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Israel military says it’s reopened key Gaza border crossing | CBC News

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The Israeli military said Wednesday that it has reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, a key terminal for the entry of humanitarian aid that was closed over the weekend after a Hamas rocket attack killed four Israeli soldiers nearby.

But the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said no aid has yet entered and there is no one to receive it on the Palestinian side. Workers fled during an incursion by an Israeli tank brigade on Tuesday that captured the nearby Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt, which remains closed.

That limited incursion did not appear to be the start of the full-scale invasion of Rafah that Israel has repeatedly promised. But the prolonged closure of the two main crossings could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The U.S., Egypt and Qatar are meanwhile ramping up efforts to close the gaps in a possible agreement for at least a temporary ceasefire and the release of some of the scores of Israeli hostages still held by Hamas. Israel has linked the threatened Rafah operation to the fate of those negotiations.

WATCH | Israeli military enters Rafah:

Pressure on Israel to reach ceasefire deal

As Israeli tanks roll through the southern Gaza city of Rafah after rejecting Hamas’s ceasefire offer, the country’s leaders are facing increasing pressure from both inside and out to reach a deal to stop the fighting.

The war began when Hamas and other militants breached Israel’s defences on Oct. 7 and swept through nearby army bases and farming communities, killing some 1,200 people, according to Israeli government tallies, and abducting another 250.

Hamas is still believed to be holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others after most of the rest were released during a November ceasefire. The war has killed over 34,700 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and has driven some 80 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes. Israel’s military campaign has been one of the deadliest and most destructive in recent history, reducing large parts of Gaza to rubble.

Associated Press journalists heard sporadic explosions and gunfire in the area of the Rafah crossing overnight, including two large blasts early Wednesday.

Push to get more aid into territory

The Rafah crossing has been a vital conduit for humanitarian aid since the start of the war and is the only place where people can enter and exit. Kerem Shalom is Gaza’s main cargo terminal. Israel now controls all of Gaza’s crossings for the first time since it withdrew troops and settlers from the territory nearly two decades ago, though it has maintained a blockade with Egypt’s co-operation for most of that time.

The Israeli military body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs said the Kerem Shalom crossing reopened early Wednesday.

But Juliette Touma, the director of communications for UNRWA, said no aid had entered as of midday Wednesday and that the UN agency had been forced to ration fuel, which is imported through Rafah.

UN agencies and aid groups have ramped up humanitarian assistance in recent weeks as Israel has lifted some restrictions and opened an additional crossing in the north under pressure from the United States, its closest ally. The U.S. military is also building a floating pier to facilitate the delivery of aid.

Report on Israel’s campaign due in U.S. Congress

The United States paused a shipment of bombs to Israel last week over concerns that Israel was approaching a decision on launching a full-scale assault on Rafah, in a further widening of divisions between the two close allies. The U.S. has historically provided Israel enormous amounts of military aid, which has only accelerated since the start of the war. 

The U.S. says it is concerned over the fate of around 1.3 million Palestinians crammed into Rafah, most of whom fled fighting elsewhere. Israel says Rafah is Hamas’s last stronghold and that a wider offensive there is needed to dismantle the group’s military and governing capabilities.

A boy in a red shirt stands in front of a crater and rubble.
A boy stands before an impact crater at the site of a building that was hit by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. (AFP/Getty Images)

“We have assessed the situation, we have paused one shipment of high payload munitions,” U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

“We’ve not made a final determination on how to proceed with with that shipment.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine took exception to the pause, saying that the aid had been approved by Congress by a large margin, but Austin seemed to suggest that the particular delivery did not contain the type of precision weaponry best suited for an urban environment with considerable population density.

“We think it’s imperative that we do more to protect civilians in the battle space,” said Austin.

U.S. President Joe Biden has repeatedly warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the Rafah invasion, but Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners have threatened to bring down his government if he calls off an offensive.

The Biden administration also faces a deadline Wednesday to report to Congress on whether Israel is violating international humanitarian law in Gaza.

A National Security Memorandum, known as NSM-20, that Biden issued in February requires the State Department to report to Congress by May 8 on whether it finds credible Israel’s assurances that its use of U.S. weapons does not violate U.S. or international law.

WATCH | Biden says support for Israel is ‘ironclad’ at Holocaust memorial event: 

‘You’re not alone,’ Biden says to Jewish community

U.S. President Joe Biden, speaking Tuesday at an event to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, said his commitment to the Jewish people and the right of Israel to exist as an independent state is ‘ironclad — even when we disagree.’

Four sources told Reuters on Tuesday the administration had informed congressional committees that it would not make the deadline but hoped to present its findings within days. 

“I’ve had a lot of conversations … with folks in the administration, really urging them to make sure that this report is credible, that it’s seen to be based on facts and law and not based on what they would wish it would be,” Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen told reporters.

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