ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Families of hostages slam government decision to allow aid to Gaza via Egypt

Group representing relatives of captives fumes following agreement pushed by US to let some 20 trucks of humanitarian assistance into enclave with backing from Cairo

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Families of civilians abducted by  terror organization Hamas hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, October 14, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Families of civilians abducted by terror organization Hamas hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, October 14, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Some family members of Israelis being held captive by the Hamas terror group in Gaza Strip fumed on Wednesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would allow humanitarian aid to be transferred into the territory via Egypt without any concessions for their loved ones.

“The decision to allow humanitarian aid to the murderers of Gaza has caused great anger among the family members,” the Bring Them Home Now organization, formed to represent families of those kidnapped, said in a statement.

“We remind you that children, babies, women, soldiers, men and the elderly — some of whom have serious health issues, are wounded and shot — are being held underground like animals without any human conditions, and the government of Israel is treating the murderers to baklava and medicine,” the group said.

After prodding by Washington, Israel on Wednesday said it would allow water, medicine, and food to reach southern Gaza from Egypt. Israel cut off these supplies after Hamas’s brutal October 7 massacre in which around 2,500 terrorists blasted through the Israeli security fence and streamed into Israel via land, sea, and air under a barrage of thousands of rockets, and killed some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians. Terrorists also took at least 199 hostages of all ages into Gaza and are holding them captive. Israel says roughly 1,500 Hamas members were killed inside Israel.

Netanyahu’s office said Israel would allow humanitarian aid but would intervene if any of it reached Hamas. Netanyahu also vowed not to let any aid into the Strip through Israel’s crossings. Israel has declared its intention of toppling and eradicating Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

The delivery of humanitarian aid to Gazan civilians was first announced by US President Joe Biden, who visited Israel on Wednesday on a wartime solidarity trip.

US President Joe Biden listens as he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participate in an expanded bilateral meeting with Israeli and US government officials, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP/Evan Vucci)

“The people of Gaza need food, water, medicine, shelter,” Biden said after a war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv hosted by Netanyahu. “Today, I asked the Israeli cabinet, who I met with for some time this morning, to agree to the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, based on the understanding that there will be inspections, and that the aid should go to civilians, not to Hamas.”

The US president later said he spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who agreed to open up the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza and to let “up to” 20 trucks of humanitarian assistance in. Rafah has largely been closed since the war began on October 7.

Biden clarified that people will not be able to evacuate Gaza through Rafah, apparently in order to assuage fears in Cairo that Egypt will be asked to take in refugees from Gaza.

The UN earlier Wednesday said that roughly 100 trucks of aid per day will be needed to rehabilitate Gaza following the Israeli counterattacks.

Netanyahu said that in his earlier meeting with Biden, he discussed three points. “First, I demanded the return of our captives, and we are working together for their return in every possible way,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday evening. “Second, until their return, we demand Red Cross visits for our captives. Third, we will not allow humanitarian assistance in the form of food and medicines from our territory to the Gaza Strip.”

US President Joe Biden with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Still, the government said that it would “not prevent humanitarian assistance from Egypt as long as it is only food, water and medicine for the civilian population located in the southern Gaza Strip.” It added that such aid would be allowed “as long as these supplies do not reach Hamas. Any supplies that reach Hamas will be prevented.”

The families represented by the organization threatened that if “this horrible decision to aid the murderers of Gaza is not canceled, the families will intensify their struggle in the near future.” The group did not specify what future steps it might take.

Regular protests by the families and their supporters have been held near the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, demanding government action to save their loved ones. Many family members have also been harshly critical of Netanyahu and the current government in interviews with media outlets. The Bring Them Home Now forum does not represent all of the family members of those believed to be held hostage, but it is the main umbrella organization.

Families and supporters of Israelis held hostage in Gaza call for their release during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP/Petros Giannakouris)

In remarks before departing Tel Aviv earlier Wednesday, Biden confirmed that the US had requested Israel not thwart the transfer of aid from Egypt to Gaza through the Rafah crossing and tried to provide assurances that the aid was intended for civilians.

“Let me be clear: If Hamas diverts or steals the assistance, they will have demonstrated once again that they have no concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people and it will end,” Biden said. “As a practical matter, it will stop the international community from being able to provide this aid.”

The US president also said that America was “working with partners throughout the region, pursuing every avenue to bring home those who are being held captive by Hamas. I can’t speak publicly about all the details, but let me assure you: For me as the American president, there is no higher priority than the release and safe return of all these hostages.”

Egyptian volunteers shout anti-Israel slogans at the Rafah crossing port, Egypt, Oct. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Omar Aziz)

At Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only connection to Egypt, truckloads of aid have been waiting for days to enter. But the facility has only a limited capacity. Egypt must still repair the road across the border that it says was cratered by Israeli airstrikes.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Wednesday that an estimated 3,000 tons of humanitarian assistance are awaiting entry to Gaza from Egypt.

On Wednesday evening, Egypt’s foreign minister confirmed an agreement between Egypt, Israel and other international actors to allow aid to enter the Gaza Strip through Rafah.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said he hoped aid would enter the Palestinian enclave soon but did not provide a timeframe. He said Egypt would work under “the supervision of the United Nations, and in coordination with the Egyptian and Palestinian [branches] of the Red Cross.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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