Fifty-three Democrats in the US House of Representatives have urged the Biden administration to lift the siege of Gaza. In a letter sent to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, August 18, these members of Congress have warned the US’s head diplomat of the grim humanitarian situation in the enclave, describing the Israeli siege as collective punishment of Palestinians. “The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza is untenable,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Blinken. “Ensuring that Palestinians residing in Gaza receive humanitarian aid is vital to securing the well-being of Gaza’s 2.1 million residents,” the letter went on to say.
Initiated by Democrat members of Congress Mark Pocan and Debbie Dingell, the letter calls for securing changes that are “vital to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.” “Unfortunately, the recent Israeli air campaign in Gaza has only worsened living conditions, inflicting $380 million in damage to the beleaguered strip and necessitating $485 million in immediate humanitarian and reconstruction aid,” the letter states referencing data from a recent report by the UN, the World Bank and the EU.
Decrying the lack of clarity regarding which construction materials are prohibited from entering the Gaza Strip, the lawmakers said that Israel “selectively ban[s] materials that it considers having ‘dual use’ [meaning] any item it claims could have a military application.” They highlight vital materials that have been classified as dual use such as water disinfectants, desalination units and electricity generators.
Israel’s restriction of Gaza’s fishing zone to six nautical miles was also condemned by the lawmakers as a form of collective punishment. “Although the restriction was recently reversed, the decision to collectively punish the people of Gaza by unilaterally restricting its fishing zone remains extremely concerning,” the letter says, urging Blinken “to work with the Israeli government to refrain from such harmful and illegal actions.” Wednesday’s letter is one of several sent to officials in the Biden administration in recent months highlighting Israel’s aggression against Palestinians. In June, 73 US lawmakers urged President Joe Biden to undo his predecessor’s pro-Israel policies.
Clashes along Gaza’s Frontier
On Saturday, August 21, at least 41 Palestinians were injured by gunfire, two of them seriously, and many others suffered various degrees of breathing difficulties from teargas inhalation, as Israeli occupation forces attacked hundreds of protesters demonstrating against the Israeli blockade that has been in place for over 14 years. Saturday’s protest near the Israeli perimeter fence surrounding the Gaza Strip marked the 52nd anniversary of the arson attack on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque. One of the seriously wounded Gazans, a 13-year-old boy, was said by Palestinian health officials to be in critical condition.
On Saturday night, an Israeli Border Police officer was shot and critically wounded along the barrier closing off the Gaza Strip. Barel Hadaria Shmueli, 21, from Be’er Yaakov in central Israel, served as a sniper in the elite undercover mista’arvim unit (Israeli forces wearing Arab garb) and had taken part in “dozens of operations to foil terror attacks and crime in the southern region,” the police report stated. He had been dispatched to the Gaza border last weekend. Shmueli was shot through a slit in the border fence and was evacuated by helicopter to the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheba.
On Monday, August 23, Egyptian security sources announced that they will be closing the Rafah crossing on its border with the Gaza Strip until further notice. Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, said it had been informed by Egypt of the decision to shut the crossing in both directions, without giving details.
According to two Egyptian security sources, the closure was made for “security reasons” following an escalation on Saturday between Israel and Hamas, with Israeli aircraft striking sites in Gaza after gunfire across Gaza’s border with Israel earlier in the day.