Tuesday, December 5, 2023

El-Arish, Egypt

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: I'm here at El-Arish Airport, where a U.S. C-17 just delivered more than 36,000 pounds of food, medical supplies, and blankets. I want to thank the Government of Egypt for hosting me today, and for its continued work to get humanitarian assistance to civilians who are in desperate need in Gaza. During the pause in hostilities last week, we saw important and overdue progress toward addressing the grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 

The United States is now doing everything in our power to advance that progress. That will require three things. First, as Israel's military operations continue, Palestinian civilians must be protected. Far too many innocent civilians have been killed. Some parents in Gaza are writing names on their children's legs, so that they can be identified if they or their families are killed. Other parents are having their children split up, sheltering at different locations, putting them with different relatives, so as to increase the chances that at least some of them will survive. No parent should ever have to make choices like that. Military operations need to be conducted in a way that distinguishes fighters from civilians. 

As Secretary Blinken stressed in his visits with Israeli officials last week, and as my team and I have continued to underscore in our own engagements, places must be deconflicted clearly and precisely where civilians will be safe, where civilians can access life saving humanitarian aid, and where humanitarian workers and journalists can do their vital work with security. Civilians must be safe when they are at home, safe when they are at a hospital, safe when they are at a shelter. And of course, Hamas must stop using civilians as human shields and thrusting the Palestinian people into the middle of this conflict. 

Second, continuing the scale up of life-saving humanitarian aid that began during last week's pause is absolutely critical to meet the needs of the nearly 2.2 million people requiring humanitarian assistance in Gaza – including now what is estimated to be around 1.9 million internally displaced people. Since the beginning of the conflict, President Biden and officials across his administration have been working to clear diplomatic hurdles, to navigate complex logistics, and to work through issues that pop up daily to get as much aid as possible into Gaza. During the pause last week, more than 1,600 trucks carrying life saving commodities crossed into Gaza. That was more than the entire month previously. 

I just had a productive meeting with the Egyptian Red Crescent, and our United Nations partners about how we can build on this progress, and further accelerate the pace of assistance flowing into and being distributed to people in need in Gaza. The levels of aid reached during the pause need to be the bare minimum of what goes in going forward. What reached civilians in Gaza during the past is the baseline – we need to continue increasing beyond there. Critical to accelerating assistance is to strengthen so-called deconfliction mechanisms – protecting humanitarian sites and humanitarian workers so that they can safely deliver aid, and civilians can safely access that aid, not once, but on a sustained basis. At the same time, we have to recognize that humanitarian aid going across the border in trucks is never going to be enough to meet the needs of the more than 2 million people in Gaza, who need to be able to access basic commodities in order to live.

It will be imperative for Israel to reopen access to commercial goods, to expand the humanitarian community's response and restore basic services – particularly additional water and fuel supply. There has been some progress in returning the two water pipelines and desalination plants that serve the south and middle of Gaza to at least partial capacity. But meeting the true scale of need will require getting them to full capacity, and allowing the pipeline and desalination plant that serve the north to resume operations. All actors must do their utmost to relieve suffering resulting from this terrible conflict. 

Civilians are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the war, and food, water, and fuel remain inadequate, and that is unconscionable. Every country has to do everything in its power to facilitate as much life-saving assistance to Gaza as possible. 

Thirdly, the international community needs to increase the resources, the money, the supplies that we are providing for innocent civilians who are suffering in this crisis. The UN has issued a flash humanitarian appeal, and the international community, the countries within it, philanthropies within it, private citizens, must come together and resource this appeal. With more than 150 UN staff killed so far, this conflict has become the deadliest in history for UN aid workers. Despite this, thousands of UN staff continue to report for work each and every day. They are the backbone of the humanitarian response. But only 28 percent of the UN flash appeal has been funded so far to support them and their work. The humanitarians putting their lives on the line to deliver deserve our support. 

The United States is the largest donor to the UN and to UNRWA, but the fact is, all of us need to do more. And that is why today I'm announcing an additional $21 million in U.S. assistance to support our humanitarian partners, to enable them to supply basic hygiene, shelter, food assistance, and more. Additionally, this funding will support the establishment of an NGO operated field hospital in Gaza that will provide urgently needed inpatient care. Today's announcement brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, since this conflict began, to $121 million. 

Needs are still great. We all need to do more. Civilians must be protected. And everyone who is committed to support the Palestinian people must follow through on those commitments. And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: [off-mic]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: We saw trucks backed up, we saw some drivers who've been sleeping in their car for as much as three days. So near to us here, there are civilians who desperately need what is in those trucks, and that is one of the reasons that President Biden sent me here. 

We have deployed a team as well, to Israel, to look at all that can be done. And the bottlenecks, so there is a full pipeline, not just number of trucks one day, and a different number the next day, but just a constant flow of supplies into civilians who need them. There are many sources of delay, certainly, the United States, is very much in favor of opening up Kerem Shalom so that that can be utilized, as well as the inspection mechanism in Nitzana. 

We also, as I said earlier, are very much in favor of commercial access being opened up. There are 2.2 million people who are not going to be able to survive in the long-term on humanitarian aid alone. Even if we make what happened in the humanitarian pause the new baseline and increase that – medicine, nutrition, psychosocial care, goods in the market, people being able to have livelihoods, and be able to provide for their families – fundamentally, that is what a life of dignity entails. So we will continue to ramp up the humanitarian pipeline, we will push for more access in more places. 

We also need to see safe humanitarian access. Now that the conflict has moved to the south – or has intensified in the south –  that puts truck drivers, humanitarian aid workers, and civilians at risk as they come out in order to access humanitarian aid. So we will continue to push for much greater protection of civilians, and much more humanitarian access. We want to see truck drivers driving their trucks to Gaza, and into Gaza, and having those supplies available to civilians, rather than waiting here desperate to help, but unable to help because of a system that absolutely can be streamlined.

QUESTION: [off-mic]

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I think what the Egyptian Red Crescent, what the Egyptian government, what all of our Palestinian interlocutors and UN interlocutors would attest to, is that from the beginning of this crisis, the humanitarian response was an absolute priority for President Biden. Recall the very beginning, after the vicious terrorist attacks on October 7, no humanitarian aid was flowing into Gaza. And indeed, there were many, many statements that none would flow. That obviously was untenable and would have made the situation even more dire and devastating for the Palestinian people inside Gaza. 

So really, from October 7 to the present, there has not been one conversation that President Biden has had, or Jake Sullivan has had, or I have had, or Secretary Blinken has had, or Secretary Austin even in defense channels has had, that has not centered in large measure on the welfare of innocent Palestinians in Gaza who had nothing to do with the October 7 attack. So this is very much a part of that effort. 

That said, obviously, in the pause, we had a chance to significantly scale up assistance, we managed to get, collectively, more trucks into Gaza in that short pause than had reached Gaza in the entire month that preceded it. We need what happened during the pause, in terms of humanitarian flow, in terms of fuel supply, especially, which is desperately needed for water and for hospitals, and for food distribution and for life, particularly as winter sets in, we need that what was established in the pause to be the baseline and then to increase above those levels. The levels that we achieved during the pause are not sufficient. And yet, now, we have fallen back to levels that we were at prior to the pause. 

So certainly one focus on my trip is what can we do to make the system more efficient? What political decisions are needed, that President Biden will take up with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, or maybe with President [Abdel Fattah El-] Sisi depending on the issue, in order to ensure that, again, not one truck is waiting here, not one warm blanket, not one stockpile of medical supplies is here in El-Arish, when it could be in Gaza supporting civilians who of course every day are experiencing different kinds of desperation and pain.

QUESTION: [off-mic]

INTERPRETER: And he wants to know your comment about the humanitarian assistance that has been prevented by Israelis in reaching Gaza strip. And tell him more about the amount of humanitarian aid that's been provided to us [inaudible]. Your comments on the Israeli preventing humanitarian aid entering Gaza in addition to the amount of humanitarian aid, how much will it decrease, will it decrease, how things will go.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: During the humanitarian pause, we established a new normal in terms of the flow of trucks into Gaza, getting up to around 250 trucks, getting up to 120,000 liters of fuel. Again, that should be the baseline going forward. There are many things that now are preventing us from reaching those numbers. Partly, it is because we need the inspections to move more quickly, and we need more inspection capacity. We understand very much why Israel wants to inspect what is going into Gaza after what happened on October 7. I think any country would wish to know what was going in, but that process absolutely can be accelerated. And opening Kerem Shalom to inspection – we heard from the UN, and from the Egyptian Red Crescent – would be very, very helpful. 

Additionally, Israel from the beginning has expressed concern about fuel because of the way in which Hamas can use fuel. Nonetheless, fuel is a lifeline. The lack of fuel means generators for medical clinics and hospitals shut down. And so, again, the new baseline that was established during the pause to get more than 100,000 liters of fuel in, that's not enough, but we need at least to get back up to that level, and that level has gone down since the pause ended. 

I think the other really important thing to talk about when we talk about the welfare of Gazans, of course, is the war itself. And this is one of the things that President Biden, Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, myself, Jake Sullivan, are pushing in every conversation, which is even during war there are rules. There are no law-free zones. As the war has moved to the south, it's extremely important that civilians be protected. Whether that's in a hospital, in their home, in an UNRWA shelter, or if they're moving, if they're on the road. If they've received a leaflet telling them that fighting is coming, for example, to a part of Khan Yunis, for them to be able to safely evacuate and find safe shelter. This is an absolutely critical part of the response, along with assistance. We absolutely have to see assistance and the protection of civilians as going hand in hand.

QUESTION: [off-mic]

INTERPRETER: During your tour today at the warehouse, you have seen a lot of – thousands of hundreds of humanitarian assistance there. And even if we go to Rafah border crossing, or [inaudible] border, you’ll find other humanitarian assistance waiting there. This is a great [inaudible] that Israel is hindering the entrance of this humanitarian aid to Gaza. And the UNRWA commented on this saying that Israel are really forming a barrier to entry for this humanitarian assistance to enter. So the question is, what's the value of this humanitarian assistance if they're not able to enter it at the right time, at the right place or the right [inaudible]. And why doesn’t the U.S. press the Israeli people to [inaudible] open borders as UNRWA did?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: This question of getting sufficient food, medicine, water, fuel, winterization supplies, nutrients – not just food, but actual nutrition – is an absolute top tier priority for President Biden. I want to underscore, there's not one conversation that President Biden has had in recent weeks with Prime Minister Netanyahu that has not centered on getting more supplies to the people of Gaza, who are in desperate need of those supplies.

So please, know that the President of the United States has become something of a, we call it a humanitarian desk officer, in terms of his level of familiarity, and frequency of advocacy on the number of trucks, on the time that the inspections open up, on the scanners and how many scanners and what they should look like. So this is absolutely top tier priority for the President of the United States to end up in a situation where everything that needs to reach the people on the other side of the border, reach those individuals. 

At the same time, given what happened on October 7, a lot of the pre-existing infrastructure and system for moving supplies in, particularly commercial supplies, was either destroyed or new security issues were presented. So this is a system that has been built almost from scratch. The Rafah crossing was not a crossing that was the main humanitarian crossing into Gaza. And, again, getting up to 1,600 trucks over the course of the pause reflects a steady increase, but it needs to keep going up and up and up and up because we know what is not enough. And U.S. advocacy is going to be centered on that objective, again, until we see just a steady flow of trucks and supplies. But I want to come back to what I said out there, and said again here, which is, we need commercial traffic to be proceeding into Gaza – that is absolutely critical. Humanitarian assistance is never going to be enough for a population to live with dignity on. And so the commercial has to come online, just as in the short term humanitarian access has to be expanded. 

MODERATOR: Last question.

QUESTION: You were talking about the sudden and Hamas using human shields [inaudible]. But still, these aids [inaudible] that's humanitarian aid going to Gaza [inaudible] try to go along with stopping funding, basically, [inaudible] IDF involving civilians to go along together.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Look, I'm the USAID Administrator, focused on the welfare of Palestinian civilians and the assistance that we can provide. Our entire government is focused, as well, on international humanitarian law. And, again, again, and again delivering the message of the importance of international humanitarian law. 

You probably heard over the weekend, Secretary Austin even speak publicly to this, conveying a lot of what has been said, again, over these many weeks. Secretary Austin's point and he has come to this conclusion after a lifetime of warfighting including in urban areas, but as he put it, the lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians – the center of gravity is the civilian population. If you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat. So that is just one example. 

You've heard from Secretary Blinken as well, talking about avoiding displacements, civilians needing to be safe where they are. The United States uses every occasion to press the importance of Israeli military action abiding by international humanitarian law. And you can see again, as the Israelis now have launched operations in the south, that both publicly and privately, we are delivering that message with great urgency. 

Administrator Power Travels to Egypt - December 2023


Administrator Samantha Power will travel to meet with local officials and Egyptian and international humanitarian organizations working to accelerate the pace of vitally needed assistance into Gaza.

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