Rafah crossing remains closed as 100 lorries carrying aid await agreement on delivery

A deal to open the crossing and allow essential aid to Gaza's besieged people has yet to be reached

Palestinian gather outside a hospital in Rafah on Tuesday following another Israeli air strike, as a relief convoy waits across the border in Egypt. AFP
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More than 100 lorries carrying aid to the Gaza Strip amid an ongoing siege by the Israeli military have made their way from the Egyptian city of Al Arish to the Rafah border crossing 45 kilometres away, Egyptian state media said.

Shipments of aid, which have been sent periodically by pro-Palestinian governments and humanitarian organisations since the start of Israel's barrage on Gaza on October 7, had been kept at Al Arish airport in North Sinai pending Israeli approval to allow them into the bombarded enclave.

An agreement reportedly reached between several Arab governments, Israel and the US to open the crossing for five hours on Monday morning was quickly denied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday after the Israeli military bombarded the Palestinian side of the crossing on Monday evening, its fourth air strike on the area since Saturday.

Israel has repeatedly refused to allow food, water and essential medical supplies into Gaza until Israelis being held by the enclave’s ruling militant group Hamas are released.

More than 600 American citizens trapped inside Gaza were instructed by the US State Department to make their way out to the Rafah crossing on Saturday. Also among those stranded in Gaza are Canadians, Dutch and Austrians citizens, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told CNN on Monday.

However, they have yet to be allowed through pending negotiations between US officials, a number of whom, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, are currently in the Middle East for de-escalation talks with Israel and multiple Arab governments.

The Rafah border crossing's operators on the Palestinian side have also refused to allow “third nationals” to cross into Egypt until Israel allows aid into the strip, Mr Shoukry said.

Mr Blinken, who returned to Tel Aviv on Monday, his second visit to the Israeli city since he embarked on his Middle East tour, said early on Tuesday he had agreed with Israel to “develop a plan” to get aid into Gaza. However, the crossing remains closed.

US President Joe Biden, who is expected to visit Israel on Wednesday, has expressed Washington's unwavering support for Israel and sent it military aid, however, in statements this week, Mr Biden also stressed the need for Palestinian civilians to receive humanitarian aid.

He urged Israel to follow the rules of war in its response to the Hamas attacks.

Since the start of the barrage on Gaza, Egypt has maintained its side of the Rafah crossing is officially open. Mr Shoukry told CNN one reason why people trapped inside could not exit the enclave was the damage done to the crossing’s roads by Israeli air strikes.

Another reason was the lack of co-operation from the Palestinian operators who insist Israel must allow aid into the enclave before foreign citizens can leave.

Witnesses told Reuters the lorries that reached the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday morning were all carrying Egyptian aid as all the international aid remained in Al Arish.

The damaged roads had also been repaired by Tuesday morning, one witness said.

Since October 7, the Israeli bombardment has claimed the lives of more than 2,800 Gazans, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

An Israeli bombardment of the city of Rafah, one of Gaza’s five governorates, and the nearby town of Khan Younis, on Tuesday night killed 49, Gaza’s Interior Ministry said.

More than 9,000 Palestinians have been injured as the Gaza Strip’s hospitals have run out of power, water and essential medical supplies.

Updated: October 17, 2023, 2:54 PM