Israel’s Closures of 2 Gaza Border Crossings Prompt Alarm Over Humanitarian Aid

With its seizure of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Tuesday, Israel has now closed two key crossings for aid into Gaza, drawing sharp warnings from international agencies and officials who said the moves could exacerbate an already dire humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

Since the start of the war, Israel had limited aid entering the Gaza Strip to the two tightly controlled border crossings: Kerem Shalom and Rafah, which both access the enclave’s south.

But Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing after a Hamas attack on Sunday killed four soldiers in the area, then mounted an incursion on Tuesday that closed the Rafah crossing along the border with Egypt.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian office, said in a news briefing that Israel had “choked off” the two main arteries for getting aid into Gaza. If fuel is not able to enter the enclave for some time, he added, “it would be a very effective way of putting the humanitarian operation in its grave.”

The main United Nations agency that helps Palestinians in Gaza said Tuesday that the “catastrophic hunger faced by people especially in northern Gaza will get much worse” if aid shipments through the Rafah border crossing were interrupted.

Egypt’s foreign ministry condemned the Rafah operation “in the strongest terms,” saying on Tuesday afternoon that Israeli control over the crossing jeopardized humanitarian aid deliveries as well as the ability of Gazans to leave the strip for medical treatment.

“This dangerous escalation threatens the lives of more than a million Palestinians who depend primarily on this crossing, as it is the main lifeline of the Gaza Strip,” it said in a statement.

Israel opened the crossing at Kerem Shalom on its border with Gaza in December after pressure from the United States to speed up the flow of humanitarian aid. However, Israeli protesters have regularly gathered at the crossing, trying to block aid convoys from entering the enclave in hope of raising the pressure on Hamas to release the hostages.

Under pressure from the Biden administration after an Israeli airstrike killed seven aid workers, Israel said last month that it would reopen the Erez border crossing into northern Gaza and that shipments bound for the enclave would be accepted at the Israeli port of Ashdod. On May 1, when the Erez crossing first opened, Israel said 30 aid trucks passed through.

Figures from the United Nations show that on Sunday, the most recent day for which data is available, 128 aid trucks entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing and none entered through Rafah. With the closures of those two crossings, it was not immediately clear how much aid was getting through to Gaza through the other avenues on Tuesday. COGAT, the Israeli agency overseeing aid deliveries into Gaza, said on Tuesday that 60 trucks had passed through the Erez crossing.

Israel imposes stringent checks on incoming aid to keep out anything that might help Hamas, which it has pledged to eliminate. Since the start of the war, most of the aid for Gaza has moved through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Aid groups and foreign diplomats have said the inspections create bottlenecks, and have accused Israel of arbitrarily turning away aid and systematically limiting deliveries. Israel has denied those assertions, blaming the shortages on logistical failures by aid groups, and has recently increased the number of trucks entering the strip.

Nick Cumming-Bruce, Vivian Yee and Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.

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