Blinken Warns Fighting Could Undo Aid Gains in Gaza

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warned on Wednesday that recent gains in getting desperately needed humanitarian aid to people in the Gaza Strip risked being undone by the fighting in southern Gaza.

The border crossing in the southern city of Rafah has been closed since Israel began what it describes as a limited military operation against Hamas fighters in the town, on the border with Egypt. The United Nations said on Wednesday that 600,000 people had fled Rafah since Israel’s ground assault started there.

“At the very time when Israel was taking important and much needed steps to improve the provision of humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Blinken said to reporters in Kyiv, Ukraine, “we’ve seen a negative impact on the fact that we have this active, very active conflict in the Rafah area.”

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s top diplomat, said in a statement that Israel needed to end its Rafah operation “immediately,” warning that extending it “would inevitably put a heavy strain on the E.U.’s relationship with Israel.”

Israel had shut down another crossing — Kerem Shalom — after a Hamas rocket attack nearby killed four Israeli soldiers. It has since reopened, but the aid getting through is still very limited. Egypt, where most of the aid for Gaza is collected and loaded, has resisted sending trucks toward Kerem Shalom, according to multiple officials. American and Israeli officials believe that Egypt is trying to put pressure on Israel to pull back from the Rafah operation.

The Israeli military’s incursion into Rafah, which began on May 6, has created a continuing exodus of Palestinians northward, further deepening the humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

As Israeli troops also returned to northern Gaza, territory they seized in the war’s first stages last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far right government came under criticism for their failure to develop what Mr. Blinken called a “clear concrete plan” for postwar governance in Gaza.

“We cannot have Hamas controlling Gaza. We can’t have chaos and anarchy in Gaza,” Mr. Blinken added, saying that the United States was looking “to Israel to come forward with its ideas.”

Mr. Netanyahu was also criticized on Wednesday by his own defense minister, Yoav Gallant, for failing to do enough postwar planning.

Mr. Gallant said at a televised news conference Wednesday that he had suggested a blueprint for an alternative Gaza administration made up of Palestinians, but that he had “received no response.”

He faulted the government’s “indecision” and called on Mr. Netanyahu to rule out the establishment of an Israeli military government to oversee Palestinians in Gaza and to advance a “governing alternative” immediately.

Mr. Netanyahu defended the government, saying it was pointless to suggest any alternative governing systems until Hamas was defeated. “All the talk about ‘the day after,’ while Hamas stays intact,” he said, “will remain mere words devoid of content.” Mr. Netanyahu’s far right-right coalition partners, some of whom have called for Israelis to resettle the Gaza Strip, immediately denounced Mr. Gallant’s remarks.

As international criticism of the aid blockage has increased, Israel and Egypt have traded blame over the closure of the Rafah crossing, which the Israeli Army took over on the Palestinian side as bombardments and fighting picked up around Rafah last week.

Hundreds of trucks in Egypt have been blocked from reaching Gaza. Wounded and ill people who need medical care outside the territory, as well as families trying to escape the war between Israel and Hamas, have been unable to leave.

Israel has accused Egypt of holding up the delivery of aid through the Rafah crossing, while Egypt has said Israel’s continued presence in and around the crossing has been the primary obstacle.

The Israeli foreign minister, Israel Katz, said on Tuesday that he had spoken to European foreign ministers about the “need to persuade Egypt” to allow the “continued delivery of international humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

“The key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends,” he wrote on X, saying that Israel would not return the crossing to what he described as Hamas’s control.

Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, quickly pushed back, arguing that the crossing was still closed because Israel’s control over it, as well as its military operations in the area, was putting truck drivers and aid workers in danger.

In a statement from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Mr. Shoukry further rejected what he described as “the policy of twisting facts.”

Israel has escalated its military operations across the Gaza Strip in recent days, sending residents fleeing in multiple directions. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of civilians leaving Rafah, more than 100,000 have fled parts of northern Gaza following recent Israeli evacuation orders, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that its forces were returning to northern areas that were the focus of the early stages of the war, as they have repeatedly during their war with Hamas. The need for such operations has prompted Israeli critics to say the government has failed to articulate an exit strategy, even as the death toll among Israeli soldiers continues to rise.

Israeli forces were operating primarily in Jabaliya, according to the Israeli military and Palestinian residents. The city is a built-up urban area largely populated by Palestinians who fled or were expelled during the wars surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948, as well as their descendants. Palestinians marked that mass displacement — known in Arabic as the Nakba, or disaster — on Wednesday, on the 76th anniversary of Israel’s founding.

Israeli forces were advancing into Jabaliya under heavy airstrikes and shelling, said Raafat Nasr, a resident. Hamas’s armed wing said on the Telegram social messaging app that its fighters were engaging Israeli troops in Jabaliya, firing on soldiers and armored vehicles.

Mr. Nasr, 50, decided to remain in his home with his wife and two children amid “terrifying explosions,” he said. His family is scattered: Two of his children, along with his grandchildren, are trying to flee Rafah in the face of the Israeli military operations there.

Mr. Nasr said is family was hunkering down and rationing what little food and water they had left.

“Nowhere in Gaza is safe, and we don’t have anywhere left to go,” he said.

Farnaz Fassihi and Johnatan Reiss contributed reporting.

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