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Biden makes deal on aid delivery to Gaza

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And I'm Ari Shapiro in Tel Aviv, Israel, where President Biden took center stage today on a hastily arranged trip here to Tel Aviv. It's the 12th day since the Hamas attack that killed 1,400 people in Israel. Rockets continue to fly from Gaza toward Israel, and intense Israeli bombardment has killed more than 3,400 people in the Gaza Strip. NPR's Ruth Sherlock is here with me in Tel Aviv and NPR's Jackie Northam is in Jerusalem. Good to have you both here.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Thanks so much, Ari.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Jackie, let's start with you. This is a fraught trip by Biden as the entire region tensely watches and Israel prepares for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. What did Biden say today?

NORTHAM: You know, Ari, Biden's visit was really meant to send a message that the U.S. continues to fully support Israel. And, you know, the visit comes at a time when emotions are still raw here in Israel after the multipronged attack by Hamas militants on October 7. And, you know, in a speech after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden compared it to the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. He said he understood the shock and the all-consuming rage that Israelis must feel and how they want justice. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: But I caution this - while you feel that rage, don't be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.

NORTHAM: And, Ari, of course, after 9/11, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and now Israel is preparing for a possible invasion of the Gaza Strip. You know, also, Biden reminded Israelis that the vast majority of Palestinians are not Hamas and that the militant group does not represent the Palestinian people.

SHAPIRO: Did Biden have anything to offer Palestinians?

NORTHAM: He announced $100 million in aid to help civilians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but that probably won't do much right away given the situation, the deteriorating situation in Gaza. He also said he secured a commitment from Israel to allow humanitarian aid deliveries from Egypt into Gaza as soon as possible, you know, food, water, medicine. Israel has up until now not allowed aid in, fearing that Hamas militants could smuggle weapons into Gaza on the aid convoys. But Biden warned that if Hamas diverts or steals the assistance, the aid stops. But, you know, to be honest, these shipments could be held up by Egypt or Israel anyway.

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, Ruth, Biden's trip, as you know, was disrupted by events here. After days of Israeli bombings in Gaza, there was an explosion at a hospital where people had sought shelter. Hundreds were killed. We still don't know the exact number. And there are different claims about what happened. So are the facts any clearer today? What can you tell us?

SHERLOCK: Well, Ari, what we are seeing is, you know, terrible footage of people wounded, being rushed away, including children just covered in blood, crying. And like you say, the Baptist al-Ahli Hospital, it was being used by families as a place to shelter. They had fled the bombardment in other areas thinking that this place was safe. I reached Dr. Fadel Naim. He's the head of the orthopedic unit there, and he was in the operating theater when the explosion happened. He ran outside and found people wounded and dying.

FADEL NAIM: Some of them died in our hands...

SHERLOCK: So he's saying, you know, some of them died in our hands, others had huge injuries like limbs amputated. They were bleeding out, and we were trying to do everything we could to stop that. He said he used his own - you know, doctors used their clothes to try to stem the bleeding. Now, both Israel and Palestinian leaders have tried to trade blame over who is responsible.

Israel says this was the result of a failed rocket launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the militant group. And it's put out some video footage and other material it says is evidence. And now President Biden says data provided by the Pentagon backs Israel's claims. But I should be really clear here, you know, NPR cannot independently verify any of this. And it's still early days to know what really happened.

SHAPIRO: But even beyond the hospital, there is so much desperation and pain in Gaza. What is life like for people living there right now?

SHERLOCK: I mean, Ari, resources are running out, medicine is running out, fuel is running out. And I spoke with Aed Yaghi. He's a doctor in Gaza. And he told me even drinking water is becoming scarce.

AED YAGHI: The people, they are seeking hours to find water, any water. There is no water, no electricity. The food is short, there's shortage of food in the markets.

SHERLOCK: Like Jackie said, you know, there have been lines of aid trucks waiting at the Egyptian border to go into Gaza. But Israel, which controls Gaza's borders, has been blocking that aid from coming in. Today, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's office said that they will allow in some aid to go through Egypt to southern Gaza. But the Israeli Defense Ministry told NPR it doesn't appear that that will include fuel, which is essential for supporting water desalination plants and hospitals.

SHAPIRO: Jackie, looking a little more broadly - even as Biden spoke, there were protests going on in other countries. How widespread were those?

NORTHAM: They're gaining strength, you know? There were - the anti-Israeli street protests really erupted immediately after the explosion at the Gaza hospital, so we're seeing, you know, places like Egypt, Bahrain and Lebanon. Even the State Department ordered the voluntary departure of family members from Lebanon. You know, the concern, Ari, is that all this could intensify if Israel does launch a ground war, ground invasion, as it has indicated. It could all just sort of spiral out of control, and that's the real fear.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Jackie Northam in Jerusalem and Ruth Sherlock here in Tel Aviv. Thank you both for your reporting.

SHERLOCK: Thank you so much.

NORTHAM: Thanks, Ari. 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.

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Jackie Northam
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
Ruth Sherlock
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.