U.N. Says Rafah Operation and Closure of Crossings Are a Setback for Gaza Aid

The United Nations has warned that Israel’s military incursion into Rafah and closure of border crossings is a major setback for aid operations in the Gaza Strip, with dire implications for its people.

No aid trucks have entered Gaza since Sunday, the United Nations said on Wednesday, as Israel sent tanks and troops into Rafah and blocked the two southern crossings where most aid has entered, at Rafah on the Egyptian border and near Kerem Shalom on the Israeli frontier.

Israel said that the Kerem Shalom crossing reopened on Wednesday, but did not indicate when the Rafah crossing would reopen. The U.N. disputed Israel’s claim.

The fighting in the Rafah area and the closure of the crossings set aid efforts back, at least temporarily, to the conditions of the first weeks of the war, when an Israeli and Egyptian blockade prevented anything from entering Gaza, producing desperate shortages of food, water, fuel, medicine and other supplies. Israel has described the military action it began on Monday as a limited incursion into Rafah that seized control of the border crossing, not the full-fledged offensive it has vowed to carry out, despite warnings from the United States and aid groups that it would be a humanitarian catastrophe.

U.N. officials said the conditions threaten to halt all its humanitarian operations in Gaza.

As many as a million people displaced from other parts of Gaza, more than half of them children, have sought refuge there, living in squalid conditions and relying on international aid efforts.

“Rafah is the epicenter of humanitarian operations in Gaza,” António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, said on Tuesday. “Attacking Rafah will further upend our efforts to support people in dire humanitarian straits as famine looms.”

Before the war began last October, about 500 aid trucks and additional commercial trucks a day carried supplies into Gaza, home to some 2.3 million people. Even after deliveries resumed, they were a fraction of the prewar level, as Israel kept most crossings closed, insisted on close inspection of every load, and barred some supplies.

After intense international pressure on Israel, including from the United States, the average rose to more than 200 humanitarian aid trucks a day in second half of April and the first days of May, according to the United Nations, still well below what aid agencies said was needed and what the Biden administration had called for. No commercial trucks have entered Gaza since the war started in October.

For months the United Nations and aid groups have also struggled to gain access and safe passage for their staff to work in Gaza, despite intense negotiations with Israel.

Now, U.N. officials say that the limited progress they had made is in jeopardy.

“We are managing the whole aid operation opportunistically as opposed to holistically — if there is something we can grab we will grab it,” said Stéphane Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, in an interview on Wednesday.

“We want the ability to work without being in the middle of a conflict zone and people we are trying to help being terrified,” he added.

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