PM says Red Cross not involved in delivering drugs to hostages, Qatar is guarantor

After ICRC says it is not involved in process, Netanyahu says Doha promised medicine would reach ‘every last hostage that needs it, and I expect them to meet their commitment’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

An Israeli security guard signals to trucks carrying humanitarian aid bound for the Gaza Strip arriving to a holding area at Kerem Shalom Crossing on the intersection of two borders: between Egypt and southern Israel and the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
An Israeli security guard signals to trucks carrying humanitarian aid bound for the Gaza Strip arriving to a holding area at Kerem Shalom Crossing on the intersection of two borders: between Egypt and southern Israel and the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he had circumvented the International Committee of the Red Cross in the delivery of medicine to Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip, hours after the ICRC said it would play no role in ensuring the drugs reach their intended destination.

At a press conference on the war, Netanyahu said Qatar, which had mediated the deal to bring medicine into the Strip, had promised that the medicine would reach “every last hostage that needs it, and I expect them to meet their commitment.”

Netanyahu admitted that the Qatari commitment to deliver medicine to hostages was the only way Israel had to verify their delivery, but added that Israel will know if they don’t meet their commitment.

Initial reports had indicated the ICRC would deliver the medicine, but the ICRC released a statement earlier saying it would not.

“The ICRC initiated the conversation in its role as a neutral intermediary,” it said in the statement. “The parties negotiated the agreement, including how much medicines would be delivered and by whom, with Qatar brokering the deal. The mechanism that was agreed to does not involve the ICRC playing any part in its implementation, including the delivery of medication.”

The New York Times on Wednesday quoted an anonymous Middle East official and a Qatari official who said the medicine would be sent to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry “under Qatari supervision,” which would then deliver the medications to the hostages.

Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan said on Saturday that there was a challenge concerning the “security aspect” of delivering the drugs, referring to the terror group’s apparent concerns its operatives could be tracked, but did not expand on how they would reach the hostages.

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani (R) speaks next to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a press conference in Doha on January 7, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/AFP)

France, meanwhile, stressed that it had no involvement after shipping the medicine to Qatar.

“France was responsible for gathering the medicine, packaging it and shipping it to Qatar,” a French Embassy official told The Times of Israel. “The transfer from Qatar into Gaza through Egypt was managed under Qatari mediation.”

Many of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas rely on prescription drugs for chronic conditions, according to their families.

The deal, brokered by Qatar and France, includes the provision of medical supplies, food and other humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the war-torn Gaza Strip.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan speaks during a rally organized by Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

A senior Hamas figure said that for every box provided for the hostages, 1,000 boxes of medicine were being sent in for Palestinians.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said late Wednesday that the shipments had entered the Strip.

“Over the past few hours, medicine & aid entered the Gaza Strip, in implementation of the agreement announced yesterday for the benefit of civilians in the Strip, including hostages,” Majed al-Ansari wrote on X.

He said mediation efforts were continuing.

The five trucks were inspected by Israel at the Kerem Shalom crossing point, where daily humanitarian aid for Gaza is routinely inspected.

The medical aid earmarked for the hostages has been desperately needed since their abduction on October 7, during the brutal massacre carried out by Hamas inside Israel, in which some 1,200 people were murdered and nearly 240 were kidnapped, including children and the elderly.

An Israeli protests against the Red Cross at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after a weeklong truce in late November that saw 105 women and children released. The captives include men in their 70s and 80s and others with chronic conditions, some of them life-threatening.

The ICRC has not gained access to visit the hostages despite urgent appeals from their loved ones and diplomatic officials for them to do so.

The entry of medical aid into Gaza is the first agreement reached by the warring sides since the week-long November hostage release deal. Efforts to negotiate another hostage deal have foundered in the time since.

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, center, attends the funeral of Saleh al-Arouri, in Beirut, Lebanon, January 4, 2024. (AP/Hussein Malla)

In Israel, news that the trucks were initially to enter Gaza without being inspected had ignited a firestorm of criticism of Netanyahu, who had reportedly okayed the exception to standard practice, under which any goods entering Gaza are subject to Israeli checks meant to ensure they do not include smuggled arms or other contraband.

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said on X Wednesday morning that the shipment of medicine entering under the deal, which was flown from Qatar to Egypt, was approved for entry into Gaza without undergoing an inspection by Israeli authorities.

Israel has maintained tight control on deliveries to Gaza since it closed off access to the Strip following the October 7 terror onslaught on southern Israel, in order to prevent Hamas from receiving supplies that could assist its military apparatus as the Israel Defense Forces wages a campaign to wipe the terror group out.

Reports in Hebrew media that Netanyahu had okayed the procedure were denied by the premier’s office, which released a statement that appeared to shift responsibility to the army. The agreement for the delivery of the medicines was brokered by Qatar in talks attended by Mossad chief David Barnea — who answers directly to the prime minister — and Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon, the IDF’s point man for securing the hostages’ return.

“The prime minister instructed that the medicines be sent to the hostages, but did not deal at all with the security procedures that are set by the IDF and security officials,” the statement read.

According to Channel 12 news, the military said it knew nothing about the logistics of the medical aid deal, and only learned that the packages would not be inspected from remarks made by Abu Marzouk.

People walk by photographs of civilians held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, at ‘Hostages Square,’ in Tel Aviv, on December 19, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Netanyahu on Thursday denied reports he hid the details of the deal from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, pulling out what he claimed was a memo by Mossad chief David Barnea laying out the details of the deal, which was sent to Gallant’s office.

However, Netanyahu said the date of the document was January 13, while his office announced the deal a day earlier, on January 12.

He also denied that he’d allowed the medicine to be delivered without a security check, insisting that the minute he heard of that possibility, he ordered the shipments to be checked “whether or not Hamas accepts that.”

There was no official statement from the IDF or Defense Ministry on the matter, though the latter said it had implemented inspections on orders of the government Wednesday afternoon.

“Per the directive of the political leadership, five trucks carrying medicine will undergo a security check at the Kerem Shalom crossing,” said COGAT, a Defense Ministry body that coordinates Palestinian civil affairs.

Both Netanyahu’s political allies and opposition lawmakers had attacked the premier for ostensibly being prepared to allow the aid to enter uninspected and for attempting to pin the issue on the army.

“The responsibility for the decision, as well as for its implementation, lies with the political tier — and only us,” war cabinet minister Benny Gantz stated on X.

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