RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The border crossing between Egypt and Gaza opened Saturday to let in 20 of the over 200 trucks of aid waiting to provide assistance to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Aid workers said 20 trucks were insufficient. More than 200 trucks carrying roughly 3,000 tons of aid have been positioned near the crossing for days.
Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians, half of whom have fled their homes, are rationing food and drinking dirty water. Hospitals say they are running low on medical supplies and fuel for emergency generators amid a territory-wide power blackout. Israel is still launching waves of airstrikes across Gaza that have destroyed entire neighborhoods.
The opening came after more than a week of high-level diplomacy by various mediators, including visits to the region by U.S. President Joe Biden and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Israel had insisted that nothing would enter Gaza until Hamas released all of the captives from its Oct. 7 attack on towns in southern Israel.
Late Friday, Hamas released an American woman and her teenage daughter, the first captives to be freed. It was not immediately clear if there was a connection between the release and the aid deliveries.
On Saturday morning, an Associated Press reporter on the Palestinian side of Rafah saw the 20 trucks heading north to Deir al-Balah, a quiet farming town where many evacuees from the north have sought shelter. Hundreds of foreign passport holders at Rafah hoping to escape the conflict were not allowed to leave.
The trucks were carrying 44,000 bottles of drinking water from the U.N.’s children’s agency — enough for 22,000 people for a single day, it said. “This first, limited water will save lives, but the needs are immediate and immense,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.
The World Health Organization said four of the 20 trucks that crossed through Rafah were carrying medical supplies, including essential supplies for 300,000 people for three months, trauma medicine and supplies for 1,200 people, and 235 portable trauma bags for first responders.
“The situation is catastrophic in Gaza,” the head of the U.N.’s World Food Program, Cindy McCain, told The Associated Press. “We need many, many, many more trucks and a continual flow of aid,” she said, adding that some 400 trucks were entering Gaza daily before the war.
Two Egyptian officials and a European diplomat said extensive negotiations with Israel and the U.N. to allow fuel deliveries for hospitals had so far yielded little progress. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information on the sensitive deliberations.
One Egyptian official said they were discussing the release of dual-national hostages in return for the fuel, but that Israel was insisting on the release of all hostages.
Hamas said it was working with Egypt, Qatar and other mediators “to close the case” of hostages if security circumstances permit.
There are growing expectations of a ground offensive that Israel says would be aimed at rooting out Hamas. Israel said Friday it does not plan to take long-term control over the small but densely populated Palestinian territory.
Israel has also traded fire along its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group, raising concerns about a second front opening up. The Israeli military said Saturday it struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in response to recent rocket launches and attacks with anti-tank missiles.
Israel issued a travel warning on Saturday, ordering its citizens to leave Egypt and Jordan — which made peace with it decades ago — and to avoid travel to a number of Arab and Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain, which forged diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020. Protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza have erupted across the region..
More than 4,300 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. That includes the disputed toll from a hospital explosion. The ministry says another 1,400 are believed to have been buried under rubble.
The Gaza Housing Ministry said at least 30% of all homes in Gaza have been destroyed or heavily damaged in the war.
Hosting a summit Saturday, Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi called for ensuring aid to Gaza, negotiating a cease-fire and resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which last broke down more than a decade ago. He also said the conflict would never be resolved “at the expense of Egypt,” referring to fears Israel may try to push Gaza’s population into the Sinai Peninsula.
King Abdullah II of Jordan told the summit that Israel’s air campaign and siege of Gaza were “a war crime” and slammed the international community’s response.
“Anywhere else, attacking civilian infrastructure and deliberately starving an entire population of food, water, electricity, and basic necessities would be condemned,” he said. Apparently, he added, “human rights have boundaries. They stop at borders, they stop at races, they stop at religions.”
Over a million people have been displaced in Gaza. Many heeded Israel’s orders to evacuate from north to south within the sealed-off coastal enclave. But Israel has continued to bomb areas in southern Gaza where Palestinians had been told to seek safety, and some appear to be going back to the north because of bombings and difficult living conditions in the south.
Magdy reported from Cairo and Krauss from Jerusalem. Associated Press journalists Isabel DeBre in Jerusalem and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.