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Aid 'a lifeline' for war-torn Gaza, UN chief says at Rafah border

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at at press conference on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing on the border with the Gaza Stirp
— Rafah (Egypt) (AFP)

Aid trucks waiting to cross from Egypt into Gaza are "a lifeline" which need to move into the war-torn Palestinian enclave as soon as possible, the UN chief said Friday.

"These trucks are not just trucks, they are a lifeline. They are the difference between life and death for so many people in Gaza," said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as he visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing to oversee preparations for the delivery of aid.

Cargo planes and trucks have been bringing humanitarian aid to Rafah for days, but so far none has been delivered to Gaza which has been under intense Israeli bombardment for almost two weeks since the deadly October 7 attacks.

On that day, Hamas militants stormed into Israel killing at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians who were shot, mutilated or burnt to death, according to Israeli officials.

Since then, more than 4,100 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed in relentless Israeli bombardments, according to Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry.

Israel also cut off supplies of water, electricity, fuel and food to the territory of 2.4 million people, creating chronic shortages.

On Friday, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said the first aid delivery through Rafah would take place "in the next day or so".

"To see (the aid trucks) stuck here makes me be very clear: what we need is to make them move... to the other side of this wall... as quickly as possible and as many as possible," Guterres told reporters at the crossing.

The UN chief said it must be "a sustained effort" with not just one convoy crossing but for many "to be authorised in a meaningful number to have enough trucks to provide support to Gaza's people".

"It is essential to have fuel on the other side... to be able to distribute humanitarian aid for the population in Gaza," Guterres said, warning against the use of aid deliveries as "bargaining chips".

The United Nations, he said, was "actively engaging with all the parties", including Egypt, Israel and the United States, to get the trucks moving as quickly as possible.

Rafah is the only route into the blockaded Palestinian territory that is not controlled by Israel, which agreed to allow aid in from Egypt following a request from its US ally.

The UN chief's remarks came on the eve of a summit set to be hosted by Egypt to discuss efforts towards deescalation and a ceasefire in Gaza.

Also on Friday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in Cairo, where the two agreed on the need to "avoid a contagion of conflict in the region", according to a Downing Street statement.