Visiting Rafah crossing, progressive US senators say Israeli inspections slowing aid deliveries to Gaza

Hamas members ride on top of a humanitarian aid truck in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 19, 2023. (AP Photo)
Hamas members ride on top of a humanitarian aid truck in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 19, 2023. (AP Photo)

CAIRO — At Egypt’s Rafah border crossing, lines of hundreds of trucks carrying aid wait for weeks to enter Gaza, and a warehouse is full of goods rejected by Israeli inspectors, everything from water testing equipment to medical kits for delivering babies, two US senators say after a visit to the border.

Progressive Senators Chris Van Hollen and Jeff Merkley point to a cumbersome process that is slowing relief to the Palestinian population in the besieged territory — largely due to Israeli inspections of aid cargos, with seemingly arbitrary rejections of vital humanitarian equipment. The system to ensure that aid deliveries within Gaza don’t get hit by Israeli forces is “totally broken,” they say.

“What struck me yesterday was the miles of backed-up trucks. We couldn’t count, but there were hundreds,” Merkley says in a briefing with Van Hollen to a group of reporters in Cairo.

The US has been pressing Israel for weeks to let greater amounts of food, water, fuel, medicine and other supplies into Gaza, and the UN Security Council passed a resolution on December 22 calling for an immediate increase in deliveries. Three weeks ago, Israel opened its Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, adding a second entry point for aid after Rafah.

Still, the rate of trucks entering has not risen significantly. This week, an average of around 120 trucks a day entered through Rafah and Kerem Shalom, according to UN figures, far below the 500 trucks of goods going in daily before the war and far below what aid groups say is needed.

Van Hollen and Merkley say a more simplified process for getting aid into Gaza is necessary. During a three-day visit to Egypt, they met with Egyptian officials, UN aid agencies and non-governmental relief groups working in Gaza. At Rafah yesterday, they also spoke to doctors who had come out of Gaza and a truck driver waiting to get in.

Israel says the inspections are necessary to prevent items of military use from reaching Hamas.

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem this week, Col. Elad Goren, a senior official in the Israeli military body overseeing Palestinian civilian affairs known as COGAT, admitted that Israeli security checks could be hampering rapid aid delivery but largely blamed the bottlenecks on international agencies and the United Nations.

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