Smotrich blocks flour shipments from reaching Gaza, in breach of Israeli pledge to US

Finance minister says he will not allow flour to be given to UNRWA aid agency in order to keep it out of Hamas’s hands

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a Religious Zionist party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 12, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a Religious Zionist party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 12, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich confirmed on Tuesday night that he was blocking shipments of flour from being transferred into the Gaza Strip in an attempt to stop it from reaching UNRWA, and thence Hamas.

The Religious Zionist party leader wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that he was “coordinating with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to investigate a different distribution mechanism that won’t [include aid reaching] Hamas.”

Donor countries have frozen funding for the Palestinian aid agency after Israel accused some of UNRWA’s members of taking part in the October 7 atrocities, in which Hamas terrorists attacked the south of Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253.

The agency, which said in response that it had fired several members, has long been accused by Israel of providing cover for Hamas and supporting terrorism, and calls to disband it have spiked in recent weeks since the reports of its involvement on October 7.

As such, Smotrich said there was “wall-to-wall consensus” in the government that humanitarian aid to Gaza had to be prevented from reaching Hamas through UNRWA.

According to Axios, Israel was therefore looking into handing humanitarian aid over to other aid agencies such as the World Food Programme in the hopes that Smotrich would release the flour to them.

People sort grain used to make flour in Gaza City on January 22, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

Blocking the flour shipments into Gaza violates a commitment Israel made to the US a few weeks ago in which Netanyahu promised to allow 150 truckloads of flour into the Strip. The flour was supposed to arrive at Israel’s Ashdod Port and enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

However, according to Axios, the shipments have been held up at the Ashdod Port for weeks.

In a press briefing on Tuesday, US State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said that an American shipment of flour had already gone through Israel into Gaza and that the State Department was “engaging with the Government of Israel to try and make sure” that flour deliveries continued.

He added that the US had funded flour that would feed 1.5 million Gazans for five months, as “it is critical that people have access to the nourishment it would provide.”

“We had a commitment from the Government of Israel to let that flour go through, and we expect them to deliver on that commitment,” Miller said.

Humanitarian aid for Gaza has been a source of tension between Israel and the US since the beginning of the war as the US has consistently pressured Israel to up the number of trucks allowed into the Strip.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on a $95 billion Ukraine Israel aid package being debated in Congress, in the White House, February 13, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In a phone call on Sunday, US President Joe Biden told Netanyahu that he was failing to uphold his commitments to scale up humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

In order to keep up with the demand, Israel opened the Kerem Shalom crossing for humanitarian aid in December as the Rafah crossing on Egypt’s border could not handle the quantities alone.

In recent weeks, however, protesters have made their way to the Kerem Shalom crossing and blocked trucks carrying aid from making it through into Gaza. The demonstrators have said that aid should not be allowed into the Strip until all the hostages are released.

To try to solve the issue, the IDF declared the area around the border crossing a closed military zone, but that has not stopped the protesters from reaching the crossing in any way they could to continue blocking aid.

Most Popular
read more: