Emergency aid has finally begun arriving in the besieged Gaza Strip for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began, but fewer than 35 trucks reached the Palestinian territory on the weekend, a tiny trickle in comparison with its desperate needs, humanitarian agencies say.
The relief supplies, which crossed the border from Egypt, were tightly limited by Israeli restrictions and inspection rules, leaving Gaza facing the imminent danger of running out of water, food, medicine and fuel.
The first convoy of 20 aid trucks entered Gaza on Saturday morning through the Rafah crossing from Egypt. A second convoy arrived on Sunday night through the same gate, with 14 trucks.
Israel insisted that the convoys could not carry any fuel, despite pleas from relief agencies warning that hospitals and water distributors will grind to a halt within three days if they don’t receive fuel for their power generators, pumps, ambulances and desalination plants.
“No fuel will further strangle the children, women and people of Gaza,” said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, in a statement on Sunday.
“Without fuel, there will be no water, no functioning hospitals and bakeries. Without fuel, aid will not reach many civilians in desperate need.”
UN relief workers say Gaza needs at least 100 trucks of aid supplies every day to prevent a worsening humanitarian catastrophe for its 2.3 million people. Israel argues that the convoys must be closely inspected and prohibited from carrying fuel to ensure that nothing benefits the Hamas militant group that massacred and abducted hundreds of people in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
As volleys of missiles continued to be fired by the Israeli army and by Islamist militants in Gaza and Lebanon, senior Israeli leaders pursued their preparations for a land invasion of Gaza, while international diplomatic efforts gained intensity.
The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden, who visited Israel last week, held a call on Sunday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the leaders of France, Britain, Germany and Italy to discuss the Israel-Hamas war.
On Sunday, an Israeli tank accidentally fired on an Egyptian position near Gaza, according to the Israeli army. Seven people were reportedly wounded. In another incident, an Israeli soldier was killed and three injured when Hamas fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli tank that had crossed the Gaza border fence to search for missing people, the military said.
The Israeli government estimates that the Hamas attacks in the current war have killed at least 1,400 people in Israel and injured about 4,800. The Israeli bombardment has killed almost 4,700 people and injured more than 14,000 in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.
Ottawa is continuing its efforts to evacuate Canadian citizens from Gaza and the West Bank. So far, foreign citizens have not been permitted to cross the border from Gaza to Egypt, leaving hundreds of Canadians stranded in Gaza. Officials said, however, that Canada evacuated 10 of its citizens from the West Bank to Jordan on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a memorial service was held on Sunday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for 18 people who were reportedly killed on Friday in an Israeli air strike that struck beside the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius, the oldest functioning Christian church in Gaza.
“People were seeking sanctuary in the church, both Muslims and Christians,” said Raed Saadeh, a Jerusalem hotelier who attended the service to mourn a member of his extended family who had been killed in the attack. “It should have been a safe place. We have grown up to see synagogues, churches and mosques as safe places that should be respected by all religious people.”
In another horrific case last week, hundreds of people who were sheltering at a hospital were killed in an explosion, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. It blamed Israel, but Israeli authorities and several Western governments said the blast was caused by a misfiring rocket that was launched from Gaza.
On the weekend, Canada’s Defence Department said the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command had done an independent analysis of open source and classified reporting and had concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that the hospital explosion was “more likely caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza.”
In northern Israel, the government once again expanded its evacuation of civilians along its border with Lebanon, saying on Sunday that it would move residents out of 14 communities, in addition to 28 already evacuated.
Israeli forces have engaged in a deadly tit for tat with militants from Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite organization that, like Hamas, is backed by Iran. Twenty-two Hezbollah fighters have now been killed since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre in Israel, as the two sides attack with anti-tank missiles, drones and artillery.
Fears that those skirmishes could escalate into a full-scale second front in Israel’s war are part of the reason the U.S. has deployed two aircraft carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a visit to troops on the northern border Sunday, warned that Hezbollah “will make the mistake of its life” if it attacks Israel. “We will strike it with a force it cannot even imagine, and the significance for it and the state of Lebanon will be devastating.”
For now, however, Iran and the groups under its control have given no indication of seeking war from Lebanon. Iranian officials who spoke with Reuters said they had given their blessings to limited attacks on Israeli and U.S. targets, but wanted to avoid any conflict that could draw in Iran.
Hezbollah has sent similar signals. On Saturday, its Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem told a crowd in Beirut that his group’s actions have forced Israel to position three of its military divisions to its northern border, compared with five around Gaza.
“We are trying to work in a way that weakens this Israeli enemy, and let him know that we are ready and present,” Mr. Qassem said. But, he warned, “as events unfold and something arises that calls for our intervention to be greater, we will do so.”
In the meantime, Gaza’s need for emergency aid has become a crucial focus for UN agencies and Western governments. The first truck convoy to Gaza on the weekend “is a small fraction of what is needed,” Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said in a statement on Sunday. “Allowing essential assistance to reach those in need is critical to saving lives.”
The new U.S. envoy for humanitarian aid to Gaza, David Satterfield, told MSNBC that there should be a “continuous flow” of relief supplies reaching Gaza, beginning on Monday. But aid experts were disappointed by the first delivery of food, water and medicine.
The truck convoy on Saturday was “a drop in the ocean,” according to a statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) said the first convoy was “totally insufficient.” It noted that hundreds of supply trucks entered Gaza every day before the Israel-Hamas war.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said the 44,000 water bottles in the first convoy were enough for just a single day for 22,000 people, a tiny percentage of Gaza’s population. The total amount in Saturday’s convoy was just 4 per cent of what would normally enter Gaza before the war, the UN estimated.
“For every truck that has entered Gaza, 14 more are waiting outside,” said Samer AbdelJaber, the Palestine Country Director for the World Food Program.
Food stocks are running short, and there are long queues at Gaza’s bakeries.
“It takes five hours to get hold of a bag of bread,” said Yousef Hammash of the Norwegian Refugee Council in a social-media post on Sunday. “There are only a few bakeries still functioning as fuel runs low. … People are starting to fight each other. This is a chaotic situation.”