Israel agrees to open Erez crossing for aid to Gaza after pressure from Biden, US says

Israel has agreed to open another crossing and increase the flow of aid entering Gaza, a move apparently aimed at assuaging the US president's growing frustration over the dire humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

The Israeli government confirmed the new measures in an overnight statement, after the Biden administration announced them Thursday evening following a tense phone call between President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During the call, Biden threatened to make future support for Israel conditional on how it addresses its concerns about civilian casualties and the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

In a statement, a National Security Council spokesperson said Israel had agreed to open the Erez crossing to allow aid into northern Gaza, to use the port of Ashdod to direct aid into the enclave and to significantly increase deliveries from Jordan – “at the request of the president”.

“These steps,” spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said, “must now be fully and quickly implemented.”

The Israeli government has not said when it will open the Erez crossing, a checkpoint between Israel and northern Gaza that Hamas attacked on October 7 and which Israel has since refused to reopen. It said only that Israel would allow the “temporary delivery” of aid through the Erez crossing and the port of Ashdod, which is about 16 miles north of Gaza on Israel's Mediterranean coast.

Israel is under growing pressure from US officials and aid agencies to open more border crossings for aid, as the United Nations warns of famine looming after nearly six months of war.

Biden has become increasingly critical of Israel's approach to the war against Hamas in Gaza, saying more needs to be done to protect civilians. The killing of seven aid workers this week by Israeli forces appears to have brought the situation to a head, with Biden saying he was “outraged” and that Israel had “not done enough to protect civilians”.

That frustration carried over into his phone call with Netanyahu on Thursday, when Biden first tried to leverage American aid to influence the conduct of the war against Hamas, pushing Israel to pledge to get more food and supplies into Gaza.

“As the President said during the roll call today, U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel's immediate action on these and other steps, including steps to protect innocent civilians and the safety of humanitarian workers.” , Ms. Watson said. in the statement.

The most severe shortages are in northern Gaza, where desperation has driven people to swarm with trucks carrying aid and where aid groups say they have struggled to deliver supplies due to Israeli restrictions and widespread lawlessness.

Nearly all aid admitted to Gaza since the war began has entered through two main crossing points: Kerem Shalom and Rafah, both in the southern part of the enclave. But transporting convoys of trucks from southern border crossings to the north is difficult and dangerous, and the route is sometimes blocked by roads damaged by Israeli shelling, Israeli checkpoints or clashes between Hamas fighters and Israeli troops.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart on Wednesday, also “raised the need for a rapid increase in aid arriving through all crossings in the coming days,” according to the Pentagon.

Late last month, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ordered Israel to ensure the “unhindered provision of aid” to Gaza, using its strongest language yet. Israel has rejected accusations that it was responsible for delays in aid delivery.

Patrick Kingsley contributed to the reporting.

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