Food, medicines, water purifiers, hygiene products and blankets: the aid was piling in Egypt’s Sinai region at El Arish airport, which even opened an extra landing strip to cope with deliveries.
Rafah, the border crossing into Gaza that Egypt had promised to open on Friday, is a few dozen kilometers to the east, said AFP.
It is the only crossing into the blockaded Palestinian territory that is not controlled by Israel.
On a visit to Cairo, UN chief Antonio Guterres said Thursday that there needed to be “rapid, unimpeded humanitarian access” after dire warnings about the impact of the sustained Israeli blockade.
Guterres said the Rafah crossing and El Arish airport “are not only critical, they are our only hope” and “the lifelines” for the people of Gaza.
Ahmed Ali, head of the Egyptian Red Crescent, told AFP his organization receives “two to three planes of aid a day, chartered by humanitarian agencies or states”, who want to send food, water or medical supplies to the 2.4 million Palestinians in Gaza.
As soon as aid is dropped off on the tarmac, the shipments are loaded onto trucks.
Israel, which has imposed a strict blockade on Gaza for 16 years and has declared a “complete siege” after the October 7 attack by the militant group Hamas on its soil, has agreed to allow the passage of aid.
Egyptian state-linked broadcaster Al Qahera News said the Rafah crossing would open on Friday.
But later Egypt said it needed more time to repair the roads that connect its territory to Gaza after four Israeli bombings of the crossing.
In the meantime, pallets loaded with aid are stored in warehouses in El Arish, the capital of North Sinai, said Ali.
As soon as the green light is given, 250 volunteers are ready to transport them to the border.
The UN World Food Program, which has already provided aid to 522,000 people since the start of the hostilities, said it has 951 tons of food at or on the way to Rafah — enough to feed 488,000 people for one week, a spokesperson said.
On Thursday, an Emirati plane offloaded nine tons of UNICEF aid.
The situation in Gaza is “beyond catastrophic” with stocks almost empty after 13 days of war, said Sara Alzawqari, UNICEF spokeswoman for the Gulf.
“We have distributed nearly all our prepositioned supplies which were inside Gaza and have been working to keep the only functioning desalination plant in the entire Gaza Strip running in much-reduced capacity,” she said, as food, water, fuel and power run short after Gaza’s only power plant shut down.
‘Time is running out’
Hamas militants stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 7, and killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians, who were shot, mutilated or burnt to death on the first day of the raid, according to Israeli officials. Israel says around 1,500 Hamas fighters were killed in clashes before its army regained control of the area under attack.
More than 3,700 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed across Gaza in relentless Israeli bombardments in retaliation for the attacks by the Palestinian group, according to the Hamas health ministry in Gaza.
UN agencies have warned food, water and fuel will soon run out in the besieged Palestinian territory.
“Medical supplies and medicines have also been provided to hospitals, but given the number of injuries, hospital beds and essential medicine — including anesthetics — are quickly running out,” Alzawqari said.
“Time is running out and the numbers of casualties amongst children are rising,” she added.
“We need an immediate humanitarian pause to ensure unhindered and safe access to children in need.”
The deal struck by US President Joe Biden with Israel and Egypt will allow in 20 trucks.
The emergency director of the World Health Organization has called it “a drop in the ocean of need”.
“It should be 2,000 trucks,” Michael Ryan said.
While food, water and fuel are the priority, Alzawqari said UNICEF has slipped boxes of educational game kits into aid shipments, because children need to continue “playing and learning even during emergencies”.