Israel says it will allow limited deliveries of fuel to Gaza for aid needs
Updated November 17, 2023 at 3:34 PM ET
After more than a month into its siege on Gaza, Israel has agreed to allow 140,000 liters, or about 37,000 gallons, of fuel into the territory every two days for humanitarian needs, U.S. and Israeli officials said Friday.
Most of the fuel will be allocated to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, which has said it needs fuel for trucks to distribute aid and to power water pumps, desalination plants, hospitals and bakeries.
The fuel will also help power Gaza's sewage and wastewater treatment systems, which ceased operations this week due to a lack of fuel, causing aid groups to raise the alarm about the outbreak of diseases.
Israel had come under intense pressure in recent days to allow in fuel, both publicly from aid groups and behind the scenes from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials.
The U.S. intensified its push this week, and Israel's war cabinet agreed to the request Thursday, said Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel's national security advisor.
"If there is an epidemic, the fighting will be stopped. If there is a humanitarian crisis and an international outcry, we will not be able to continue the fighting under those conditions," Hanegbi said at a press conference Friday.
The remainder of the fuel will be delivered to Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel to help keep phone and internet service available in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the militant group Hamas.
The fuel deliveries could begin as soon as Saturday, said a U.S. State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitive diplomacy.
The 140,000 liters are "obviously barely a drop in the bucket of the amount of fuel that we need," U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said Friday.
Israel had previously blocked delivery of fuel over concerns that Hamas could steal it for military purposes. Israel also said that Hamas had its own fuel reserves that could have supplied hospitals and bakeries. Hamas has denied stealing fuel meant for humanitarian needs.
But reserves in Gaza had run out, the U.S. official said. Even the limited deliveries of other aid, including food and medical supplies, had come to a halt Thursday after UNRWA announced that the lack of fuel and communications service made it impossible to manage or coordinate the aid convoys.
"I do believe that it is outrageous that humanitarian agencies are reduced to begging for fuel and forced after that to decide who will we assist or not assist, when you have such a large population in a lifesaving situation," UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said Thursday.
Repeated blackouts of phone and internet service also have hampered humanitarian efforts, aid groups told NPR, in addition to preventing Palestinians from contacting family both inside and outside of Gaza.
The fuel will be restricted to use in southern Gaza.
Israel's ground invasion has focused on northern Gaza, especially the area around Gaza City, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are still thought to be sheltering. Israeli airstrikes continue to hit across the territory.
"We need the fuel to make sure that our humanitarian support staff and workers can get from one place to another. If we don't have the fuel, we can't do that," Catherine Russell, the executive director of UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, told NPR. "It does many things. It powers generators, which is what we need for the incubators in the hospitals. It powers water sanitation efforts."
Since Oct. 7, the day of the deadly Hamas attack on Israeli towns around Gaza that left 1,200 Israelis dead, Israel's military campaign has killed at least 11,470 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, which added that communications issues over the past week have caused "challenges in updating casualty figures." About 240 hostages captured on Oct. 7 are thought to remain in Gaza.
Becky Sullivan and Michele Kelemen reported from Washington, D.C. Aya Batrawy contributed reporting from Dubai. contributed to this story
Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.