TEL AVIV/GAZA – Egypt agreed to reopen its border crossing with the Gaza Strip to allow aid to reach Palestinians, the U.S. said, as the humanitarian crisis worsened in the narrow enclave and anti-Israel protests flared across the Middle East.
The region remained volatile in the aftermath of an explosion at Gaza’s Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital late on Tuesday, which Palestinian officials said killed 471 people and blamed on what they said was an Israeli air strike.
Israel and the U.S. said the cause was a failed rocket launch by anti-Israeli Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza, which denied responsibility.
Lior Haiat, spokesperson for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said on social media platform X that at the hospital “several dozen people were apparently killed,” a much lower toll than reported by Palestinian officials.
Amid outrage over the hospital explosion, demonstrations erupted in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and elsewhere.
Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank during protests, Palestinian officials said, while Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water canon at protesters throwing projectiles near the U.S. embassy, TV footage showed.
While flying home from a less than eight-hour visit to Israel, U.S. President Joe Biden discussed aid for Gaza with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi by phone late on Wednesday.
Biden told reporters that Sisi agreed to open the Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza to allow about 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the enclave, where people are desperately short of food, water, fuel and other essentials after Israel unleashed a blockade and air strikes 12 days ago.
Biden did not give a timeline for the opening, but U.S. national security spokesman John Kirby said it would occur in coming days following repairs to the road.
While the agreement was a breakthrough, the flow of relief will still fall short of the perceived need.
U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Wednesday that the organization sought to bring aid deliveries to Gaza back to 100 trucks a day, the level before the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Biden was due to speak from the White House at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (0000 GMT on Friday) about the U.S. response to Hamas’ attacks against Israel and Russia’s war against Ukraine, the White House said. Also on Thursday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was due to visit Israel.
Egypt, which previously said the Rafah crossing was not technically closed but was inoperable due to Israeli barrages, said Sisi and Biden agreed to provide aid to Gaza “in a sustainable manner.” They were coordinating an aid effort with international organizations under the United Nations.
During Biden’s visit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel would let food, water and medicines reach southern Gaza via Egypt.
Biden faced intense global pressure to secure an Israeli commitment to ease the plight of civilians in the small, densely populated coastal enclave. Biden pledged $100 million in U.S. assistance for civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel reiterated it would not allow in aid through an Israeli crossing until Hamas released about 200 hostages seized during its cross-border attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Militants killed about 1,400 Israelis in the assault.
En route to Washington, Biden told reporters he was blunt with Israel about the need to facilitate aid to Gaza. Earlier he said he would ask Congress for an unprecedented aid package for Israel this week, although no action is possible until the House of Representatives elects a new speaker.
Biden said the United States would do everything it could to ensure Israel was safe while also urging Israelis not to be consumed by rage, reiterating that the vast majority of Palestinians were not affiliated with Hamas.
The Gaza health ministry said 3,478 Palestinians have been killed and 12,065 injured in Israeli air strikes on the besieged enclave since Oct 7.
“What sets us apart from the terrorists is we believe in the fundamental dignity of every human life,” Biden said. If that was not respected, “then the terrorists win.” REUTERS
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