Israel has agreed to allow a supply of fuel into Gaza for the first time since the start of the war last month – sparking a bitter row within the Israeli government.
Two UN trucks carrying around 60,000l will enter the besieged enclave per day to meet “UN needs”, an unnamed Israeli official said, a decision that was approved by Israel’s war cabinet after a request from Washington.
Gaza’s healthcare system has come close to collapse without supplies of fuel which were choked off since last month.
Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a British-Palestinian doctor based at al-Shifa hospital, the largest in the territory, said it had been reduced to a “first-aid station” without fuel to power equipment.
The UN’s refugee agency has also warned that it will be unable to provide essential health and aid services without fuel. Services have been severely overburdened due to the level of destruction and displacement in Gaza since the outbreak of war.
Israel has been insistent that it will not allow fuel into Gaza, claiming this would benefit Hamas.
Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Israel’s National Security Council, explained the reversal by claiming the small amount of fuel in Gaza would mitigate the risk of infectious diseases that could affect Israel.
“We don’t want diseases that could harm the civilians who are there and our forces,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of Israel’s National Security Council, at a press conference on Friday.
“If there are diseases, the fighting would be halted. We cannot continue fighting in the event of a humanitarian crisis or an international outcry.”
The fuel amounted to roughly two to four per cent of the normal quantities of fuel that entered Gaza before the start of the Israel-Hamas war on 7 October, according to Mr Hanegbi.
Israeli forces will monitor the delivery of fuel to ensure it does not reach Hamas. But the decision to allow any fuel into Gaza sparked a backlash from Israeli MPs.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of the far right Religious Zionism alliance said the war cabinet “is leading Israel to a wrong policy.”
“So long as our hostages don’t even get a visit from the Red Cross, there is no sense in giving the enemy humanitarian gifts.”
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, also representing Religious Zionism in parliament, said the decision was “a grave mistake”.
The move “broadcasts weakness, gives oxygen to the enemy and allows [Hamas Gaza leader Yahya] Sinwar to sit comfortably in his air-conditioned bunker, watch the news and continue to manipulate Israeli society and the families of the abductees,” said Mr Smotrich.
Opposition MP Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, tweeted: “Stop fueling the Nazis from Hamas! The statements that ‘not a drop of fuel’ would enter the Strip have turned into allowing thousands of liters unilaterally, without receiving any humanitarian gesture for our hostages.
Splits within Israel’s wartime unity government have become increasingly apparent over recent days. On Thursday, opposition leader Yair Lapid called for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We can’t run an extended [military] operation with a prime minister we do not have faith in,” said the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party.
The only previous fuel to enter Gaza was half a truck delivered from Egypt on Wednesday.
World Food Programme executive director Cindy McCain also warned on Friday that almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million population was in desperate need of food.