WASHINGTON - U.S. President Joe Biden will make a high stakes visit to Israel on Wednesday to show support for its war on Hamas, after Washington said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to let humanitarian aid reach besieged Gazans.
Trucks carrying vital supplies for Gaza headed towards the Rafah crossing in Egypt, the only access point to the enclave outside of Israel's control, though it was not certain whether they would be able to cross.
A witness told Reuters some 160 trucks had set off towards the border from the nearby Egyptian town of Al-Arish, where they have been backed up waiting while diplomats tried for days to open the route.
Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement that controls Gaza after Hamas gunmen killed 1,300 people, mainly civilians, during a rampage through southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7, the deadliest single day in Israel's 75-year history.
Israel has bombarded the Gaza Strip with air strikes that have killed more than 2,800 Palestinians, a quarter of them children, and driven around half of the 2.3 million Gazans from their homes. It has imposed a total blockade on the enclave, blocking food, fuel and medical supplies, which are rapidly running out.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Biden's planned visit at the end of hours of talks with Netanyahu, in which he said Netanyahu had agreed to develop a plan to get humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians. He gave no details.
"The president will hear from Israel what it needs to defend its people as we continue to work with Congress to meet those needs," Blinken said.
Biden would also "hear from Israel how it will conduct its operations in a way that minimizes civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas", he added.
Washington is also trying to rally Arab states to help head off a wider regional war, after Iran pledged "preemptive action" from the "resistance front" of its allies which include the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
After visiting Israel, Biden is expected to travel to Jordan to meet King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority which is a rival of Hamas and has limited self rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
LIFTING RUBBLE WITH BARE HANDS
In Jabalia in the north of the Gaza Strip, frantic residents were using their bare hands to lift chunks of concrete and metal, crying out when they located bodies from under rubble in a huge, smoking bombing crater. Others ran with stretchers carrying the wounded.
A man emerged from a ruined building holding the limp body of a small boy in his arms, covered in chalky soot.
In the enclave's main southern city Khan Younis, authorities said at least 49 people were killed in air strikes on homes overnight.
Amin Hneideq awoke to a powerful explosion that sent the window crashing down, lacerating his daughter's head. The bomb had missed his house but destroyed a home nearby, killing a family from the north that had obeyed Israeli orders to flee to shelter in the south.
"They brought them from the north just to strike them in the south," said Hneideq, weeping.
The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said Israel had opened a single water line to Khan Younis for three hours on Monday, but only around 14 percent of Gazans had access to it.
"Concerns over dehydration and waterborne diseases are high given the collapse of water and sanitation services, including today’s shutdown of Gaza’s last functioning seawater desalination plant," UNRWA said in a statement.
"People will start dying without water."
In addition to trying to get aid through the Rafah crossing, Washington also wants it opened to let out Gazans with foreign passports, including several hundred Palestinian Americans. Gazans with dual nationality tried to reach Rafah on Monday but said it was impossible because of Israeli air strikes.
Egypt has said it could allow medical evacuations through the crossing, but it rejects the prospect of any mass exodus, which Arab states say would amount to an unacceptable expulsion of Palestinians from their land. The overwhelming majority of Gazans without dual nationality are forbidden from leaving.
CLASHES IN ISRAEL'S NORTH
As Israel plans an expected ground invasion of Gaza to root out Hamas, cross border clashes have intensified with Hezbollah on a second front on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.
On Tuesday, the Israeli military said it had killed four people who had tried to cross the border fence to plant explosives. Israel ordered the evacuation on Monday of 28 of its villages in a 2-km-deep (1.2-mile) zone near the Lebanese border.
Iran has celebrated the Hamas attacks on Israel, though it denies being behind them. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state TV that Israel would not be allowed to act in Gaza without consequences, warning of "preemptive action" in the coming hours.
"All options are open and we cannot be indifferent to the war crimes committed against the people of Gaza," Amirabdollahian said. "The resistance front is capable of waging a long-term war with the enemy."
Netanyahu told parliament on Monday he had "a message for Iran and Hezbollah: don't test us in the north. Don't make the same mistake you once made. Because today the price you will pay will be much heavier."
As Israel masses troops on Gaza's border, it has told more than a million people in the northern half of the enclave to flee to the southern half for their safety. Hamas has told them to stay put.
While tens of thousands have fled south, the United Nations says there is no way to move so many people without causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
The United Nations says a million Gazans have already been driven from their homes. Power is out, sanitary water is scarce and fuel for hospital emergency generators is running low.