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Israel to Improve Aid Worker Safety    07/12 06:07

   The head of the U.S. agency overseeing American humanitarian assistance 
worldwide on Thursday said she has received Israeli pledges to allow aid 
workers to move more quickly and safely throughout the war-battered Gaza Strip.

   ASHDOD, Israel (AP) -- The head of the U.S. agency overseeing American 
humanitarian assistance worldwide on Thursday said she has received Israeli 
pledges to allow aid workers to move more quickly and safely throughout the 
war-battered Gaza Strip.

   In an interview with The Associated Press, Samantha Power, administrator of 
the U.S. Agency for International Development, said that Israel has also taken 
new steps to increase the flow of aid through its port of Ashdod, just north of 
Gaza. The move could give donors a new option for delivering aid as the U.S. 
shutters its troubled maritime pier off Gaza's coast.

   Nine months into the war in Gaza, the announcement marked a small victory 
for international efforts to increase aid deliveries to the territory's 
desperate civilians.

   The Israeli offensive launched in response to Hamas' Oct. 7 attack has 
plunged Gaza into a humanitarian crisis. Over 80% of the territory's 2.3 
million people have been displaced, with most now living in squalid tent camps. 
International experts say hundreds of thousands of people are on the brink of 
famine.

   "We have not seen the kind of humanitarian system to this point that has 
allowed humanitarians to move efficiently and safely to the degree that we 
need," Power said. "This week and through this visit, we have secured an 
agreement."

   "My whole career has been working in and around conflict areas," said Power, 
a former war correspondent and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "I have 
never seen a more difficult conflict environment for humanitarians to work in."

   The U.N. says that since May, the amount of aid reaching it to distribute in 
Gaza has fallen to some of the lowest levels of the war. Israel says it places 
no limits on the entry of aid into Gaza. But tons of supplies have piled up on 
the Gaza side of Israeli-controlled border crossings because the U.N. says it 
is unable to collect them for distribution.

   Israel blames the bottleneck on U.N. logistical failures. But U.N. and other 
aid officials deny that, saying that permit requirements from the military 
limit access to the site and that Israeli military operations against Hamas 
make it too dangerous to move around. Also, criminal gangs inside Gaza have 
looted aid trucks, adding another challenge for aid workers.

   Power said her talks with the Israelis focused heavily on improving the 
system by which humanitarian groups and the military coordinate safe passage.

   Throughout the war, humanitarian groups have complained the system was not 
working. In one instance early this year, the Israeli military struck an aid 
convoy of World Central Kitchen, killing seven workers from the international 
charity. Israel called the incident a tragedy and punished five officers.

   Power said that for deliveries by the pier, a system was set up where the 
Israeli and U.S. militaries and the U.N. could communicate more closely and 
immediately over the location of humanitarian workers.

   She said the Israeli government had now agreed to extend that system across 
Gaza.

   "Having a system lined up where those aid workers can convey their 
coordinates, their movements to the (Israeli army), and know that they are 
going to be safe in making those deliveries, that has not been an assurance 
that they have had throughout this conflict," she said.

   There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military or COGAT, the 
military body in charge of coordinating aid into Gaza. Power said it would take 
time to implement the changes, but that the U.S. is pushing for improvements 
"not a month from now, but a week from now."

   Power spoke after touring the Ashdod port, which sits about 30 kilometers 
(20 miles) from Gaza.

   She said Israel is increasing its scanning capacity at the port to inspect 
goods bound for Gaza, which can then be delivered by truck through nearby 
Israeli crossings. As the U.S. prepares to shut down the temporary maritime 
pier, she said she expected Ashdod to play a bigger role in aid deliveries.

   "I think there will be a maritime part of the humanitarian solution over 
time that will get bigger and bigger," she said. "It will probably flow through 
this port."

   During the visit, Power also announced that the U.S. pledged $100 million in 
new assistance to the Palestinians. USAID said the money would assist the 
U.N.'s World Food Program and help deliver "lifesaving humanitarian aid across 
Gaza." Altogether, the U.S. has donated $774 million to the Palestinians since 
the war began last October.

   Power said the only way to dramatically improve conditions in Gaza would be 
through a cease-fire.

   She blamed Hamas for holding up a deal, and urged the militant group to 
accept the latest proposals being floated by international mediators.

   "Hamas must accept the terms of the cease-fire, and then we will be in a 
position to flood the zone with humanitarian support on a scale that is just 
not possible when you have fighting," she said.

 
 
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