Inspections, Bottlenecks and Safety Concerns Hinder Gaza Aid

Warehouses meant to store aid have become shelters for displaced Gazans; desperate Gazans loot the warehouses that remain and pull food from trucks.

The Gazan civilians who take the supplies “are desperate and angry and need food,” said Dr. Guillemette Thomas, a medical coordinator based in Jerusalem for Doctors Without Borders, echoing warnings by U.N. officials who say a larger and more sustained flow of aid is needed.

Israeli officials, who insist that there is enough food and water for civilians in Gaza, have blamed the United Nations, saying it should find more staff, extend workers’ hours and deploy more trucks to distribute the aid. The officials say the military coordinates with aid groups to arrange safe passage for convoys, and announces daily pauses in the fighting for Gazans to collect aid.

Under U.S. pressure, Israel reopened a second crossing to Gaza, Kerem Shalom, in mid-December, allowing aid trucks through.

Col. Moshe Tetro, the head of the Israeli government administration that liaises with Gaza, told reporters at the Kerem Shalom crossing on Wednesday that Israel had done its part by increasing its capacity for inspecting aid.

“The bottleneck, as I see it, is the capability of the international organizations inside Gaza to receive this aid,” he said. He added, “I’m sure that when we see the other side being more effective, we will see more movement.”

When Kerem Shalom reopened, Israel committed to allowing in 200 trucks a day. Nearly a month later, however, the total entering Gaza each day falls short of that target: Gaza has received an average of about 129 trucks loaded with food, water and medical supplies each day over the last week, according to U.N. figures. That includes 193 trucks on Wednesday, the biggest convoy since Kerem Shalom reopened.

Those figures also include trucks that crossed through the Rafah border point with Egypt, which was the only point where aid could cross until Kerem Shalom reopened. Before the war, Rafah mainly handled people transiting in and out of Gaza. Kerem Shalom previously served as the conduit for some 500 trucks a day, about 100 of which carried food and other aid. The rest carried fuel and food for sale, medical supplies and other commercial goods.

Now the commercial goods are gone, and nearly all Gaza’s flour mills, bakeries, supermarkets and other stores are closed, leaving only the thin trickle of aid to support the population.

“There are now 2.2 million people wholly reliant on aid to survive, where before many could provide for themselves,” said Tamara Alrifai, a spokeswoman for UNRWA, the main U.N. agency that provides services and aid to Palestinians.

Before reaching Gaza, the agreement governing aid delivery requires each truck to submit to Israeli inspections to weed out anything that could benefit Hamas — a process Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who recently visited Rafah to meet aid officials called “totally arbitrary” and “cumbersome.”

At the Kerem Shalom crossing on Wednesday, a few trucks waited to be screened in a maze of driveways and parking lots. Idling in another lot were trucks that had already passed inspection, including seven loaded with rice, pasta, chickpeas and sliced carrots, as well as ready-to-eat meals donated by World Central Kitchen. Most of the trucks were not packed full, possibly to ease the inspection process.

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