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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israel signals support for more aid routes for Gaza



Humanitarian aid arriving through the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip, Oct. 21, 2023. Israel’s military said Thursday that it supported new initiatives to get humanitarian assistance into the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea. (Samar Abu Elouf/The New York Times)

By Cassandra Vinograd


Israel’s military Thursday said it supported new initiatives to get humanitarian assistance into the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, just hours after the military’s chief spokesperson said it was trying to “flood” the enclave with sorely needed aid.


Israel has endorsed three new aid efforts over the past week: a ship carrying food approaching the coast off Gaza; airdrops by foreign countries; and an initial convoy of six trucks crossing directly from Israel into northern Gaza, where aid agencies say hunger is severest, for the first time since Oct. 7.


The public signaling from Israeli officials follows increasingly urgent calls from the United States and other allies for Israel to do more to alleviate the humanitarian crisis wrought by its invasion. The United Nations has warned that parts of Gaza are on the brink of famine.


Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political analyst and a columnist at Haaretz, said that Israel is coming under pressure from all sides and that images emerging from Gaza of emaciated, starving children may have been “a tipping point” for policymakers. “There’s a limit to how much opprobrium Israel is willing to take and stand behind and say we are in the right,” she said.


Aid organizations and U.N. officials say the new efforts are too small and inefficient to meet the enormous needs of Gaza civilians. They have argued that it would be better for Israel to ease entry restrictions for trucks at established crossing points into the enclave, and do more to speed the delivery of goods inside Gaza.


Airdrops are ineffective and largely symbolic, these groups say, able to deliver just a fraction of the food that a truck convoy can haul. Setting up the infrastructure for aid deliveries by sea will be expensive and take time. U.S. officials have said that it could be weeks before a floating pier for maritime aid is up and running.


“Air and sea is not a substitute for land, and nobody says otherwise,” Sigrid Kaag, U.N. humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, said last week.


But overland deliveries also face challenges that critics say Israel needs to try to address.


Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has damaged the roads that aid trucks travel on. Civil order has broken down. Desperate Gaza civilians have looted and pulled food from trucks. Convoys have come under fire.


In addition, humanitarian agencies have said stringent Israeli inspections have created bottlenecks for aid trucks at the two open crossings into the enclave, which are both in the south, far from the north where the greatest food shortages are.


Israel has insisted throughout the war that it is committed to allowing as much aid into Gaza as possible, and it has blamed delays on U.N. staffing and logistics.


“The issue isn’t the scanning and delivery of aid to Gaza, it’s how much the U.N. can collect and deliver within Gaza,” Col. Elad Goren, an official at the Israeli agency that oversees policy for the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, told reporters Thursday.


The new aid efforts are not immune to some of the same logistical challenges. Israel has said it will continue to conduct strict inspections of supplies entering Gaza, arguing that Hamas could divert items for its use. Food being dropped by air or sea must still be distributed on the ground.


But Israel has appeared increasingly eager to demonstrate support for the initiatives. On Wednesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visited northern Gaza and viewed preparations for a new maritime humanitarian route, calling aid “a central issue,” according to a statement from the defense ministry. Then, the chief military spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told reporters that Israel plans to “flood” northern Gaza with aid and scale up entry points, The Associated Press reported.


On Thursday, the Israeli military posted videos and photos of airdrops and trucks entering northern Gaza, saying it “continues to expand its efforts to enable the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip” by air, land and sea.


Scheindlin said it’s striking how “all of a sudden, humanitarian aid became important.”


One reason is “certainly” the U.S. calls for Israel to do more to protect civilians, she said. There is also a recent interim ruling from the International Court of Justice hanging over Israel. The court ordered Israel to take steps to prevent its troops from committing genocide in Gaza and to increase the amount of humanitarian aid reaching the territory’s civilians.


“There is an awareness that the international community is watching,” she said.

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