Medicine for hostages, Gazans enters Strip after inspection in Israel

Political foes and allies alike had earlier slammed prime minister for deflecting blame to military over lack of security checks for shipments sent as part of Qatar-brokered deal

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after crossing the terminal border from Egypt, on January 17, 2024, during the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (AFP)
Trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after crossing the terminal border from Egypt, on January 17, 2024, during the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (AFP)

Five truckloads of medicine, including vital drugs long sought for hostages held for over 100 days, entered Gaza on Wednesday, after undergoing Israeli security checks, according to authorities.

The shipment includes long-awaited medicine for Israeli hostages held by Hamas, many of whom rely on prescription drugs for chronic conditions, according to their families, as well as medical supplies, food, and other humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the war-torn Gaza Strip, as part of a deal brokered by Qatar and France.

A senior Hamas official said that for every box provided for the hostages, 1,000 boxes of medicine were being sent in for Palestinians.

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said late Wednesday that the shipments had entered the Strip.

“Over the past few hours, medicine & aid entered the Gaza Strip, in implementation of the agreement announced yesterday for the benefit of civilians in the Strip, including hostages,” Majed al-Ansari wrote on X.

He said mediation efforts were continuing.

The trucks were inspected by Israel at the Kerem Shalom crossing point, where daily humanitarian aid for Gaza is routinely inspected.

The medical aid earmarked for the hostages has been desperately needed since their abduction on October 7, during the brutal massacre carried out by Hamas inside Israel, in which some 1,200 people were murdered and nearly 250 were kidnapped, including children and the elderly.

An Israeli protests against the Red Cross at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2023. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after a weeklong truce in late November that saw 105 women and children released. The captives include men in their 70s and 80s and others with chronic conditions, some of them life-threatening.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which will distribute the medical aid sent by Qatar, has not gained access to visit the hostages despite urgent appeals from their loved ones and diplomatic officials for them to do so.

The entry of medical aid into Gaza is the first agreement reached by the warring sides since the week-long November hostage release deal. Efforts to negotiate another hostage deal have foundered in the time since.

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, center, attends the funeral of Saleh al-Arouri, in Beirut, Lebanon, January 4, 2024. (AP/Hussein Malla)

In Israel, news that the trucks were initially to enter Gaza without being inspected had ignited a firestorm of criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly okayed the exception to standard practice, under which any goods entering Gaza are subject to Israeli checks meant to ensure they do not include smuggled arms or other contraband.

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said on X Wednesday morning that the shipment of medicine entering under the deal, which was flown from Qatar to Egypt, was approved for entry into Gaza without undergoing an inspection by Israeli authorities.

Israel has maintained tight control on deliveries to Gaza since it closed off access to the Strip following the October 7 terror onslaught on southern Israel, in order to prevent Hamas from receiving supplies that could assist its military apparatus as the Israel Defense Forces wages a campaign to wipe the terror group out.

Reports in Hebrew media that Netanyahu had okayed the procedure were rebutted by the premier’s office, which released a statement that appeared to shift responsibility to the army.

“The prime minister instructed that the medicines be sent to the hostages, but did not deal at all with the security procedures that are set by the IDF and security officials,” the statement read.

According to Channel 12 news, the military claimed it knew nothing about the logistics of the medical aid deal, and only learned that the packages would not be inspected from remarks made by Abu Marzouk.

People walk by photographs of civilians held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, at ‘Hostages Square,’ in Tel Aviv, on December 19, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

There was no official statement from the IDF or Defense Ministry on the matter, though the latter said it had implemented inspections on orders of the government Wednesday afternoon.

“Per the directive of the political leadership, five trucks carrying medicine will undergo a security check at the Kerem Shalom crossing,” said COGAT, a Defense Ministry body that coordinates Palestinian civil affairs.

Both Netanyahu’s political allies and opposition lawmakers had attacked the premier for ostensibly being prepared to allow the aid to enter uninspected and for attempting to pin the issue on the army.

“The responsibility for the decision, as well as for its implementation, lies with the political tier — and only us,” war cabinet minister Benny Gantz stated on X.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who leads the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party, slammed Netanyahu for sidestepping his duty, saying that it was his responsibility to order that the shipments undergo inspection.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

“Perhaps the technical inspection arrangements are the responsibility of the IDF and the security forces, but the responsibility of the IDF and the security forces to check that the trucks that are supposed to carry medicine for the hostages do not also carry ammunition and equipment for Hamas – is your responsibility and the responsibility of the war cabinet,” he wrote on X.

Opposition lawmaker Avigdor Liberman, head of the opposition Yisrael Beytenu party, demanded that the premier “stop with the bullshit.”

“It’s time you start taking responsibility instead of pushing it all over the place and stop making decisions solely on political considerations,” the hawkish opposition politician said.

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