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First trucks carrying aid enter Gaza but besieged enclave desperately needs more

Oct 21, 2023, 5:33 PM

Trucks carrying aid wait to enter the Palestinian side of the border with Egypt, as the conflict be...

Trucks carrying aid wait to enter the Palestinian side of the border with Egypt, as the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas continues, as seen from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in this still picture taken from a video Oct. 21. Photo credit: Reuters

(CNN) — The first trucks carrying aid entered Gaza on Saturday, but international leaders have warned that much more is needed to combat the “catastrophic” humanitarian situation in the enclave that holds more than 2 million people.

The admission of trucks comes two weeks after Israel launched a complete siege of the enclave in response to deadly attacks by the militant group Hamas.

The trucks entered through the Rafah crossing, the only entry point to Gaza not controlled by Israel, as seen by CNN’s team on the Palestinian side of the border. The crossing closed quickly after the 20 trucks went through.

People on the Egyptian side of the border – where aid organizations had waited for days to be given the green light – were jubilant as the crossing opened, celebrating with ululations and chants.

According to Egyptian authorities at the Rafah crossing, 13 trucks were carrying medicine and medical supplies, five were carrying food and two trucks had water.

While these supplies are desperately needed, aid workers said they are a fraction of what’s required for the 2.2 million people crammed into Gaza under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Martin Griffiths, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said the delivery followed “days of deep and intense negotiations,” adding that the humanitarian situation in Gaza “has reached catastrophic levels.”

Conditions have grown more dire each day, with hospitals on at “breaking point,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), and Gazans are fast running out of food, water and other critical supplies amid near-constant bombardment by Israel.

UNICEF said it managed to send more than 44,000 bottles of water with the convoy, which the agency said amounts to a day’s water supply for only 22,000 people.

The lack of food is also a serious concern, with the World Food Programme’s (WFP) executive director Cindy McCain telling CNN that starvation is “rampant” in Gaza.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that “the needs are far higher” than the aid people in Gaza have received.

Aid amounts to 3% of all needs

The Ministry of Health in Gaza said the aid convoy “constitutes only 3% of the daily health and humanitarian needs that used to enter the Gaza Strip before the aggression.”

From Ramallah, in occupied West Bank, head of the Palestinian National Initiative Mustafa Barghouti said Gaza needs “7,000 trucks of immediate aid,” adding, “20 trucks will not really change much.”

None of the trucks brought fuel to the enclave raising concerns as it is needed to run hospitals and to desalinate or treat water, according to aid agencies.

Wael Abu Mohsen, head of communications for the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, told Saudi state media Al Hadath TV Saturday that fuel was not delivered, “despite fuel supplies running dangerously low at hospitals and schools in Gaza.”

As the situation deteriorates, Israel appears to be readying a massive ground force and military material at the Gaza border.

In Egypt’s capital, world leaders gathered for for the Cairo Peace Summit on Saturday, initiated by the country’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in a bid to de-escalate the situation in Gaza and protect civilians in the enclave. While representatives from 34 countries, including the Middle East, Africa and Europe, and the UN were in attendance, Israel was absent from the summit.

Sisi called for efforts to focus on brokering a truce and ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. He also called for the resumption of negotiations for a “two-state solution and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that lives side by side with Israel on the basis of international legitimacy.”

But one political scientist played down hopes of a breakthrough. Dalia Dassa Kaye, a senior fellow from the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, told CNN: “I doubt we are going to see very immediate concrete results,” adding “it is clear the Egyptians and others in the region feel a need to show some kind of diplomatic horizon.”

In a post on social media, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs acknowledged the summit, saying it was “unfortunate” that some of those attending it “had difficulty condemning terrorism or acknowledging the danger.”

Every day the civilian deaths in Gaza mount, fueling anger in the Middle East and beyond.

The enclave, which was already under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for the past 17 years, became further isolated after the latest war broke out and Israel declared a complete siege.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that about 1.4 million people had been displaced in Gaza – more than 60% of the entire strip’s population.

More than 544,000 people are staying at UN-designated emergency shelters “in increasingly dire conditions,” with many at risk of infectious disease due to unsafe water, the OCHA added in a statement.

Two hostages released

On Friday, two American hostages were released from Gaza, the first since Hamas’ October 7 attacks – but their freedom also deepened questions about the fate of other hostages should Israeli troops go into the enclave. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Saturday that it believes 210 people are being held hostage in Gaza.

Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, handed over the hostages at the border on Friday, with Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie Raanan now on their way to be reunited with loved ones.

For their family, the release marked the end of a nightmare that began on October 7 when Hamas members killed more than 1,400 people in Israel and abducting scores back to Gaza.

So far at least 4,385 people have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health there, including hundreds of women and children – even as Israel claims it is only targeting Hamas locations.

“We are ready to start this incredible journey of healing and trauma relief for her,” said Ben Raanan, Natalie’s brother.

But, he pointed out, the nightmare continues for countless others. “There are families all over in Gaza and in Israel that are experiencing a loss that I can’t even imagine,” he said.

Many of those Israeli families attended a ceremony in Tel Aviv on Friday, where a Shabbat dinner table was laid with 200 empty place settings to represent the hostages. Shabbat, a holy day of rest and reflection each week, is often a time when Jewish families gather for meals and prayer.

A Hamas spokesperson claimed on Friday that the two US hostages had been released “for humanitarian reasons” and to “prove to the American people and the world” that claims made by the United States government “are false and baseless.”

Potential ground assault

Some have voiced skepticism about Hamas’ motivations and Israel promised to continue its blistering attack.

“Two of our hostages are home. We will not ease the effort to bring back all abductees and those missing. Simultaneously, we keep fighting until a victory is reached,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement on social media on Friday.

Others have suggested the release could be an attempt by Hamas to buy time, as speculation swirls of a potential ground incursion by Israeli forces, who have massed by the border and warned Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza.

Israeli officials have not publicly shared details about their plans, besides saying the goal is to eliminate Hamas and its infrastructure, much of which consists of heavily reinforced tunnels underground the densely populated cities.

The US and its allies have not tried to discourage this kind of ground assault – but they have urged Israel to be strategic and clear about its goals in the case of an incursion, warning against a prolonged occupation and emphasizing civilian safety, US and Western officials told CNN.

When asked whether Israel has halted a ground operation in Gaza due to US pressure, IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the Israeli military would launch a ground operation in Gaza when the conditions for the military are optimal.

Speaking to IDF commanders on Saturday, Israeli Military Chief of Staff Herzl Halevi said: “We’ll enter the Gaza Strip. We’ll embark on an operational and professional task to destroy Hamas operatives and infrastructures.”

Halevi said that when the IDF enters Gaza, they will “keep in mind” the images that occurred during the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

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First trucks carrying aid enter Gaza but besieged enclave desperately needs more