Aid workers stuck in Cairo awaiting access to Gaza

Humanitarians in Egypt describe frustration over delays in bringing much-needed medical supplies into war zone

Medical supplies and aid packages have been trickling into Gaza through the Rafah crossing. Getty Images
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Humanitarian aid co-ordinator Marie-Aure Perreaut-Revial should have been in Gaza by now with a team of doctors and medical supplies.

Instead, she and the surgical team have spent the past few days in Cairo, waiting for the go-ahead from Egyptian and Israeli authorities to cross the border into Gaza.

“We’re on stand-by. We’re ready to enter Gaza with supplies. We’re waiting to see how negotiations pan out,” she told The National.

Ms Perreaut-Revial is an emergency co-ordinator at Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the French charity that provides medical care in crisis zones.

She is only one of many aid workers stationed in Egypt as they wait for access into Gaza. Thousands of tonnes of humanitarian aid, including food and medical supplies, have been shipped to the Egyptian border city of Arish.

“We’re really eager to go in and support our colleagues on the ground in Gaza. We see them needing help and it’s really difficult not being able to go in,” she said.

More than 8,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began three weeks ago, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. A siege has left Palestinians with limited fuel, water, food and medical supplies.

The Union of Gaza Strip Municipalities urged Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi to issue “uncompromising directives” to open the Rafah border crossing – the only route into the enclave – “without any constraints” on Sunday, describing the situation in Gaza as “critical”.

Yet only small amounts of aid have reached Gaza in recent days, since Israel allowed the humanitarian corridor to reopen about a week ago.

Convoys are subject to lengthy security checks by Israeli officials at the inspection station at the Al Awga crossing, 4km south of Rafah, which delayed their entry into Gaza.

An eighth convoy of 24 lorries entered the Gaza Strip through Rafah on Sunday afternoon, an Egyptian Red Crescent officer told The National. The convoy was the second to enter on Sunday after 10 lorries arrived earlier in the day.

But no aid entered the enclave on Saturday due to rigorous Israeli checks at Al Awga, the officer said, explaining that 20 lorries entered the inspection station on Friday and were only approved on Sunday morning.

The build-up of aid supplies has exhausted Arish's storage capacity, the official added.

Back in Cairo, Ms Perreaut-Revial spends her days co-ordinating with the Egyptian authorities, and following the news in the hope of a possible breakthrough that would allow MSF to take its aid and team into Gaza. “It’s a lot of talking, following the latest news, monitoring online and co-ordinating with other actors,” she said.

MSF has about 300 Palestinian doctors on the ground in Gaza, who report being overwhelmed by the numbers of dead and wounded.

But for aid workers to get through and support them, organisations such as MSF need assurances their staff will be safe.

Israel has significantly increased the intensity of its strikes on the Gaza Strip in the past two days. A total internet and telecoms blackout on Saturday, understood to be imposed by Israel, has meant emergency services in Gaza could not contact people affected by air strikes.

Israel announced the war had entered its “second phase” on Sunday, as ground troops and armoured vehicles rolled in.

Dr Christos Christou, MSF’s international president, warned the intensity of Israel’s campaign in Gaza could undermine aid efforts. “As long as the bombing continues with the current intensity, any effort to increase medical aid will inevitably fall short,” he said.

The organisation also called for an “immediate ceasefire”, a “lifting of the siege” and “basic guarantees of safety” for its aid team, in a statement released on Saturday.

Ms Perreaut-Revial said unpredictable conditions on the ground made it more difficult to negotiate the safe passage of aid.

She and other members of her team were involved in negotiations with the Egyptian and Israeli authorities to get aid in. “We don’t know what the conditions are because it’s changing every day. We need the safe, rapid and unimpeded access to civilians who require medical care,” she said.

Ms Perrault-Revial has worked on emergency responses across the world but she said the amount of humanitarian aid required in Gaza was unlike anything she has experienced.

“It's the scale of the needs and the difficulty communicating with colleagues on the ground,” she said. “For the past few days it's been difficult to co-ordinate even the regular activities that we have in Gaza."

Despite all her efforts, the wait has left her feeling frustrated and helpless.

She said: “The frustration is that we see the situation, we know the needs are gigantic, but we can’t go in the way that we want to.”

Updated: October 30, 2023, 8:12 AM