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Relief convoys in Egypt head towards Gaza border crossing

By AFP - Oct 18,2023 - Last updated at Oct 18,2023

An Emirates cargo plane is loaded with aid for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip at the airport in Dubai before flying to the Egypt-Gaza border city of Al Arish, in Egypt's north Sinai Peninsula on Tuesday (AFP photo)

RAFAH, Egypt — Relief convoys which have been waiting for days in Egypt were on Tuesday headed towards the Rafah border crossing with the besieged Palestinian enclave of Gaza, aid officials said.

The blockaded territory has been under sustained Israeli bombardment since Gaza's ruling militant group Hamas launched its bloody onslaught against Israel on October 7.

So far Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing closed, to aid going in or foreign nationals trying to flee, as Israel has repeatedly struck the Palestinian side of the crossing.

"We have arrived at the terminal and are now waiting for the next step," said Heba Rashed, who runs the aid group Mersal.

Hundreds more lorries were headed along the coast road for the 40 kilometre journey from the Egyptian city of Al Arish to Rafah, other aid officials said.

A Red Crescent official confirmed that aid convoys were being assembled on the Egyptian side of the divided border city of Rafah.

"We've not been told what time we're going to cross but we were asked to head for Rafah," the Egyptian Red Crescent official said, asking not to be identified.

“You could say we’re nearing a deal on the entry of aid and the exit of foreigners,” said the official, who was himself headed to Rafah.

The Israeli military launched its devastating bombardment after Hamas militants broke through the heavily fortified border.

The reprisals have killed at least 2,750 people in Gaza, according to health officials in the territory. The casualties on both sides have mostly been civilians.

Aid deliveries from multiple agencies and donor governments have been piling up in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for the past few days amid mounting appeals to Israel to establish a safe corridor into the Gaza Strip.

The European Union has called for an aid bridge to be established for the 2.4 million people in Gaza, many of whom have been driven from their homes.

During 10 days of artillery bombardments and air strikes, the Israeli military has hit the Rafah crossing four times, prompting authorities to keep it largely closed.

Israel’s top ally the United States has been pressing Egypt to reopen the border to allow Palestinian Americans in Gaza to leave.

UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths was due in Cairo on Tuesday to help the efforts for an agreement.

The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said the food situation in the besieged and blockaded Gaza Strip was worsening, with only four or five days of stocks left in the shops.

WFP said stocks were getting low in warehouses inside the Palestinian enclave, but at the shop level, the situation was even more acute.

“The situation in Gaza is getting worse by the minute: The humanitarian situation but also of course the food security situation,” WFP’s Middle East spokeswoman Abeer Etefa, told reporters at the UN in Geneva via video-link from Cairo.

“The current stocks of essential food commodities are sufficient for only two weeks, and that’s at the wholesalers’ level,” she said, with the warehouses located in Gaza City in the north of the territory and shops having difficulties replenishing supplies.

“Inside the shops, the stocks are getting close to less than a few days, maybe four or five days of food stocks left.”

Etefa said that out of five flour mills in the Gaza Strip, only one was operating due to security concerns and the unavailability of fuel.

“So the bread supply is running low and people are lining up for hours to get bread,” she said.

Only five bakeries out of 23 in Gaza contracted by WFP were still in operation, she added.

“Our food supplies within Gaza are running really short,” said Etefa.

The spokeswoman said there has been no looting of WFP warehouses, and “anyway, whatever we have left in the warehouses is so little”.

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