No aid to Gaza as Rafah border crossing with Egypt remains closed

Merna Hesham , Monday 16 Oct 2023

The situation at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza remains unchanged as both Hamas and Israel deny reaching any agreements on a ceasefire that would allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza through the crossing and allow foreign nationals trapped in the Palestinian enclave to exit Gaza.

Gaza Strip
Palestinians wait to cross to the Egyptian side at Rafah border, Gaza Strip, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023. AP

A UNRWA team has reportedly been sent to Egypt in preparation for the possibility of opening a humanitarian corridor to deliver aid to Gaza, according to Al-Arabiya. 

However, the crossing between Egypt and Gaza remained closed till mid-Monday, with Israel and Hamas denying the reports that a deal was reached between the two sides.

Reports about a ceasefire surfaced hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Cairo on Sunday to meet Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi before returning to Israel. 

The visit fueled anticipations about the possibility of a ceasefire brokered by Egypt, the US, and Israel, especially after Blinken said, following the meeting with El-Sisi, that the Rafah crossing would be open to send aid into the Palestinian enclave.

“We’re putting in place with the United Nations, with Egypt, with Israel, with others, the mechanism to get the assistance and to get it to people who need it,” the US top diplomat added.

Egypt had mediated several ceasefires in similar episodes of escalation.

However, on Monday, Hamas official Izzat El-Reshiq told Reuters that claims about opening the border or a temporary ceasefire are untrue.

For his part, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that there was currently no truce and that there has not been an agreement to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza in exchange for allowing foreigners to exit the strip.  

However, the White House said it hoped the Rafah crossing would be opened for a few hours on Monday, according to White House Spokesman John Kirby, who spoke with CNN.

Awaiting aid and foreigners

Tens of trucks carrying humanitarian aid and medical supplies, provided by multiple regional and international parties, for 2.3 million Palestinians are already waiting on the Egyptian side of the border crossing.

Furthermore, over 500 foreign nationals, including UN personnel, NGO workers, and journalists, are trapped in Gaza due to the closing of border crossings with Israel and Egypt, according to media reports.

French news agency AFP reported that the aid convoys have not yet left the town of El-Arish -- designated by Egypt for receiving humanitarian aid for the Palestinians. 

El-Arish is about 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Rafah.

On the other hand, fuel trucks raising the UN flag have started departing from the Gaza Strip toward Egypt through the Karm Abu Salem border crossing between Egypt, Gaza, and Israel, according to various media reports.

The Karm Abu Salem border crossing, supervised by Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, allows the entry of goods only.

What is going on?

Egypt said the Rafah border crossing is not officially closed, but neither humanitarian aid can enter Gaza nor foreigners leave the strip due to Israeli air strikes.

Cairo said the vital infrastructure of the Rafah crossing on the Palestinian side has suffered damage due to recurrent Israeli air strikes, disrupting its regular operation.

On Monday, Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry said Egypt has aimed to keep the Rafah border crossing open since the beginning of the crisis.  

He added that Israel has "unfortunately" not allowed the opening of the Rafah crossing on the Gaza side.

The Israeli government is "preventing aid from entering Gaza,” he added.

Sources told Ahram Online that the delay in delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza is caused by Israel’s insistence on inspecting any aid entering Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing.

Shoukry highlighted on Saturday that another reason for delaying aid delivery to Gaza is that the border crossing management on the Gazan side wants third-country nationals stranded in the Palestinian enclave to leave first.

"Those operating the Gazan side insist that third [country] nationals come out so that humanitarian goods could come in," he said in remarks to CNN on Saturday.

On Monday, the UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said he would head to the Middle East on Tuesday to help negotiate aid access to the Gaza Strip.

Griffiths said in a video statement he hoped to hear some "good news" later Monday on aid access into the blockaded and besieged Palestinian enclave via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

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