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2nd batch of aid crosses into Gaza as Israel intensifies strikes

People on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing watch as a convoy of lorries carrying humanitarian aid crosses to the Gaza Strip on Sunday.
Mohammed Assad
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AFP via Getty Images
People on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing watch as a convoy of lorries carrying humanitarian aid crosses to the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

Updated October 22, 2023 at 4:50 PM ET

A second installment of humanitarian aid arrived in Gaza on Sunday as Israel intensified its bombing campaign in the region.

COGAT, the Israeli military agency in charge of Palestinian civil affairs, said essential supplies provided by the United Nations entered the southern Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing in Egypt. The shipment only included water, food and medical equipment, and it was inspected by Israeli security officials prior to entering Gaza.

A United Nations official said on social media that 14 trucks entered Gaza. About 17 trucks were seen near the Rafah crossing earlier on Sunday. In the first shipment of assistance, 20 trucks were let intoGaza from Egypt on Saturday.

The White House said President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone on Sunday and "affirmed that there will now be continued flow of this critical assistance into Gaza."

Meanwhile, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari signaled that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would be stepping up its airstrikes in Gaza.

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"We will deepen our attacks to minimize the dangers to our forces in the next stages of the war. We are going to increase the attacks, from today," Hagari said. He called on Gaza's residents to move south "for your own safety."

Overnight raids on the Gaza Strip killed at least 55 people, the Hamas government said on Sunday. More than 4,650 people have been killed in Gaza in the past two weeks, including more than 1,870 children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

People on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing watch as a convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid crosses to the Gaza Strip on Sunday.
Mohammed Assad / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
People on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing watch as a convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid prepares to cross to the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

Israel has confirmed that 212 people are being held hostage in Gaza. An additional 100 people are listed as missing.

A spokesperson for Hamas' military wing, Abu Obeida, said the group was willing to free two more hostages for humanitarian reasons. It comes after the release of two Americans on Friday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed those efforts, but also stressed that every hostage needs to be freed now and "unconditionally."

"Acts are what speak, not words, particularly coming from Hamas," Blinken said Sunday on Meet the Press.

Israeli military spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said on Sunday that Israeli strikes overnight had killed dozens of Palestinian fighters, including the deputy chief of Hamas rocket forces.

According to Reuters, many Palestinians said they had received renewed warnings from Israel's military via leaflets and phone messages to move from north Gaza to the south of the enclave, with the added message that they "might be identified as an accomplice in a terrorist organization" if they stayed put. However, there have also been strikes in the south of Gaza, making it unclear whether moving is truly safe.

The Israeli attacks come after Hamas militants carried out a cross-border attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people, mainly civilians. The Israeli military said about 7,000 rockets have been fired at Israel since the war broke out more than two weeks ago.

For many days, Israeli forces have seemed to be prepared for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. About 700,000 Palestinians have complied with the order to evacuate the northern Gaza Strip, the IDF said.

An Arab peace summit fails to produce de-escalation agreement

Jordan's King Abdullah is seen on a large screen at a peace summit hosted by the Egyptian president in the New Administrative Capital east of Cairo, on Saturday.
Khaled Desouki / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Jordan's King Abdullah is seen on a large screen at a peace summit hosted by the Egyptian president in the New Administrative Capital east of Cairo, on Saturday.

On Saturday, Arab leaders, European officials and the U.N. secretary-general met in Cairo to discuss the war. All of them called for international law to be upheld, but leaders at the peace summit failed to agree on any action to de-escalate the conflict.

Part of the challenge was that key players, including Israel and Iran, did not attend the conference. The U.S., which vetoed a U.N. call for a ceasefire in Gaza, sent only a lower-level official.

"The message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear: Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones," Jordan's King Abdullah said in English, in hopes that his message will reach Americans and Europeans.

Leaders at the summit did agree that they want to see a two-state solution, one along the lines that was agreed to by Israel and Palestinian leaders in the 1990s. The lack of a Palestinian homeland is seen as one of biggest drivers of instability in Middle East.

Fighting outside of Gaza intensifies

Israel said that overnight it hit a "terrorist compound" in Jenin in the West Bank, allegedly including "operatives" from a Hamas cell within a mosque, who were allegedly planning attacks.

The strike was part of surging violence in the West Bank, as the Israeli military pursues Palestinian militants. At least 90 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli-occupied territory in the past two weeks, mainly in clashes with Israeli troops, according to AP.

The tally includes five Palestinians killed in separate incidents on Sunday. Israel carried out an airstrike during a battle in another West Bank refugee camp last week, in which 13 Palestinians, including five minors, and a member of Israel's paramilitary Border Police were killed.

Unlike in Gaza, Israel rarely uses air power in the occupied West Bank. Israel says its forces have detained over 700 suspects in the West Bank, including 480 members of Hamas, since the start of hostilities.

Meanwhile, Israel also carried out strikes on Hezbollah targets on the border with Lebanon on Saturday, after one Israeli soldier was hit by an anti-tank missile in northern Israel. "We are in the heart of the battle today," said Hezbollah's deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, on Saturday, the same day that the group said six of its fighters were killed.

To the northeast, Syrian state media reported that Israeli airstrikes early Sunday targeted the international airports of the Syrian capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo, killing one person. The runways were damaged and put out of service. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Late on Saturday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin made a statement signaling further U.S. presence in the region.

He said the Pentagon is sending an anti-ballistic missile defense system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to the Middle East, as well as additional Patriot air defense missile system battalions.

The U.S. has deployed a significant amount of naval power to the area in recent weeks, including two aircraft carriers, their support ships and about 2,000 Marines.

Food, medical supplies and blankets cross into Gaza

Humanitarian efforts are still focusing on aid convoys to the Gaza Strip after some aid finally got through to the enclave. Twenty trucks carrying medicine, medical supplies and food crossed into Gaza on Saturday morning from Egypt, marking the first humanitarian aid to arrive in the enclave since an Israeli bombardment campaign began two weeks ago.

Loaded on the trucks were medical supplies for trauma treatment and chronic disease, the World Health Organization said Saturday. The delivery also included some food, mattresses and blankets. Notably, no fuel arrived, which aid groups say is needed to power hospitals and desalination plants for much-needed water.

Palestinians evacuate a building damaged in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.
Hatem Ali / AP
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AP
Palestinians evacuate a building damaged in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah on Sunday.

Lynn Hastings, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, told NPR that the arrival of the trucks Saturday "represents a very small first but important start. Obviously it's really a drop in the bucket."

As the trucks made their way through the Rafah border, hundreds of foreign nationals gathered on the Gaza side, hoping to escape the violence. But no one was allowed to leave. Aid agencies are hoping that more supplies will be delivered in the coming days, with 100 trucks sitting on the Egyptian side of the border. U.S. officials estimate that hundreds of American citizens are stranded in Gaza.

Settler violence against Palestinians has also intensified since the Hamas attack. At least five Palestinians have been killed by settlers, according to Palestinian authorities, and rights groups say settlers have torched cars and attacked several small Bedouin communities, forcing them to evacuate to other areas.

NPR's Peter Kenyon and Becky Sullivan in Jerusalem and Jane Arraf in Amman, Jordan, contributed reporting.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.