More than 100 trucks carrying aid have been queued for days on Egyptian side of Rafah border crossing - the only entry point to Gaza not controlled by Israel
Palestinians in the war-torn Gaza Strip desperately awaited the arrival of aid trucks promised under a deal US President Joe Biden struck with Egypt and Israel, as the army struck more targets on Thursday.
The war, which comes after the bloody October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that officials said has claimed more than 1,400 lives, has set off a wave of fury across the Middle East against Israel and its Western allies.
The war has claimed 3,478 lives in Gaza, its health ministry said. Entire city blocks have been levelled, water, food and power have been cut off, and over one million people have been displaced.
“The pace of death, of suffering, of destruction… cannot be exaggerated,” the top UN humanitarian official Martin Griffiths said about the crowded territory home to 2.4 million people.
There are fears of worse to come if Israel launches its anticipated ground invasion aimed at destroying Hamas and rescuing Israeli and foreign hostages, whose known number Israel on Thursday revised up to 203.
Biden, on a flying visit to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet on Wednesday, reiterated strong US support for the long-time ally but also stressed the need to address the plight of Palestinian civilians.
He said he had agreed a deal for an initial 20 trucks carrying relief goods to cross the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza, with the first deliveries expected Friday at the earliest.
“We want to get as many of the trucks out as possible,” Biden said aboard Air Force One on his flight back, while warning that “if Hamas confiscates it or doesn’t let it get through… then it’s going to end”.
Desperate to escape
More than 100 trucks carrying aid goods have been queued for days on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, the only entry or exit point to Gaza not controlled by Israel.
Cairo has so far kept it closed, pointing to repeated Israeli strikes near the crossing and voicing fears that Israel may be hoping to permanently drive Palestinians out and into Egypt’s Sinai desert.
On the Gaza side, scores of people were again waiting, desperate to flee, but careful to keep a distance of about 100 metres (300 feet) in case of new Israeli strikes.
“We’re ready with our bags,” said one man who only gave his name as Mohammed, 40, and who said he works for a European institution.
He said he had been waiting “for three days with my family, in a house 10 minutes away from the crossing” but had received no information so far.
Majed, 43, who said he works with a German organisation, told AFP that “I came on my own this morning and, in case the crossing opens, I’d get my wife and children — they’re ready.”
‘A nation in grief’
Biden, who was due to address the nation about the Gaza and Ukraine conflicts, announced the aid truck deal after what he called “blunt” talks in Israel and a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Israel consented to the deal while pressing on with its military campaign.
Its army reported Thursday that it had destroyed hundreds more Hamas targets, including missile launch site and tunnels, and that “more than 10 terrorists were eliminated”.
Israel has stressed it must destroy Hamas after the worst attack on its soil which, the army said Thursday, had claimed 1,403 lives since the surprise onslaught on October 7 including at least 306 soldiers killed in battles to reclaim overrun villages and kibbutzim.
Biden, the first American president to visit Israel during war time, strongly backed Israel but warned it not to overreact.
“After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States,” Biden said of the Al Qaeda attacks that led the country to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. “While we sought justice we also made mistakes.”
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Thursday became the latest foreign leader to make a solidarity visit to Israel.
“I am in Israel, a nation in grief,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “I grieve with you and stand with you against the evil that is terrorism. Today, and always.”
The Arab world has been united in anger and condemnation of Israel since a deadly strike hit a Gaza hospital compound on Tuesday.
Both sides in the war have traded blame for the bloody carnage, but neither the provenance of the strike nor the death toll could be immediately or independently verified.
The strike left scores of bodies and charred cars at the Ahli Arab hospital compound in northern Gaza, AFP images showed.
Hamas charged that Israel hit the hospital during its massive bombing campaign and Gaza’s health ministry put the death toll at 471.
Israel blamed a misfired terrorist rocket, a claim backed by Biden who said the US Defense Department had concluded that “it’s highly unlikely that it was the Israelis. It would have had a different footprint”.
The Israeli military has pointed to the absence of a large impact crater typical of its air strikes and said that fuel from the errant rocket had exploded.
A senior European intelligence source told AFP that he believed a maximum of 50 people were killed.
Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus has also disputed Hamas’s figure of 471 dead, asking “where are all the bodies?”
Hamas has dismissed Israel’s position, saying its “outrageous lies do not deceive anyone”.
It also slammed the United States, accusing it of being complicit in the ongoing strikes on Gaza. — AFP