First delivery of aid to Gaza must be 'practical', Guterres says at Rafah crossing

Initial shipment expected to comprise water and medical supplies because food is a lower priority for besieged territory's 2.3 million people

Aid trucks need to move into Gaza, says UN chief at Rafah crossing

Aid trucks need to move into Gaza, says UN chief at Rafah crossing
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said the delivery of desperately needed aid for residents of the Gaza Strip must be carried out in a "practical" way.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people depend on humanitarian aid, but none has been delivered over the past two weeks due to bombardment by Israel in response to a deadly cross-border attack by Hamas militants on October 7.

It was hoped food, medical supplies and water would be delivered on Friday, but it was not certain whether the repairs to roads on the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, badly damaged by Israeli strikes, would be completed in time.

"It needs to be done in a way that is practical, and in a way, that is expedite," said Mr Guterres from the Rafah crossing as a convoy of 20 lorries prepared to enter the the Palestinian territory.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN's humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, told The National that the first aid delivery should take place "in the next day or so".

Mr Guterres said the UN does not want to "punish the Gazan people twice", as he appealed for a humanitarian ceasefire at Egypt's Rafah border crossing with Gaza on Friday.

He expressed his gratitude to Egypt as it "allows hope to exist on that side of the border".

Mr Guterres arrived on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border on Friday to oversee the preparations of 20 trucks carrying essential aid into the Gaza Strip where the Israeli bombardment has left more than 3,700 dead and thousands other injured.

“This is not a normal humanitarian operation but one in a war zone and that's why I've appealed for a humanitarian ceasefire – we do not want to punish the Gazan people twice first because of the war and lack of the lack of humanitarian aid but it's clear that a humanitarian ceasefire would make things easier and safer for everybody,” Mr Guterres said.

Israel has barred the entry of any fuel, but Mr Guterres stressed the importance of the commodity during his address on Friday, explaining that it is essential for the operation of hospitals inside the enclave.

Mr Guterres on Thursday night condemned the attacks by Hamas, during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

"Let me be clear. The Palestinian people have legitimate and deep grievances after 56 years of occupation," he said.

"But, as serious as those grievances are, they cannot justify terror attacks. And as appalling as those attacks have been, they cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people."

A witness to the preparations told The National: "I have been told that the first round of 20 trucks will be carrying water and medical supplies. Food isn't as much of a priority at the moment."

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday brokered a deal for a limited number of lorries to enter Gaza during his one-day visit to Israel.

Thousands of tonnes of aid sent by international humanitarian organisations as well as pro-Palestinian governments around the world have been piling up in the nearby Egyptian city of Al Arish, awaiting Israeli permission for their delivery to Gazans.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after a meeting with Mr Biden, said he would allow aid from Egypt to enter Gaza under conditions.

The conditions include limiting aid to only food, water and medical supplies, and that the Red Cross be allowed to visit hostages held by Hamas after being seized from Israel during its attack on October 7.

Mr Netayahu said that the diversion of any aid to Hamas militants would be thwarted.

It is unclear whether Israel will allow more aid to enter Gaza than the 20 lorries agreed to with Mr Biden.

Mr Guterres said on Thursday that the delivery of aid should continue.

“This is cannot be just a one-time aid delivery; it must be a continuing operation. We have to make sure that aid enters safely. I am in Egypt to ensure this,” he said.

Updated: October 20, 2023, 1:22 PM