Israel has agreed to allow 100 trucks of humanitarian aid into Gaza each day following intensive diplomatic engagement by the Biden administration, a US official told The Times of Israel on Monday.
The agreement came hours after the UN agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) warned that the limited number of aid trucks entering Gaza were insufficient to meet the “unprecedented humanitarian needs” in the territory.
Only 171 trucks have entered Gaza since Egypt began opening its Rafah crossing ten days ago after it was bombed by Israel during one of the first days of the war that began with Hamas’s surprise terror onslaught on October 7, according to Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians COGAT.
The aid has amassed to hundreds of tons, COGAT said, adding that it has included water, food and medical supplies.
COGAT said that 39 trucks of humanitarian aid entered Gaza on Monday, six fewer than the tally presented by the US for the day prior. State Department spokesperson Matt Miller had said the US was aiming for the number to increase each day.
US officials said they were working to more than double the daily number of trucks entering Gaza “in the coming days.”
“This first phase that we talked to the Israelis about is trying to get it up to about 100 a day,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, using the same figure that the UN said is needed since the war broke out. Prior to October 7, though, some 500 trucks carrying aid and other goods entered Gaza every day.
“We’ve amped up a lot of humanitarian assistance. I know you’re going to see a big increase in humanitarian assistance in the next two or three days,” Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer said during a briefing with foreign press, becoming the first Israeli official to all but confirm the agreement with the US.
The issue of humanitarian aid for Gaza has been controversial in Israel though where many have argued that none should be allowed in unless Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad release the over 230 hostages it is holding in the Strip since October 7.
Israel has blocked aid from entering from its side of the border but has increasingly allowed convoys to enter from Egypt.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement reiterating that any humanitarian aid allowed into Gaza will help its military efforts and is being checked before entry.
“The humanitarian aid allows Israel an important area of activity to reach its war aims,” the PMO said. Israeli officials have said that enhancing the amount of aid in the southern Gaza Strip will further convince civilians to move out of the north and also give Israel more diplomatic breathing room to continue its military campaign.
The PMO said that the aid is food and medicine that is physically checked by Israeli security sources before it enters.
“All of the deliveries are designated for the civilian population — if it comes to light that they are being taken by Hamas, they will stop,” the statement added.
Miller said during a press briefing that the US has made progress in ensuring the delivery of fuel into Gaza, which has yet to take place since the war broke out. Israel has barred such deliveries, arguing that Hamas is diverting fuel from civilians for use in its own terror activities.
“Even as we work to provide fuel for these essential humanitarian services, Hamas continues to maintain extensive fuel reserves. Rather than provide that fuel to hospitals or aid workers or for other civilian needs, however, it continues to hoard it for the benefit of its fighters and to carry out its terrorist attacks against Israel,” Miller said, agreeing with the Israeli position.
US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call Sunday that the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza needs to “immediately and significantly increase,” the White House said.
UNRWA chief begs Security Council to intervene
“The handful of convoys being allowed through Rafah is nothing compared to the needs of over two million people trapped in Gaza,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told the UN Security Council, referring to the sole border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
“The system in place to allow aid into Gaza is geared to fail unless there is political will to make the flow of supplies meaningful, matching the unprecedented humanitarian needs,” Lazzarini said, calling for the Security Council to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
He said that 64 of his UNRWA colleagues had been killed in just over three weeks, “the highest number of UN aid workers killed in a conflict in such a short time.”
He added that a UN worker named Samir, as well Samir’s wife and eight children, had been killed just hours before the meeting.
“My UNRWA colleagues are the only glimmer of hope for the entire Gaza Strip… but they are running out of fuel, water, food and medicine and will soon be unable to operate,” said the Swiss-Italian official.
“An entire population is being dehumanized,” he warned.
UNICEF chief Catherine Russell told the council that her agency believes “the true cost of this latest escalation will be measured in children’s lives — those lost to the violence and those forever changed by it.”
The UN General Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution last week calling for an immediate humanitarian truce, but the Security Council has thus far been unable to reach agreement on any text related to the war.
With permanent members Russia, China and the United States applying their vetoes to previous resolutions, the Security Council’s 10 elected members have begun working on a new draft they hope will garner consensus.
“We have the means to get something done and yet we repeatedly and shamefully fail,” said Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira, whose country currently holds the Security Council’s rotating chair.
“The eyes of the world are staring at us and will not move away from our distressing inability to act,” he added.