People wait to refill gas cylinders in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on Nov. 25, 2023.

People wait to refill gas cylinders in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on Nov. 25, 2023. Yasser Qudih / Getty Images

US military to fly aid to Gazans as WH warns of next phase of war

The assistance is “nowhere near enough” to meet the need, administration acknowledges.

The United States military will fly three separate aid flights to North Sinai, Egypt, to get critical supplies into Gaza—including food, medical supplies, and winter gear—senior administration officials told reporters on Monday, as more than a million displaced people in Gaza face rapidly worsening conditions. 

The UN prioritized winter clothing and other gear, “given that the rainy season has started in Gaza,” one official told reporters. The aid package also includes “specific food items, in particular, for children that are ready to use, as well as additional medical supplies, which are in urgent need and Gaza, as everyone knows.” 

The aid will be distributed by United Nations entities in Gaza.

The announcement comes after Qatar announced an additional two-day pause in fighting, as well as an agreement from Hamas to release additional hostages. Those pauses will allow the rapid transfer of aid into Gaza. 

Amidst ongoing protests and political fallout, White House officials have modified their tone on the conflict. Rather than repeating talking points about Israel’s right to self defense, officials on Monday emphasized what they described as the United States’ constructive humanitarian role in the conflict. 

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Monday that just that day, “200 trucks were dispatched to the Rafah [border] crossing, and 137 trucks of supplies were offloaded by the United Nations reception point in Gaza, making it the biggest humanitarian convoy received since the seventh of October. This brings the total number of trucks of aid and assistance, including fuel to over 2000 since the 21st of October.”

But humanitarian observers have warned that water shortages could cause the already high death toll to spike. The official warned that more fuel delivery is needed to continue to run desalination equipment, sewage pumps, and other vital pieces of infrastructure and prevent deadly disease outbreaks. 

The official told reporters: “We understand that what is getting in is nowhere near enough for normal life in Gaza. And we will continue to push for additional steps, including the restoration of the flow of commercial goods and additional basic services.”

Kirby noted that even these brief pauses provide Hamas an opportunity to regroup, potentially delaying the conclusion of the conflict. “Any pause in the fighting could benefit your enemy in terms of time to refit, to rest your fighters, to rearm them, re-equip them. You know, a pause in the fighting can be seen as a benefit, but again, I want to stress, this was always part of the calculus.”

Once the temporary ceasefire expires, Israel has said it will broaden its military operation to southern portions of the Gaza strip. 

The White House official warned Monday that if Israel uses the same aggressive tactics it used to go after Hamas targets there as it did to pursue the group in Gaza City and the northern portions of the strip, the death toll will also climb. 

“You cannot have the sort of scale of displacement that took place in the north replicated in the south. It will be beyond disruptive. It will be beyond the capacity of any humanitarian support network—however reinforced, however robust—to be able to cope with,” the official said.

As this is happening, Iran-backed militias elsewhere in the Middle East continue to attack U.S. forces with rockets—albeit to little effect. The Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group has entered the Persian Gulf, having departed from Norfolk in October. It joins the Ford carrier group and other elements from 6th Fleet already in the region. 

Early Monday morning, the USS Mason—part of the Eisenhower strike group—took part in an effort to thwart the attempted hijacking of an Israeli tanker ship called the Central Park, resulting in the arrest of five men who attempted to board the tanker. Shortly after, the Mason was targeted “with two missiles that were fired from Houthi controlled areas of Yemen. The initial assessments for the attack on the MV Central Park indicate that the perpetrators claim to be Somali. However, the investigation is ongoing,” U.S. Central Command told Defense One in a statement.

The missiles fell far clear of the Mason; no injuries or damage were reported.