Hopes that humanitarian aid would begin to trickle into Gaza from Egypt on Friday were fading as Egyptian, Israeli, U.S. and United Nations officials were still hammering out thorny issues, including who will inspect the shipments for weapons, several U.N. and European officials and diplomats familiar with the talks said.
Israel, for instance, wants to be involved in those inspections and is against shipping in fuel, those people said. Other officials say fuel is needed to keep generators on at hospitals and to provide clean water to desperate Palestinians stuck in Gaza.
Talks in Cairo on Thursday had yielded a step forward, with an agreement to set up a United Nations-operated system at the Rafah border crossing in northeastern Egypt. President Biden said on Tuesday that he had secured agreement from the Israeli government to open up the aid corridor.
Speaking on Friday to a crowd at Arish, a town near the Rafah border crossing where Egypt and the international community have set up a logistics base for incoming aid, the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, said that it was crucial for trucks to move as quickly as possible. The trucks are loaded with food, medicine and water.
These trucks are not just trucks. They are a lifeline. They are the difference between life and death for so many people in Gaza. And to see them stuck here makes me be very clear: what we need is to make them move, to make them move to the other side of this wall, to make them move as quickly as possible and as many as possible. And so we are now actively engaging with all the parties, actively engaging with the Egypt, with Israel, with U.S., in order to make sure that we are able to clarify those conditions, that we are able to limit those restrictions in order to have, as soon as possible, these trucks moving to where they are needed.
CreditCredit…Egypt Handout via Associated Press
Mr. Guterres said that Israel and Egypt had agreed to make the aid deliveries possible, but “that this announcement was made with some conditions and some restrictions.” He said the United Nations was working with Egypt, Israel and the United States to clarify those conditions and try to soften those restrictions.
Officials said that Egypt has heavy equipment at the border to improve the condition of the roads at the crossing that have been damaged by Israeli airstrikes, in order for the very heavy aid trucks to be able to pass through.
Here are the most fraught sticking points, according to the officials and diplomats directly involved in or briefed on the talks. They spoke on condition of anonymity to share details of the evolving discussions.
Quantity and flow of aid
Israel would like for 20 trucks to pass into Gaza, but won’t commit on future aid flows. The international community wants the number to grow to 100 or more trucks a day.
“What is certainly undoubtedly needed is a steady flow of much bigger quantities of humanitarian assistance,” the European Union humanitarian aid commissioner, Janez Lenarcic, said in an interview on Friday. The E.U. is the biggest international aid donor to the Palestinians and has dozens of tons of aid on the Egyptian side of the border waiting to be delivered.
Destination of aid
Israel wants aid to be delivered to southern Gaza, not northern Gaza where it had demanded last week that civilians leave, in an apparent run-up to a ground invasion. But hundreds of thousands of people remain in northern Gaza, facing dire humanitarian needs.
“Humanitarian aid should go to all places where there are people who need it,” Mr. Lenarcic said.
Type of aid
Israel wants food, medicine and water to be distributed, but international donors are pushing to expand the list of permitted items to include fuel, among other items. Fuel is particularly contentious, as Israel worries it could get diverted to Hamas to be used for weapons or its vehicles.
The U.N. and other international donors say that fuel is essential — a matter of life or death, especially for Gaza’s hospitals that are relying on backup generators with Israel having cut off electricity in the territory. Fuel is also needed to restart desalination facilities for potable water, as Israel has also stopped Gaza’s water supply.
Israel wants some direct involvement in scrutinizing the cargo that enters Gaza, to ensure that trucks are not carrying weapons. The international community is pressing instead to give trained United Nations staff this task, replicating the model used for aid delivery in Syria.
The United Nations generally prefers that inspections be in the hands of neutral parties so that it cannot be politicized.
Patrick Kingsley contributed reporting from Jerusalem.