Tags: gaza | rafah | crime | hamas | israel

Israel Pledged to Guard Aid Route, but Lawlessness Blocks Distribution

Thursday, 20 June 2024 05:06 PM EDT

The Israeli military said Sunday that it was establishing a new safe corridor to deliver aid into southern Gaza. But days later, this self-declared "tactical pause" has brought little relief to desperate Palestinians.

The United Nations and international aid organizations say a breakdown in law and order has made the aid route unusable.

With thousands of truckloads of aid piled up, groups of armed men are regularly blocking convoys, holding drivers at gunpoint and rifling through their cargo, according to a U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media on the issue.

He said lawlessness has emerged as the main obstacle to aid distribution in southern Gaza — where an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians displaced from Rafah, or more than half of Gaza's entire population, are now sheltering in tent camps and cramped apartments without adequate food, water, or medical supplies.

Here is a closer look at the security challenges facing the U.N. and aid organizations.

Israel said Sunday it would observe daily pauses in combat along a route stretching from Kerem Shalom — the strip's only operational aid crossing in the south — to the nearby city of Khan Younis. Before the pause, aid organizations had reported that the need to coordinate trucks' movement with the Israelis in an active combat zone was slowing aid distribution.

The U.N. official familiar with the aid effort said that there has been no sign of Israeli activity along the route. The U.N. tried to send a convoy of 60 trucks down the road Tuesday to pick up aid at Kerem Shalom. But 35 of the trucks were intercepted by armed men, the official said.

In recent days, armed men have moved closer to the crossing and set up roadblocks to halt trucks loaded with supplies, the U.N. official said. They have rifled through the pallets in search of smuggled cigarettes, a rare luxury in a territory where a single smoke can go for $25.

The surge in lawlessness is a result of growing desperation in Gaza and the power vacuum that left by Hamas' waning power over the territory, said Mkhaimar Abusada, an associate professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza who is now in Cairo.

With the territory's police force targeted by Israel, he said, crime has reemerged as an untreated issue in Gaza.

"After Hamas came to power, one of the things that they brought under their control was the lawlessness of the so-called big clans," said Abusada. "Now, that's left for the Palestinians on their own to deal with it. So once again, we are seeing shootings between families, there are thefts, all the bad things are happening."

UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, used to deploy local Palestinian police to escort aid convoys, but many refused to continue serving after airstrikes killed at least eight police officers in Rafah, the agency said.

Israel says the police are legitimate targets because they are controlled by Hamas.

The situation has largely paralyzed aid distribution to the south — particularly since Gaza's nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt was closed when Israel invaded the city early last month.

The U.N. official said that 25 trucks of flour used the route Tuesday. Some private commercial trucks also got through — many of which used armed security to deter groups seeking to seize their cargo. An AP reporter stationed along the road Monday saw at least eight trucks pass by, armed security guards riding on top.

Before Israel's offensive into the city of Rafah, hundreds of fuel trucks routinely entered the area.

The U.N. has now begun rerouting some fuel trucks through northern Gaza. Farhan Haq, a U.N. spokesman, said five fuel trucks entered Gaza Wednesday. The U.N. humanitarian office reported that these were the first fuel deliveries since early June and supplies remain scarce.

Aid groups say only a cease-fire and a reopening of the Rafah crossing could significantly increase aid flow to the area.

The military body in charge of coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, COGAT, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The U.S. installed a pier off Gaza's coast last month, aiming to provide an additional route for aid to enter Gaza. But the ambitious project has suffered repeated logistical and security setbacks.

Cyprus, a partner in the effort, said the pier was up and running again Thursday after being detached for a second time last week because of rough seas. COGAT said Thursday there were "hundreds of aid pallets awaiting collection and distribution by the U.N. aid agencies."

But there, too, security concerns are hindering distribution of aid.

The U.N. suspended its cooperation with the pier on June 9 — a day after rumors swirled that the Israeli military had used the area in a hostage rescue operation that left over 270 Palestinians dead. Photos of the operation have shown an Israeli helicopter in the vicinity of the pier.

Both Israel and the U.S. deny the pier was used in the operation. But the perception that the pier was used for military purposes could endanger humanitarian workers and threaten humanitarian groups' principles of neutrality, the U.N. says.

Aid workers said they are working with the Israelis to find a solution, but that the security burden falls squarely on Israel's shoulders.

U.N. and other humanitarian officials, including Samantha Power, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, met with Israel's military chief and COGAT officials this week to seek solutions.

USAID said afterward that the meeting ended with promises of specific actions, but gave no details.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

The Israeli military said Sunday that it was establishing a new safe corridor to deliver aid into southern Gaza. But days later, this self-declared "tactical pause" has brought little relief to desperate Palestinians.
gaza, rafah, crime, hamas, israel
Thursday, 20 June 2024 05:06 PM
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