ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Israel to open Kerem Shalom Crossing for Gaza aid inspections for first time since war started

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

Illustrative: A fuel truck enters the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel, in Rafah in the southern Palestinian enclave, following a truce, on August 8, 2022. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Illustrative: A fuel truck enters the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel, in Rafah in the southern Palestinian enclave, following a truce, on August 8, 2022. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Israel will open the Kerem Shalom Crossing with Gaza for the inspection of humanitarian aid trucks for the first time since the outbreak of the war, a senior Israeli official announces.

The move, slated to be implemented in the coming days, is meant to facilitate an increase in the number of aid trucks that can enter Gaza each day. Israel currently inspects the trucks at the smaller Nitzana crossing between Israel and Egypt before they are sent to Rafah.

While Israel will use the Kerem Shalom facilities to inspect the trucks, they will still need to enter Gaza through Rafah.

The Biden administration and the broader international community have been pressuring Israel for weeks to open Kerem Shalom, previously Gaza’s main goods crossing. Since the start of the war, all aid has been entering Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing, which is meant to be primarily for pedestrians.

But the Israeli government has taken steps to disconnect from Gaza following Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught and is also limiting the scope of aid it is allowing into Gaza so long as the hostages aren’t released or visited by the Red Cross.

Israel has also sought to limit the amount of fuel it allows into Gaza amid fears that it will be diverted by Hamas. Still, the cabinet voted last night to allow in “minimal” amounts each day to prevent a further humanitarian crisis following US pressure.

While the decision to open Kerem Shalom to inspections doesn’t go as far as the Biden administration is aiming, a US official tells The Times of Israel that it is a step in the right direction and that Washington will continue pushing Israel to reopen the crossing for the entry and exit of aid trucks.

Col. Elad Goren, from Israel’s COGAT military liaison to the Palestinians, tells reporters in a briefing that even without Kerem Shalom, Israel is capable of facilitating the entry of up to 250 aid trucks each day through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing into Gaza.

Trucks arrive first in the Egyptian coastal town of El Arish, from where they are driven through Israel’s Nitzana Crossing to be inspected there by Israeli authorities. Nitzana is not designed for this purpose, though, leading to a slowed inspection process and bottlenecks of aid at this and other stages, which is why the US pushed for the use of Kerem Shalom.

Goren insists that the procedures currently in place are sufficient to allow up to 250 trucks in, and that opening Kerem Shalom is aimed at facilitating the entry of a larger number of trucks, which he says that Israel supports.

He suggests that international agencies are to blame for the limited distribution of aid.

“The problem is the capability of the UN agencies [ability] to collect all of the international assistance” after it is inspected and ensure that it makes it through Rafah, Goren says.

“We’re allowing hundreds of trucks to enter Gaza [each day]. It’s just a matter of logistics and what the UN can take and distribute inside Gaza, and we will continue to work with all the international organizations in order to increase their capabilities,” he adds.

UN officials have rejected the Israeli charge, saying the IDF’s ongoing military campaign has all but handcuffed its ability to distribute aid and arguing that a long-term humanitarian ceasefire is essential.

Before the war started, roughly 500 trucks entered Gaza each day, largely through Kerem Shalom but also from Egypt’s Salah a-Din Crossing, which was believed to have been less closely inspected.

Since the war, the number of trucks entering Gaza each day has been well under 100. During a recent seven-day truce, roughly 200 trucks entered each day. That number has fallen since, with just 80 trucks and several fuel trucks entering yesterday.

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