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Israel Says It Will Open New Aid Crossing Into Gaza Strip

Israel has said it will open a new aid crossing into the Gaza Strip in the face of pressure from allies in Washington to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory and wind down its wide-scale bombings and armoured ground operations against Hamas.

The Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, previously used for goods and aid deliveries, would reopen to process humanitarian supplies, the office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Friday.

Israel’s cabinet had “approved a temporary measure of unloading the trucks on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom crossing” to increase the amount of aid getting into the territory, the statement said. “The cabinet’s decision determines that only humanitarian aid arriving from Egypt will be transferred into the Gaza Strip this way,” it added.

The announcement came as the Israeli military said it had mistakenly killed three Israeli hostages, and the Qatar-based television network Al Jazeera said one of its journalists had been killed and another injured as fierce fighting was reported across Gaza.

It was not immediately clear when Kerem Shalom would begin processing aid, but the step was welcomed by humanitarian organisations. Since the war began more than two months ago, the Rafah crossing with Egypt has been the coastal exclave’s only link to the outside world: it is not designed to handle high volumes of lorries and goods traffic, causing delays as vehicles travelled first to Kerem Shalom for security checks and then back to the Egyptian side.

Until a seven-day truce came into force on 24 November, about 50 aid trucks were entering Gaza a day; the number is currently about 100, although aid organisations have warned that that is still a fraction of what is needed for survival. The strip’s population of 2.3 million is facing a devastating humanitarian crisis, with more than 80% displaced from their homes and significant damage to medical facilities and infrastructure such as desalination and sewage plants.

The World Health Organization welcomed the Israeli announcement, while warning that significant distribution issues remained inside the strip, where fuel is scarce and many roads are too damaged to use. “That’s of course very good news,” said Richard Peeperkorn, WHO’s representative for the occupied Palestinian territories. “How can we make sure that these trucks can go everywhere, and not just in southern Gaza, but also to northern Gaza?”

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called the move a “significant step” at the close of two days of meetings in the region with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Sullivan, a senior figure in the Biden administration, visited Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah on Friday after talks in Tel Aviv with Israeli leaders including the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the defence minister, Yoav Gallant.

He and Abbas were scheduled to discuss potential postwar arrangements for Gaza, which could include the return of Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces to the strip 16 years after they were driven out by Hamas. There is fierce Israeli opposition to any future Palestinian control of the coastal territory.

“We do not believe that it makes sense for Israel, or is right for Israel, to … reoccupy Gaza over the long term,” Sullivan told reporters in Tel Aviv on Friday. “Ultimately the control of Gaza, the administration of Gaza and the security of Gaza has to transition to the Palestinians.”

“Ongoing efforts to revamp and revitalise” the deeply unpopular Palestinian Authority and rein in settler violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank were also on the agenda, he said.

Joe Biden has provided Israel with billions of dollars in military aid since the 7 October Hamas attack that killed 1,139 people and sparked the latest war in Gaza. The 10-week-old conflict has already claimed more than 18,000 Palestinian lives.

But there are growing differences in opinion and strategy between the US and Israel over the war’s execution. Washington has been pressing Israel for weeks to reduce civilian casualties and allow more aid into the besieged territory, as well as share concrete plans for how the war will end and who it expects to control Gaza when the fighting stops.

People across Gaza reported heavy fighting on Friday, with an influx of dead and wounded at hospitals in Deir al-Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah. Communications services remained patchy since going down on Thursday.

In a startling admission on Friday evening, the Israeli military said it had mistakenly killed three Israeli hostages in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shuja’iya, where troops have engaged in fierce battles against Hamas militants in recent days.

The army’s chief spokesperson, Rear Adm Daniel Hagari, said troops erroneously identified the three men as a threat and that it was not clear if they had escaped their captors or been abandoned.

He said the army expressed “deep sorrow” and was investigating.

Also on Friday, Al Jazeera said videojournalist Samer Abu Daqqa had been killed and its chief correspondent in Gaza, Wael al-Dahdouh, injured in an Israeli airstrike while reporting in Khan Younis. Dahdouh lost several members of his family in Israeli bombings last month.

Airstrikes and tank shelling as well as street-to-street fighting continued through Thursday night and into Friday, suggesting that after two months of aerial and ground operations, Israel is struggling to achieve its stated aim of completely eradicating Hamas. An ambush in Gaza City earlier this week, where Israel is supposedly in control, killed nine Israeli soldiers.

“The Gaza Strip turned into a ball of fire overnight. We could hear explosions and gunshots echoing from all directions,” Ahmed, 45, an electrician and father of six, told Reuters from a shelter in a central area. “They can destroy homes and roads and kill civilians from the air or through blind tank shelling, but when they come face to face with the resistance, they lose. We don’t have anything to lose after all they had done to our Gaza.”

Netanyahu and his ministers told Sullivan on Thursday that the country would fight until “absolute victory against Hamas”, warning that the war could last “more than several months”. However, international pressure is mounting for Israel to wind down its major operations, currently focused on Khan Younis, before the end of the year.

In a news conference on Friday, Sullivan called his meetings with Netanyahu “very constructive”, saying that the war would shift from the current campaign of heavy, large-scale bombing and armoured ground operations to a new phase focused on the precise targeting of Hamas leaders and intelligence-driven operations.

“The conditions and the timing for that was obviously a subject of conversation” with Netanyahu, other Israeli government leaders and military commanders, he said.

Many unanswered questions remain about postwar control of the territory. Israel’s war cabinet appears to favour maintaining an open-ended security presence in the strip, and Netanyahu stated earlier this week that Israel would not allow the PA or its ruling party, Fatah, to return to Gaza. Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in 2006, taking over the territory a year later following a brief civil war.

The US wants governance of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to revert to a unified Palestinian administration as a precursor to the revival of peace talks with Israel aimed at a two-state solution.

After 17 years without elections, however, 88-year-old Abbas and his administration are viewed by most Palestinians as little more than subcontractors for Israeli security. Washington has not publicly called for personnel changes within the PA, or general elections.

In the meeting, Abbas called for an immediate ceasefire and more aid to Gaza, and emphasised that Gaza was an integral part of the Palestinian state, according to a statement from his office. It made no mention of conversations about postwar scenarios.

Source: The Guardian