The first delivery of fuel arrived in Gaza Friday after Israel’s war cabinet bowed to diplomatic pressure to let diesel back into the war-torn Palestinian territory, where aid schemes are shut down amid critical shortages.
As fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers rages for six weeks, the United Nations has warned hospitals, drinking water and sewage facilities are grinding to a halt as fuel reserves run dry.
Tzachi Hanegbi, national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel’s war cabinet agreed “to provide two tankers of fuel a day” after a “special request” from Washington.
Hanegbi said the fuel would be used to “operate the sewage and water systems run by UNRWA”, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
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“We took that decision to prevent the spread of epidemics. We don’t need epidemics that will harm civilians or our fighters. If there are epidemics, the fighting will stop,” he said.
Late Friday, a Palestinian border official said the first shipment of 17,000 litres of fuel had entered through the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
The official said it was “for the telecommunications company” Paltel, to ease a Gaza-wide communications blackout after the firm ran out of fuel on Thursday.
A senior US official said Washington had put huge pressure on Israel to ease its fuel blockade and avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
The US official said that some 70,000 litres will enter daily under the deal, but UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said Friday the territory needs 200,000 litres a day.
Israel cut off all fuel supplies to Gaza after October 7, when Hamas militants surged over the border and killed 1,200 – mostly civilians – according to Israel.
In retaliation, Israel launched bombardments and a ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza, where the Islamist movement says 12,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed.
This week Israel allowed a first shipment for UNRWA’s delivery trucks, but the agency said drivers did not have enough fuel to reach the border and fill their tanks.
Elad Goren, spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, accused Hamas of “exaggerating fuel shortages, especially at the hospitals”.
Earlier this week, UNRWA said 70 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.4 million people no longer had access to clean water in southern Gaza, where raw sewage had started to flow on the streets as pumps shut down.
UNRWA’s Gaza director Thomas White said aid operations were “being strangled of resources to serve people in need”.
But Goren said Israel would not limit aid deliveries. “We are getting a list from the UN. We are not limiting the number. If tomorrow they will give us a list of 500 trucks 500 trucks will move,” he said.