Feb 14, 2024 - World

Sullivan: We expect Israel to adhere to commitment to get U.S.-funded flour to Gaza

White House Press National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Feb. 2023.

White House Press national security adviser Jake Sullivan in February 2021. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Biden administration expects "Israel to follow through on its commitment" to get U.S.-funded flour into Gaza, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Wednesday after Axios reported Israel's ultranationalist finance minister is blocking the transfer of the shipment.

Why it matters: The delay of the shipment has added to President Biden's frustration with the Israeli government, U.S. officials told Axios.

Driving the news: Israeli ultranationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is blocking a U.S.-funded flour shipment to Gaza because its recipient is the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Axios first reported Tuesday.

  • Smotrich's office said he ordered the customs service not to release the flour shipments and, in coordination with Netanyahu, asked officials to find a new delivery mechanism that ensures the flour doesn't reach Hamas.
  • "There is a consensus inside the Israeli cabinet of the need to prevent the aid from reaching Hamas and I will use my authority to make sure this is the case," said Smotrich, who accused UNRWA of being a "central part" of the "Hamas war machine."
  • UNRWA has rejected such accusations in the past. The agency has been under recent scrutiny over Israeli accusations that 12 of its employees took an active part in the Oct. 7 attacks. The UN launched an independent investigation.

What they're saying: The "flour has not moved the way that we had expected it would move and we expect that Israel will follow through on its commitment to get that flour into Gaza," Sullivan said when asked about Axios' report at a White House briefing on Wednesday.

The big picture: The Biden administration at the highest levels brought up the possibility of the flour shipment more than a month ago.

  • The Israeli war and security cabinets approved the delivery of the flour from the port of Ashdod in southern Israel to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, Israeli officials said.
  • Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken have already publicly thanked the Israeli government for allowing the flour shipment to go through.
  • Gaza's entire population — more than 2.2 million people — is facing crisis or worse levels of hunger, with the risk of famine increasing every day, a UN-backed body said in a report late last year.

What to watch: Israeli officials said on Tuesday they are trying to reroute the shipment so that it would enter Gaza through the World Food Program so that Smotrich will release the hold.

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