New Gaza aid crossing could open soon, says German envoy

Deike Potzel says 'as many crossings as possible' are needed to bring in supplies to the enclave

Deike Potzel, Germany’s Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues, on board a German military plane that parachuted aid into northern Gaza on April 21, 2024. Photo: German Embassy, Amman
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A crossing being built by Israel to deliver aid into northern Gaza could become operational within days, potentially lessening the need for international deliveries by air to the area, a senior German diplomat said on Monday.

The development comes 200 days into the conflict. More than 34,100 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's bombardment and ground invasion in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands have been at risk of famine from the war, which started with a surprise attack by Hamas and other militant groups on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

The UN has highlighted the food crisis, particularly in Gaza's more isolated north, which has been a focus for Germany and other western allies of Israel.

Deike Potzel, Germany’s Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues, told reporters in Amman that Berlin hopes that a new road Israel is building to northern Gaza "will be ready within a week."

The road runs near the the Israeli village of Zikim.

A few lorries carrying aid have entered northern Gaza through a gate in a security fence near the Israeli village of Be'eri. The deliveries, however, were sporadic and the area is unsuitable for handling substantial volumes, according to humanitarian specialists.

The war has created a new humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East, and contributed to direct attacks between Israel and Iran this month, bringing the region to the brink of a new crisis.

It has also brought Germany criticism for its support of Israel’s response to the Hamas attack, although Germany has also called for a humanitarian ceasefire and for Israel to refrain from overrunning Rafah, the city in southern Gaza which Israel says is a main base for Hamas.

At least one million Gazans have sought shelter in Rafah, which had a pre-conflict population of about 300,000.

In the north, the new road would allow aid lorries to come through Israel from Jordan, the centre of an international operation to parachute aid into northern Gaza.

Supplies from the kingdom are also being delivered through the Kerem Shalom border crossing at a rate of about 220 lorries a week. Israel has agreed for the lorries to be screened in Jordan, not at the crossing, to speed up deliveries.

Ms Potzel, who is on her fourth visit to Amman since the war started on October 7, said that although the aid volumes through Kerem Shalom had risen in recent weeks, further increases “are necessary”.

Germany, one of the biggest donors to the Palestinians, has poured millions of dollars of additional aid to UN agencies in recent months, and to Jordan and Egypt to help them procure, handle and deliver aid to Gaza.

It is also a member of the international military air bridge operation, based in Jordan, which drops supplies into northern Gaza.

Pressure from the West, and in particular the US, appears to have tempered Israeli restrictions on humanitarian deliveries. It has allowed aid to travel from Jordan to Gaza through Israel, in addition to the main Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

But UN and other officials say the amounts of aid reaching the enclave remain well short of what is required to meet basic needs.

Ms Potzel said deliveries by air are no substitute for substantial aid deliveries by lorry from all possible roads into Gaza.

If land corridors “work properly” there will be no need for the deliveries by air, she said.

“Airdrops are crucial for people in northern Gaza now because so little goes in by land,” she said.

“We have been pushing for land [corridors] and we will keep doing so. We want as many crossings as possible to be opened.”

On several visits to Israel, she has discussed faster screening of supplies, and “security on the ground” for humanitarian workers.

“We have been talking in detail about each crossing, the routes the convoys are taking, and what goods are allowed in,” she said.

Last month, an Israeli air strike killed seven World Central Kitchen staff, leading to international anger and the suspension of work by several aid groups. The US charity had built a temporary pier in Gaza to receive aid by sea from Cyprus and was distributing food to kitchens throughout Gaza.

“The humanitarian situation needs to improve. Israel must also get better at protecting civilians,” said Ms Potzel.

200 days of war in Gaza - in pictures

Updated: April 23, 2024, 1:22 PM