UN: Only 906 aid trucks entered Gaza since start of Rafah op

In Biden call, Egypt’s Sissi agrees to release Gaza aid via Israel amid Rafah closure

White House says move ‘will help save lives’; leaders also discuss ‘new initiatives to secure the release of hostages together with an immediate and sustained ceasefire in Gaza’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

FILE - Humanitarian aid trucks enter the Gaza Strip from Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing in Rafah, January 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
FILE - Humanitarian aid trucks enter the Gaza Strip from Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing in Rafah, January 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi agreed with US President Joe Biden in a phone call on Friday to temporarily send humanitarian aid and fuel to the United Nations via Israel’s Kerem Shalom Crossing until legal mechanisms were in place to reopen the Rafah Border Crossing from the Palestinian side, the Egyptian presidency announced.

Biden welcomed the decision, with the White House saying in a later readout on the call that “this will help save lives.”

The US president “also expressed his full commitment to support efforts to reopen the Rafah Crossing with arrangements acceptable to both Egypt and Israel and agreed to send a senior team to Cairo next week for further discussions,” the readout said.

The announcement was a win for the Biden administration, which has been pressuring Egypt in recent days to take this step, with aid piling up in Egypt since Israel launched the operation to take over the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt on May 7.

Not wanting to be seen as complicit with Israel’s military operation to take over the crossing, Egypt has refused to re-open Rafah until Israeli troops have withdrawn from the other side.

In the meantime, the US and Israel have urged Cairo to at least allow the growing amount of aid in Egypt to be transferred to Israel where it can be delivered into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

US President Joe Biden meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Egypt had to date refused, still deeming such a move as collaboration with Israel’s military offensive in Rafah.

That stance led to rare criticism from the Biden administration, which had until this week only offered praise of Egypt’s role in the war — both as a mediator and as a facilitator of aid.

Biden on the call also thanked Sissi “for his efforts from the beginning of the crisis to ensure the continuous flow of assistance from Egypt into Gaza,” the White House said.

“The two leaders also consulted on new initiatives to secure the release of hostages together with an immediate and sustained ceasefire in Gaza,” the US readout said.

The Palestinian Authority also gave its public backing to Egypt’s decision — Cairo appeared to have requested a statement of support from PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office to present its decision as being taken in full coordination with Ramallah.

IDF troops on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

In an effort to break the impasse earlier this month, Israel quietly asked the Palestinian Authority to take over the Gaza side of the Rafah Crossing instead of Hamas.

However, Israel conditioned the offer on officers not identifying themselves as part of the PA due to fears that this would spark opposition from far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, a US official told The Times of Israel.

The offer was rejected by Ramallah, which said it would not comply unless Israel agreed to establish a pathway to a future Palestinian state — a non-starter for the hardline government in Jerusalem, the US official added.

Since that rejection, Israel and Egypt have been in talks about having Palestinians not directly affiliated with Hamas or the PA running the Rafah Crossing with assistance from international organizations, the US official said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said Friday that aid access to the Gaza Strip is extremely limited with less than 1,000 truckloads of humanitarian assistance entering the enclave since May 7, after Israel began the Rafah operation.

Palestinians carry boxes of humanitarian aid after rushing the trucks transporting the international aid from the US-built Trident Pier near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024. (AFP)

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that between May 7 and May 23, only 906 truckloads entered the enclave of 2.3 million people.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said about 800 of those truckloads were food supplies.

OCHA said 143 truckloads passed through the Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza’s south, while in Gaza’s north 62 passed through the Erez Crossing and 604 via Erez West. It said 97 truckloads have come through a US-built floating pier in central Gaza that began operating a week ago.

Accusations of severe food insecurity, malnutrition and even famine have formed an integral part of the allegations against Israel of genocide in the International Court of Justice and of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the ICC. Israel has strenuously denied all the allegations.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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