Israel reopens a critical Gaza crossing for humanitarian aid

Israel said on Wednesday it had reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing in the Gaza Strip after closing it days earlier due to a Hamas attack. But the United Nations has said it is too early to say how quickly humanitarian aid, crucial to stemming the food crisis in Gaza, will start flowing again.

Kerem Shalom has been the main channel of aid for more than two million people in Gaza who face what aid workers say is a severe food deficit. Two senior American officials said recently that famine has already begun in parts of Gaza, caused largely by strict aid controls imposed by Israel since October 7, when Hamas carried out a deadly attack on Israel, and by the difficulty to distribute food, fuel and medicine within the enclave.

Israel launched an incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Monday night and closed the crossing with Egypt there. That crossing is still closed, but on Wednesday, faced with pleas from the United Nations and several governments to avoid making the dire situation even worse, Israel said it would reopen Kerem Shalom.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian office in Geneva, said the United Nations was checking how quickly aid shipments could resume. “We can only confirm once the deposit has been made and the withdrawal has started on the other side,” he said. Previously, COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating aid deliveries to Gaza, said aid trucks were arriving at the crossing and would enter Gaza after inspection.

Juliette Touma, communications director of the main U.N. agency helping Palestinians in Gaza, known as UNRWA, said “no supplies have arrived yet” through Kerem Shalom.

The amount of aid arriving in Gaza each day has fluctuated since October 7, but UN data shows that overall the number of trucks passing through Kerem Shalom and Rafah has fallen by about 75% compared to before the war. Part of the problem is that commercial imports have also virtually stopped.

Humanitarian experts also say the number of humanitarian trucks entering Gaza, which is averaging 180 per day this month through the two main crossings combined, is inadequate to address the food crisis. To achieve this, they say, would require many more trucks, an influx of aid workers, the training of Palestinian medical personnel to treat people suffering from malnutrition, the restoration of medical facilities and, above all, an end to the military conflict.

In addition to the southern passes, COGAT said Tuesday that 60 trucks had passed through the Erez crossing in northern Gaza, which Israel reopened under pressure from the Biden administration after an Israeli airstrike last month killed seven aid workers.

But Ms. Touma said supplies were not arriving regularly through Erez, and that overall “much more” aid needed to reach Gaza.

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