Red Cross Aid Convoy Runs Out of Time

The Israel Defense Forces yesterday allowed the Red Cross to bring food, water and medicine to residents of Jabalya, but the six-kilometer trip wound up taking most of the day, leaving aid workers with insufficient time to distribute all the supplies they had brought.

Efforts to arrange the convoy began Sunday night, after Red Cross representatives told the IDF that the situation in eastern Jabalya, which has borne the brunt of the recent fighting, was steadily worsening. Iyad Nasser, the Red Cross spokesman in Gaza, said that this was the first time since the start of Operation Days of Penitence that his organization had been allowed to bring supplies to Jabalya. Nasser said the Red Cross had planned to distribute 250 food parcels and 9,000 liters of bottled water.

But the effort met with very partial success, he added, because movement along the IDF's designated "humanitarian route" ran into unexpected difficulties.

According to one convoy member, the organization began liaising with the IDF at 8 A.M. When the okay arrived, three trucks, four jeeps, an ambulance and a bulldozer set out from the Red Cross building in Gaza City. Though Jabalya is only six kilometers away, the convoy had to make many detours to avoid tanks and roadblocks, increasing the journey to 20 kilometers.

One half-kilometer stretch, from Beit Lahia to eastern Jabalya, consisted of an asphalt road that had been destroyed by IDF tanks and bulldozers and covered by blowing sand that hid the potholes. The convoy's bulldozer was there to clean the road of sand, broken asphalt and other obstacles.

"But when the bulldozer and [one] jeep had already reached Saladin Street, and before we, in the other vehicles, had managed to pass, tanks and an IDF bulldozer appeared on the road and crossed it, creating new potholes and piles of sand," the convoy member said. "Then our bulldozer returned and once again cleared away the piles of sand so that we could pass."

In the end, traversing that one half-kilometer stretch took three hours. One jeep and one truck got stuck, and a tow truck had to be summoned from Beit Lahia to extricate them.

At 3 P.M., the convoy finally reached Jabalya. But because of the delay, the crew did not have time to distribute all the food and water house-to-house before their 5:30 P.M. departure. Instead, they gave what was left to a local resident with instructions to finish the distribution.