53 Dem lawmakers say US must ensure Israel, Egypt let aid into ‘occupied Gaza’

Congressmen urge a ‘full reopening’ of border crossings; Israel recently eased import restrictions to the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave following May’s war

A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on May 12, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on May 12, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Fifty-three Democratic lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives penned a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration to ensure that Israel and Egypt allow humanitarian aid into the “occupied Gaza Strip.”

“The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza is untenable. Ensuring that Palestinians residing in Gaza receive humanitarian aid is vital to securing the well-being of Gaza’s 2.1 million residents,” the letter, spearheaded by Representatives Mark Pocan and Debbie Dingell, read.

“Securing these changes is vital to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has been exacerbated by the recent hostilities between Hamas and Israel that left an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians in need of humanitarian assistance,” it added.

Israel left Gaza in 2005, but the United Nations still considers the territory occupied as Jerusalem controls most of its borders, and its air and maritime space.

Israel and Egypt have, for many years, imposed a blockade on the Strip due to the Hamas takeover of the territory in 2007. Israel says that the restrictions are necessary to prevent massive amounts of weapons from reaching the terror group that rules the coastal enclave and is avowed to the Jewish state’s destruction.

Critics say that the blockade is excessive and has brought the Gazan economy to its knees. Around 57 percent of Gazans are under the poverty line, the UN reported in 2017.

The US lawmakers urged a “full reopening” of the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings, controlled by Israel, along with the Rafah crossing, controlled by Egypt.

The dovish Middle East lobby J Street, which helped organize the letter, commended the effort, noting that “people in Gaza currently have severely limited access to clean water, food, medicine and electricity. Humanitarian assistance is urgently needed, and the administration must do all that it can to ensure that it is delivered as soon as possible.”

This week, Israel began to allow the entry of merchants and businessmen from the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing for the first time in some 18 months. Entry had stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition, Israel said that it would allow further imports and exports through the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

Following the 11-day war in May between Hamas and Israel, the country initially said that it would only allow basic humanitarian aid into the beleaguered enclave, unless the Gaza-ruling terror group released two Israeli civilians that it has held in captivity for years, along with the remains of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

Israel later eased away from that condition, gradually scaling back its blockade of Gaza and allowing more and more goods and people into and out of the Strip, at the request of the UN and foreign governments.

A Hamas security officer checks a truck entering Gaza at the gate of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Israel, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on June 21, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

On Thursday it was announced that Israel, Qatar, and the UN had signed an agreement to return some Qatari subsidies to the Gaza Strip, marking significant progress in the ongoing talks to bolster the ceasefire. $100 in reloadable debit cards for 100,000 impoverished Gazan families will be channeled into the Strip under the new agreement.

The Qatari projects in the past funded fuel for Gaza’s only power plant and hospitals to shore up the enclave’s damaged healthcare system.

Since the May war, Israel had blocked the payments, insisting on safeguards that none of the money will reach Hamas. Before the war, some $30 million in cash, including payments to Hamas civil servants, was delivered in suitcases to Gaza each month through an Israeli-controlled crossing.

Meanwhile, none of the over $235 million in aid for Palestinians announced by the Biden administration in recent months is slated to go to Hamas in Gaza, but instead will be funneled to various USAID programs as well as UNRWA — the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

Judah Ari Gross, Aaron Boxerman and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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