The Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing from the Gaza Strip opened on Saturday morning, letting trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the blockaded enclave, which has been under siege from the Israeli military for almost two weeks.
The first of 200 trucks loaded with about 3,000 tons of aid, which have been blocked near the Rafah crossing for days, started moving toward Gaza early Saturday, the Associated Press reported.
Earlier this week, U.S. President Joe Biden said Egypt had agreed to open the border and let 20 trucks enter the Palestinian enclave, while Israel said it would allow the delivery of food, water or medicine — but no fuel — from Egypt, provided they were limited to civilians in the southern part of Gaza and would not go to Hamas militants.
European leaders were quick to welcome the border’s opening. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on social media that the crossing’s opening was “an important first step that will alleviate the suffering of innocent people.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was “good and important that the first humanitarian aid is now coming to the people in Gaza.”
“They need water, food and medicine – we won’t leave them alone,” Scholz said.
The Gaza Strip has been besieged by Israeli forces since October 9, when Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallan moved to restrict all access to food, water and energy in the enclave in retaliation for a surprise incursion from the Hamas militant group that killed at least 1,400 people in Israel.
In response, Israel launched thousands of airstrikes on Gaza, killing more than 4,100 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and ordered all civilians to evacuate Gaza City to the southern part of the enclave as its troops get ready for a ground assault.
The U.N. has called on Israel to reverse course, with a spokesperson saying an evacuation in Gaza “could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”
The news of the border crossing’s opening comes as leaders of a dozen countries — including top officials from Germany, France, Turkey and Qatar — are set to meet in Cairo on Saturday at the invitation of Egypt’s leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in an attempt to prevent the conflict from escalating into a broader regional war.
Meanwhile, Israel asked its citizens living in neighboring Jordan and Egypt to leave those countries “as soon as possible” and to “avoid staying in all the Middle East/Arab countries,” according to a joint statement from the prime minister’s office and the foreign ministry.