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Samantha Power: Aid workers say crisis in Gaza 'unprecedented'

Samantha Power: Aid workers say crisis in Gaza 'unprecedented'

During USAID head's testimony, senators wonder if Israel is complying with US, international law

Reporting | QiOSK

USAID administrator Samantha Power presented a bleak picture of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and international efforts to alleviate it during a Senate hearing on Tuesday, prompting some senators to question whether Israel’s conduct during the war was in compliance with U.S. law.

Power was testifying in front of the Senate Appropriation subcommittee State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs to discuss her agency’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. But a majority of senators — all but one of whom were Democrats — focused their questions largely on the crisis in Gaza.

Power said that according to many aid workers that she met in Israel last month, this was the worst humanitarian catastrophe that they had experienced in their careers. “Unprecedented was the word they used,” she said.

During her remarks, Power noted that nearly the entire population is living under the threat of famine, ,that Israel has not done enough to facilitate necessary humanitarian access into Gaza, and that aid workers in Gaza were not able to do their work safely or reliably.

“Right now, the inability to get to the north in a sustained way has limited our ability to provide ready-to-use therapeutic food,” she said.

“I think that is a stunning statement,” replied Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) “We know children are starving to death. And the most fundamental, life-saving substance that we can transport to this country, we cannot get to the most serious areas.”

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has maintained that it has no evidence that Israel has violated international law as it prosecutes its war in Gaza, including with respect to the provision of humanitarian assistance.

“I think it's essential that those who are responsible in the department for the delivery of humanitarian aid have a strong voice within that process,” said Sen. Chris van Hollen (D-Md.), referring to a report that the Biden administration must submit to Congress in early May on whether or not Israel is complying with international law. “One of the key factors of [National Security Memorandum] 20, as you know, is whether a recipient of U.S. military assistance is facilitating and not arbitrarily restricting the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

As Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) pointed out, Section 620I of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act also prohibits the U.S. from providing military assistance to states impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid. Power declined to answer Merkley’s question about whether she or others in the Biden administration had advocated the president to invoke 620I to cut off military aid for Israel.

Following a phone call between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week in the aftermath of the IDF strike that killed seven World Central Kitchen staffers, Tel Aviv has taken small steps to increase the flow of humanitarian aid. Israel opened three aid corridors and the number of trucks allowed into Gaza has increased from under 100 per day, according to Power, to 433 on Tuesday.

“It should not have taken the death of foreign aid workers to get the world to really say, enough is enough,” said Van Hollen.

Additionally, according to the Maryland senator, these changes also demonstrate that Israel was restricting humanitarian aid prior to this week. In February, following the International Court of Justice’s ruling that Israel had to do more to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused Israel of defying the ruling and blocking the passage of sufficient aid. “I'm glad to see the Netanyahu government say it's going to open the Erez crossing. This is something those of us on this committee who are here right now have been calling for for months. as has the president,” he said. “I'm glad to see over 400 trucks cross into Gaza yesterday. To my mind, it has been possible all along.”

Power will continue to speak about the USAID budget this week, testifying in front of both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations committee on Wednesday, where she is sure to face more questions about the crisis in Gaza.

File:Samantha Power Speaking in Geneva.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Reporting | QiOSK
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