ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Jordan’s King Abdullah joins aid airdrop to Gaza as humanitarian crisis grows

With monarch aboard, Jordanian military plane drops medical supplies for field hospitals in enclave; UNRWA says massive supply of food has been blocked from leaving Israeli port

Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks during the COP28 UN Climate Summit,  in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks during the COP28 UN Climate Summit, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Jordan’s King Abdullah participated in an airdrop of humanitarian aid to Gaza, in a move highlighting his kingdom’s role in pushing Israel to enable further efforts to help fend off illness, hunger and starvation in the war-torn enclave, officials said on Sunday.

A video released by state-owned Al Mamlaka showed the monarch in military gear on board a plane in the latest mission by the Jordanian Air Force to drop urgent medical supplies to field hospitals it runs in the enclave. According to official media, the latest airdrop was on Tuesday.

Jordan has conducted 11 airdrops, with at least two conducted with the French and Dutch air forces, to deliver medical aid.

Princess Salma, Abdullah’s second daughter and an air force pilot, participated in an airdrop in December.

The king, who has been vocal in calling for an end to the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, on Thursday left on a tour of major Western capitals and is due to meet US President Joe Biden in Washington on Monday to lobby for an immediate ceasefire.

Abdullah will prod Washington to pressure Israel to lift hurdles on delivering more aid to Palestinians, saying the obstacles were worsening the plight of over two million inhabitants of the enclave facing growing risk of famine, officials said.

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken during a visit to Amman last month commended Jordan’s “role and leadership in providing life-saving aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

Jordan succeeded in getting Israel to allow the World Food Programme (WFP) to send deliveries to Gaza through another land route that begins from Jordan, helping ease pressure on the main Rafah border crossing, which is limited in capacity.

Jordan, which shares a border with the West Bank, fears that the Gaza conflict could spread, with violence by armed settlers triggering a large-scale Palestinian exodus to the other side of the Jordan River.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) visits a World Food Program (WFP) regional warehouse in Amman on January 7, 2024. (EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / POOL / AFP)

The war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists broke through the border into southern Israel and launched a shock terror assault in which they massacred some 1,200 people — most of them civilians slaughtered amid brutal atrocities including executions, burning of bodies and rapes — and seized 253 hostages, of whom they still hold 130, not all of them alive.

In response, Israel launched an aerial campaign and ground invasion, vowing to eradicate Hamas and end the terror group’s 16-year rule of the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has said that more than 28,000 people have been killed since the start of the war, although these figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

The war has displaced around 85% of the enclave’s 2.3 million residents, according to the United Nations, and one in 10 children under five are believed to be acutely malnourished.

Palestinians line up for free food distribution in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, February 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

On Sunday, the United Nations agency providing aid to Palestinians in Gaza said that a shipment amounting to a month’s supply of food had been blocked in an Israeli port.

Last month, UNRWA suspended 12 staff members on suspicion of involvement in the October 7 massacre and launched an investigation into the allegations. As a result, a number of key donor countries suspended funding, which the agency has warned could result in operations being suspended in Gaza by the end of February.

The UN agency has said it is facing growing administrative hurdles from Israel, the blocked aid shipment being the latest of them.

“We have an environment here which is for the time being quite hostile to the agency but there have been some decisions now which are starting to impact the ability of the agency to properly operate,” UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini said on Friday.

He said UNRWA had been informed by a contractor that provided handling services in the port of Ashdod that it could no longer continue working with UNRWA, following instructions from the Israeli authorities.

UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City, February 8, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

As a result, a shipment from Turkey consisting of 1,049 containers of supplies including flour, chickpeas, sugar, cooking oil, enough to cover the needs of 1.1 million people for a month, was blocked in the port, Lazzarini said.

He said UNRWA had informed Turkey of the stoppage. There was no immediate comment from Turkish authorities.

A spokesperson for Israel’s Finance Ministry said the matter was in the hands of the government’s legal adviser but offered no further comment.

Last week, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that Israel was canceling tax breaks previously offered to UNRWA. The decision was not formally communicated to the agency, which only learned about it when the statement appeared on the platform, Lazzarini said.

UNRWA was set up to help Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes or fled during the 1948 War of Independence that accompanied the foundation of the state of Israel. It still distributes aid and provides education to their descendants in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

Israel has long accused it of contributing to the conflict by fostering terror groups and the allegations have ratcheted up sharply since the October 7 attack.

IDF soldiers inside what the army said was a Hamas data center in a tunnel under a compound of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA) in Gaza City, February 8, 2024 (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

On Saturday, The Times of Israel and other media outlets published information about a Hamas data center underneath UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters.

The subterranean data center, seen by The Times of Israel’s military correspondent on Thursday during an Israel Defense Forces media tour, included an electricity room, industrial battery power banks, and living quarters for alleged Hamas terrorists operating the computer servers.

Lazzarini denied any knowledge of the data center, and said that while the findings “merit an independent inquiry” it was not possible to undertake one “given Gaza is an active war zone.”

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