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Gaza aid stuck as Egypt says Israel not cooperating

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A view of trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians, as they wait for the re-opening of the Rafah border crossing to enter Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the city of Al-Arish, Sinai peni

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By Yusri Mohamed, Nadine Awadalla and Tala Ramadan

ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) -Egypt said on Monday that Israel was not cooperating with delivery of aid into Gaza and evacuations of foreign passport holders via the only entry it does not wholly control, leaving hundreds of tonnes of supplies stuck.

Cairo says the Rafah crossing, a potentially vital opening for desperately-needed supplies into the Israeli-besieged Palestinian enclave, is not officially closed but was made inoperable due to Israeli air strikes on the Gaza side.

As Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza has intensified, the territory’s 2.3 million residents have been left without power, pushing health and water services to the brink of collapse, with fuel for hospital generators running low.

“There is an urgent need to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters, adding that talks with Israel had not been fruitful.

“Until now the Israeli government has not taken a position on opening the Rafah crossing from the Gaza side to allow the entrance of assistance and exit of citizens of third countries.”

U.S. officials were hoping that Rafah would operate for a few hours late on Monday, White House spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:KEX) said, adding that earlier hopes for opening the crossing had been dashed.

The ongoing war made delivery of aid through Rafah “very difficult”, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

“There will need to be a mechanism given that it implicates a lot of parties, some of which are not on speaking terms, to put it mildly. We’re working on that with key partners,” he told reporters in New York on Monday.

Hamas-affiliated radio station Aqsa said Israeli shelling hit the Rafah crossing area again on Monday. The Egyptian side of the border appeared deserted on Monday afternoon, with aid supplies being stockpiled in the nearby city of Al Arish.

Gazans have been under siege since Israel launched its most intense bombardment and blockade ever following a devastating cross-border assault by Islamist Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been displaced within Gaza, with some taking cars and suitcases south towards the Rafah crossing but others heading back north after failing to find refuge.

“On our way to the crossing they shelled Rafah Street and we started screaming,” said one resident near the crossing, Hadeel Abu Dahoud. “Nowhere is safe in Gaza.”

DISPLACEMENT FEARS

Like others, Egypt has spoken out against any mass exodus of Gaza residents, reflecting deep Arab fears that the latest war could spark a new wave of permanent displacement for Palestinians from lands where they have sought to build a state.

It has called for a summit on the crisis, which Egyptian outlet Al Qahera News said was expected to be held on Saturday in the Red Sea city of Sharm el-Sheikh. On Monday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the escalation in Gaza, Sisi’s office said.

Shoukry said Egypt aimed to restore regular access through Rafah, including for Palestinians seeking medical treatment or normal travel.

Early on Monday, Egyptian security sources had said a temporary ceasefire in southern Gaza had been agreed to facilitate aid and evacuations at Rafah, but Egyptian state TV later quoted a high-level source saying no truce had been agreed.

Hamas and Israel said no deal to open the crossing had been agreed.

Hundreds of tonnes of aid from NGOs and several countries were waiting in Al Arish for conditions to allow entry to Gaza.

“We are waiting for the green light for the aid to enter and dozens of volunteers are ready at any time,” a Red Crescent official in northern Sinai said.

Separately, Reuters video showed U.N.-flagged fuel trucks appearing to leave Gaza for Egypt through the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing.

“It is critical that life-saving assistance is allowed to move through the Rafah crossing without delay,” U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA said in a statement, announcing that its chief Martin Griffiths would travel to Cairo on Tuesday.

Movement of goods and people through Rafah has been tightly controlled under a blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007, and only registered travellers can cross.

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