Exclusive: Israel plans to re-open Karni crossing into Gaza amid growing concerns for Palestinians in Rafah

Growing concerns about the pending Rafah offensive and the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip

Israeli army soldiers on the ground in the Gaza Strip
Israeli Army/AFP
Israeli army soldiers on the ground in the Gaza Strip

Exclusive: Israel plans to re-open Karni crossing into Gaza amid growing concerns for Palestinians in Rafah

The Israeli army has started maintenance and servicing works at the Karni crossing in the east of the Gaza Strip in preparation for aid deliveries, Al Majalla has learnt.

The Israeli military has instructed logistics companies to work with haste to reopen a crossing that has not been used for 12 years to supply aid to the north of the Gaza Strip and Gaza City, according to two sources closely connected to the matter.

The Karni crossing was established in 1994 after the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Preparatory work started on 11 February and is now in full swing. Contracts with suppliers and logistics companies with trucks and warehouses have not yet been finalised.

A third source revealed that a United Nations agency operating in the Gaza Strip has instructed its staff to liaise with contractors on the ground in the north and in Gaza City to assess the humanitarian needs, as they expect a large-scale forced displacement from Rafah.

Looting and destruction

Those sharing information with Al Majalla on condition of anonymity include two officials affiliated with Palestinian and international aid groups, non-governmental organisations, and the United Nations.

In addition, Al Majalla spoke to four truck drivers in Rafah who all independently said they had been told to “get ready” to deliver aid to the north and Gaza City through the Karni crossing.

“We can’t risk our lives in delivering aid through the traditional routes if trucks are allowed from Karm Abu Salem (Karem Shalom) crossing,” said one.

“The roads to deliver aid to combat zones are destroyed, and there is looting by armed men in plain clothes. Many suspect them to be Hamas intelligence."

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Four truck drivers in Rafah all independently said that they had been told to "get ready" to deliver aid through the Karni crossing.

"The trickle of aid from Karm Abu Salem is intercepted by the looters. The trucks find it very difficult to pass through these looters. It's very hard to reach any area, let alone the north. Drivers are killed every day."

Al Majalla has contacted the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) for comment on the Karni crossing re-opening plan and its connection to a Rafah offensive.

"We don't comment on this topic," said an official at the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Diana Estefanía Rubio/Majalla

Forced to flee again

Israeli preparations at the crossing started a few days after the White House said it would not support any major Israeli operations in the densely populated southern city of Rafah without due consideration for the million internally displaced people who have sought shelter there.

Many have had to move five or six times to date. They might be displaced yet again and forced to flee back to the north as the anticipated ground offensive unfolds.

That is what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised, vowing to defeat Hamas. He said the ground operation would only start after the IDF had allowed Gaza's civilian population to leave the battle zones.

The reopening of Karni would be very significant, says Michael Horowitz, the head of Intelligence for Le Beck, a Middle East-based geopolitical consultancy. 

"I doubt Israel would be taking this step without it being part of an agreement either to pave the way for an offensive against Rafah or to release the Israeli hostages in Gaza as part of a deal with Hamas," Horowitz told Al Majalla.

"Karni has been closed for years, even before 7 October, and could serve to provide aid to northern Gaza or as an alternative to the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossing if those are not functioning due to a potential Israeli offensive in Rafah."

The IDF is yet to declare an operation or ask residents in Rafah to evacuate, as required by international law.

Ahead of the offensives in the north and in Khan Younis, the IDF officially asked the residents — mainly via leaflets — to leave their houses and head towards the south. Around 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah. Its normal pre-war population is around 400,000.

The war was triggered when Hamas-led militants entered Israel on 7 October and killed at least 1,200 people while taking a further 253 as hostages.

According to the Hamas-run health authorities, more than 28,000 people have been killed in Gaza ever since — the majority women and children.

Displaced Palestinian women pass by a destroyed structure in the southern Gaza Strip.

No time to lose

The revelations about Karni come as Israeli, Egyptian, American and Qatari officials hold talks about a deal to free the hostages and agree on a long-term truce. The talks are urgent as the humanitarian crisis in the Strip grows by the hour.

International organisations have urged a massive increase in aid to avoid famine, especially in the north and in Gaza City, which are nearly fully controlled by the IDF, after four months of air strikes and fighting.

Aid workers say there is such a severe shortage of basic supplies that a 25kg bag of flour can sell for up to $350 in some areas of the devastated territory.

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There is such a severe shortage of basic supplies in the Gaza Strip that a 25kg bag of flour can sell for up to $350 in the north and Gaza city.

A senior officer at a UN aid organisation told Al Majalla that they had not yet been made aware of any aid operations though the Karni crossing.

"We don't deal with any entity that carries weapons," he said. "If there are new plans for aid deliveries, we will deal directly with the Israeli Foreign Ministry. That's our liaison point, not the IDF."

The Israeli government is facing growing international pressure to allow more humanitarian relief into Gaza, yet hundreds of Israeli protesters have blocked aid trucks from entering the Strip from the Karem Shalom or Karm Abu Salem crossing.

They include right-wing activists, families of hostages, and parents of IDF reservists deployed in Gaza. They want no aid for Gaza until all hostages are released. 

Israel says 12,561 trucks carrying 230,900 tons of humanitarian aid have entered Gaza since the start of the war, according to figures released this week by COGAT.

But UN bodies and international human rights organisations warn of an imminent famine, adding that the Strip is now largely uninhabitable due to the massive destruction of residential units.

Under international humanitarian law, there is a duty during conflict to prevent the killing of civilians and to allow for the provision of humanitarian assistance.

Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Displaced Palestinian children, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, look through a window, as they take shelter at the border with Egypt

Already moving

Al Majalla has also learnt that large numbers of displaced Palestinians in Rafah are already evacuating their homes and tents.

This is particularly noticeable in the east of the district, the border area between Gaza and Egypt (known as the Philadelphi Corridor), and the southeast neighbourhood of Al Shabora.

The latter was the scene of an overnight Israeli raid earlier this week, during which IDF soldiers rescued two hostages.

Israeli forces carried out intensive airstrikes in the area during the raid, killing at least 50 Palestinian civilians, according to reliable accounts.

Large numbers of displaced Palestinians in Rafah are already evacuating their homes and tents. The UN says there is nowhere safe to go.

The UN has warned that an Israeli ground assault on Rafah could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe as the people there are crammed into the city with very little food or medicine and just three hospitals.

A growing number of world leaders, including German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, have expressed their grave concern, saying a military operation in Rafah would be "catastrophic".

However, Netanyahu reiterated on Wednesday that Hamas must be eliminated and promised a "powerful" operation "until complete victory." 

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