Gaza war creates aid dilemma in Sinai

Egypt has been caught in a dilemma for weeks about opening the Rafah crossing into Gaza

A worker pushes a luggage cart with belongings of Palestinians who are trying to get back into Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel
A worker pushes a luggage cart with belongings of Palestinians who are trying to get back into Gaza, at the Rafah border crossing during a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel

Gaza war creates aid dilemma in Sinai

Rafah - There was a rush to get vital supplies into Gaza this week while the ceasefire there held.

Trucks carrying humanitarian and relief aid were lined up along most of the road between el-Arish Airport in North Sinai and the Rafah crossing point on the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

They were carrying a range of essentials, including food, blankets and simple stoves for cooking. Their drivers were desperate to get their cargo moving, to meet the acute need for help throughout almost 50 days of relentless Israeli aerial bombardment.

But for the Gaza-bound convoy’s drivers, the wait felt endless.

"We are just waiting for the signal to move," Mohamed Adli, one of them told Al Majalla, as smoke from his cigarette lingered over his head.

Egypt tried to use the truce between Israel and Hamas to get as much aid as possible into the Strip. While the pause in fighting held, the number of trucks getting into Gaza rose above 200 a day, ten times more than before the guns fell silent om 24 November.

Read more: The politics of calculation in Gaza war

It also became possible to get fuel into the Strip, to help power the generators that are keeping the hospitals running and for general electricity supplies. They were the first significant deliveries of this kind since the 7 October attacks.

Getting the aid in

But even after the increase in deliveries, the aid getting in via the Rafah, the only land route into the Strip, is just a fraction of what is needed and about a third of the traffic before 7 October.

Since then, much of Gaza’s 2.3mn population has moved to the brink of hunger.

The United Nations and international aid and humanitarian organisations are warning that the military death toll of nearly 14,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, could be surpassed by the number fatalities from disease and a lack of clean drinking water.

Read more: Human beings under rubble and self-centred rulers in ruins

In Rafah, the Egyptian town closest to the Gaza Strip, people are aware of this risk and are scrambling to help as much as possible.

"We are doing whatever we can to coordinate the delivery of aid and give the people of Gaza all their needs," Khaled Zayed, the North Sinai director of the Egyptian Red Crescent Society, told Al Majalla. His organisation is the main manager of the flow of aid.

It coordinates the arrival of aid into Sinai, including at el-Arish Airport, and then gets it into warehouses before it is loaded onto trucks.

Palestinians drive a cart past a crater following an Israeli airstrike on the main road between Rafah and Khan Younis

North Sinai authorities have turned parts of their far-flung Egyptian territory into a fast-moving international hub to handle the logistics of the reception, distribution and delivery of aid to Gaza.

El-Arish Airport, around 30 kilometres away from Rafah, is both a modest facility, and one which has been transformed to handle increased traffic.

It is little more than a runway and a few scattered administrative offices. Nonetheless, the Egyptian authorities are getting the most out of its capacity, to cope with the number of flights coming in.

Laden planes have been landing at intervals of only a few minutes. So far, around 240 have arrived from 54 countries since the beginning of the war, according to North Sinai Governor, Abdel-Fadil Shousha.

And he was able to put specific numbers on what happened after that, when speaking to reporters, just metres away from the Rafah crossing point, on 27 November.

Dozens of premature babies also arrived in Egypt in the past weeks for care. Over 400 people in total are now receiving treatment in North Sinai

"Around 1,814 humanitarian relief aid trucks have entered Gaza from Egypt until now," he said.

The authorities set up more warehouses to accommodate the aid arriving in North Sinai, before loading the trucks and sending them into the convoy. Egypt has been pushing for increased aid delivery into Gaza – where around 80% of the population has left the northern and central parts of the Strip – for the southern part, nearer the Egyptian border.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has repeatedly underscored the need for intensifying the flow of aid in the past weeks. He has consistently warned against making Gaza unfit for sustaining the lives of its people and reiterated his opposition to any forced displacement of Gazans into Egypt's Sinai.

Some rights organisations and political activists have criticised the Egyptian president for not doing enough to secure a systematic level of aid to the war-torn enclave since the start of the war, as his country controls the Rafah crossing at the southern tip of Gaza.

Getting the injured out

Egypt has received hundreds of people injured in the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

The victims enter the country through the Rafah crossing and then undergo examinations before Egyptian health authorities determine the medical facilities where they should be treated.

Some are sent to Cairo for treatment and others go to hospitals in cities on the Sinai Peninsula, including Port Said, west of the Suez Canal.

Dozens of premature babies also arrived in Egypt in the past weeks for care.

Over 400 people in total are now receiving treatment in North Sinai, mainly in el-Arish General Hospital, a state-run medical facility working at pace to keep up with the flow of patients from the Strip.

According to Dr Ashraf al-Etribi, an assistant to the Egyptian Minister of Health, there is a range of injuries, from broken limbs to third degree burns and amputations.

"The brutal nature of the war is manifested in the type of injuries the victims are coming with," al-Etribi told Al Majalla during a tour of el-Arish General Hospital.

Ambulances are parked near the Rafah border crossing

Hassan Nashaat is 19 and one of the victims. He was rescuing his neighbours whose house was bombarded by Israeli fighter jets in northern Gaza, when the same jets returned to attack again.

Nashaat was seriously injured by shrapnel in the back and neck, which was removed in a series of operations.

"Mine is by far one of the easiest cases," Nashaat told Al Majalla. "The conditions of other people are far worse. These attacks must stop because Gaza's residents deserve to live in safety."

Finding kinship in the conflict

Some of Gaza's injured have already been discharged from North Sinai's hospitals. They have been given accommodation by the local authorities and can stay until they voluntarily decide to return home, according to Governor Shousha.

Around 375 Gaza residents are currently living in el-Arish alongside the city's residents. They bring an awareness of Gaza's suffering to the heart of this city, North Sinai's biggest urban centre near the Palestinian territory.

Here in el-Arish, ordinary people seem to be part of the conflict that is raging behind the border fence between Sinai and Gaza, just a few kilometres away.

And most of el-Arish's residents have family bonds with people living in the Palestinian territory.

Hamada Abu Bakr, a pet food seller in his mid-fifties, has a brother who lives in Gaza.

"This is why the war in Gaza is deeply felt here," Abu Bakr, sitting in the middle of his shop, told Al Majalla. "We really hope that this war comes to an end soon."

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