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Aid arrives in Gaza

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Today, for the first time since Hamas attacked Israel two weeks ago, aid trucks were allowed to cross the Egyptian border into Gaza. They're bringing in some desperately needed supplies to the besieged territory. But compared to what is needed, the aid going in is not much, and still nobody is getting out. NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been following the developments today from Tel Aviv and joins us now. Hey, Ruth.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hey.

DETROW: So what's happening right now on Gaza's border with Egypt?

SHERLOCK: Well, today the border was finally opened, and 20 trucks of aid made it inside Gaza. This is the result of days of diplomacy. But, you know, it barely begins to address the needs of the population there. Supplies have been running low of so much. I mean, in hospitals, there's reports of surgeries now being performed without anesthetic. And a doctor in a Gaza hospital has been posting these images on social media saying he's treating bacterial wound infections with vinegar and that today, dozens of children came into the hospital with these horrific burns all over their bodies, and he's run out of dressings to treat them. As far as the aid goes, there are negotiations ongoing to get more aid in. But the issue here is that, you know, Israel says it's concerned about aid going to Hamas and wants to be able to inspect what goes in from Egypt. And so far, it hasn't allowed in fuel, which is critically needed.

DETROW: Meantime, what is the latest in terms of casualties in Gaza?

SHERLOCK: Well, dozens more people died from airstrikes today. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says that more than 1,600 children have now been killed in the last two weeks, and many of the dead are having to be placed in these mass graves. The U.N. refugee agency UNRWA, meanwhile, says it's hosting about half a million people in schools and even in warehouses. But as Juliette Touma, UNRWA's director of communications, told me they're doing this whilst their own staff are being impacted by the war.

JULIETTE TOUMA: As of this morning, it is very sad to confirm that at least 17 of my colleagues at UNWRA have been killed during the war. Many of our staff have been displaced themselves. Many lost their homes, lost loved ones.

SHERLOCK: Israel has told people in Gaza to evacuate to the south of the territory. We spoke to a number of people there today - for example, Wafaa El-Saka (ph), a retired American schoolteacher, and she told NPR that the bombardments continue there, too.

WAFAA EL-SAKA: I'm scared when the night comes in because we can't see where it's happening, and I'm scared when the daylight comes out because I'm going to see what is going to happen.

SHERLOCK: Last night, her friend's house, where she's staying in southern Gaza, was almost hit by an airstrike.

EL-SAKA: The sound of the glass shatter, the rocks coming through, the debris - the kids were screaming, yelling. Everybody was screaming, yelling.

SHERLOCK: The attack hit a house just two doors down.

EL-SAKA: I said it could have been the house that we're in and were not warned, and we have 50 people inside, all of us with kids. And so I don't want to see this anymore. I don't want to see the pain. I don't want to see the destruction. Enough is enough.

SHERLOCK: She and other Americans in Gaza were told by the State Department that the Rafah border crossing to Egypt would open at 10 a.m. to foreign passport holders. U.S. citizen Abood Okal is also at the border.

ABOOD OKAL: Everybody's just waiting for someone to come out at the gate and say, OK, we have confirmation now from the Egyptian side that you guys can be let in.

SHERLOCK: He and his wife and child are from Massachusetts and came to visit relatives in Gaza.

OKAL: Because we live in the U.S., so our whole life is there. Our homes are there. My son's daycare is there. My job is there.

SHERLOCK: He's been trying to leave since the war began, but he's stuck.

OKAL: Days went by of us daily trying to reach to the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and there was no information. On one side, we remain hopeful, and we try to contact State Department as much as we can for further clarity. And on the other side, we have to deal with the reality that we're in and prepare that this might drag longer than we expected.

SHERLOCK: And, you know, the reality of staying is that there's little food, no gas for cooking and he's in a small house with 40 other people, with drinking water rapidly running out. But when we spoke to him this morning, he was optimistic he could leave soon.

OKAL: We consider ourselves very fortunate because we're Palestinian Americans that have this opportunity, hopefully.

SHERLOCK: But as the hours passed, with no one allowed out, his hope increasingly turned to frustration. He sent us this voice memo around mid-afternoon, when it was clear that he wouldn't be able to cross.

OKAL: This marks the third day that we've attempted to cross, based on instructions from the State Department. The way that American citizens are being treated in Gaza is just a shame on this government and on the State Department.

DETROW: Ruth, last weekend shows we heard from Americans in Gaza being told that they could leave through the Rafah gate. It's a week later. The situation still has not changed. What do we know about why people are not being allowed to leave?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, Scott, for Palestinians, one of the issues is that Egypt doesn't want to host a large refugee population that could become permanent, like you have in Jordan and Lebanon. For foreigners, it's not clear why Egypt isn't letting them out of Gaza. The U.S. says it's working tirelessly to try to secure this access for its citizens. But for now, Wafaa El-Saka and Abood Okal and their families are still trapped.

DETROW: NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Tel Aviv. Thank you so much.

SHERLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.