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Middle East crisis

Israel approves reopening of Erez crossing into Gaza, use of Ashdod port for aid

Israel approves reopening of Erez crossing into Gaza, use of Ashdod port for aid
A Palestinian Hamas security man stands guard in the Palestinian side of Erez check point in northern Gaza Strip, 04 August 2022. EPA-EFE/MOHAMMED SABER

JERUSALEM, April 5 (Reuters) - Israel said it approved the reopening of the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and the temporary use of Ashdod port in southern Israel, following U.S. demands to increase humanitarian aid supplies into Gaza.

During a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night, U.S. President Joe Biden demanded “specific, concrete” steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying conditions could be placed on U.S. aid if Israel did not respond.

The growing pressure on Israel came after the killing of seven aid workers in an Israeli strike on Monday night, which triggered global outrage at the continuing problems with aid deliveries into the besieged enclave.

A meeting of the security cabinet late on Thursday approved immediate steps to increase humanitarian aid to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, a statement said.

In addition to reopening the Erez crossing point, which has been closed since it was destroyed during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the security cabinet also approved increasing Jordanian aid through the Kerem Shalom crossing point, the statement said.

The move was welcomed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who said the impact of the move would have to be measured in an improved situation on the ground in Gaza, where aid agencies have warned of an increasing risk of famine.

“Really the proof is in the results, and we will see those unfold in the coming days, in the coming weeks,” Blinken said, speaking alongside European Union leaders in Belgium.

The decision to reopen the Erez crossing, the main crossing point from Israel into northern Gaza before the war, represented a major shift after Israeli officials previously rejected calls for more entry points into Gaza to be opened up.

 

CLOCK TO FAMINE TICKING

UNRWA, the main UN aid agency in Gaza, also welcomed the reopening of the crossings, but said Israel needs to do more.

“We call on the Israeli authorities to reverse their decision that bans UNRWA from reaching northern Gaza with food supplies,” it said in a statement.

“The clock is ticking fast towards famine and UNRWA must be allowed to do its work, and reach the north on a regular basis with food and nutrition supplies.”

The agency last month said it had been told by Israel it would no longer approve food convoys to the north, where the humanitarian crisis is most acute.

Israel has faced growing international pressure to do more to help civilians in Gaza, where most of the population has been driven from their homes and now depends on aid to survive.

It has previously insisted that it was placing no restrictions on emergency supplies getting into the besieged enclave, blaming problems on international agencies inside Gaza that have been handling distribution to people in need.

That argument has been severely undermined by the killing of the World Central Kitchen staff, who had coordinated their movements with the Israeli military before their vehicles were hit by an air strike.

Israel has also braced for a possible attack from Iran, or one of its proxy militia groups like Hezbollah, following the killing of two of Iranian generals along with five military advisers in an air strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in the Syrian capital Damascus on Monday.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Kim Coghill, Lincoln Feast and Sharon Singleton.)

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