Israeli official accuses Hamas of using hospitals as shelter

1st aid trucks enter Gaza as number of confirmed hostages held in Strip reaches 210

Rocket fire on southern, central Israel; IDF says 550 projectiles fired from Gaza fell inside Strip; confirmed hostage tally at 210; official says ‘no humanitarian crisis in Gaza’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Trucks of Egyptian Red Crecent carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip cross the Rafah border gate, in Rafah, Egypt, October 21, 2023. (Mohammed Asad/AP)
Trucks of Egyptian Red Crecent carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip cross the Rafah border gate, in Rafah, Egypt, October 21, 2023. (Mohammed Asad/AP)

As Israel marked two weeks since Hamas launched its devastating onslaught on southern Israel, the first 20 trucks carrying aid entered Gaza on Saturday through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The aid moved into the Strip amid continued rocket fire toward southern and central Israel, and as the number of confirmed hostages abducted from Israel and held in Gaza rose to 210.

The Rafah border crossing was closed again after the passage of the trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent, which is responsible for delivering aid from various UN agencies.

It was unclear if any foreign nationals had left Gaza. Ahead of the opening of the border, the US Embassy in Jerusalem had warned of “potentially chaotic and disorderly environment on both sides of the crossing.”

As the trucks went through, an Israeli security official told reporters on Saturday: “As of now, I can tell you that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. There are hardships in moving people within days to the south of the Gaza Strip, but the population is getting along.

“There is no shortage of water in Gaza, there is enough food for the coming weeks, this is in addition to the supply of medicines which, as far as we know, there is no shortage in the hospitals,” he said.

Trucks with humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip enter from Egypt in Rafah on Oct. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Meanwhile, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari emphasized that “fuel will not enter Gaza.” Israel is concerned that the fuel can be used by terror groups to manufacture weapons.

Cargo planes and trucks have been bringing humanitarian aid to the Egyptian side of Rafah for days, but until Saturday none had been delivered to Gaza.

US President Joe Biden had pushed for the trucks to be allowed to pass into Gaza during a solidarity visit to Israel on Wednesday.

Biden had said the first 20 trucks would be a test of a system for distributing aid without allowing Hamas to benefit, with UN agencies set to distribute it on the Gaza side of the border, but warned that if Hamas “doesn’t let it get through or just confiscates it, then it’s going to end.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday welcomed the delivery of the aid and thanked Egypt, Israel and the United Nations for securing the assistance, which he said will help begin addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Blinken said the reopening of Rafah followed days of “exhaustive” diplomatic engagements by the US with Israel and Egypt and called on the sides to do their part to keep Rafah open so that more aid can get into Gaza.

“Hamas must not interfere with the provision of this life-saving assistance,” Blinken said. “Palestinian civilians are not responsible for Hamas’s horrific terrorism, and they should not be made to suffer for its depraved acts.”

The aid was the first such delivery since war erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing hostages of all ages under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — men, women, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

Israel says its offensive against Hamas is aimed at destroying the terror group’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire organization, which rules the Strip. Israel says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.

Blinken said that the US will continue working to establish safe zones in Gaza where civilians can go to stay out of harm’s way, to allow US citizens looking to leave the Strip to be able to do so, and to secure the release of the hostages taken by terrorists.

Two American-Israeli hostages — mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan — were released on Friday evening.

Natalie Raanan, 3rd left, Judith Raanan, right, are seen upon arrival in Israel after being released from Hamas captivity as government hostage envoy Gal Hirsch, center, holds their hands, October 20, 2023 (Courtesy)

On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said the families of 210 hostages have been notified that their loved ones are being held in the Gaza Strip, but that the number was not final as the military is investigating new information on those still missing.

Also on Saturday, Gaza terrorists fired a number of rocket barrages toward central and southern Israel, with a home hit in the largely evacuated southern city of Sderot.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said there were no reports of injuries.

A house in Sderot is hit by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on October 21, 2023 (Sderot Municipality)

Hagari said that over the past 24 hours, a fifth of the projectiles fired by terrorists in Gaza have fallen short in the Strip.

“More than 550 rockets launched by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have failed [since the war started], killing innocent civilians in Gaza. They are killing their own civilians,” Hagari said.

Hagari said that the IDF “will continue strikes on Hamas strongholds in northern Gaza,” as the military continued to hit terror targets in the Strip.

The targets included command centers and various other infrastructure belonging to the terror group, as well as a number of anti-tank missile launch sites and sniper positions in high-rise buildings, the military said.

Ahead of the looming ground invasion, the Israeli military has told civilians living in north Gaza to move to the southern part of the enclave.

However, the anonymous security official said Saturday that Hamas is still trying to prevent people from moving south, and several hospitals in the northern part of the Strip have not yet been evacuated.

“In the north of the Gaza Strip there are 20 hospitals. As of now six have already been vacated, 10 have not yet, and four are refusing,” the official said.

The official said it is hard for some of the hospitals to move seriously wounded and ill patients, but that the military has “a direct relationship with almost all hospital managers and we encourage them to evacuate.”

The official also accused Hamas of using some hospitals as shelters, “because it knows this is a sensitive site we will avoid attacking.”

Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Oct. 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)

Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has claimed that more than 4,100 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed in Israeli bombardments since the October 7 massacres in Israel. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, and the victims of a blast at a Gaza City hospital on October 17. Hamas blamed the blast on Israel, which has produced evidence showing it was caused by an Islamic Jihad rocket misfire. The United States, also citing its own data, has endorsed the Israeli account.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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