Blinken warns that fighting could wipe out aid obtained in Gaza

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warned on Wednesday that recent successes in providing desperately needed humanitarian aid to the people of the Gaza Strip risk being undone by fighting in southern Gaza.

The border crossing in the southern city of Rafah has been closed since Israel began what it describes as a limited military operation against Hamas fighters in the city, on the border with Egypt. The United Nations said on Wednesday that 600,000 people had fled Rafah since Israel's ground assault began there.

“Just as Israel was taking important and badly needed steps to improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” Blinken told reporters in Kiev, Ukraine, “we saw a negative impact on the fact that we have this active, very active conflict in the Rafah area”.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union's top diplomat, said in a statement that Israel must end the Rafah operation “immediately,” warning that an extension of the operation would “inevitably put a strain on EU relations with Israel”.

Israel had closed another crossing – Kerem Shalom – after a Hamas rocket attack nearby killed four Israeli soldiers. It has since been reopened, but the help arriving is still very limited. Egypt, where most of the aid for Gaza is collected and loaded, has opposed sending trucks to Kerem Shalom, according to several officials. American and Israeli officials believe Egypt is trying to pressure Israel to withdraw from the Rafah operation.

The Israeli army's incursion into Rafah, which began on May 6, has created a continuous exodus of Palestinians northward, further worsening the humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

As Israeli troops also returned to northern Gaza, territory they captured in the early stages of the war last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right government were criticized for their failure to develop what Blinken called a “clear and concrete plan” for the post-war period. governance in Gaza.

“We cannot allow Hamas to control Gaza. We cannot have chaos and anarchy in Gaza,” Blinken added, saying the United States expects “Israel to come forward with its ideas.”

Netanyahu was also criticized by his own defense minister, Yoav Gallant, on Wednesday for not doing enough post-war planning.

Gallant said in a televised news conference on Wednesday that he had suggested a plan for an alternative Gaza administration made up of Palestinians, but had “received no response.”

He criticized the government's “indecisiveness” and called on Netanyahu to rule out establishing an Israeli military government to oversee the Palestinians in Gaza and to immediately propose a “government alternative.”

Netanyahu defended the government, saying it was useless to suggest alternative governance systems until Hamas was defeated. “All talk of 'the day after,' as long as Hamas remains intact,” he said, “will remain mere words devoid of content.” Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners, some of whom have called for Israelis to resettle the Gaza Strip, immediately denounced Gallant's remarks.

As international criticism mounted over the aid blockade, Israel and Egypt traded blame for the closure of the Rafah crossing, which the Israeli army took control of on the Palestinian side as shelling and fighting resumed around Rafah last week.

Hundreds of trucks in Egypt were blocked from reaching Gaza. The wounded and sick requiring medical care outside the territory, as well as families trying to flee the war between Israel and Hamas, were unable to leave.

Israel accused Egypt of delaying the delivery of aid through the Rafah crossing, while Egypt said Israel's continued presence in and around the crossing was the main obstacle.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Tuesday that he had spoken to European foreign ministers about the “need to persuade Egypt” to allow “the continued delivery of international humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

“The key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends,” he said wrote on Xstating that Israel would not return the crossing to what it described as Hamas control.

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt's foreign minister, immediately objected, arguing that the crossing was still closed because Israel's control over it, as well as its military operations in the area, were endangering truck drivers and aid workers.

In a statement from Egypt's Foreign Ministry, Shoukry also rejected what he described as “the policy of distorting facts.”

In recent days, Israel has intensified its military operations in the Gaza Strip, forcing residents to flee in multiple directions. In addition to hundreds of thousands of civilians leaving Rafah, more than 100,000 have fled parts of northern Gaza following recent Israeli evacuation orders, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

The Israeli army said on Wednesday that its forces were returning to the northern areas that had been at the center of the early stages of the war, as they have done repeatedly during the war with Hamas. The need for such operations has prompted Israeli critics to say the government has failed to articulate an exit strategy, even as the death toll among Israeli soldiers continues to rise.

According to the Israeli military and Palestinian residents, Israeli forces operated mainly in Jabaliya. The city is a built-up urban area largely populated by Palestinians who fled or were expelled during the wars surrounding Israel's founding in 1948, as well as their descendants. Palestinians celebrated that mass displacement – ​​known in Arabic as the Nakba, or disaster – on Wednesday, the 76th anniversary of Israel's founding.

Israeli forces were advancing towards Jabaliya under heavy airstrikes and shelling, said Raafat Nasr, a resident. Hamas' armed wing said on the social messaging app Telegram that its fighters were engaging Israeli troops in Jabaliya, firing on soldiers and armored vehicles.

Mr. Nasr, 50, decided to stay at home with his wife and two children amid “terrifying explosions,” he said. His family is missing: two of his children, together with his grandchildren, are trying to escape Rafah due to Israeli military operations in the area.

Mr Nasr said the family was hunkering down and rationing what little food and water they had left.

“There is nowhere safe in Gaza and we have nowhere left to go,” he said.

Farnaz Fassihi AND Johnatan Reiss contributed to the reporting.

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