American, British and European officials are pressuring Israel to let aid for Gaza transit through the Israeli port of Ashdod to help alleviate a metastasizing humanitarian crisis, according to six U.S. and European officials.
Israel’s military responded to the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by invading and declaring a siege on Gaza, which was already under a yearslong blockade. It has since allowed limited amounts of aid into the enclave through two border points, one in Israel and the other in Egypt, but those deliveries have been bogged down by inspections and logistical snarls.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken pressed Israeli officials about allowing Gaza aid through the port of Ashdod when he was in Tel Aviv earlier this month, according to one U.S. official. That official and the others interviewed about the new aid proposal spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.
Under the new proposed agreement, aid would be shipped from Cyprus — an Israeli ally — to Ashdod, three of the officials said. From Ashdod, it would then be transported to Kerem Shalom, the Israeli border crossing through which aid has been allowed into Gaza, a European official said.
The ultimate goal, an American and a European official said, is to establish a workable alternative to delivering aid via Egypt in a way that satisfies Israel’s demand for security checks. Israeli officials have demanded stringent inspections on all supplies entering Gaza so as to weed out anything that could benefit Hamas.
A small step came on Friday, when the White House said that Israel would permit flour for Gaza to be shipped through Ashdod amid efforts to find “options for more direct maritime delivery of assistance.”
“We need these shipments to continue and for this port to remain open for aid,” Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, said on the social media platform X after the White House announcement about the flour shipments.
The Israeli government has not formally announced the decision to let flour shipments through Ashdod, and the prime minister’s office declined to comment. But the Israeli security cabinet quietly agreed to the plan on Friday, according to an Israeli official briefed on the deliberations.
Ashdod sits about 16 miles north of Gaza on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Israel has been reluctant to open Ashdod for assistance destined for Gaza amid concerns that having more aid delivered through Israeli soil could prompt public backlash at a time when Israeli hostages are still being held in the enclave, according to a senior Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
(For most of the war, aid has been delivered to Egypt before being inspected by Israel close to its border with Egypt, barely touching Israeli territory before being sent to Gaza. In December, some trucks from Jordan started going through Kerem Shalom.)
Gaza urgently needs the help. The United Nations has warned that risk of famine is growing, clean water is scarce and diseases are spreading. Amid Israeli airstrikes and intense fighting, Gaza’s hospitals have struggled to deal with a seemingly constant stream of wounded people and grossly inadequate medical supplies.
Aaron Boxerman and Edward Wong contributed reporting.