Humanitarians Want Access to Hostages, Additional Aid for Gaza, Under Israel-Hamas Truce

International aid groups say they are ready to deliver thousands of truckloads of water, food, and other supplies to besieged Gaza if a temporary cease-fire in the Hamas-Israel war is put in place hopefully on Thursday.

Some hailed a crucial first step, but many said on Wednesday that a four-day truce is not enough to meet the staggering needs after seven weeks of fighting have displaced thousands of Palestinians who now live in miserable conditions.

Critical details of the accord that was announced Wednesday are still unclear, including the mechanics of getting more aid to civilians who are desperate and escorting the first group of Israeli hostages from Gaza, where Hamas has held them since the October 7 Israel rampage.

Aid groups say a crucial ambition to get help to northern Gaza, which has primarily been inaccessible and where almost all hospitals stopped working during a blistering ground and air offensive by Israeli forces.

“The entire humanitarian sector is ready to scale up once everything is set,” said a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies — an umbrella organization that amounts to the world’s biggest humanitarian aid group — Tommaso Della Longa.

Aid groups and the international community have been trying to find ways to get aid into Gaza since Israel began retaliating for Hamas’ murder of some 1,200 people in Israel in October. The onslaught has killed around 11,000 people in Gaza, said health officials in the Hamas-controlled area.

Bottlenecks have confused the delivery of the already insufficient aid to Gaza

Della Longa lamented that the bottlenecks need clarification on the delivery of already insufficient aid to Gaza. He told his umbrella group that he hoped a deal for a truce would include a faster track of aid shipments.

The only route for international humanitarian aid since the beginning of the war in Gaza has been through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Planeloads of aid and supplies have been flown into nearby Egypt’s El-Arish city, and trucks have lined up near Gaza.

Israel’s intense inspections of trucks and cargo bound for Gaza have slowed their entry.

Executive director of Doctors of the World, a Paris-based relief organization, Joel Weiler, said a four-day window was too short.

“Even if the aid enters, it will take three to four days to deliver to doctors to get it, and then the fighting starts again,” said Weiler. “It’s a joke. It’s white-washing.”

Humanitarians say the shipments are only a tiny trickle when compared to Gaza’s 2.3 million people and their total needs. They want access restored through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

“If Kerem Shalom doesn’t open, the logistical nightmare will continue forever,” said the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an aid group with 53 Gaza workers, Jan Egeland.

Israeli military body responsible for Palestinian affairs, COGAT’s spokesperson Shani Sasson, said she was “not aware of any changes” at Israel’s Nitzana crossing with Egypt to accommodate more substantial aid deliveries during a truce. Nitzana is where authorities in Israel check aid trucks before they enter Gaza in Rafah.

Della Longa said freedom of movement for humanitarians is another concern. “It’s not enough to open up a gate. After opening a gate, you must create a safe humanitarian space where we can work.”

An upside is that during the four-day pause in fighting, aid groups could reach “different people, different communities and different hospitals that were not reachable before,” like in the north, added Della Longa.

Another critical concern is fuel, which remains in short supply. Israel has prevented almost all fuel from getting in, except for a minimum of small deliveries to the main U.N. agency on the ground, for fear Hamas could use it. Some aid groups say they would need more fuel in Gaza over the four days to distribute aid to the north, which is difficult to reach.

“We are very restricted in who we can reach,” said Jason Lee, director of Save the Children for the Palestinian territories. “This is why we need a full cease-fire and the resumption of food, fuel, and people through all available crossings.”

“Otherwise, we are just Band-Aids,” added Lee. “And very ineffective Band-Aids.”

Uncertainty is also looming over potential arrangements for contacting Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

During the next four years, 50 hostages, all children and women, are to be released by Hamas in stages in exchange for 150 Palestinians held by Israel.

Hamas is believed to be holding around 240 Israelis who were seized during the raid on October 7. Israel is holding close to 7,000 Palestinians for various security offenses, including about 1,800 who have been detained since the beginning of the war.

Previously, the International Committee of the Red Cross has previously escorted hostages from Gaza. Overall, four were released since the start of the war.

Officials with the Red Cross said they hadn’t been notified of any agreement between the sides to enable visits with hostages amid the truce.

“Should a visit be agreed upon, the ICRC stands ready to visit,” said the organization, which is based in Geneva and focuses on the rights of detainees and conflict but doesn’t engage in negotiations over releases.

The organization’s president, Mirjana Spoljaric, met Monday with Hamas’ supreme leader, Ismail Haniyeh, in Qatar’s capital. Qatar led weeks of indirect negotiations over a hostages-for-truce deal involving Egypt and the United States.