The announcement Wednesday that President Biden had secured a deal to allow aid into the besieged and bombarded Gaza Strip was hailed as a humanitarian breakthrough, but it was a limited and incomplete agreement, and there are some steep diplomatic hurdles to clear before aid can reach Palestinians in need.
Wrapping up a trip to Israel on Wednesday, Biden told reporters that up to 20 trucks of aid from Egypt would be allowed into the enclave through the Rafah border crossing once potholes along the road and damage from Israeli airstrikes had been repaired. Humanitarian officials warned, however, that a host of issues must still be resolved before the trucks can start moving.
“The diplomats are way behind in responding to an exploding emergency,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general for the Norwegian Refugee Council. “You now need a cease fire and you need massive access across several crossing points, even to be close to responding to the most acute needs as the entire population is now destitute.”
The Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas, has been under an Israeli blockade for 16 years, leaving most of its 2.3 million residents dependent on aid even before the current conflict. Those deliveries stopped entirely when Israeli and Egyptian border crossings into Gaza were closed after Hamas militants killed at least 1,400 people in a surprise assault on Israeli border communities on Oct. 7.
Almost two weeks of heavy Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians, leveled whole neighborhoods, and pushed the health system in Gaza on the verge of collapse. Each day, casualties pour into hospitals that no longer have enough beds or medical supplies to treat them.
An initial aid delivery will ease the crisis, experts said, but only fleetingly. “What is needed is consistent and unimpeded aid access into and within Gaza, not only for the entry of and safe passage of supplies but also for humanitarians to be able to undertake their work safely,” said Emma Beals, a nonresident fellow at the Middle East Institute who researches the distribution of aid in conflict zones.
“We need more than just a promise that aid is allowed to go in,” Martin Griffiths, the emergency relief coordinator who oversees humanitarian aid at the United Nations, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “Aid must go in at scale and daily.” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres echoed that point upon arriving in Cairo early Thursday, telling reporters he is seeking agreement on “sustained” humanitarian relief.
But U.S. officials were quick to describe the first trucks as a test balloon, with no guarantee of future deliveries if Hamas will interfere. “If Hamas diverts or steals the assistance, they will have demonstrated once again that they have no concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people,” Biden said, speaking aboard Air Force One as he departed Israel. “As a practical matter it will stop the international community from being able to provide this aid.” [Continue reading…]