Israel's pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat

AP , Ahram Online , Friday 21 Jun 2024

The Israeli occupation army said Sunday that it was establishing a new safe corridor to deliver aid into southern Gaza. But days later, this self-declared “tactical pause” has brought little relief to desperate Palestinians under the brutal Israeli war.

Karm Abo Salem
File photo: Trucks carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip pass through the inspection area at the Karm Abo Salem Crossing on the Gaza-Israel border, Thursday, March 14, 2024. AP


The Israeli army had over the weekend announced a daily humanitarian "pause" in fighting on a key road in eastern Rafah, stretching from Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) — the strip’s only operational aid crossing in the south — to the nearby city of Khan Younis, but a United Nations spokesman said days later that "this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need". 

The "pause" that the Israeli army had declared has had no impact on deliveries of the badly-needed aid, the UN's health agency said on Friday. 

"So overall, we the UN can say that we did not see an impact on the humanitarian supplies coming in since that, I will say, unilateral announcement of this technical pause," said Richard Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization representative in the Palestinian territories. 

"That is the overall assessment," he said. 

The head of the UN’s World Food Program which has previously said there is a "full-blown famine" in north Gaza, said Thursday that the pause has made “no difference at all” in aid distribution efforts.

“We haven’t been able to get in,” said Cindy McCain in an interview with Al-Monitor. “We’ve had to reroute some of our trucks. They’ve been looted. As you know, we’ve been shot at and we’ve been rocketed.”

Israel which has been content with blocking all land crossings into Gaza and leaving aid piling up at Karm Abu Salem, has done little to ensure the delivery of aid to Gaza Palestinians on the brink of famine.

Before the pause, aid organizations had reported that the need to coordinate trucks’ movement with the Israelis in an active combat zone was slowing aid distribution.

The United Nations and international aid organizations say a breakdown in law and order has made the aid route unusable as Israel has targeted Palestinian police and upheld a siege on Gaza that has led to a man-made famine in the destroyed territory. 

With thousands of truckloads of aid piled up, groups of armed men are regularly blocking convoys, holding drivers at gunpoint and rifling through their cargo, according to a UN official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, used to deploy local Palestinian police to escort aid convoys, but many refused to continue serving after airstrikes killed at least eight police officers in Rafah, the agency said.

The lawlessness created by Israel's war is a major obstacle to aid distribution to southern and central Gaza — where an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians displaced from Rafah, or more than half of Gaza’s entire population, are now sheltering in tent camps and cramped apartments without adequate food, water, or medical supplies.

The UN tried to send a convoy of 60 trucks down the road Tuesday to pick up aid at the crossing, but 35 of the trucks were intercepted by armed men, the official said.

In recent days, the groups have moved closer to the crossing and set up roadblocks to halt trucks loaded with supplies, the UN official said. They have searched the pallets for smuggled cigarettes, a rare luxury in a territory where a single smoke can go for $25.

The surge in lawlessness is a result of growing desperation in Gaza and the power vacuum left by Hamas’s waning power over the territory, said Mkhaimar Abusada, an associate professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza who is now in Cairo.

With the Strip's police force targeted by Israel, he said, crime has reemerged as an untreated issue in Gaza.

“After Hamas came to power, one of the things that they brought under their control was the lawlessness of the so-called big clans,” said Abusada. “Now, that’s left for the Palestinians on their own to deal with it. So once again, we are seeing shootings between families, there are thefts, all the bad things are happening.”

Is any aid still getting into Gaza?

The situation has largely paralyzed aid distribution to the south — particularly since Gaza’s nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt was closed when Israel invaded the city and occupied the key crossing early last month.

The UN official said that 25 trucks of flour used the route Tuesday. Some private commercial trucks also got through — many of which used armed security to deter groups seeking to seize their cargo. An AP reporter stationed along the road Monday saw at least eight trucks pass by, armed security guards riding on top.

Before Israel invaded Rafah, hundreds of fuel trucks routinely entered the area.

The UN has now begun rerouting some fuel trucks through northern Gaza. Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said five fuel trucks entered Gaza Wednesday. The UN humanitarian office reported that these were the first fuel deliveries since early June and supplies remain scarce.

Aid groups say only a ceasefire and a reopening of the Rafah crossing in addition to all Israeli border crossings into Gaza could significantly increase aid flow to the area.

The Israeli army body in charge of coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, COGAT, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


Severe, unprecedented malnutrition 

In northern Gaza, residents say acute shortages of vegetables, fruit and meat means they are surviving on bread alone, Reuters reported. 

“We are being starved, the world has forgotten about us,” said Um Mohammed, a mother of six in Gaza City.

“Except for the flour, bread, we have nothing else, we don’t have anything to eat it with, so we eat bread only,” she said.

In late May, the Israeli military lifted a ban on the sale of fresh food to Gaza from Israel and the occupied West Bank, Palestinian officials and international aid workers said.

The UN children's agency Unicef told the BBC a convoy carrying aid was denied entry to northern Gaza, despite having all the necessary documents, adding that this is a common occurrence.

Unicef spokesman James Elder, who was on a lorry in the convoy, also said that while waiting at a checkpoint he witnessed the fatal shooting of two Gazan fishermen.

He said the areas of Gaza being denied aid were suffering from levels of severe malnutrition unprecedented in Gaza.

His remarks came after World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that a significant proportion of Gaza's population were facing "catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions".

Security concerns afflict aid from US pier

The US installed a pier off Gaza’s coast last month, claiming to provide an additional route for aid to enter Gaza. A project many have cast doubt on as it has suffered repeated logistical and security setbacks.

Cyprus and US officials said the pier was up and running again Thursday after being detached for a second time last week because of rough seas.

But there, too, security concerns are hindering distribution of aid.

The UN suspended its cooperation with the pier on June 9 – a day after reports emerged that the Israeli army had used the area in the Israeli massacre of Nuseirat refugee camp that left 270 Palestinians dead. Photos of the operation showed an Israeli army helicopter in the vicinity of the humanitarian pier.

Both Israel and the US deny the pier was used in the operation. But the perception that the pier was used for military purposes could endanger humanitarian workers, and threaten humanitarian groups’ principles of of neutrality, the UN says.

Aid workers said they are working with the Israelis to find a solution, but that the security burden falls squarely on Israel’s shoulders.

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