UN chief calls for sustained humanitarian access to Gaza as trucks set to roll in

Egypt-Gaza crossing scheduled to open Friday, allowing aid to enter Gaza for first time since start of war

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference with Egypt's Foreign Minister (not pictured) following their meeting in Cairo on October 19, 2023. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press conference with Egypt's Foreign Minister (not pictured) following their meeting in Cairo on October 19, 2023. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)

CAIRO, Egypt — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “rapid, unimpeded humanitarian access” to the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday, as Israel kept up its retaliation for Hamas’s deadly attacks on October 7, in which thousands of terrorists crossed into Israel, murdering over 1,400 people and capturing some 200 more.

“We need food, water, medicine and fuel now. We need it at scale and we need it to be sustained, it is not one small operation that is required,” Guterres said in Cairo, as calls mounted for aid to reach the territory’s 2.4 million people.

“In plain terms, that means humanitarians need to be able to get aid in and they need to be able to distribute it safely.”

The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza — the only route in or out not controlled by Israel — was bombed four times by Israeli aircraft last week.

Egyptian state-linked media on Thursday said the crossing will open Friday, after US President Joe Biden struck a deal with Egypt and Israel to allow aid in.

Biden said “up to 20” of the hundreds of trucks waiting on the Egyptian side of the border will be let in as a start.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths estimated that about 100 trucks per day were needed to meet the needs in Gaza.

Humanitarian aid convoy for the Gaza Strip is parked at the Rafah crossing port, Egypt, Oct. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Omar Aziz)

In a joint press conference with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry, Guterres called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

Shoukry said Cairo’s Summit for Peace on Saturday, which Guterres is set to attend, will push for “de-escalation towards a ceasefire” as well as “ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid.”

Israel has been carrying out air and artillery strikes on Gaza since Hamas terrorists unleashed their massive assault on communities in southern Israel on October 7, in which 1,400 Israelis were slaughtered, most of them civilians.

The health ministry in Gaza says the Israeli strikes have killed 3,785 people in the besieged Palestinian enclave, many of them civilians.

Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.

Guterres called on Hamas “for the immediate and unconditional release” of hostages taken on October 7, which Israel says number 203.

Remains of destruction on Kibbutz Be’eri seen on October 11, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

He also urged Israel to allow “immediate, unrestricted access of humanitarian aid” after its siege and bombardment campaign led to an increasingly dire humanitarian crisis.

Guterres said “the Palestinian people have legitimate and deep grievances” that nonetheless “cannot justify terror attacks.”

In turn, those “appalling” attacks “cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” he continued.

The UN has counted journalists, health workers, and UN staff among those killed in Gaza.

“International law must be respected,” Guterres said, adding that “protection of civilians is a must.”

“Any attacks on a hospital, school, or UN premises are forbidden under international law.”

Guterres’s comment alludes to a Hamas claim that an Israeli airstrike had destroyed the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital on Tuesday night, killing 500 people.

Mounting evidence presented by Israel and accepted by the US and other Western countries shows the blast was caused by a misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket, and the death toll was likely much lower.

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