United States.

Israel banned fuel supplies into Gaza when it launched a military campaign in the Strip on October 7. Acute shortages have threatened aid deliveries and communications.

Tzachi Hanegbi, national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the fuel would be used to “operate the sewage and water systems run by UNRWA”, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

“We took that decision to prevent the spread of epidemics. We don’t need epidemics that will harm civilians or our fighters. If there are epidemics, the fighting will stop,” he said. Hanegbi described the quantity as “very minimal”.

A US State Department official, offering more details, said Israel had committed to allowing in 120,000 litres (31,700 gallons) of fuel every 48 hours for UNRWA’s trucks and other needs like desalinisation of water, sewage pumping and for bakeries and hospitals in the south of Gaza.

An additional 20,000 litres (5,300 gallons) every two days would be allowed in to power generators of telecoms company Paltel, which had warned of an imminent blackout of its cellphone network due to a lack of fuel.

But aid groups have said the fuel ration is far from enough.

Why allow fuel supplies now?

Reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands said: “Tzachi Hanegbi is basically justifying allowing this trickle of fuel in, for a domestic audience, as a way of keeping the military operation going on in Gaza.

“He is saying pandemics, if they break out, would not just affect the population of Gaza but also affect Israeli troops and hurt their fighting ability. And he is also saying that this decision basically gives diplomatic space to Israel to carry on pushing that military offensive.”

US officials have been pushing Israel to allow fuel in for some time. After not complying for weeks, “now, Netanyahu’s government believes that granting this wish from the US basically means that that criticism is going to start dying down,” Challands said.

On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made calls to members of Israel’s war cabinet and warned that the fuel shortage risked a humanitarian catastrophe among Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, a State Department official said.

But Israeli officials argue that Hamas should release hostages before it eased the pressure on Gaza.

Challands said allowing fuel into Gaza is “incredibly unpopular among the far right” in Israel.

“They feel while the fuel is being given, the captives are not being returned,” he said, noting how Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has said that “there is no sense in giving the enemy humanitarian gifts”.

Andreas Krieg, senior lecturer of security studies at King’s College London told Al Jazeera that for Israel, this decision about allowing limited supplies of fuel into Gaza is not really “an act of empathy”.

“This is more about them knowing that the clock is ticking,” he said.

“They know the international community, especially Western allies of Israel, are increasingly nervous about what Israel is doing. Especially the Biden administration wants to see this is coming to an end somehow.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies