Gaza authorities reject Israeli claims of aid surge

UN, Israel and officials in the enclave dispute how many aid lorries have entered

Shelters in the Southern Gaza Strip used by Palestinian families who fled their homes in the north. EPA
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Authorities in Gaza on Thursday rejected Israeli claims of a surge in aid deliveries to the enclave sought by the UN, US and EU as famine looms for its 2.3 million people.

The Director General of the Government Media Office Ismail Al Thawabteh told The National that aid getting through was still “five per cent” of the enclave’s needs, amid a row between Israel and the UN’s main aid agency for Palestine over lorry numbers.

Israel’s Co-ordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) said a record 419 lorries entered Gaza on Monday, but UNRWA said just 223 lorries crossed the border. Border authorities in Gaza on Wednesday said similarly low numbers had gained access.

The UNRWA and the UN’s World Food Programme said Gaza typically needs about 500 lorries’ worth of supplies each day, with occasional peaks of 700.

That includes fuel, medicine and everything that keeps life in the strip moving and most of it comes through Kerem Shalom, the Israeli-controlled crossing near Egypt.

Smaller amounts have passed through another crossing at Rafah, on the Egyptian border, but the crossing lacks capacity for large numbers of lorries.

The UN has warned that famine will be declared in northern Gaza by May if aid deliveries to the enclave are not increased.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant claimed on Wednesday that Israel had taken steps that were “breakthroughs” with “a direct impact on the flow of aid – we plan to flood Gaza with aid”.

These include preparations to open a new aid crossing near Erez, called Beit Hanoun by Palestinians, a now destroyed foot crossing with a nearby road, also damaged. The crossing enters the north of the strip, where aid agencies say most Gazans are at risk of famine due to Israeli restrictions on movement within Gaza.

Mr Al Thawabteh said nothing had materialised there.

“We confirm that nothing has been entered from the Beit Hanoun crossing or any lorries. Everything that the occupation is propagating is nothing but lies and misinformation to the public opinion,” he said.

“The occupation did not bring in anything; rather, it is contributing to worsening the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and making things more complicated than they already are, fighting Gaza by imposing policies of starvation and preventing aid from reaching the citizens.”

The situation in the south of the strip, far from Erez, is also bleak. According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, there has been a backlog of 7,000 lorries near the Egyptian side of the Gaza border.

According to the UN, the reason for the different numbers of lorries given by Cogat and UN counts was that “Cogat counts what they screen and send across the border. We count lorries that arrive in our warehouses,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian office, said on Tuesday.

“Lorries that go in, screened by Cogat, are typically only half full. That is a requirement that they have put in place for screening purposes. When we count the lorries on the other side when they have been reloaded, they are full,” he said.

Mr Thabawteh said that due to the immense destruction in Gaza, where the World Bank recently reported 60 per cent damage or destruction to all infrastructure, a massive surge in lorry numbers was needed.

“We confirm that there is fluctuation in the number of aid lorries entering the Gaza Strip, meaning that the number of lorries sometimes increases and sometimes decreases, and there is a significant impediment to the entry of lorries into the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip needs to have 1,000 lorries enter daily to address the enormous deficit on all levels.”

Gaza’s border authorities said on Wednesday that 81 aid lorries passed through the Rafah land crossing from the Egyptian side, including four fuel lorries, four lorries carrying solar power equipment and 73 carrying humanitarian supplies, in addition to 54 private sector lorries. Another 199 lorries entered through the Kerem Shalom crossing – 197 aid lorries and two private sector lorries.

Little impact on famine

A US official has repeated warnings of “imminent” famine in Gaza.

“This is not a point in debate. It is an established fact, which the United States, its experts, the international community, its experts assess and believe is real,” David Satterfield, US special envoy for Gaza humanitarian efforts, told a virtual event hosted by the American Jewish Committee.

“With the exception of northern Gaza, Rafah presents the most difficult challenging humanitarian picture right now of anywhere in Gaza,” he added, describing the southern city as “a miserable place to be from any health-related, shelter-related standpoint”.

The reported increase in aid deliveries does not seem to have had much of an effect on Gaza's residents.

Abla Aboud, a 42-year-old woman living in Gaza city near the Al Nasser neighbourhood, said she had not received any of the aid.

“I left my neighbourhood after my house was destroyed and came to stay at my sister's home. I am not familiar with this neighbourhood and do not know where to ask or how to register to receive aid,” Ms Aboud told The National.

“I am certain that no one will come knocking on my door to provide me with aid, and there is no system to follow or anyone to ask.”

Hassan Ashour, 39, who lives in the city of Rafah after being displaced, said he had noticed a drop in the prices of goods at the markets.

“I do not know why the prices are lower now for some goods. Perhaps it is because more trucks have entered Gaza.

“Sometimes, I receive a package of aid containing canned food and some legumes, which is good,” Mr Ashour said.

Mr Al Thawabteh said the amount of aid reaching Gaza compared to its needs “does not exceed five per cent at best”.

“There is a clear shortage in all materials, whether they are food or non-food items,” he said.

He said 6,964 aid lorries reached the Gaza Strip between December 18 and February 10.

Most of these lorries brought medical supplies, clothing, water, burial shrouds, blankets and secondary aid-like fabrics, which do not fall within the category of essential food aid, he said.

Israeli army spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Thursday that 22,000 lorries had crossed into Gaza since the start of the war.

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Dangerous delivery

The limited number of aid-laden trucks that do make it into Gaza have also faced danger when trying to deliver their cargo.

The United Nations Children's Fund said on Thursday that their aid convoy came under fire while attempting to deliver aid to northern Gaza.

A co-ordinated UN aid mission was fired at while attempting to deliver fuel, medical supplies and fuel to northern Gaza, Unicef spokeswoman Tess Ingram told CNN.

'This incident is just another example of how dangerous it is for us and for the people we’re trying to serve in Gaza,” she said, adding the civilians didn't appear to be armed.

The incident is the latest violence to face aid deliveries and comes after the killing of foreign aid workers in cars belonging to the World Central Kitchen charity caught global attention earlier this month. Six foreign aid workers and a Palestinian national were killed by three Israeli air strikes on April 1, which the Israeli military has described as a “grave mistake”. WCK says it had co-ordinated the movements of its aid workers with the Israeli military and has called for an independent investigation.

Palestinian civilians have also been killed trying to secure aid. In late February, at least 112 Palestinians were killed and more than 700 injured when Israeli forces opened fire on crowds gathering around aid lorries on the coastal road in northern Gaza. Israel initially claimed the deaths were caused by a crush of civilians trying to reach the convoy, but later admitted that its soldiers opened fire.

Palestinians have come under fire while queuing for aid several times since.

Deliveries through operations to drop aid from the air have also led to deaths. At least 12 people drowned while trying to salvage aid that had been dropped into the sea off Gaza in late March.

Updated: April 12, 2024, 8:49 AM