Gaza and Rafah (CNN) – The first trucks carrying aid arrived in Gaza on Saturday, but international leaders have warned that much more is needed to address the “catastrophic” humanitarian situation in the enclave of more than two million people.
The approval of the trucks comes two weeks after Israel launched a full siege of the enclave in response to deadly attacks by the militant Islamist group Hamas.
The trucks entered through the Rafah border crossing, the only entry point into the Gaza Strip not controlled by Israel, as seen by the CNN team on the Palestinian side of the border. The crossing was quickly closed after the 20 trucks passed through.
The Egyptian trucks unloaded the humanitarian aid and returned to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, a CNN observer at the scene reported.
People on the Egyptian side of the border – where aid agencies had waited days for the green light – cheered as the crossing opened, cheering and cheering.
According to Egyptian authorities, 13 trucks were transporting medicine and medical supplies, five were carrying food and two trucks were carrying water at the Rafah border crossing.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called it an “important first step that will ease the suffering of innocent people.”
Although these supplies are urgently needed, aid workers say they represent only a fraction of what is needed for the 2.2 million people crowded into the Gaza Strip under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the delivery was the result of “days of intensive and intensive negotiations,” adding that the humanitarian situation in Gaza had “reached catastrophic proportions.”
Conditions are getting worse by the day, hospitals are on the verge of collapse and the people of Gaza are quickly running out of food, water and other essential supplies due to Israel’s near-constant bombardment.
UNICEF said the convoy managed to send more than 44,000 bottles of water, which the organization said was equivalent to a daily water supply for just 22,000 people.
Lack of food is also a serious problem. World Food Program (WFP) executive director Cindy McCain told CNN that famine was “widespread” in Gaza.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stressed that “the needs are far greater” than the aid that the people of Gaza have been receiving.
The WHO said it was working with the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent Societies to ensure the safe transport of supplies to health facilities, adding that hospitals in Gaza were at a “breaking point” due to shortages.
The Ministry of Health in Gaza said the aid convoy “represents only 3% of the daily health and humanitarian supplies that entered the Gaza Strip before the aggression.”
From Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative, said Gaza needed “7,000 trucks of emergency aid,” adding: “20 trucks won’t really make a difference.”
A lack of fuel is also a problem. Wael Abu Mohsen, communications chief for the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, told Saudi state media Al Hadath TV on Saturday that no fuel had been delivered “even though fuel supplies in hospitals and schools in Gaza have run dangerously low.”
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari confirmed that none of the trucks were carrying fuel.
The arrival of the aid comes as world leaders gathered in Cairo, Egypt, on Saturday for the Cairo Peace Summit.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi initiated the peace summit in Gaza to de-escalate the situation and protect the civilian population in the enclave. According to organizers, representatives from 34 countries, including the Middle East, Africa and Europe, as well as the United Nations will be present. Israel was not present at the summit.
After aid is delivered to Gaza, efforts should focus on negotiating a ceasefire and ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Sisi said.
Then negotiations should resume on a peace process leading to a “two-state solution and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living side by side with Israel on the basis of international legitimacy,” Sisi added.
But a political scientist downplayed hopes of a breakthrough. Dalia Dassa Kaye, a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, told CNN: “I doubt we’ll see concrete results very immediately,” adding: “It’s clear that the Egyptians and others in the region “Feeling a need to show something.” a kind of diplomatic horizon.”
Every day civilian deaths increase in Gaza, stoking anger across the Middle East and beyond.
The enclave, already under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt for 17 years, was further isolated after the recent war broke out and Israel declared a full siege.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said some 1.4 million people in Gaza had been displaced – more than 60% of the population of the entire Gaza Strip.
More than 544,000 people are living in UN-designated 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
Two American hostages were released from Gaza on Friday, the first since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks – but their release also heightened questions about the fate of other hostages if Israeli troops advance into the enclave. The IDF announced on Saturday that it believed 210 people were being held hostage in Gaza.
Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls Gaza, handed over the hostages at the border on Friday, while Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter Natalie Raanan are now on their way to be reunited with their loved ones.
For her family, the release marked the end of a nightmare that began on October 7, when Hamas members carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, killing more than 1,400 people and deporting scores to Gaza.
According to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, at least 4,385 people have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza so far, including hundreds of women and children – although Israel claims it is only targeting Hamas sites.
“We are ready to begin this incredible journey of healing and trauma relief for her,” said Ben Raanan, Natalie’s brother.
But, as he pointed out, the nightmare continues for countless others.
“There are families all over Gaza and Israel who are suffering a loss that I cannot even imagine,” he said.
Many of those Israeli families attended a ceremony in Tel Aviv on Friday where a Shabbat dinner table was set 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 food and prayer.
A Hamas spokesman claimed Friday that the two U.S. hostages were released “for humanitarian reasons” and “to prove to the American people and the world” that the U.S. government’s claims were “false and unfounded.”
And while the release was welcomed by world leaders, including in the United States, United Kingdom and France, those in Israel expressed skepticism about Hamas’s motivations and vowed to continue its fierce counterattack.
“Two of our hostages are at home. We will not let up in efforts to bring back all those abducted and missing. At the same time, we will continue to fight until victory is achieved,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on social media on Friday.
Maj. Doron Spielman, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), told CNN on Friday that it was an “absurd” attempt by Hamas to “gain more favor in the world by playing this humanitarian card.”
Others suggested the release could be an attempt by Hamas to buy time amid speculation of a possible ground invasion by Israeli forces, which have gathered at the border and warned Palestinians to evacuate the northern Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials have not publicly disclosed details of their plans other than to say the goal is to eliminate Hamas and its infrastructure, which largely consists of heavily reinforced tunnels beneath densely populated cities.
“Hamas is really under a lot of pressure and is trying every trick and will try even more to stop the Israeli maneuver in Gaza,” said Rami Igra, former head of the hostage-taking and MIA unit at Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.
“They’re trying to postpone it. They are trying to ease the pressure on them and they will do everything they can to achieve a ceasefire,” he added.
The United States and its allies have not tried to prevent these types of ground attacks – but they have urged Israel to be strategic and clear about its objectives in the event of an invasion, warning of a prolonged occupation and the security of the Civilians as well as US and Western officials have stressed this, CNN said.
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