The border crossing between Egypt and Gaza opened on Saturday to provide urgently needed aid to Palestinians for the first time since Israel sealed off the territory following Hamas’ bloody rampage two weeks ago.
Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians, half of whom have fled their homes, are rationing food and drinking dirty water. Hospitals say they are running out of medical supplies and fuel for emergency generators due to a nationwide power outage. Israel has launched waves of airstrikes over Gaza that have failed to contain ongoing Palestinian rocket fire into Israel.
The opening came after more than a week of high-level diplomacy by various mediators, including visits to the region by US President Joe Biden and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Israel had insisted that nothing would enter Gaza until about 200 people held captive by Hamas were freed, and the Palestinian side of the crossing had been closed by Israeli airstrikes.
The two people are a mother and daughter from Illinois.
More than 200 trucks carrying around 3,000 tons of relief supplies were stationed near the border crossing for days. But Egyptian state news agency Al-Qahera, which is close to security authorities, reported that only 20 trucks entered Gaza on Saturday. Hundreds of foreign passport holders were also waiting to cross from Gaza to Egypt to escape the conflict.
The Hamas-led government in Gaza said the limited convoy “will not be able to change the humanitarian catastrophe that Gaza is currently suffering” and called for a safe corridor that operates around the clock.
The opening came hours after Hamas released an American woman and her teenage daughter, the first prisoners released after the militant group invaded Israel on October 7. It was not immediately clear whether there was a connection between the two.
Hamas released Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie on Friday on what it said were humanitarian grounds under an agreement with Qatar, a Gulf state that has often acted as a mediator in the Middle East.
The two traveled to Israel from their home in suburban Chicago to celebrate Jewish holidays, the family said. They were at the Nahal Oz kibbutz near Gaza when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israeli towns, killing hundreds and kidnapping 203 others.
Biden spoke with the two released hostages and their relatives. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which transported the freed Americans to Israel, said their release was “a glimmer of hope.”
Hamas said in a statement that it was working with mediators to “complete the case of the hostages” if the security situation permitted. The group said it was committed to mediation efforts by Egypt, Qatar and other countries.
There are growing expectations of a ground offensive that Israel says is aimed at rooting out Hamas, an Islamic militant group that has ruled Gaza for 16 years. Israel said Friday it has no plans to take long-term control of the small but densely populated Palestinian territory.
Israel has also traded fire with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah along its northern border, raising concerns about the opening of a second front. The Israeli military said on Saturday it had struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in response to recent rocket launches and anti-tank missile attacks.
Israel issued a travel warning on Saturday, ordering its citizens to leave Egypt and Jordan – with which it made peace decades ago – and avoid travel to a number of Arab and Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain, the fake Diplomatic relations with Israel were established in 2020. Protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza broke out across the region.
A possible Israeli ground attack is likely to lead to a dramatic escalation in casualties on both sides in urban fighting. More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed in the war – most of them civilians killed during the Hamas invasion. Palestinian militants have continued to fire relentless rocket attacks on Israel since October 7 – more than 6,900 projectiles, according to Israel.
More than 4,100 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. This includes the controversial number of people who died in a hospital explosion earlier this week.
When Defense Minister Yoav Gallant discussed Israel’s long-term plans for Gaza on Friday, he laid out a three-stage plan that suggested Israel had no intention of reoccupying the territory it abandoned in 2005.
First, Israeli airstrikes and “maneuvers” – a presumed reference to a ground attack – would be aimed at eradicating Hamas. Next comes a lower intensity battle to defeat the remaining pockets of resistance. And finally, a new “security regime” will be created in Gaza and “Israel’s responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip will be abolished,” Gallant said.
Lior Gelbaum, a 24-year-old dual American-Israeli citizen, told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken what happened to her and others six days ago when Hamas attacked a music festival near Gaza, killing 260 people.
Gallant did not say who Israel would likely rule Gaza if Hamas were toppled or what the new security regime would entail.
Israel occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005, when it tore up settlements and withdrew soldiers. Two years later, Hamas took power. Some Israelis blame the withdrawal from Gaza for the five wars and countless smaller exchanges of fire since then.
Over a million people have been displaced in Gaza. Many followed Israel’s orders to evacuate the isolated enclave on the Mediterranean coast from north to south. But Israel continued to do it Bomb zones in the southern Gaza Strip where Palestinians have been told to seek safety and some appear to be returning to the north due to bombings difficult living conditions in the south.
Generators at Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest hospital, were operating at the lowest level to save fuel while providing power to vital departments such as the intensive care unit, said hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia. Others worked in the dark. The lack of medical supplies and water makes it difficult to treat the large number of victims of Israeli attacks, he said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had received a threat from the Israeli military to bomb Al-Quds Hospital. It said Israel had called for the immediate evacuation of the hospital in Gaza City, which was holding more than 400 patients and thousands of displaced civilians seeking refuge at the site.
It was not clear whether there was an agreement to import generator fuel via Rafah.