Israel announces 'temporary' opening of aid routes into Gaza

Relentless Israeli bombardment has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and collapsed the hospital system (-)
Relentless Israeli bombardment has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and collapsed the hospital system (-)

Israel announced on Friday that it would allow "temporary" aid deliveries into famine-threatened northern Gaza, hours after the United States warned of a sharp shift in its policy over Israel's war against Hamas militants.

Germany on Friday said Israel had "no more excuses" to delay the entry of aid, after nearly six months of war.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza reported at least 54 more people killed in Israeli strikes over the previous day.

In a tense, 30-minute phone call on Thursday, US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that United States policy on Israel was dependent on the protection of civilians and aid workers in Gaza, the first hint of possible conditions to Washington's military support.

Just hours later, overnight in Jerusalem, Israel announced it would open more aid routes into the coastal Palestinian territory which Israel placed under siege at the start of the war nearly six months ago.

"Israel will allow the temporary delivery of humanitarian aid" through the Ashdod Port and the Erez land crossing, as well as increased deliveries from neighbouring Jordan at the Kerem Shalom crossing, Netanyahu's office said.

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war began with Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 Israelis and foreigners, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Palestinian militants also took around 250 hostages, about 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 whom the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory campaign has killed at least 33,091 people, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, while the United Nations has warned of "catastrophic" hunger.

- 'Unacceptable' -

Palestinians in northern Gaza have eaten an average of just 245 calories per day -- less than a can of beans -- since January, according to the charity Oxfam.

Charities have accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel had defended its efforts and blamed shortages on groups' inability to distribute aid once it gets in.

The dangerous work of trying to stem a famine was underscored this week by an Israeli strike that killed seven humanitarian workers: an Australian, Britons, a North American, a Palestinian and a Pole.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong told Britain's The Guardian newspaper, in comments published Friday, that Netanyahu's initial comment on the deaths was "deeply insensitive".

The Israeli leader had said: "It happens in war." He said the killings were unintentional and pledged an investigation "right to the end".

Wong told The Guardian that Australia does "not accept any suggestion that this is just something that can be brushed aside as just something that happens in war".

In his call with Netanyahu Biden "made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel's immediate action" to improve the humanitarian situation, according to a White House summary.

Allies have been pressing Biden to leverage the billions of dollars in military aid sent by Washington.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, writing on social media platform X, said the people of Gaza "need every aid package now... We expect the Israeli government to implement its announcements quickly."

US top diplomat Antony Blinken told reporters after the leaders' phone call that, "If we don't see the changes that we need to see, there'll be changes in our own policy."

He did not elaborate.

- 'Concern' over Rafah plan -

Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas, including in Gaza's southern city of Rafah, an aid entry point where most of Gaza's population are sheltering on the border with Egypt.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said the deadly strike on the World Central Kitchen staff had "reinforced the expressed concern over a potential Israeli military operation in Rafah".

In a call with his Israeli counterpart, Austin also "discussed the threat posed by Iran and its proxy activities", according to the Israeli army.

Iran blamed Israel for an air strike on Monday on the Iranian consulate in Damascus that killed seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and has vowed to retaliate.

Thousands of people called for "death" to Israel and the United States at the Guards' funeral in Tehran on Friday.

Analysts saw the consulate strike as part of stepped-up Israeli actions against Iranian and pro-Iran commanders in Syria and Lebanon, which they said could spiral into wider war.

"The wider Mideast tensions stemming from the Gaza war are probably at the highest in months," said Vandana Hari, of Vanda Insights, with stocks lower and oil prices extending gains on such concerns.

The Israeli military said that after a "situational assessment, it was decided to increase manpower and draft reserve soldiers".

Netanyahu faces intense domestic pressure from the families of the Israeli hostages still held in Gaza, and a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

War cabinet member Benny Gantz, a centrist political rival of Netanyahu, has demanded a snap election in September, a call rejected by the premier's right-wing Likud party.

- 'No rules' -

Relentless Israeli bombardment has reduced much of Gaza to rubble, collapsed the hospital system and spawned a humanitarian crisis, with all of the 2.4 million Palestinians "experiencing acute food insecurity and malnutrition," a World Bank report said Tuesday.

Despite the dire need, relief work has become almost impossible in Gaza, major international aid groups, including Oxfam and Save the Children, said after Israel killed the World Central Kitchen staff.

Spanish NGO Open Arms, which along with World Central Kitchen was working to establish a maritime aid corridor, announced it was suspending operations after the strike.

Isabelle Defourny, president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) France, said that by providing military support to Israel countries including the United States were "complicit with what to our eyes amounts to genocide".

On Friday the UN Human Rights Council demanded a halt in all arms sales to Israel, the first time the United Nations top rights body has taken a position on the Gaza war.

The UN Security Council is set to discuss humanitarian workers' safety and Gaza's looming famine on Friday.