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Israel restarts Gaza food sales as Rafah raid chokes aid

May 30, 2024 at 3:03 pm

Palestinians, including children, wait in line to receive food distributed by charitable organizations amidst Israeli attacks in Deir Al- Balah, Gaza on May 28, 2024. [Hassan Jedi – Anadolu Agency]

The Israeli military has lifted a ban on the sale of food to Gaza from Israel and the occupied West Bank as its military offensive chokes international aid deliveries, according to Palestinian officials, businessmen and international aid workers.

The occupation army gave Palestinian traders in Gaza the green light to resume their purchases from Israeli and West Bank Palestinian suppliers of food such as fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy goods this month, days after Israeli forces launched an assault on the enclave’s southernmost city of Rafah.

The offensive against Rafah, a key gateway into Gaza from Egypt, has effectively halted the flow of international aid to the devastated Palestinian territory. Israel is coming under mounting global pressure to ease the crisis as humanitarian agencies warn of looming famine.

“Israel phoned Gazan distributors who had been purchasing goods from the West Bank and Israel before the war,” said Ayed Abu Ramadan, chair of the Gaza Chamber of Commerce. “It told them it was ready to coordinate the pick-up of goods.”

Reuters, which interviewed more than a dozen people familiar with the development, is the first news outlet to report on the details and impact of this resumption of commercial food deliveries bound for sale in Gaza’s markets and stores.

The shift marks the first time that any goods produced inside Israel or the West Bank, an Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory, have been allowed into Gaza since war erupted in October last year. Asked by Reuters about the resumption of deliveries, COGAT, the branch of the Israeli military which administers the occupation and is responsible for aid transfers, said it was looking at ways to boost humanitarian aid and increase the amount of food for sale in Gaza.

“Allowing for the private sector to bring some food into the Gaza Strip is part of those efforts to increase the amount of food that’s coming in,” added spokesperson Shimon Freedman.

Aid workers have urged Israel for months to allow more commercial deliveries to enter Gaza so fresh food can supplement international aid, which mostly contains non-perishables like flour and tinned food. The reopening is no panacea, though.

The flow of deliveries, conducted via the Kerem Shalom border crossing between southern Gaza and Israel, has been erratic, according to Palestinian officials who said that anything between 20 and 150 trucks — each carrying up to 20 tonnes of food — have entered per day depending on how many Israel allows in.

That is well short of the 600 trucks a day that the US Agency for International Aid says is required to address the threat of famine, even when adding the roughly 4,200 trucks of food aid — about 190 a day — that Israeli officials say have entered Gaza since the beginning of the Rafah assault on 7 May.

Before the war began on 7 October, when Palestinian resistance group Hamas attacked southern Israel, an average of 500 aid and commercial trucks entered Gaza each day carrying all the goods needed in the enclave from food and medical supplies to farming equipment, according to UN figures. The average number since then has been below 140 trucks a day, according to a Reuters tally of Israeli military statistics. The goods have also been distributed unevenly, with few of them making it to northern Gaza, where fears of famine are most acute.

The food coming in from Israel and the West Bank is expensive, and scant replacement for international aid that has already been paid for by donor countries and organisations, said four aid workers involved in coordinating deliveries to Gaza. They requested anonymity to speak freely about sensitive matters.

Three Gaza residents interviewed said that they had seen Hebrew-labelled produce in markets, including watermelons from an Israeli settlement, but that it was often being sold at prices too high for cash-strapped and displaced families.

“I bought two eggs for 16 shekels [$5], just because my three-year-old child cried for eggs,” said Abed Abu Mustafa, a father of five in Gaza City. “Normally I could have bought 30 eggs for less.”

READ: 67% drop in flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza since 7 May: UN says