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The Gaza Strip was waiting for humanitarian aid on Thursday, a day after Israel and Egypt agreed to allow basic assistance into the south of the enclave.
With US president Joe Biden warning that Israel risked “losing credibility worldwide” if it did not “relieve the suffering of people who have nowhere to go”, Israeli officials said a small convoy with food, water and medicine would soon be allowed to enter the enclave through Egypt. But they provided no clear timeline.
The agreement followed talks between Biden and Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the US president’s one-day trip to Israel, the first such visit during wartime.
Speaking on Air Force One during his return flight to Washington, Biden said aid could start to reach Gaza by Friday.
He added that Sisi had agreed to open the Rafah crossing from Egypt into the south of Gaza to allow in up to 20 trucks of humanitarian assistance.
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that Gaza required a return to prewar levels of 100 trucks a day to provide assistance throughout the territory to people in need.
He added that it was urgent for a “mechanism [to be] agreed by all relevant parties to allow for the regular provision of [such] emergency needs”.
An official said that UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinians, was ready to provide aid from the Egyptian side of the border and waiting for permission.
As of Thursday morning, an UNRWA-co-ordinated convoy of international aid was about 30km from the Egypt-Gaza border.
British prime minister Rishi Sunak also arrived in Israel on Thursday and is expected to support calls for more humanitarian aid for Gaza.
Although Israel has refused to allow aid from its own territory while around 200 hostages remain in the hands of Palestinian militants, it said during the US president’s trip that it had agreed to Biden’s request to allow assistance to enter Gaza from Egypt.
UN secretary-general António Guterres is expected to meet Sisi to co-ordinate the expansion of aid deliveries.
However, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, refused on Wednesday to detail how long it would take for the Rafah crossing from Egypt into the south of Gaza to be operational, saying it was damaged after bombing by Israel.
Half a million people in the enclave have been seeking shelter in UN schools that are running out of fresh water and food, after orders from the Israeli military for residents to leave the highly populated north of Gaza.
But worsening conditions in southern Gaza have led some people to return north in search of food and shelter.
Israel has sought guarantees that aid will stay in the south of Gaza and be kept out of the hands of Hamas, the Palestinian militia that controls the enclave and which mounted the October 7 attack that triggered the war. Israel says that assault killed 1,300 people and has set Hamas’s elimination as a war goal.
Nearly 3,500 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, many of them women and children, the Palestinian ministry of health said on Thursday.
Biden also warned that Hamas needed to allow food and medicine to be distributed.
“If Hamas confiscates them or doesn’t let it get through . . . then it’s going to end,” he said on Air Force One.
Biden’s trip was intended to show support to Israel and ease fears over a wider conflict. The region was on “the brink of falling into the abyss”, King Abdullah of Jordan warned this week.
The US president said he had a “long talk” with the Israelis about “alternatives” with respect to an expected ground invasion of Gaza.
But Arab leaders, including Sisi and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, cancelled a summit with Biden after a deadly explosion at Gaza City’s Al-Ahli Arab hospital on Tuesday night. Israel and Palestinian officials blamed each other for the blast.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the country that his meeting with Biden had secured “immense security assistance of an unprecedented scope” that would aid the war effort.
“We agreed on actions that will ensure the continuation of our just war,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
Regional tensions remain high. Both Israel and the US have warned Iran to restrain its allies in regional militias from escalating or spreading the conflict.
A chief concern is the restive border with Lebanon, which is controlled by Iran-backed Hizbollah, and could force Israel to divert military resources from its southern front in the Gaza region.
Washington is also on high alert for activity by Iran-backed groups in the region, with several threatening to target US installations if the Biden administration intervenes directly in the war.
Biden said at an appearance with Netanyahu that he believed the Gaza hospital explosion had been caused by “the other team”.
The White House said later on Wednesday that, while it was still collecting information, its “current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information” was that Israel was not responsible for the explosion at the hospital.