‘Philadelphi route, Gaza coastal road open to humanitarian aid deliveries’ state says

In High Court submission, state says that aid delivery to southern Gaza is possible despite IDF’s Rafah operation. ‘Claims disconnected from reality,’ says rights group

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid are pictured at the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on May 28, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Trucks carrying humanitarian aid are pictured at the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on May 28, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and Hamas. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The Philadelphi route along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt and the al-Rashid coastal road running the length of the Gaza Strip are both open for the delivery of humanitarian aid, the state has said in response to concerns raised in petitions to Israel’s High Court of Justice that the IDF’s operation in Rafah will drastically reduce access to food, water, and medical care for Gazans.

The state said in a supplementary submission to the court filed late last week that UN agencies and humanitarian aid organizations were able to distribute aid using the Philadelphi Route road along the southern border of Gaza with Egypt and the al-Rashid Route going north from the south-western most point of the territory.

Human rights groups which have petitioned the court, along with UN agencies operating in Gaza, have claimed that distribution of aid in southern Gaza is all but impossible at present due to the IDF’s ongoing operation in Rafah. They also claim that the operation is causing further deterioration in the already severe humanitarian situation in the area.

Gisha, one of the Israeli organizations that petitioned the High Court, rejected the state’s assertion however, saying that humanitarian aid agency staff have repeatedly stated that safe travel along the routes is not possible due to insufficient coordination with Israeli authorities and the danger to their employees.

And the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) which is a key agency involved in aid efforts in Gaza and which tracks the humanitarian situation there said access to Kerem Shalom from Gaza was “unsafe and restricted” and that the flow of aid into Gaza had dropped by two thirds since May 7 and the beginning of the Rafah operation.

The state’s insistence that distribution is possible comes as Israel finds itself under intense legal pressure from the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, both in The Hague.

Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (left), announces he is seeking arrest warrants from the court’s judges for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, along with Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh (ICC); Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a video address, May 20, 2024. (Screenshot/GPO)

The cases against Israel in both courts focus on the supply of humanitarian aid to the Gazan population, with the ICJ expressing concern that conditions in Gaza could violate the prohibition in the Genocide Convention against creating conditions of life designed to destroy civilian life, and the ICC accusing Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war.

The petition was filed in March requesting that the High Court order the government to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza, and the court has held two hearings for the petition already, and requested several supplementary submissions from the state.

Along with the assertions regarding the delivery routes into Gaza, the state also said in its latest filing that desalination plants and water wells are fully fueled in southern and central Gaza and well supplied in the north; asserted that the water supply for all areas of the territory is above World Health Organization recommendations for emergency situations; and that the Ashdod port is fully open for the supply of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

On May 13, Gisha along with the Hamoked, Physicians for Human Rights, Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Adalah organizations, filed an update to the High Court in light of the new developments on the ground in Gaza, specifically the beginning of the IDF’s operation in Rafah, the subsequent closure of the Rafah goods crossing from Egypt to Gaza, and the brief closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing following a Hamas attack in the vicinity in which four IDF soldiers were killed.

Citing OCHA and the World Food Program, the petitioning organizations claimed that the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and warehouses in the area could not be safely reached to distribute the aid brought in.

The issue of aid distribution has become a key point of contention between Israel and the UN and aid organizations, with the former repeatedly claiming that distribution is possible despite the hostilities and just requires coordination with the IDF, while the latter say conditions in the war-torn enclave make such activity extremely difficult.

“It should be clarified that travel for trucks is possible from Kerem Shalom to western Rafah along the route located on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on the Gazan side [the Philadelphi Route] in coordination with the IDF and for the purposes of protecting the aid convoys,” the state wrote in its reply to the High Court filed at the end of last week.

“After this, from the western Rafah area aid organizations can travel freely even without prior coordination with the IDF, including on the Al-Rashid Route [the Coastal Road] going north and get to the [al-Muwasi] humanitarian zone.”

The state also noted that aid can be brought in through the northern goods crossings and be moved south toward al-Muwasi in south-west Gaza.

A boy stands on a balcony with a view of smoke rising in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 28, 2024. (Eyad Baba/AFP)

The supplementary submission also noted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had given instructions to continue increasing the supply of humanitarian aid to Gaza during a Security Cabinet meeting on May 16.

Additionally, it pointed out that there were five rocket and mortar attacks toward the “Kerem Shalom area” between May 5 and May 12. The May 5 attack killed four IDF soldiers.

The state submission also supplied updated information on the number of aid trucks which have passed into Gaza, including significant increases on the numbers going through the northern Gaza border crossings.

The UN and international aid organizations have said that food insecurity is at its most acute in northern Gaza, even alleging that there is an ongoing famine in the region, although these reports are based on a small amount of data and Israel contests the accuracy and methodology of these evaluations.

Some 386 trucks entered through northern Gaza between May 12 to 18 according to the state’s submissions, and 207 between May 19 and 22, compared to 90 trucks in the middle of March.

The aid in May came through the Erez, Erez East, and Erez West crossings, the latter two having recently been built and operated by Israel as a result of the current war.

In total 1,586 trucks entered Gaza from May 19 to May 22 and 1,107 between May 12 to May 18, the submission said.

OCHA’s recent updates on the humanitarian situation state that there were however just 2,424 “incoming truckloads” of humanitarian aid which entered Gaza between May 1 and 26, although the UN agency counts truck loads of aid delivered within Gaza, not the number of trucks that pass through the various crossings.

An image of what the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) agency of the Israeli Defense Ministry says is aid consignments from 650 truckloads of humanitarian aid awaiting collection and dispatch by the UN and aid agencies after being transferred into Gaza, May 21, 2024. (Courtesy COGAT)

The state also informed the court that the Nahal Oz water pipeline supplying drinking water to northern Gaza was “fully open” as of May 1 and the Bani Soheila water pipeline to the Khan Younis area was also “fully open” as of May 5.

According to the submission, there is now enough water in northern Gaza to provide 160 liters of water for all purposes per person, per day, 38 liters per person, per day in central Gaza, and 32 liters per person, per day in the humanitarian zone, Khan Younis, and Rafah.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that between 50 to 100 liters of water are needed per person, per day to ensure basic needs are met, although that figure includes water for cleaning homes and washing clothes, and the organization says that 15 liters of water per person, per day could suffice in emergencies.

The submission also mentioned the establishment of several field hospitals in southern Gaza to improve access to medical care, and denied claims made in the petition that there were severe delays with authorizations for the supply of medical equipment.

“The [state] respondents continue to facilitate and enable the entry of food and humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip in order to improve the humanitarian response to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, working in cooperation with international aid organizations and other parties, and while investing inputs and resources in the development of the relevant infrastructure and promoting ad hoc solutions to open bottlenecks [in the supply of aid],” the state asserted in its submission.

OCHA and Gisha rejected the accuracy of this description.

“Access to Kerem Shalom from within Gaza is unsafe and restricted. In May, every third humanitarian mission coordinated with the Israeli authorities in southern Gaza was either impeded following an initial approval or denied access altogether. This includes missions to collect supplies from Kerem Shalom,” said Andrea De Domenico, Head of Office for OCHA –  Occupied Palestinian Territories.

“Deliveries through other entry points are limited, with heavy restrictions applying on movement between northern and southern Gaza.As a result, the already poor flow of humanitarian supplies into Gaza has dropped by 67% since 7 May, leaving people without basic essentials to sustain their life and dignity.”

Gisha also called the state’s claims “disconnected from the reality on the ground of shocking and intolerable living conditions,” and claimed there was a “lack of sufficient access to food, water, shelter and health services, and the spread of hunger,” in response to a request for comment.

“Aid workers repeatedly point out that safe and continuous movement to and from the crossings is not possible, among other things due to the lack of coordination and the dangers posed to staff.

“In practice, the logistical difficulties have increased even further since the intensification of the Israeli attack in the Rafah area. As we have seen again in the last few days, no place in the Gaza Strip is safe from attack, something which also seriously harms access to aid,” it added.

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