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Israel says will allow aid through northern Gaza border

Israel will allow “temporary” aid deliveries via its border with northern Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced, reopening the Erez crossing into the famine-threatened territory for the first time since the 7 October attacks that sparked the war.

“Israel will allow the temporary delivery of humanitarian aid through Ashdod and the Erez checkpoint,” said a government statement released hours after a warning from US President Joe Biden.

“This increased aid will prevent a humanitarian crisis and is necessary to ensure the continuation of the fighting and to achieve the goals of the war,” the statement added.

The announcement comes as international pressure mounts on Israel after it took responsibility for a strike that killed seven aid workers.

In a tense, 30-minute call with Mr Netanyahu yesterday, Mr Biden “made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza” will be determined based on “specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers”, according to a White House statement.

According to Israel’s statement, in addition to allowing aid through the Erez border crossing and the port of Ashdod, about 40 kilometres north of Gaza, the authorities will also allow “increased Jordanian aid through Kerem Shalom”, a border crossing in southern Israel.

For the first time, Mr Biden “made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action” to end the killings and the dire humanitarian situation, the White House said.

The tough language, describing the aid worker attack as “unacceptable” and urging Israel to take steps towards an immediate ceasefire, reflected mounting tensions with Netanyahu.

“What happened to the World Central Kitchen, that event certainly was a catalyst for the call today,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN yesterday.

Earlier this week the WCK convoy was repeatedly struck by Israeli forces despite clearing its route with the military. A US-Canadian dual national was among those killed in attack, which Israel has called a mistake.

Mr Biden’s “frustration has been growing over recent weeks and months over the dangers to the civilian population in Gaza and to aid workers,” Mr Kirby said.

Earlier in the day Kirby would not confirm that halting military aid was on the table but gave Israel little room to maneuver, warning the United States wanted to see action within the “coming hours and days.”

The Biden administration faces a difficult balancing act on Gaza between what Mr Kirby called its overall “ironclad” commitment to Israel, and mounting opposition at home to the war.

Democrats fear anger among Arab-American and Muslim voters in an expected tight election against Republican Donald Trump in November.

A key Biden confidant had earlier urged him to leverage the huge military aid that Washington gives Israel every year.

“I think we’re at that point,” Chris Coons, a Democratic senator from the president’s home state of Delaware, told CNN.

Mr Biden also reportedly faces pressure even closer to home – from First Lady Jill Biden.

“Stop it, stop it now,” she told the president about the growing toll of civilian casualties in Gaza, according to comments by Biden himself to a guest during a meeting with members of the Muslim community at the White House, and reported by the New York Times.

Despite historic tensions with right-winger Mr Netanyahu, Mr Biden traveled to Israel as a self-described “Zionist” days after the Hamas attacks and hugged the premier.

But Mr Biden’s rhetoric has sharpened as the civilian death toll soared past 30,000 and the humanitarian situation becomes ever more dire.

Mr Biden ordered US airdrops of aid into Gaza. He also allowed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire to go through – infuriating Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Biden’s words, however, have not been matched by concrete steps to limit the billions of dollars in military aid that Washington supplies to its bedrock regional ally.

The United States approved the transfer of thousands more bombs to Israel on the same day as the Israeli strikes that killed the WCK aid workers, the Washington Post reported.

Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security advisor to president Barack Obama, called for Biden to act.
“Until there are substantive consequences, this outrage does nothing,” Mr Rhodes said on X.

US voters are also increasingly turning against Israel’s Gaza offensive.

A majority of 55% now disapprove of Israel’s actions, compared to 36% who approve, according to a Gallup poll released on 27 March.

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