Fourteen lorries enter Gaza with aid from UAE as Rafah crossing reopens

Aid convoys arrive as more than 1.4 million people in Rafah city face growing threat of attack by Israeli forces

Aid from the UAE permitted to enter Gaza

Aid from the UAE permitted to enter Gaza
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Lorries carrying humanitarian aid, including 14 loaded with relief supplies sent by the UAE, entered Gaza from Egypt on Monday after the Rafah border crossing was reopened.

Aid deliveries had been held up by intermittent closures of the crossing in recent days. Hundreds of lorries carrying aid sent by the UAE and other countries, as well as NGOs, were waiting to enter Gaza after being inspected and approved to cross the border.

“The border has been closed for several days now but we received an order this morning to reopen since conditions have calmed down on the other side,” an Egyptian border authority official told The National.

Conditions across the border in Rafah are dire, with the majority of the 1.4 million people in and around Gaza's southernmost city forced to live in makeshift shelters after being displaced from other areas by more than four months of Israeli bombardment and a ground offensive across the Palestinian enclave.

Temperatures dropped to 10ºC overnight, while food, clean water, medicines and other essentials are in short supply.

Mohammed Hassanain, one of the many lorry drivers waiting at the border, told The National he had been there for more than a week.

“At the beginning of the conflict, we were waiting under chaotic conditions because everything happened so fast, but now it's been more organised,” Mr Hassanain said before driving his lorry carrying aid from the UAE through the crossing.

“Conditions last night were very horrible, temperatures dipped as low as 10 degrees and we were struggling with the cold but we made do with burning a few branches of trees to keep warm," he said.

"What keeps us going though is how much worse the conditions are for our Palestinian brothers and sisters on the other side. We hope that the aid we will deliver will help them, but we know it is not nearly enough.”

The UAE has sent more than 15,700 tonnes of aid in the 106 days since it launched Operation Gallant Knight 3 to help Gazans affected by the war, and has also set up six desalination plants capable of producing 1.2 million gallons of potable water per day, state news agency Wam reported on Monday.

Rashid Al Mansoori, acting secretary general of Emirates Red Crescent, told The National that a 100-bed hospital ship to treat injured Gazans that set sail from the UAE on February 8 was expected to arrive in Al Arish this week, most probably on Thursday.

In total, about 200,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid and medical supplies have been delivered by land, sea or air since Israel launched its war on Gaza last October, according to Nivine El Kabbag, Assistant Minister in Egypt's Ministry of Social Solidarity.

However, rigorous Israeli checks of the aid convoys have meant that only a fraction of the relief supplies have been allowed into Gaza.

Rising tensions ahead of Rafah assault

Tensions on both the Egyptian and Palestinian sides of the border have been high over the past week as Israel threatens to launch a ground offensive in Rafah, the last area of the territory that its troops have not entered.

An official at the border told The National that 13 foreigners, 150 people holding Egyptian passports and 250 people holding residency permits entered from Rafah over the weekend during a temporary opening of the crossing.

Fighting continues in the nearby city of Khan Younis, with sporadic clashes still breaking out in northern areas supposedly cleared of fighters from Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups.

Hamas triggered the conflict on October 7 last year when its fighters burst out of the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking around 240 hostages. The surprise attack prompted a massive retaliatory Israeli bombardment and ground invasion that has killed more than 29,000 people and reduced much of the territory to rubble.

More than 85 per cent of Gaza's 2.3 million inhabitants have been left homeless. Most of them have sought shelter in Rafah after fleeing northern and central areas of Gaza, raising the city's population from about 300,000 to 1.4 million.

Egypt builds 'buffer zone' near Rafah border

Egypt’s North Sinai governorate refuted media reports that construction of a walled enclosure near the border is intended to hold people fleeing an Israeli offensive on Rafah.

“The satellite images that were reported by the Western media over the weekend showed the zone being cleared so that Egypt’s security apparatus can widen the waiting areas for lorries, storage space for aid shipments, administrative offices and places for lorry drivers to sleep since the existing area adjacent to the Rafah crossing has been limited since the conflict first erupted,” North Sinai Governor Mohamed Fadil Shousha told The National on Saturday.

“The new facility will reduce the pile-up of aid in Al Arish and facilitate aid efforts undertaken by the Egyptian Red Crescent,” he added.

The report in the Wall Street Journal was accompanied by satellite images of recent construction work on the Egyptian side of the border.

The National's team saw concrete barriers and checkpoints being set up during their visit to the border.

Updated: February 19, 2024, 1:44 PM