Dec 15, 2023 - World

Gaza-Israel crossing reopens to allow more aid

Palestinian workers, who were stranded in Israel since the Oct. 7 attacks, cross back into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom commercial border crossing with Israel on Oct. 3. Photo: Ahmed Zakot/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Israeli security cabinet on Friday approved the opening of the Kerem Shalom border between Israel and southern Gaza to allow aid trucks to enter the enclave, the prime minister's office said.

Why it matters: Coming after two weeks of strong pressure from the Biden administration, this is a significant policy shift by Israel, which had refused to allow any aid to enter Gaza through its territory since the Oct. 7 attack.

  • The Opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing, also known as Kerem Abu Salem in Gaza, will significantly increase the number of aid trucks that enter the enclave from roughly 100 to more than 300 everyday.
  • The rate of civilian deaths in Gaza is outpacing those of other conflict zones in the 21st century. Mounting casualties have been accompanied by a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in the enclave.

Driving the news: Axios reported last Tuesday that under U.S. pressure, the Israeli government was "likely" to reopen the Kerem Shalom border soon.

  • Israeli officials said at the time that this step was needed to prevent the humanitarian crisis in Gaza from exacerbating and also because Israel wants to maintain U.S. support for the ongoing ground operation.
  • On Friday, the prime minister's office said in a statement that the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza has the capacity for only 100 trucks a day, with the Israeli security screening taking place at the Kerem Shalom crossing.

"Until today, these trucks were required to return to the Rafah crossing, causing heavy congestion…the cabinet approved today a temporary measure of unloading the trucks on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, instead of having them return to Rafah," the Israeli statement said.

  • Only humanitarian aid arriving from Egypt will be transferred through Kerem Shalom, according to the cabinet.
  • The prime minister's office said the U.S. has committed to pay for the upgrade of the Rafah crossing as soon as possible, which would enable the transfer of humanitarian aid only via Rafah after passing Israeli security screening.

What they are saying: White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who left Israel on Friday after two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, said he was informed of the Israeli cabinet decision shortly before departing.

  • "We welcome this significant step. President Biden raised this issue in recent phone calls with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and it was an important topic of discussion during my visit to Israel over the past two days," Sullivan said.
  • He stressed that the U.S. remains committed to expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.
  • "We will continue to work closely with Egypt and other partners on the delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance through Rafah crossing," he said.
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