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Israel approves reopening of Erez crossing into Gaza

Israel said it had approved the reopening of the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and the temporary use of Ashdod port in southern Israel, following US demands to increase humanitarian aid supplies into Gaza.

During a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night, US President Joe Biden demanded “specific, concrete” steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying conditions could be placed on US 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.

A meeting of Israel’s security cabinet approved immediate steps to increase humanitarian aid to the civilian population in Gaza, a statement said.

In addition to reopening the Erez crossing point, which has been closed since it was destroyed during the 7 October 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 US 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.

Women and children queue for food in Rafgh

“Really the proof is in the results, and we will see those unfold in the coming days, in the coming weeks,” Mr 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.

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.”

Israel has long accused the agency of being close to Hamas and has sought to have it disbanded. UNRWA has always rejected the accusation and has said Israel has been putting obstacles into aid coming into Gaza.

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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.

With Gaza in ruins, most of the 2.3 million population have been forced from their homes and now depend on aid for survival, a bitter humiliation during the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims around the world consume traditional Ramadan meals and desserts to break their fast after sunset.

Much of Gaza has been left in ruins

“We had some hopes before Ramadan but that hope vanished the night before the fasting month began,” said 33 year-old Um Nasser Dahman, now living with her family of five in a tent camp in the southern city of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population is now sheltering.

“We used to be well enough off before the war but we’ve become dependent on what limited aid there is and our relatives,” she said, via messaging.

Senior Hamas official Basem Naim said opening the Erez crossing was the minimum that Israel should do.

“That said, we are concerned that the Israeli announcement could be nothing but throwing ash in the eyes and that once implementation begins, Israel will begin to stall and invent pretexts to delay or suspend the process,” he said.

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.

People living in al-Maghazi refugee camp collect usable items from the rubble of destroyed buildings

That argument has been severely undermined by the killing oft he 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.

The war was launched after a Hames-led attack in which more than 250 hostages were seized and some 1,200 people killed, by Israeli tallies.

The campaign has been the bloodiest ever for the Palestinians, with more than 33,000 killed so far, according to Gaza health authorities.

More than 250 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the start of the ground invasion, in addition to almost 350 who were killed on 7 October.

The scale of the casualties has caused mounting global alarm and demands for a halt but for people in Gaza, the wait continues.

“I believe everything has an end, the war will end,” said Um Nasser Dahman in Gaza. “But when?”

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