US reports deal with Egypt to restart aid to Gaza as death toll rises to 3,478Breaking

October 19, 2023

Egypt agreed to reopen its border crossing with the Gaza Strip to allow aid to reach Palestinians, the U.S. said, as the humanitarian crisis worsened in the narrow enclave and anti-Israel protests flared across the Middle East. The region remained volatile in the aftermath of an explosion at Gaza's Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital late on Tuesday, which Palestinian officials said killed 471 people and blamed on what they said was an Israeli air strike. Israel and the US said the cause was a failed rocket launch by anti-Israeli Palestinian militants in Gaza who denied responsibility.

Lior Haiat, spokesperson for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said on social media platform X that at the hospital "several dozen people were apparently killed," a much lower toll than reported by Palestinian officials. Amid outrage over the hospital explosion, demonstrations erupted in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and elsewhere. Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank during protests, Palestinian officials said, while Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water canon at protesters throwing projectiles near the US embassy, TV footage showed. While flying home from a less than eight-hour visit to Israel, US President Joe Biden discussed aid for Gaza with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi by phone late on Wednesday.

Biden told reporters that Sisi agreed to open the Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza to allow about 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the enclave, where people are desperately short of food, water, fuel and other essentials after Israel unleashed a blockade and air strikes 12 days ago. Biden did not give a timeline for the opening, but US national security spokesman John Kirby said it would occur in coming days following repairs to the road. Amid fears the conflict could spread beyond Gaza, Biden had planned to meet Arab leaders. But Jordan called off his planned summit there with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority after the hospital blast.

AP adds: Biden said Egypt’s president agreed to open the crossing and to let in an initial group of 20 trucks with humanitarian aid. If Hamas confiscates aid, “it will end,” he said. The aid will start moving Friday at the earliest, White House officials said. Egypt must still repair the road across the border that was cratered by Israeli airstrikes. More than 200 trucks and some 3,000 tons of aid are positioned at or near the Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only connection to Egypt, said the head of the Red Crescent for North Sinai, Khalid Zayed.

Supplies will go in under supervision of the UN, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Al-Arabiya TV. Asked if foreigners and dual nationals seeking to leave would be let through, he said: “As long as the crossing is operating normally and the (crossing) facility has been repaired.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the decision was approved after a request from Biden. It said Israel “will not thwart” deliveries of food, water or medicine from Egypt, as long as they are limited to civilians in the south of the Gaza Strip and don’t go to Hamas militants. The statement made no mention of fuel, which is badly needed for hospital generators.

Relatives of some of the roughly 200 people who were taken hostage and forced back to Gaza during the attack reacted in fury to the aid announcement. “Children, infants, women, soldiers, men, and elderly, some with serious illnesses, wounded and shot, are held underground like animals,” said a statement from the Hostage and Missing Families Forum. But “the Israeli government pampers the murderers and kidnappers.” Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel resumed Wednesday after a 12-hour lull. Israeli strikes on Gaza continued, including on cities in the south that Israel had described as “safe zones” for civilians.

In his brief visit, Biden tried to strike a balance between showing US support for Israel, while containing growing alarm among Arab allies. Upon his arrival, Biden embraced Netanyahu, said the hospital blast appeared not to be Israel’s fault and expressed concern for the suffering of Gaza’s civilians. He also announced $100 million in humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Credit: Independent News Pakistan (INP)