First Aid Trucks Enter Besieged Gaza from Egypt

First Aid Trucks Enter Besieged Gaza from Egypt

EKISPEDIA.COM - The first aid trucks arrived in the war-torn Gaza Strip from Egypt on Saturday, AFP journalists said, bringing desperately needed humanitarian relief to the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave under Israeli siege.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas after the Islamist militant group carried out the deadliest attack in the country's history on October 7.

It launched a military campaign and cut food, water, electricity and fuel supplies to the densely populated and long-blockaded territory of 2.4 million people, sparking fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

AFP journalists saw 20 trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent, which is responsible for delivering aid from various UN agencies, pass through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, and the first trucks entering Gaza on the other side.

The crossing -- the only one into Gaza not controlled by Israel -- closed again after the trucks passed.

The lorries had been waiting for days on the Egyptian side after Israel agreed to allow aid to enter following a request from its top ally the United States.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the convoy "must not be the last" and that the delivery would start "a sustainable effort to provide essential supplies" to Gaza.

UN chief Antonio Guterres warned Friday that the aid was "the difference between life and death" for many Gazans.

But World Health Organization emergencies director Michael Ryan said US President Joe Biden's deal for an initial 20-truck delivery was "a drop in the ocean of need" and that 2,000 trucks were required.

- 'Sliver of hope' -

Hamas militants killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians who were shot, mutilated or burnt to death on the first day of their raid on October 7, according to Israeli officials.

Israel says around 1,500 Hamas fighters were killed in clashes before its army regained control of the area under attack.

Israel's military campaign has since levelled entire city blocks in Gaza, killing 4,137 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hamas also kidnapped more than 200 people when it stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip, with the hostages' fate shrouded in uncertainty.

So the release of the first two hostages -- US mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan -- offered a rare "sliver of hope", said Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Biden said he was "overjoyed" by the release, which came days after he visited Israel to express solidarity with the wounded country and press for humanitarian aid into Gaza.

He thanked Qatar, which hosts Hamas' political bureau, for its mediation in securing the release, and said he was working "around the clock" to win the return of other Americans being held.

Guterres also expressed his gratitude to Qatar and renewed his call "for an immediate and unconditional release of all hostages", his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Saturday.

- 'Most horrible of ordeals' -

Natalie Raanan's half-brother Ben told the BBC he felt an "overwhelming sense of joy" at the release after "the most horrible of ordeals".

Hamas said Egypt and Qatar had negotiated the release and it was "working with all mediators to implement the movement's decision to close the civilian (hostage) file if appropriate security conditions allow".

Israel's military said Friday "the majority" of those abducted are still alive, while traumatised families demanded more action.

"Absolutely nothing has been done," Assaf Shem Tov, whose nephew was abducted from a music festival where hundreds were killed by Hamas, said Friday.

"We ask humanity to interfere and bring back all those young boys, young girls, mothers, babies."

In Gaza, Israeli jets continued the relentless bombing campaign, with the military saying it hit more than 100 Hamas targets overnight.

Israeli troops are massed on the border with Gaza ahead of an expected ground invasion that officials have pledged will begin "soon".

But a full-blown land offensive carries many risks, including to the hostages.

As regional tensions have been brought to the boil, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will host a peace summit on Saturday attended by regional and some Western leaders.

- Crucial aid -

Almost half of Gaza's residents have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Saturday that "to date, 17 of our colleagues have been confirmed killed in this vicious war. Very sadly, the actual numbers are likely to be higher".

At least 30 percent of all housing in Gaza has been destroyed or damaged, the UN says, citing local authorities, and thousands have taken refuge in a tent city set up in southern Gaza's Khan Yunis.

Fadwa al-Najjar said she and her seven children walked for 10 hours to reach the camp, at some points breaking into a run as air strikes descended around them.

"We saw bodies and limbs torn off and we just started praying, thinking we were going to die," she told AFP.

"I would have preferred not to leave, to have stayed at home and died there," her daughter Malak added.

Israel's operation will take not "a day, nor a week, nor a month," the country's defence minister Yoav Gallant warned Friday, and will result in "the end of Israel's responsibilities in the Gaza Strip".

An Israeli foreign ministry source, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said Israel envisaged "handing over the keys" to neighbouring Egypt, which has strongly rejected attempts to place Gaza's residents under its responsibility.

- Regional tensions flare -

"I'm afraid that the current destruction is part of a clear plan for people to have no place left to live," said Omar Ashour, a retired general in Gaza.

"This will cause a second Nakba," he added, referring to the 760,000 Palestinians who were expelled from or fled their homes when Israel was created.

Israel is strongly backed by international allies and Biden on Friday requested $14 billion in emergency military aid for Israel.

He argued the money would secure US interests in the region, where there are fears of a wider conflagration.

The United States has moved two aircraft carriers into the eastern Mediterranean to deter Iran or Lebanon's Hezbollah, both Hamas allies, and France said it had directly warned Hezbollah against involvement.

Cross-border fire continued overnight though, with one Israeli soldier killed, Israeli radio said, and the military announced it hit Hezbollah targets after rocket and anti-tank missile fire.

Israel on Friday ordered the 25,000 residents of the northern town of Kiryat Shmona to evacuate.

Violence has also flared in the West Bank, where 84 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Protests have erupted over the conflict across the region, and Israel on Saturday urged its citizens to immediately leave Egypt and Jordan.

Source: Zawya

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