WASHINGTON - Fifty-three House Democrats urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday to work with Israel and Egypt to ensure humanitarian aid is able to enter Gaza, three months after a military confrontation between Hamas and Israel worsened the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave.
The lawmakers, led by Reps. Mark Pocan and Debbie Dingell, called on Blinken to push for the full reopening of the Kerem Shalom, Erez and Rafah border crossings, as well as to work with Israel and Egypt to get clear guidance on goods and materials allowed into Gaza and to extend Gaza's fishing zone to 20 nautical miles in accordance with international agreements.
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"The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza is untenable. Ensuring that Palestinians residing in Gaza receive humanitarian aid is vital to securing the well-being of Gaza's 2.1 million residents," the lawmakers wrote, adding that "securing these changes is vital to addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has been exacerbated by the recent hostilities between Hamas and Israel that left an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians in need of humanitarian assistance."
The signatories condemned Hamas' actions in Gaza and its rocket attacks on Israel, while recognizing that restrictions and Israeli airstrikes have resulted in over 2 million Palestinians in Gaza having severely limited access to clean water, food, medicine and electricity. "Unfortunately the recent Israeli air campaign in Gaza has only worsened living conditions, inflicting $380 million in damage to the beleaguered strip and necessitating $485 million in immediate humanitarian and reconstruction aid," they noted, referring to estimates in a report issued last month by the World Bank, United Nations, and European Union.
The lawmakers also urged Blinken to engage his Israeli counterparts to ensure the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings are operating at full capacity to ensure Gaza residents' needs are met, saying that having humanitarian materials enter solely through Egypt's Rafah crossing is insufficient.
They further called on Blinken to work with Israel and Egypt to provide clear guidance on materials allowed into Gaza and to review the efficacy of the existing Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism agreement, meant to facilitate imports into Gaza. They decried the lack of clarity regarding which construction materials are prohibited from entering, noting that Israel has the ability to "selectively ban materials that it considers having 'dual use' — any item it claims could have a military application." They highlight vital materials that have been classified as dual use such as water disinfectants, desalination units and electricity generators.
Another concern raised by the members of Congress was Israel's move to temporarily restrict Gaza's fishing zone to six nautical miles. "Although the restriction was recently reversed, the decision to collectively punish the people of Gaza by unilaterally restricting its fishing zone remains extremely concerning," they wrote, adding that they "strongly urge [Blinken] to work with the Israeli government to refrain from such harmful and illegal actions" and to extend Gaza's fishing zone to 20 nautical miles.
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The left-wing, pro-Israel organization J Street thanked Pocan and Dingell for their leadership on the letter, adding that "the suffering of Palestinian families does nothing to make Israel safer, it only puts more people at risk." Americans for Peace Now President and CEO Hadar Susskind said his organization was happy to work with Pocan, Dingell and all the lawmakers who signed on in support of humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza.
The other lawmakers that signed onto the letter were Reps. Don Beyer, Earl Blumenauer, Jamaal Bowman, Andre Carson, Joaquin Castro, Judy Chu, Steve Cohen, Gerry Connolly, Danny Davis, Peter DeFazio, Mark Desaulnier, Lloyd Doggett, Dwight Evans, Anna Eshoo, John Garamendi, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, Raul Grijalva, Jahana Hayes, Jared Huffman, Sara Jacobs, Pramila Jayapal, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Hank Johnson, Ro Khanna, Daniel Kilder, Ann McLane Kuster, Barbara Lee, Andy Levin, Alan Lowenthal, Betty McCollum, James McGovern, Marie Newman, Eleanore Holmes Norton, Ilhan Omar, Donald Payne Jr., Chellie Pingree, Katie Porter, Ayanna Pressley, David Price, Jamie Raskin, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Bobby Rush, Jan Schakowsky, Jackie Speier, Mark Takano, Mike Thompson, Rashida Tlaib, Maxine Waters, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Peter Welch and John Yarmuth.