In the two weeks since Hamas militants infiltrated Israel in a cross-border attack and dealt it its severest blow in decades – killing nearly 1,400 people, injuring hundreds more and taking nearly 200 people hostage – the devastation has only widened, and a disproportionate price is being paid by Palestinian civilians.
In Israel's ensuing retaliatory attacks on Gaza, at least 4,385 Palestinians have been killed. Just in the past week, hospitals have been bombed in Gaza, entire families wiped out, children made orphans and parents left to burying their shrouded children.
In all of this acute despair, the faintest glimmer of hope was visible on Saturday when humanitarian aid was finally allowed in to the Gaza Strip. After a wait of more than a week by nearly 200 lorries queued on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing in the Sinai Peninsula, 20 lorries carried in essentials for the desperate population of Gaza. It is uncertain whether Israel will let in more aid or fuel, for fear of Hamas seizing it for its own ends.
For a population of 2.3 million in the Gaza Strip, however, 20 lorries of necessary supplies is a start but it is nowhere near sufficient. As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, said in Cairo, the aid cannot be a one-time delivery.
Fuel is needed in Gaza so that hospitals can use electricity; intensive care units, incubators for babies can function, and desalination units provide potable water, at the minimum. Even before October 7, the Israeli blockade kept Gazans in a chokehold, deprived of normality and fully dependent on aid to survive. "We heat the salt water and when it cools, we drink it," said Mahmoud Muhammad Al-Shorbaji, a resident of Gaza, just one among the barricaded 2.3 million trying to survive bombings, with no water, no bread, no electricity, fuel or respite.
The international community witnessing the siege of Gaza, watching images and reports of killings, must continue to rally together to end this war. A collective regional message of de-escalation was heard at the Cairo summit on Saturday. Even though a final statement did not emerge, an upside was the urgency with which the various stakeholders attempted to address the problem, a crucial first step. Indeed, the need for international mediation and diplomacy, as has been called for in these pages, has never been more urgent. It is the best, and perhaps only, way to resolve this crisis.
On Saturday, UAE President Sheikh Mohamed called for an immediate end to hostilities in Gaza. He joined leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Italy and Spain, foreign ministers of other nations, as well as organisations such as the UN, EU, the Arab League and the African Union, to speak in one voice, recognising the need to prevent this already disastrous war from raging further. In the war between Israel and Hamas, civilian lives, including that of children, must not be allowed to be collateral.
The coming together of divergent voices on a humanitarian issue of this scale is necessary to begin talk of a ceasefire, and embark on the elusive project of long-term peace for Palestinians and Israelis – and for stability of the entire region.
Israel's need to see the hostages return safely should be the government’s highest priority. On Friday, two US hostages came home. But even as Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17, were released from captivity in Gaza, there were almost 200 people still held by Hamas, among them reportedly 30 teenagers and children.
Hamas claims that Israeli air strikes have killed 20 among the hostages. More lives should not be added to that tally, for which talks remain crucial.
The anguish of families to get their loved ones back can only be imagined. It must be at the centre of reasons to call for a ceasefire, despite incendiary rhetoric from Israel’s Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, of neutralising and destroying. “We shall demolish it [Gaza] and it will never be built again,” he has said.
The faint hope delivered by aid lorries and by the talks in Cairo has to be built on. There is no other choice. As one Arab diplomat said in Cairo of the summit, it's like breaking bread at gunpoint. The tragedy remains, though, that for people in Gaza, the situation has gone far beyond gunpoint and can get much worse still.
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