UN pans Israel’s ‘narrow’ definition of humanitarian assistance for Gaza

Senior UN official urges Israel to ease restrictions at goods crossing, where exports since war are down 90%, warns planting season in enclave at risk if policy doesn’t change

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

A Palestinian policeman waves on a truck as it enters through the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip on September 1, 2020, after a Qatari-mediated deal with Israel. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A Palestinian policeman waves on a truck as it enters through the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip on September 1, 2020, after a Qatari-mediated deal with Israel. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

NEW YORK — A senior United Nations diplomat has called on Israel to ease restrictions that have been in place at its crossings into Gaza since the May war in the enclave, expressing concern of catastrophic repercussions for the Gazan economy if they continue to remain in place.

“Israel needs to open or ease the restrictions for the regular entry and exit of goods,” the senior UN official told The Times of Israel, on the condition of anonymity, in an interview Wednesday.

Since the 11 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza terror groups ended on May 20, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has maintained a policy conditioning the rehabilitation of the Strip on the return of a pair of Israeli civilians and the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers being held by Hamas.

Israel and Egypt have blockaded the coastal enclave since 2007, imposing tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods. Both countries say the blockade aims to mitigate the security threat posed by Hamas and stop the import of arms and materials to build fortifications and tunnels.

Since the war though, these restrictions have further intensified, and only a limited amount of materials have been allowed in through Israel’s Kerem Shalom goods crossing, such as food, medical supplies, fuel and animal fodder.

But other items such as frames to rebuild greenhouses destroyed by IDF bombings are still being barred, the UN official said, lamenting that Israel has a “very narrow definition of what constitutes humanitarian assistance.”

Palestinian boys cycle past a convoy of bulldozers provided by Egypt arriving at the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Palestinian Gaza Strip enclave on June 4, 2021 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The official claimed that “the entire planting season is at risk unless more agricultural imports were allowed into Gaza in the coming weeks.”

Overall exports from the Gaza Strip are down 90%, the official said, noting that only a small amount of agricultural exports and textiles are being allowed out of Gaza but that those goods are barred from entering Israel — a main source of income for the enclave’s export economy.

However, the Rafah and Salah a-Din crossings to Egypt have remained open for goods and pedestrians in recent weeks, though the extent of which was not immediately clear.

UN officials involved in the Gaza reconstruction efforts told The Times of Israel that several UN agencies were still in the process of completing detailed damage assessments on the ground while also drafting policy proposals that will be presented to donor countries in the coming weeks.

The officials denied a report that the UN has agreed to take responsibility for the funneling of Qatari cash into Gaza.

Workers remove the rubble of a building destroyed by an airstrike in Gaza City, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

An Israeli security delegation in Cairo notified Egyptian mediators that they would no longer allow the entrance of unmonitored cash that is given to tens of thousands of impoverished families in addition to Hamas civil servants, according to an official familiar with the negotiations.

Instead, Jerusalem is demanding a new mechanism facilitated by an international observer such as the UN, which would see funds diverted away from the terror group entirely, the official said, while admitting that Hamas is almost certain to object to such an effort, given that it rules the Gaza Strip.

The official speculated that Israel and Hamas are “on a path” toward another round of violence just weeks since the most recent flareup in the Gaza Strip.

The official also pointed to Hamas’s “emboldened” position since the war, which its leader Yahya Sinwar has characterized as a victory over Israel, all while public support for the rival Fatah movement led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to plummet.

The two competing realities — a hardened Israel and an invigorated Hamas — have not boded well for Egypt-mediated negotiations that began last month in Cairo, the official said.

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