Israel said Wednesday it would not block aid to Gaza from Egypt, and there were already long lines of trucks parked in Egypt, at the Rafah border crossing, waiting to carry food, water and fuel to the enclave.
Israel has insisted that all trucks be checked to ensure they are carrying only aid and that the aid reaches civilians, not Hamas fighters. Egypt has supported humanitarian aid to Gaza, but has not yet said if or when it will allow the border crossing to open.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, said Tuesday in an interview with CNN that the crossing had been seriously damaged by recent Israeli airstrikes and that it wanted Israel to guarantee safe passage for aid convoys before it would let the trucks through.
Opening the Rafah crossing to aid, and keeping it open, will be fraught because of the high level of mistrust between Israel, Hamas and Egypt, and the ever-present potential for violent flare-ups.
But aid is there, and more is on the way. The European Union paid for a cargo planeload that arrived at the small airport of El Arish on the northeastern coast of Egypt, near the Rafah crossing, on Tuesday. Another plane with E.U.-funded aid will depart Copenhagen for the same airport on Thursday.
But European and U.S. officials said the Egyptian authorities have not allowed their diplomats to access the area, not even to inspect the aid their governments have sent. The lack of access reflects Egypt’s desire for tight control of the region, which is in a province where Egypt has fought militants for years. Egypt fears the Gaza conflict could spill over, sparking unrest and perhaps more militant activity within its own borders.
In the meantime, 106 trucks loaded with aid from local charities have been lined up outside the gate at Rafah, awaiting the opening of the crossing. An additional 58 trucks with aid were delivered to the Egyptian Red Crescent in the city of Arish early Wednesday.
Storage facilities of the Egyptian Red Crescent were overflowing with humanitarian aid supplies, and the El Arish football stadium, which is storing aid sent from other countries and international humanitarian organizations, has also reached maximum capacity, a senior member of the Egyptian Red Crescent said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Shortly after President Biden announced, and Israel confirmed, on Tuesday that aid into Gaza would not be blocked, the convoys still sat silent and there were no signs ofactivity.