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Jordan demands that Israel provide better security for aid convoys

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The first convoy of humanitarian aid entered a newly opened crossing from Israel into northern Gaza this week. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken stood in front of the trucks in Amman and called it an important step in getting food to civilians.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: This is moving much more effectively and efficiently into Gaza and to the people who need it in the north.

MARTIN: But Jordan says, while crossing through Israel, that initial convoy was attacked by Israeli settlers. Jordan has demanded that Israel provide better security for the trucks. NPR's Jane Arraf is with us now from Beirut to tell us more. Good morning, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So Jane, tell us what happened with this convoy.

ARRAF: Well, according to Jordan, a group of IsraelI settlers intercepted it as it was going through the occupied West Bank on its way to the newly opened crossing at that border. Jordanian officials say civilians threw food off the trucks and damaged three of the vehicles. The delayed convoy, missing some of its cargo, eventually crossed into Gaza from Erez, a border crossing reopened by Israel after U.S. pressure. The Israeli military acknowledged later that the convoy was attacked by Israeli civilians and several of them were later arrested by police. Settlers have previously tried to obstruct aid going into Gaza because they see this effort to bring aid in as what they call feeding their enemies.

MARTIN: So the trucks eventually did cross the border, but tell us about this new crossing. How much of a difference do people think it'll make?

ARRAF: Well, despite officials touting the benefits of it, aid agencies say the impact won't be huge. The humanitarian policy director at Save the Children, for instance, the U.S.-based aid group, Leslie Archambeault, says they've seen a lot of rhetoric, but even with an increased number of trucks entering so far, she says very little has changed on the ground.

LESLIE ARCHAMBEAULT: The entire population of Gaza is in desperate humanitarian need. There are children who are starving just miles away from where trucks are sitting, and it's just completely inexcusable for us.

ARRAF: So every shipment is inspected by Israel. Archambeault said the problem was delays and unexplained rejections. She said one of their own trucks had been waiting to cross the Rafa border with Egypt into Gaza for 43 days. And she said Israel has rejected shipments from them with sleeping bags because they had zippers and hygiene kits because they had nail clippers.

MARTIN: So the Secretary of State Blinken also mentioned this week that floating pier that the U.S. is building to increase the flow of aid. What's been the reaction to that from the aid officials that you've been speaking with?

ARRAF: Well, almost everyone welcomes anything that will allow in more aid. U.S. authorities say the pier will be up and running as soon as this week, but none of the organizations I spoke with said they've been given the details of exactly how it would operate. Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the floating pier isn't a substitute for the U.S., which arms Israel, to use its leverage to get Israel to allow it more through land borders.

JAN EGELAND: It's much more expensive. It's slower than opening the border crossings. I mean, this is not the Himalaya Mountains. It's a flat area where tanks go in and out every day.

ARRAF: Egeland and other aid officials are also concerned about military participation in this effort. The plan is for the Israeli military to guard the pier and soldiers from another country to help with distribution.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Jane Arraf in Beirut. Jane, thank you.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.