Israeli to expand aid access to Gaza, but Blinken says it still might not meet US demands

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that the measures the Israeli government has announced to expand the flow of aid into Gaza are welcome but may not be enough to meet the Biden administration’s demands for dramatic improvements in humanitarian conditions in the territory.

Blinken said that opening more border crossings, if fully implemented, has the potential to surge assistance to Palestinians caught in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. However, the U.S. also wants to see tangible steps to bolster the protection of civilians and aid workers, he said.

In addition, he called for an “independent, thorough and fully publicized investigation” into the recent killings of aid workers. Seven employees of the charity World Central Kitchen, including six international volunteers, were killed in multiple Israeli airstrikes on their three-car convoy in Gaza late Monday.

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The military announced Friday that it dismissed two officers and reprimanded three others for their role in the strikes on the convoy, saying they had mishandled critical information and violated the army’s rules of engagement.

The attack on the convoy was a “grave mistake,” the military said. The speed of the investigation and swift punishment of senior officers was highly unusual for the military, where charges against troops for alleged wrongdoing are rare.

The findings are likely to renew skepticism over the Israeli military’s decision-making. Palestinians, aid groups and human rights organizations have repeatedly accused Israeli forces of firing recklessly at civilians throughout the conflict — a charge Israel denies.

A man displays blood-stained British, Polish, and Australian passports after an Israeli airstrike

A man displays blood-stained British, Polish, and Australian passports after an Israeli airstrike, in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, on April 1, 2024. Gaza medical officials say an apparent Israeli airstrike killed four international aid workers with the World Central Kitchen charity and their Palestinian driver. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

The incident sparked international outrage and put Israel on the defensive about its conduct in its six-month-old war against Hamas.

“We welcome that steps that have been announced by Israel,” Blinken said. “These are positive developments but the real test is results and that’s what we’re looking to see in the coming days and the coming weeks.”

At the same time, he said the U.S. wanted to see a “better system for de-confliction and coordination” so that aid can be safely delivered and distributed inside Gaza.

“All of these things are critical and that really needs to be measured by results,” Blinken told reporters in the town of Leuven, outside Brussels, where he was meeting with U.S. and European trade and commerce officials.

Israel’s military has promised to conduct a speedy investigation into the killing of the aid workers. In initial comments, the Israeli army chief said earlier this week that the strikes were a result of misidentification, but did not elaborate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced early Friday that Israel would act to improve conditions, including reopening a key border crossing into northern Gaza, just hours after President Joe Biden told him in a Thursday phone call that future U.S. support for the war in Gaza depends on Israel taking more action to protect civilians and aid workers.

Netanyahu’s office said the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, which was partially destroyed in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, would temporarily reopen. It also said Israel would allow its Ashdod port, 22 miles north of Gaza, to be used to process aid shipments bound for the territory and allow increased Jordanian aid shipments through another land crossing. The announcement did not elaborate on quantities or types of items to be let in.

Biden also told Netanyahu that reaching an “immediate cease-fire” in exchange for the estimated 100 hostages that are still being held in Gaza was “essential” and urged Israel to reach such an accord “without delay,” the White House said.

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Israel declared war on Hamas in response to the Oct. 7 attack, in which the militants killed about 1,200 people in Israel and took about 250 hostages.

Israel’s blistering air and ground offensive has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians in Gaza, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, an enclave that in parts remains under Hamas control.

The offensive has displaced more than 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people and pushed hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation.

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