Actions by Israel and Egypt Squeeze Gaza Aid Routes

Actions by Israel and Egypt Squeeze Gaza Aid Routes

For a few weeks, after extraordinary international pressure and warnings of an imminent famine in the Gaza Strip, Israel announced new steps to increase humanitarian aid and more supplies entered the territory.

But the flow of aid, the vast majority of which goes through two border crossings in southern Gaza, has come to a near-total stop this week, first closed off by Israel and then further restricted, officials say, by Egypt.

Israel shut down the Kerem Shalom crossing after a Hamas rocket attack nearby killed four Israeli soldiers last Sunday. The next day, Israeli forces seized and closed the Gaza side of the other crossing, at Rafah on the Egyptian border, as part of what they have described as a limited military operation against Hamas, and raised the Israeli flag over the crossing.

Although Israel has reopened Kerem Shalom and some fuel has gone into Gaza from there, humanitarian aid like food and medicines has not been allowed through the crossing since last Sunday, according to Scott Anderson, a senior official at UNRWA, the main U.N. agency that aids Gaza.

One reason is that Egypt, where most of the aid for Gaza is collected and loaded, is resisting sending trucks toward Kerem Shalom, according to two U.S. officials and another Western official who are involved in the aid operation, as well as two Israeli officials. The American and Israeli officials believe that Egypt is trying to put pressure on Israel to pull back from the Rafah operation.

Another official familiar with the negotiations said U.S. officials — including William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, who was in Cairo this week for Gaza cease-fire talks — have been trying to persuade Egypt to dispatch the trucks. But Egypt has rebuffed the pressure, saying it will not allow aid to flow to Kerem Shalom while Israel has closed the Rafah crossing, and casting the situation as a matter of sovereignty, a United Nations official said.

All the officials spoke on condition that they not be named because of the sensitivity of the aid talks and the cease-fire negotiations. A spokesman for Egypt’s government declined to comment.

Egypt plays a vital role in the Gaza relief effort. Much of the international aid bound for Gaza is collected in the Egyptian city of El Arish, about 30 miles from the Gaza border, where it is loaded onto trucks and sent to the Israeli border for inspections before being allowed into Gaza.

Egypt has grown increasingly nervous about Israel’s Rafah operation, in part over deep-seated fears it will push Palestinian refugees onto Egyptian soil — an outcome Egypt views as a national security threat. Israel’s presence on the Egypt-Gaza border, a border Egypt is supposed to control, has also drawn heavy domestic criticism.

Egyptian concerns are not the only factor complicating use of Kerem Shalom. The Western official said that Israeli military activity and fighting near Kerem Shalom have partly destroyed the roads, making it extremely difficult for aid trucks to navigate into Gaza.

With fighting ongoing, the area is also considered unsafe for aid workers, according to one of the U.S. officials and the U.N. official, who said that a U.N. contractor near Kerem Shalom was shot at by Israeli forces on Wednesday.

An Israeli military spokesman, Nir Dinar, declined to comment on the incident, but blamed Hamas for preventing aid from entering. While Kerem Shalom was accepting aid deliveries, he said, it had been closed in previous days only after Hamas fired on the crossing three times this week, killing Israeli soldiers.

“Israel is doing everything to enable” aid to enter, Mr. Dinar said.

On Friday, the Israeli authorities permitted at least 157,000 liters of fuel to enter southern Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, said Mr. Anderson, the UNRWA official. Gaza’s power grid stopped functioning early in the war, leaving hospitals, bakeries, shelters and other essential facilities dependent on generators for electricity, but this week they were in growing danger of running out of fuel.

While aid deliveries rose in April and the first days of May, before the Rafah operation, aid groups said Israel was not allowing nearly enough into Gaza to stave off famine or the collapse of the health care and sanitation systems. Now that tens of thousands more civilians are fleeing Rafah to areas with little infrastructure set up to care for them and Gazan hospitals are running low on fuel, the United Nations and aid groups say the situation has become far more dire.

Julian E. Barnes, Gaya Gupta and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting.

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