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AL-ARISH, Egypt: Some of the food supplies waiting to enter the Gaza Strip from Egypt have begun to rot as the Rafah border crossing remains shut to aid deliveries for a third week and people inside the Palestinian enclave face worsening hunger.
Rafah was a main entry point for humanitarian relief as well as some commercial supplies before Israel stepped up its military offensive on the Gazan side of the border on May 6 and took control of the crossing from the Palestinian side.
Egyptian officials and sources say humanitarian operations are at risk from military activity and that Israel needs to hand the crossing back to Palestinians before it starts operating again.
Israel and the United States have called on Egypt, which is also worried about the risk of Palestinians being displaced from Gaza, to allow the border to reopen.
Meanwhile the backlog of aid on the road between the Egyptian side of the crossing and the town of Al-Arish, about 45 km (28 miles) west of Rafah and an arrival point for international aid donations, has been building up.
One truck driver, Mahmoud Hussein, said his goods had been loaded on his vehicle for a month, gradually spoiling in the sun. Some of the foodstuffs are being discarded, others sold of cheap.
“Apples, bananas, chicken and cheese, a lot of things have gone rotten, some stuff has been returned and is being sold for a quarter of its price,” he said, crouching under his truck for shade.
“I’m sorry to say that the onions we’re carrying will at best be eaten by animals because of the worms in them.”
Aid deliveries for Gaza through Rafah began in late October, two weeks after the start of the war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The flow of relief has often been slowed by Israeli inspections and military activity inside Gaza and the amount reaching the enclave’s 2.3 million residents has been far below needs, aid officials say.
A global hunger monitor has warned of imminent famine in parts of Gaza.
Rotten eggs
Since May 5, no trucks have crossed through Rafah and very few through the nearby Israeli crossing of Kerem Shalom, according to UN data.
The amount of aid waiting in Egypt’s northern Sinai was now very large, and some had been stuck for more than two months, said Khaled Zayed, head of the Egyptian Red Crescent in the area.
“Some aid packages require a certain temperature … We coordinate on this with specialists who are highly trained in the storage of food and medical supplies,” he said.
“We hope the border will reopen as soon as possible.”
KSrelief, a Saudi-funded charity, has more than 350 trucks carrying items including food and medical supplies waiting to pass through Rafah, but has had to offload flour because of the risk of it rotting, the group’s supervisor general Abdullah Al Rabeeah said.
“We pack and send but also we have to recheck. It is a big burden,” he told Reuters.
Some food has been sold at cut price on the local market in northern Sinai, leading to the confiscation of stocks of rotten eggs, said local officials from Egypt’s ministry of supply.
Inside Gaza, there have also been scares about the quality of delayed food deliveries that made it in before Rafah closed, or through other crossings.
Palestinian medical and police officials that used to check goods coming into Gaza had been unable to do so during Israel’s offensive, said Ismail Al-Thawabta, director of the Hamas-run Gaza government media office.
“There is a big problem as many of the goods that enter the Gaza Strip are unfit for human use and are unhealthy,” he said.
“Therefore, the health ministry issued the warning statement to raise public awareness that people should examine the goods before eating them or sharing them with their families.” (Reporting by Reuters Cairo bureau, Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Emma Farge Writing by Aidan Lewis Editing by Peter Graff)