Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Humanitarian Aid Accumulates at Gaza Border but Goes Nowhere

New York Times, January 27, 2009 (reporting from El Auja border crossing, Egypt) - France sent technical equipment to help Gazans draw water from the ground. The Swiss sent blankets and plastic tarps. Mercy Corps, a relief agency, sent 12 truckloads of food. And on Tuesday all of it, including dozens of other trucks carrying sugar, rice, flour, juice and baby formula, sat in the hot sun here going nowhere.

This normally quiet commercial crossing between Egypt and Israel has been turned into a parking lot of stalled, humanitarian aid, and in the city of El Arish there are even greater quantities of food, clothing and essential supplies, sitting, waiting and baking in the sun. Some supplies are loaded onto dozens of trucks parked on city streets, but much more is stored in the open areas of a local sports stadium, also waiting, also going nowhere. Only medical supplies seem to be getting through to Gaza.

Since the cease-fire, Israel has allowed some humanitarian supplies into Gaza, but the territory is still desperately short of the necessities. Israel closed all the crossings into Gaza on Tuesday after an Israeli soldier was killed in a bombing on the Israeli side of the border. But that changed nothing at this crossing, where the flow has been stalled for days.

Officials and volunteers in Egypt blame the Israelis, saying that even before the passage stalled Israel had allowed supplies to pass through for only 19 hours each week. Israeli officials said that Egypt had not done enough to coordinate the flood of aid coming to Gaza, and that they hoped a system would soon be in place to remedy the problem.

In the meantime, truckloads of humanitarian aid are sitting in Egypt. That includes 13 generators and Amir Abdullah’s trailer full of food....

There has been an outpouring of support for Gazans, mostly from the Arab world, but also from Europe, Venezuela and nongovernmental organizations, officials here said. Medical supplies go straight into Gaza through Egypt’s crossing at Rafah.

But Egypt will not allow anything else to pass through Rafah, insisting that all other aid travel first into Israel and then into Gaza. That is where the bottleneck has occurred. Two of the main problems have been the short window for supplies to pass and Israel’s decision to let few trucks go through, officials and volunteers here said. But another problem has to do with Egypt’s being unprepared to meet strict Israeli packing requirements, which would allow the goods to be passed through security scanners and onto Israeli trucks for delivery to Gaza.

The Egyptians tried to send through trucks carrying bags of flour and sugar, for example, only to have the Israelis send them back. Much has been repacked and reshipped, but some of the returned items are spilled out over the sandy earth at the crossing.

“The trucks get to Auja and they sit,” said Ahmed Oraby, head of the Red Crescent office in El Arish. “Many trucks that left are now coming back. They don’t take anything.”

At the United Nations, John Holmes, an emergency relief coordinator, said the scale of the destruction meant that far more than the current movement of aid was needed urgently. “Enough will always be allowed in for people to exist, but not enough for the conditions for people to live,” Mr. Holmes told reporters.

In recent days, officials and drivers at the crossing said that the trickle of trucks passing through this month had all but stopped. None went on Thursday. Friday and Saturday are days off, so nothing passed. On Sunday, a few trucks went through, aid workers said. Monday, nothing. Tuesday, nothing.

“I have been sitting here for three days, and before that I was in Arish for four days,” said Sayed Ahmed Sorour, seated in the cab of a truck hauling clothing and blankets. “Nobody is telling us anything. Not Egypt. Not Israel. Nobody explains to us why we are stopping here.”....

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