Aid for embattled Gaza stuck at Egyptian border as the enclave faces a “humanitarian catastrophe”

By Hisham Allam

Aid for embattled Gaza stuck at Egyptian border as the enclave faces a “humanitarian catastrophe”

UN Emergency Relief has warned that “the specter of death is hanging over Gaza” following Israel’s decision to cut off supplies of water, food, and fuel to the enclave. Hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid have failed to reach the 2.3 million people in Gaza as all border crossing points have been closed and no humanitarian corridor has yet been established.

Aid organizations have warned that 80% of Gaza’s population is already in need of humanitarian aid. Oxfam, the global charity confederation, described the situation in the enclave as a “humanitarian catastrophe”. It runs the risk of becoming a hotspot for cholera and other diseases without power, food, or water and, due to the lack of clean water, some individuals are being forced to drink from farm wells, Oxfam warned. Most of Gaza’s sewage pumping stations and all of its wastewater treatment facilities have been closed with untreated sewage now pouring into the ocean and trash accumulating on the streets.

No border crossing, no humanitarian corridor

None of Gaza’s border crossing points into Israel and Egypt are currently open. While Israel has further strengthened its blockade, Egypt seems to be prepared to re-open the crossing point at Rafah to allow foreigners to leave Gaza and humanitarian aid to reach the enclave. However, fears of a massive inflow of Palestinian refugees have apparently slowed down the opening of this crossing point.

Rafah crossing point, which is situated in southern Gaza on the border with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, is the only hope for people stuck in Gaza and for donors to be able to ship aid into the enclave. There are two more crossing points, Erez and Kelem Shalom, but these are both situated on the border with Israel and remain closed.

As Gaza is about to completely run out of clean drinking water, food, fuel, and medicines, diplomatic efforts to establish a humanitarian corridor to send urgently required supplies are intensifying.

Diplomats seeking ways to open humanitarian corridor

During his brief visit to Israel on 18 October, US President Joe Biden encouraged Israel to permit the entry of humanitarian aid to assist Palestinians.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Joe Biden agreed in a phone call to send humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip “in a sustainable manner”, the Egyptian presidency said in a statement last night.

The Presidents of Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, and the United States intended to meet in Amman for a quadrilateral summit. However, following the lethal blast at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza, which killed almost 500 people and injured over 300 more, the three Arab leaders decided to call off the summit.

A meeting was also held on 18th October in Cairo between the Egyptian President and the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, to discuss Egypt’s efforts to calm the situation in Gaza.

Tons of humanitarian aid stuck in Egypt

Mohamed Jamal, a field coordinator with the Egyptian Red Crescent, told DevelopmentAid that hundreds of tons of medical equipment, medicines, food aid, blankets and clothing have arrived at El-Arish Airport in Egypt’s northern Sinai but the opening of the border to Gaza is still awaited.

“We are still waiting for any breakthrough in the situation and the opening of the crossing,” Jamal said. “We have received tons of medical and food aid from Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Qatar, Venezuela, the World Health Organization, and the World Food Programme, in addition to a convoy from the National Alliance for Civil Work,” he stated.

Jamal noted that the Egyptian Red Crescent is in regular contact with its counterparts in other countries to coordinate the delivery of aid to El-Arish Airport.

“We are always in touch with the Palestinian side, represented by the Palestinian Red Crescent, to find out what relief supplies they need and the quantities required, be it medicine, medical supplies, food, or other relief supplies,” he explained.

“There is very strong cooperation from the Egyptian authorities as well as the people of northern Sinai, who have offered to donate warehouses or spaces to store aid until it is moved to the Gaza Strip,” Jamal said.

“The governorate of northern Sinai has opened regional warehouses for the Ministry of Health to store medicine to the required standards, and some factories have opened their warehouses to store food, fearing it will spoil.”

According to Essam Mohamed of the National Alliance for Civil Work, Egyptian humanitarian aid supply convoys are awaiting the opening of the Rafah border crossing into Gaza. He stated that the situation has become more critical following the bombardment of Gaza’s Al-Ahli Hospital and the depletion of medical supplies and medicines in the majority of the Strip’s hospitals.

Mohamed confirmed that there are around 100 vehicles queuing at the crossing waiting to deliver food and medical supplies from Egyptian civil society organizations.

The alliance is planning to stage a protest with demonstrators wearing black clothing to urge the public to put pressure on their governments to end the slaughter in Gaza and permit the entry of humanitarian aid in an effort to bring about a breakthrough in the situation.

“After the border was shelled from the Palestinian side, preventing the flow of aid, coordination is being done with the Egyptian authorities to let us know when the aid can get through,” said Mohamed who is stationed near the Rafah crossing with 500 other volunteers.

The convoys are carrying a wide range of emergency aid including food, medicine, and medical supplies.