Gaza aid trucks stolen by gunmen and looted, as convoys start crossing from Israel

Videos appear to show trucks carrying crucial supplies seized by Hamas, fallen goods taken by civilians; Red Cross official says 79 trucks entered Sunday via Kerem Shalom crossing

Armed, masked men reportedly affiliated with Hamas can be seen atop trucks carrying humanitarian aid that arrived in the Gaza Strip via Egypt's Rafah crossing, December 17, 2023. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Armed, masked men reportedly affiliated with Hamas can be seen atop trucks carrying humanitarian aid that arrived in the Gaza Strip via Egypt's Rafah crossing, December 17, 2023. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Videos circulating on social media Sunday showed gunmen, reportedly Hamas operatives, stealing trucks delivering humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip from Egypt, as aid convoys also started entering the Palestinian enclave through the Kerem Shalom border crossing for the first time since the outbreak of the war on October 7.

In the videos, masked and armed men can be seen sitting on top of the humanitarian supplies — usually food, water, medicine and fuel — as the trucks drive deeper into the Strip.

Hebrew-language media reported the men were affiliated with the Hamas terror group that rules the coastal enclave.

In October, the United Nations organization that works with Palestinian refugees and their descendants indicated that Hamas authorities in Gaza had stolen fuel and medical supplies meant for refugees, though the posts were later deleted.

An unnamed Egyptian Red Cross official told AFP that “79 trucks began entering” on Sunday, after Israel on Friday approved the “temporary” delivery of much-needed aid from Israel directly to Gaza.

The trucks seen in the video did not appear to be the same trucks that entered via Kerem Shalom, as the cabinet decision that allowed the crossing to open only extended to aid from Egypt, and not from the United Nations. The supplies on the trucks shown in the videos bore the United Arab Emirates flag.

Other footage appeared to show Gazan civilians looting supplies falling off the trucks shortly after they were transferred through Egypt’s Rafah crossing.

While there is a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Israel has long said that Hamas stockpiled supplies and kept them from increasingly desperate civilians.

The Rafah crossing, which until this weekend had been the only one open for the entry of aid to Gaza, has only been able to keep up with 100 trucks per day, even after Israel began using Kerem Shalom for inspections last week, in addition to its Nitzana Crossing, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a Friday statement.

COGAT, the Defense Ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said Sunday that “starting today (December 17), UN aid trucks will undergo security checks and be transferred directly to Gaza via Kerem Shalom.”

Kerem Shalom was used for 60 percent of goods entering Gaza before October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians — under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas, and launched a wide-scale offensive aimed at rooting out the terror organization’s military and governance capabilities. The offensive has drawn international reproach for its mounting death toll, with the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reporting over 18,000 Palestinians dead. However, these figures cannot be verified and are believed to include both combatants and noncombatants, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

The UN estimates 1.9 million people in Gaza have been displaced, while aid groups fear the territory will soon be overwhelmed by starvation and disease.

On Friday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who was wrapping up a visit to Israel on Friday, said Washington hoped “this new opening will ease congestion and help facilitate the delivery of life-saving assistance.”

The World Health Organization welcomed the announcement, but also called for the aid to be distributed throughout the Strip, including the north which has been largely cut off by the fighting.

Trucks with humanitarian aid wait to enter the Palestinian side of Rafah on the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip on December 11, 2023. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP)

Following the decision to reopen Kerem Shalom, two US and Israeli officials told The Times of Israel that US President Joe Biden’s administration has set its sights on its next ask from Jerusalem: to allow commercial goods into the Strip.

Since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, only basic humanitarian goods have been entering Gaza.

The officials told The Times of Israel that the US aims to get Gaza’s limited economy up and running again after it effectively stopped operating on October 7.

Both the US and Israeli officials said that Jerusalem is currently resistant to the idea, but the US official expressed optimism that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will soon agree, as it did on reopening Kerem Shalom, allowing in fuel and allowing in humanitarian trucks from Egypt after initially rejecting all three requests.

“The Israelis understand that the more aid that gets in, the more time they’ll have to continue operations in Gaza,” the US official said.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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