Israel Cites ‘New Initiatives’ for Gaza Aid, but Progress Has Been Slow


Israel said Friday that it was committed to its legal obligations to provide humanitarian aid to desperate civilians in Gaza, pointing to a series of measures to deliver aid by land, air and sea. But progress on the efforts has been slow and aid groups say they are not nearly sufficient to meet the vast need in the enclave.

A day after the United Nations’ top court ruled, in its sharpest language yet, that Israel must ensure the “unhindered” delivery of assistance” to Gaza, the foreign ministry said it would continue to promote “new initiatives” and expand efforts to facilitate the entry of aid into Gaza.

Humanitarian officials have been sounding the alarm over a looming famine, especially in the northern part of the territory, where desperation has prompted people to swarm trucks carrying assistance and aid groups say they have struggled to deliver supplies because of Israeli restrictions and widespread lawlessness.

In its ruling, the U.N. court, the International Court of Justice, said Israel must take “all necessary and effective measures” to guarantee the delivery of aid, including food, water, and medicine. The court does not have any means of forcing Israel to comply with its orders, but it is the highest arbiter of international law, and its decisions carry symbolic weight.

Following urgent calls from the United States and other allies to do more, Israel has endorsed a handful of aid efforts in the last month, including a ship that carried food to Gaza from Cyprus, airdrops by foreign countries and crossings directly from Israel into northern Gaza by a small number of aid trucks.

Relief groups have accused Israel, which insists on inspecting and approving every aid delivery, of restricting the flow. Israel has at times argued that there was plenty of aid reaching Gaza, while insisting that disorganization by aid groups and diversions of shipments by Hamas were to blame for any bottlenecks.

World Central Kitchen, a disaster relief nonprofit, built a jetty in northern Gaza to receive maritime shipments, and the group has dispatched one ship to the enclave so far. The organization says it has prepared a second vessel, but it has not yet set sail from Cyprus. As part of an effort to increase maritime shipments, the United States military is building a temporary pier, but that will take weeks.

In recent weeks, many countries have conducted airdrops of aid, but humanitarian officials say they are inefficient and expensive, with each plane carrying only a relatively small amount of aid. They are also risky: This week, Gazan authorities said 12 people had drowned while trying to retrieve assistance that fell into the ocean. Previously, they reported that some people had been killed by falling packages.

The U.N. court also demanded that Israel increase the number of land crossings into Gaza and keep them open as long as necessary.

In addition to two crossings in the south, Israel recently opened a direct entry point in the north, but only a small number of trucks have been able to use the route. Jamie McGoldrick, a top United Nations humanitarian official in Jerusalem, said he was particularly concerned about hunger in northern Gaza, where he said it was exceedingly difficult to deliver supplies.

Many experts have said that a cease-fire is necessary to scale up the delivery of aid significantly, but talks aimed at achieving a stop in the fighting and a release of hostages held by militants in Gaza appeared to be stalling, with Hamas this week rejecting Israel’s most recent counterproposal.

In a small sign of hope for a deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel approved the departure of security delegations to Cairo and Doha to participate in negotiations on the issue, according to a statement from his office.

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