US issues rare criticism of Egypt for withholding UN aid from Gaza

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

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid which Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) agency says entered Gaza on Thursday,  May 16, 2024. (Courtesy COGAT)
Trucks carrying humanitarian aid which Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) agency says entered Gaza on Thursday, May 16, 2024. (Courtesy COGAT)

A senior Biden administration official briefing reporters offers very rare criticism of Egypt over what they said was Cairo’s withholding of UN humanitarian assistance from Gaza.

“What should be going into Kerem Shalom is the UN assistance, which is now in Egypt. Egypt is holding that back until the Rafah crossing situation settles out,” the senior administration official says.

“We do not believe that aid should be held back for any reason whatsoever. Kerem Shalom is open. The Israelis have it open. And that aid should be going through Kerem Shalom,” the official adds.

Aid has piled up on the Egyptian side of the Rafah Crossing after it was shuttered earlier this month due to Israel’s operation to take over the Gaza side of the crossing from Hamas

Egypt and Israel have traded blame for why Rafah has remained closed.

A second US official speaking to The Times of Israel earlier Tuesday said that Egypt warned Israel it would close the crossing if Israel did not fully coordinate its military operations at the gate with Cairo, which Jerusalem failed to do.

The US official said that Egypt is unwilling to reopen the crossing so long as it is the IDF that is the IDF that is securing the other side, not wanting to be seen as complicit with Israel’s occupation of the gate.

Egypt could be willing to reopen the Rafah Crossing if the Palestinian Authority or an international organization replaced the IDF there, the official said, adding that the PA rejected an Israeli offer to manage the gate.

Israel conditioned PA involvement on its officers not identifying themselves as being from the PA due to fears of pushback from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners. Ramallah also demanded that its involvement at Rafah be part of a broader diplomatic initiative aimed at an eventual two-state solution — a non-starter for Israel.

In the meantime, the US has sought to convince Cairo to at least allow the aid that is building up in Egypt to be transferred to Gaza through Israel’s Kerem Shalom Crossing.

But this effort has been rejected by Cairo, which still views such a move as cooperation with Israel’s takeover of the Rafah Crossing, the second US official said.

Meanwhile today, the UN says that it was no longer able to distribute food aid in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to lack of supplies and insecurity.

The senior US official notes that Israel has agreed to implement a series of requests made by the US in recent days to improve the amount of aid getting into Gaza.

One of those steps is allowing aid scanned in Cyprus to be sent directly to Israel’s Ashdod Port where it can then be transferred to Gaza without having to undergo an additional security step, the US official says.

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