At least 3,478 Palestinians killed by Israel as aid remains stuck on border

Xi says China to work with Egypt to help stabilise Middle East

Reuters/AFP October 19, 2023
A Palestinian civil defence member stands through a crack in a collapsed building hit by Israeli bombardment while searching for victims and survivors, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. PHOTO: AFP


Egypt agreed to reopen its border crossing with the Gaza Strip to allow aid to reach Palestinians, the US said, as the humanitarian crisis worsened for the 2.3 million people trapped in the enclave and anti-Israel protests flared across the Middle East.

The region remained volatile in the aftermath of an Israeli air strike at Gaza's Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital late on Tuesday, which Palestinian officials said killed 471 people.

The Gaza health ministry said 3,478 Palestinians have been killed and 12,065 injured in Israeli air strikes on the besieged enclave since Oct 7.

Demonstrations erupted in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and elsewhere amid outrage across the Middle East over the hospital attack. Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters throwing projectiles near the US embassy in Beirut, TV footage showed.

Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the West Bank during protests, Palestinian officials said, while Palestinian official news agency WAFA said Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man during a raid on the West Bank village of Budrus.

People attend the funeral of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes. PHOTO: Reuters

People attend the funeral of Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes. PHOTO: Reuters

US President Joe Biden discussed aid for Gaza with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi by phone late on Wednesday, while flying home from a less than eight-hour visit to Israel.

Biden told reporters that Sisi agreed to open the Rafah crossing from Egypt to Gaza to allow about 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the enclave, where people are desperately short of food, water, fuel and other essentials after Israel unleashed a blockade and air strikes 12 days ago.

Biden did not give a timeline for the opening, but US national security spokesperson John Kirby said it would occur in the coming days following repairs to the road.

Amid fears the conflict could spread beyond Gaza, Biden had planned to meet Arab leaders. But Jordan called off his planned summit there with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority after the hospital attack.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also highlighted the risk the Gaza conflict might become regional, and Russia was in contact with Turkey over the matter, the Interfax news agency reported.

UN favours 100 trucks per day

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths told the Security Council that the organisation sought to bring aid deliveries to Gaza back to 100 trucks a day, the level before the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Biden was due to speak from the White House at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (0000 GMT on Friday) about the US response to Hamas’ attacks against Israel and Russia’s war against Ukraine, the White House said. Also on Thursday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was due to visit Israel.

Palestinians work amidst the rubble at the site of an Israeli strike. PHOTO Reuters

Palestinians work amidst the rubble at the site of an Israeli strike. PHOTO Reuters

Egypt, which previously said the Rafah crossing was not technically closed but was inoperable due to Israeli air strikes, said Sisi and Biden agreed to provide aid to Gaza "in a sustainable manner." They were coordinating an aid effort with international organisations under the United Nations.

During Biden's visit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said Israel would let food, water and medicines reach southern Gaza via Egypt.

Biden faced intense global pressure to secure an Israeli commitment to ease the plight of civilians in the small, densely populated coastal enclave. He pledged $100 million in US assistance for civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Mark Negev, an adviser to Netanyahu, said on CNN that Israel had agreed to allow aid to Gaza via Egypt "in principle" but "we don't want to see Hamas stealing aid that's directed towards the civilian population. It's a real problem."

Israel reiterated it would not allow in aid through its crossing with Gaza until Hamas released about 200 captives seized during its cross-border raid.

Biden told reporters he was blunt with Israel about the need to facilitate aid to Gaza. Earlier he said he would ask Congress for an unprecedented aid package for Israel this week, although no action is possible until the House of Representatives elects a new speaker.

A source familiar with the matter said Biden was considering asking for $10 billion in aid for Israel as soon as Friday.

This picture taken from Israel's southern city of Sderot shows smoke billowing over the northern Gaza Strip during brutal Israeli bombardment. PHOTO: AFP

This picture taken from Israel's southern city of Sderot shows smoke billowing over the northern Gaza Strip during brutal Israeli bombardment. PHOTO: AFP

Biden said the United States would do everything it could to ensure Israel was safe while also urging Israelis not to be consumed by rage, reiterating that the vast majority of Palestinians were not affiliated with Hamas.

"What sets us apart from the terrorists is we believe in the fundamental dignity of every human life," Biden said. If that was not respected, "then the terrorists win."

China to work with Egypt for stability

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Egypt's prime minister on Thursday that their countries should work together to bring "more stability" to the Middle East, as the Israel-Hamas conflict casts a shadow over the region.

The conflict has raged since Hamas launched shock raids into Israel on October 7. In response, Israel has laid siege to Gaza, carrying out waves of brutal air strikes in the Palestinian enclave, enforcing a blockade and massing troops on its border ahead of an expected ground assault.

China has repeatedly backed the two-state proposal on the decades-long deadlock that preceded the conflict, but it has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause -- albeit in favour of the nationalist Palestine Liberation Organisation rather than Hamas.

Xi met Egypt's Mostafa Madbouli in Beijing on Thursday, repeating China's support for a "two-state solution... to realise the peaceful coexistence of Palestine and Israel", according to multiple state media outlets.

"China is willing to enhance cooperation with Egypt... and inject more certainty and stability into the region and the world," Xi was reported as saying.

Beijing was also willing to work with Cairo to "jointly safeguard international fairness and justice as well as the common interests of developing countries", he said.

Since the outbreak of hostilities, Egypt has mostly kept closed its border with Gaza, where the humanitarian situation has become increasingly desperate.

However, Cairo said Thursday it would allow the "sustainable" passage of humanitarian aid into the enclave through the Rafah crossing.

China "appreciates the important role played by Egypt in de-escalating the situation and supports Egypt's efforts to open humanitarian corridors", Xi told Madbouli.

"It is crucial to prevent the conflict from expanding or even losing control and causing a serious humanitarian crisis," Xi said.

"The top priority is to cease fire and stop war at an early date," he added.

Relations between China and Egypt have warmed in recent months, with Cairo set to become an official member of the recently expanded BRICS group of emerging economies from next year.

"China congratulates Egypt on joining the BRICS cooperation mechanism and believes that this will inject new impetus into BRICS cooperation," Xi said in his meeting with Madbouli.

"China and Egypt are good friends who share the same goals and trust each other, and good partners who work hand-in-hand for development and common prosperity", he said.

"At present, the international and regional situation is undergoing profound and complex changes, and the world is experiencing rapid transformations not seen for a century," Xi said.

Russia on Thursday sent 27 tonnes of humanitarian aid for civilians in the Gaza Strip to be transported from Egypt, Moscow's emergency situations ministry said.

"A special plane has taken off from the airport at Ramenskoye near Moscow for El-Arish in Egypt. The

Russian humanitarian aid will be handed over to the Egyptian Red Crescent to be sent to the Gaza Strip," Deputy Minister Ilya Denisov said in a statement.

Denisov said the aid comprised "wheat, sugar, rice (and) pasta".



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