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Egypt-Gaza border crossing has opened, allowing aid to reach Palestinians : NPR

Aid convoy trucks cross the Rafah border from the Egyptian side on Oct. 21, 2023 in North Sinai, Egypt.

Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images

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Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images

Aid convoy trucks cross the Rafah border from the Egyptian side on Oct. 21, 2023 in North Sinai, Egypt.

Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images

JERUSALEM — Twenty trucks carrying medicine, medical supplies and food crossed into Gaza on Saturday morning from Egypt, marking the first humanitarian aid to arrive in the territory since an Israeli bombardment campaign began two weeks ago.

As the trucks made their way through the Rafah border, hundreds of people gathered at the Gaza side, hoping to escape the violence that has beset the Palestinian territory. It was unclear whether anyone would be able to leave.

For two weeks since the Gaza-based militant group Hamas launched a wave of deadly attacks on Israel, Israel’s retaliatory airstrikes have damaged and destroyed thousands of buildings across Gaza, including homes, schools and U.N.-operated shelters. Israeli military officials say the strikes are targeted at Hamas militants and infrastructure.

An Israeli siege has cut off the flow of food, water, electricity and fuel to the territory, intensifying a humanitarian crisis.

About a million Palestinians — roughly half of Gaza’s population — have fled their homes to seek shelter elsewhere inside Gaza. But with borders closed, none had been able to leave the territory.

Loaded on the trucks were medical supplies for trauma treatment and chronic disease, the World Health Organization said Saturday.

“These supplies are a lifeline for severely injured people or those battling chronic illnesses, who have endured a harrowing two weeks of limited access to care and severe shortages of medicines and medical supplies,” the WHO said in a statement.

The delivery also included some food, mattresses and blankets, according to aid workers at the Rafah border crossing. Notably, no fuel arrived, which aid groups say is needed to power hospitals and desalination plants for much-needed water.

The 20 trucks represent a U.N.-brokered deal urged along by world leaders, including President Biden, who visited Israel last week. Among the concerns delaying the aid were Israel’s fear that Hamas could intercept it or use the trucks to smuggle in weapons.

But aid groups have warned that 20 truckloads do not come close to addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, where the U.N. reports a severe shortage of potable water, food and medical supplies.

More than 100 additional trucks of aid continue to stand by on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing. Additional aid is stockpiled in nearby El-Arish, with yet more set to arrive later today and in the days to come, the WHO said.

“They are the difference between life and death for so many people in Gaza,” said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a Friday visit to the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing. “And to see them stuck here makes me be very clear: What we need is to make them move, to make them move to the other side of this wall.”

Early on Saturday morning, the U.S. State Department alerted American citizens in Gaza of the border’s opening but warned that anyone attempting to cross should expect “a potentially chaotic and disorderly environment on both sides of the crossing.”

Many families trapped in Gaza have come to the border crossing daily, hoping for news of its opening — even as Israeli airstrikes and shelling have continued to hit nearby.

“The shelling is everywhere. We are sleeping next to the crossing, and we are frightened here more than if we had been inside,” said Mahmoud Abu Msallem, a Swedish citizen, who was at the border on Friday with his 6-year-old daughter Ghazal. He said they had been staying there for days, hoping to escape as soon the doors opened.

“Gaza was beautiful, but now it is hell,” he said.

Anas Baba contributed reporting in Gaza.

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