Israel said on Wednesday it would allow basic humanitarian aid from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, as it hosted US president Joe Biden the day after a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded to Biden’s call for emergency aid to be let through by announcing it would not prevent the delivery of food, water and medicine to the south of the besieged territory.
But the UN, the biggest aid provider to Gaza, said on Wednesday evening that it lacked information about the deal.
The US president had earlier joined Israel in blaming the hospital explosion on a misfired rocket by Palestinian militants, citing Pentagon data.
Biden also said he would ask Congress “for an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defence” while calling on the country not to be “consumed” by rage over the bloody October 7 attack that started the war.
His call for “clarity” about Israel’s war objectives and whether the path it is on “will achieve those objectives” comes as the country prepares for a ground offensive into Gaza that many fear could further stoke tensions in the region.
Netanyahu’s office said that, in light of Biden’s request, Israel would allow “humanitarian assistance from Egypt as long as it is only food, water and medicine” for civilians in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled.
It added that the passage of the aid was conditional on the supplies not reaching Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.
Aid groups estimate that 1mn people have been uprooted during the 11 days since Israel declared war on Hamas.
Netanyahu’s office said that Israel would “not allow any humanitarian assistance” from its own territory — rather than through the Rafah crossing from Egypt — without the return of around 200 hostages abducted by Hamas.
In a call backed by Biden, the Israeli government also demanded that the International Red Cross be allowed to visit the hostages.
The US president said the delivery of the aid would be “based on the understanding that there will be inspections” of the shipments.
He added that Washington was co-operating with the UN, Egypt and other regional powers to get “trucks moving across the border as soon as possible” and announced $100mn in US aid for the West Bank and Gaza.
However, UNRWA, the UN agency that provides aid to Palestinians, said that “so far we do not have any information on the statement the Israeli government has made”.
It added it was seeking the resumption of fuel imports to Gaza, because of shortages that have crippled the territory’s water pumping and desalination plants.
Since the war began, Israel has cut off Gaza’s mains power and access to fuel, medicines and food and is allowing only a severely restricted fresh water supply.
Earlier in the day Biden backed the Israeli accounts of the fatal hospital explosion, based on what he said was “data I was shown by my defence department”.
The White House said that, while it was still collecting information, its “current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information” was that Israel was not responsible for the explosion at the hospital.
While Israel has blamed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group for Tuesday’s explosion at the Gaza City hospital, Palestinian officials say the cause was an Israeli air strike that killed hundreds of people.
It has not been possible to independently verify the death toll or the cause of the explosion. However, the Hamas-controlled ministry of health in Gaza said on Wednesday that 471 people had died because of the blast.
Biden’s trip has been overshadowed by the blast at Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City, which prompted Arab leaders to cancel a previously scheduled summit with the US president.
On Wednesday volunteers combed over debris in the hospital car park looking for body parts among shrapnel, rubble and broken glass. Palestinian officials and the UN say that Gaza’s overwhelmed hospitals are unable to cope with those injured.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said the hospital had been packed with women, children, healthcare professionals and internally displaced people seeking shelter.
The Israel Defense Forces said on Wednesday that an internal probe had concluded that a rocket launched from a cemetery near the hospital just before the explosion had misfired and crashed into the adjacent car park.
It said the rocket warhead and its propellant fuel then ignited, causing the explosion. The IDF also released mobile phone audio purportedly containing a conversation between “Hamas operatives” acknowledging the failed rocket launch.
By contrast, many leaders in the region have blamed Israel.
After news of the explosion broke late on Tuesday, Jordan cancelled the summit King Abdullah had planned to host for Biden, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas announced a three-day mourning period for what he called “a heinous war crime” and protests broke out in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Tuesday evening.
The United Arab Emirates condemned what it called “the Israeli attack”. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan also blamed Israel for the explosion, which King Abdullah labelled a “massacre”.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi told thousands of Palestine supporters at a state-sponsored rally in Tehran that a “hard revenge” was awaiting Israel.
On Wednesday, Sisi alleged that Israel was seeking to push Palestinians into Egypt — the only other country with a border with Gaza — and warned such an outflow of people risked turning the war into a regional conflict.
He said that if Palestinians fled to Egypt’s neighbouring Sinai peninsula it would become “a base for operations against Israel”. He added: “In this case Israel would have the right to defend itself and its national security so it would direct strikes against Egyptian territory.”
So far Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed 3,300 people, according to Palestinian health officials.
The country declared war after the Hamas attack, which killed more than 1,400 people according to Israeli authorities.
The Palestinian relief agency UNWRA said on Wednesday that the humanitarian situation inside Gaza was “still very dire as no supplies were coming in”.
Trucks carrying shipments of aid are backed up on the Egyptian side of the crossing, awaiting permission to enter.
The agency added that, despite Israel’s warning to evacuate the northern part of Gaza, some people were returning to the north after failing to find places to stay.
Additional reporting by Heba Saleh, Bita Ghaffari and Najmeh Bozorgmehr