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ConflictsMiddle East

Israel-Hamas war: Egypt agrees on Gaza aid via Kerem Shalom

Published May 23, 2024last updated May 24, 2024

Egypt has agreed to coordinate deliveries of aid to Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing after top-level talks with the US. Meanwhile, the UN's top court has ruled that Israel should stop its Rafah offensive. DW has more.

A fence sits locked at the entrance to the Kerem Shalom border crossing
UN officials say they are largely unable to reach the Kerem Shalom crossing because fighting in the area makes it too dangerousImage: Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi agreed in a call with US counterpart Joe Biden to allow UN aid through the crucial Kerem Shalom crossing 
  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive
  • Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Germany to 'wait and see' on ICC prosecutor's push to arrest Netanyahu
  • Israel to restrict Spanish consular activities in Jerusalem in response to Madrid's recognition of a Palestinian state

Here are the latest developments from the Israel-Hamas war and the wider Middle East region on Friday, May 24

Skip next section Egypt agrees on Kerem Shalom crossing deliveries
May 24, 2024

Egypt agrees on Kerem Shalom crossing deliveries

US President Joe Biden and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi have reached an agreement on aid delivery to Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing, Cairo says.

The plan is for Egypt to hand over humanitarian aid and fuel to the United Nations at the crossing temporarily until there is a legal mechanism to reach and reopen the Rafah crossing from the Palestinian side.

In a phone call, Biden and al-Sissi also affirmed their rejection of all attempts to displace Palestinians from their land, and their support for all means to prevent the aggravation and expansion of the conflict.

The crossing agreement aims to reverse a dramatic drop in UN aid entering the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its Rafah offensive on May 6. The closure of the Rafah crossing has created a backlog of aid in Egypt, where some of the food supplies have begun to rot.

It remains unclear whether the plan could work. UN officials have said they are largely unable to reach the Kerem Shalom crossing because of fighting in the area.

The two leaders have also agreed on the need to intensify efforts until negotiations succeed and achieve a breakthrough to end the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, a statement from Sissi's presidency said.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says aid to the Gaza Strip has become extremely limited, with fewer than 1,000 truckloads of assistance entering the enclave since the operation began. Israel claims that the city is the last true bastion of Hamas.

Since Israeli forces closed the Rafah crossing at the start of the month, Egypt has indicated it will not coordinate aid transports there until the Israeli forces withdraw. 

Egyptian sources said there was ongoing communication with Israel about delivering aid through Kerem Shalom, beginning within overnight into Saturday.

Israel closed Kerem Shalom earlier this month after Hamas launched a rocket attack on the crossing and Israeli settlements.

Skip next section ICJ Rafah ruling ratchets up pressure on Biden, legal expert says
May 24, 2024

ICJ Rafah ruling ratchets up pressure on Biden, legal expert says

Israel is unlikely to comply with the order by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to halt its operation in Rafah, and that could make life harder for the White House, a legal expert told DW.

Although President Joe Biden's administration has suggested that a full-scale operation in Rafah would be a red line for the United States, it could have been more concrete, said Michael Becker, an assistant professor of international human rights law at Trinity College in Dublin.

"I think the court's order today then puts further pressure on the Biden administration to say 'enough is enough,'" Becker said.

"Now is the time for Israel to step back and find a different way to manage this conflict," he added.

The top UN court has ordered Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah — but stopped short of ordering a cease-fire for the whole enclave.

Nevertheless, Becker said, the ICJ ruling was "a pretty extraordinary development" for South Africa as it represented a first in the proceedings.

"It's certainly the case that South Africa received just about everything that it requested from the court this time around," Becker said.

UN court rules Israel must halt offensive in Rafah

"We know that South Africa has gone to the ICJ multiple times seeking provisional measures, this kind of urgent interim relief, and has asked each time for the court to order Israel to suspend the military operations. Up until this point, the court declined to take that step to go that far."

Skip next section ICJ orders stop to Israel's military operations in Rafah
May 24, 2024

ICJ orders stop to Israel's military operations in Rafah

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Israel to "immediately" halt its military offensive in the city of Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip, calling the humanitarian situation "disastrous."

The World Court added that Israel "must take measures to ensure unimpeded access into the Gaza Strip for inquirers."

Panel judges voted 13 to 2 in favor of the order, which characterized the humanitarian situation in Gaza as "disastrous" and "catastrophic."

Skip next section Scholz on ICC prosecutor's push to arrest Netanyahu: 'It's a case of wait and see'
May 24, 2024

Scholz on ICC prosecutor's push to arrest Netanyahu: 'It's a case of wait and see'

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has somewhat clarified comments from his government spokesman earlier in the week that prompted questions on whether Berlin might consider arresting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if the ICC issued a warrant

"What will happen next is something for a panel of judges to decide," Scholz said at a press conference in Berlin on Friday. "So for now it's a case of wait and see. You can't and mustn't speculate." 

Scholz said his government expected that any decision would consider "that Israel is a democratic country governed by the rule of law with a strong and independent judiciary." 

Steffen Hebestreit had earlier said the German government would "stick to the law" in any such situation.

The ICC typically only calls on signatory states to assist in the arrest or prosecution of individuals when it also finds that the domestic legal systems in a suspect's own country are not equipped for a case.

Scholz also repeated his criticism of the ICC's announcing investigations of both Netanyahu and three Hamas leaders simultaneously earlier in the week. He said that he and his government "firmly reject" any comparability between the cases.

ICC prosecutor's arrest bid may pressure Israel's Netanyahu

Skip next section Israel plans restrictions on Spain after Palestinian recognition
May 24, 2024

Israel plans restrictions on Spain after Palestinian recognition

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on Friday that Israel would sever the connection between Spain's representative in Israel and the Palestinians and prohibit the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem from providing services to Palestinians from the West Bank. 

He said the plans came in "response to Spain's recognition of a Palestinian state and the antisemitic call by Spain's deputy prime minster to not just recognize a Palestinian state but to 'liberate Palestine from the river to the sea.'" 

This slogan, or variations of it, is common during pro-Palestinian protests. Some interpret it as advocating the replacement of the state of Israel with a Palestinian state, others assert that this is not the implication. Use of the phrase was restricted in Germany soon after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people.

Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz is a member of the junior coalition partner in Spain's government, a left-wing party she founded called Sumar (or "Unite" in English), with far lesser influence than the center-left PSOE senior partners of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Skip next section Borrell: Recognizing Palestinian state 'not a gift to Hamas'
May 24, 2024

Borrell: Recognizing Palestinian state 'not a gift to Hamas'

The EU's foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, said on Friday that recognizing a Palestinian state did not constitute a "gift to Hamas," as Israel had said. 

This follows Ireland, Norway and Borrell's native Spain on Wednesday saying that they would recognize Palestine as a state, describing the step as a bid to help secure a cease-fire in Gaza and revive long-stalled talks that were supposed to establish the so-called two-state solution.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said the plan was tantamount to "a reward for terrorism." Israeli Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor made similar comments on Friday in an interview with Deutschlandfunk public radio.

"Recognizing the Palestinian state is not a gift to Hamas, quite the contrary," Borrell said. "The Palestinian Authority is not Hamas, on the contrary they are deeply confronted." 

The Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, which governs the occupied West Bank, is the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian non-member observer state at the UN. But Fatah lost control of Gaza to Hamas first in a 2006 election and then even more so in armed conflict in the vote's aftermath in 2007 as a Hamas-Fatah unity government rapidly fell apart. 

Neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority has held elections in their respective territories in over a decade. Although rare, polls suggest both groups might struggle to retain control.

Israel, the US, the EU and several Arab states recognize Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Ireland, Spain, Norway to recognize Palestinian state

Skip next section Israel's military says bodies of 3 hostages recovered
May 24, 2024

Israel's military says bodies of 3 hostages recovered

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on Friday that it had recovered the bodies of three hostages taken into the Gaza Strip after being killed during the October 7 attacks by Hamas-led militants. 

The IDF said the army and intelligence services collaborated on an overnight operation in Jabaliya in northern Gaza, where there has been intense fighting in recent days. Families of the victims had been notified, it said.

The Israeli National Forensic Institute and Israeli police identified the bodies, the military said. 

Last weekend, Israel similarly said it recovered three dead bodies of hostages it said were killed on October 7 but still taken back to Gaza. It reported another hostage's body, recovered as part of the same operation in Rafah, the following day.

Israel says that Hamas-led militants abducted around 250 people on October 7, roughly half of whom are thought to still be in Gaza, either dead or alive. 

Israeli troops find bodies of 3 hostages in Gaza: Aya Ibrahim reports

Skip next section Israel's Netanyahu to address US Congress soon, House Speaker says
May 24, 2024

Israel's Netanyahu to address US Congress soon, House Speaker says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will soon address the United States Congress, House Speaker Mike Johnson said.

"We will soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Capitol for a joint session of Congress," Johnson said, adding that the visit would mark "a very strong show of support to the Israeli government."

Johnson is the top congressional Republican and a critic of Democratic President Joe Biden's Israel policy. He did not specify a date for Netanyahu's speech.

The United States has strongly backed Israel in its war against Hamas that was sparked by the cross-border attack on October 7 by Hamas militants that killed some 1,200 people. 

But amid a mounting civilian death toll, President Biden has increasingly been pushing Netanyahu to tame his operation in Gaza to protect Palestinian civilians. The White House has been frustrated in particular over Israel's military operations in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where more than one million people are sheltering.

Biden has also threatened to halt arms supplies, a stance opposed by Republicans and many Democrats. 

A speech by Netanyahu at US Congress, however, could further anger progressive Democrats critical of Israel's military campaign in Gaza and Biden's support for it.

Dennis Ross: Indictments would lead Israel to continue war

Skip next section Berlin police arrest 23 as students vow to maintain university occupation
May 23, 2024

Berlin police arrest 23 as students vow to maintain university occupation

Police in Berlin, Germany, on Thursday arrested 23 individuals in connection with the occupation of a building at the city's Humboldt University by pro-Palestinian students.

Roughly 100 students occupied rooms in the social sciences department on Wednesday. School administrators had given them until Thursday evening to leave the premises.

Additionally, 25 criminal cases were opened to investigate, among other things, the display of unconstitutional insignias, property damage, and resisting arrest.

Police say roughly 320 protesters were taking part in the occupation.

The students accuse Israel of "committing genocide in Gaza," and are demanding the university pressure the German government to end all military, financial and diplomatic cooperation with Israel as well as push for a cease-fire.

Group organizers, calling themselves the Student Coalition Berlin said the protest was designed to signal, "unconditional solidarity with the Palestinian people."

A spokesperson for the group said they intended to renegotiate a previous agreement to leave the buildings until Humboldt University President Julia von Blumenthal agreed to their demands.

Among those sharply criticizing such actions were Josef Schuster, president of the Central Committee of Jews in Germany; and Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner, who said universities are places of knowledge and discourse, not "lawless spaces for anti-Semites and terrorist sympathizers."

Campus protests: Pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli?

Skip next section Israel says it will not be deterred as ICJ set to rule on Rafah offensive
May 23, 2024

Israel says it will not be deterred as ICJ set to rule on Rafah offensive

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has said that it will issue a ruling Friday on whether further steps can be taken to prevent what South Africa describes as "the genocide of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip" as requested in an urgent appeal submitted by South Africa.

South Africa submitted the appeal to the UN high court in The Hague, Netherlands, on May 10, and is requesting that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) be ordered to withdraw from Gaza.

The ICJ has previously instructed Israel — which entered Gaza in response to an October 7, 2023, attack launched from the enclave by the governing Islamic militia Hamas — to take measures to prevent genocide and to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Israel has accused South Africa of acting as Hamas' legal arm, and says it will not be deterred from defending itself.

On Thursday, Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman said, "No power on earth will stop Israel from protecting its citizens and going after Hamas in Gaza."

Although the ICJ's rulings are binding, it possesses no mechanism with which to enforce them.

The court may, however, request that the UN Security Council take action on its behalf.

Israel rebukes South Africa over Gaza genocide allegations

Skip next section Egypt still committed to peace despite uncertainty over its role
May 23, 2024

Egypt still committed to peace despite uncertainty over its role

Egyptian security sources on Thursday told Reuters news agency that the country remains committed to negotiating the release of Israeli hostages in Gaza as well as the establishment of a cease-fire, despite growing uncertainty over Cairo's continued role as a mediator in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas militants.

The sources said that Egyptian officials had been in contact with Israel over arranging a new date for talks between the conflicting parties.

Egypt, which for months has been working alongside Qatar and the US to facilitate such a deal, indicated Wednesday that it would withdraw from negotiations due to its frustration over a lack of progress as well as Israel’s military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Cairo was also angered by Israel’s decision to take control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt, wary of a mass displacement of Palestinians, has so far rebuffed US calls to facilitate aid deliveries through the Rafah crossing, saying a resumption will only take place after Israel relinquishes control of the Gaza side of the crossing.

Skip next section Israel tells Irish, Norwegian and Spanish ambassadors, 'Hamas congratulates you'
May 23, 2024

Israel tells Irish, Norwegian and Spanish ambassadors, 'Hamas congratulates you'

Israel on Thursday summoned the ambassadors of Spain, Norway and the Republic of Ireland to be "reprimanded” for their countries' "perverse decision" to recognize a Palestinian state, according to Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yaakov Blitshtein.

"There will be additional serious consequences for relations with their countries following the decision they made," he said.

The ambassadors were first shown a three-minute clip of the kidnapping of five female Israel Defense Forces soldiers — footage that was taken by Islamist Hamas fighters during their October 7 attack on Israel — before being upbraided.

Blitshtein said the announcement of pending recognition made it, "more difficult to promote a deal for the release of hostages."

"The twisted decision by your governments is a prize to Hamas," Blitshtein reportedly told the ambassadors on Thursday, "Hamas congratulates you."

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez previously said his government's decision would help facilitate the implementation of a two-state solution between Israel and Palestinian leaders.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has rejected the idea, called the decision, "a reward for terror."

js/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)