Flour for Gaza to be shipped through the Israeli port in Ashdod, the White House says

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A displaced Palestinian woman prepares bread inside a tent at a makeshift camp in Rafah near the Gaza-Egypt border earlier this month.

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A displaced Palestinian woman prepares bread inside a tent at a makeshift camp in Rafah near the Gaza-Egypt border earlier this month.

AFP via Getty Images

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel will allow shipments of flour to Gaza to arrive via a port in the Israeli city of Ashdod, a development that aid groups have called for to alleviate food shortages in the embattled territory.

The White House announced Israel’s decision Friday after a phone call between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The president welcomed the decision from the Government of Israel to permit the shipment of flour for the Palestinian people directly through Ashdod port,” the White House said afterward.

Israel has not publicly announced the deal. Netanyahu’s office Saturday released a one-sentence statement about the call that only described Netanyahu’s demand that Israel retain “security control” over Gaza after the war is over — a demand incompatible with Biden’s push for a Palestinian state.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed news of the port deal to NPR, and added that millions of dollars worth of flour is expected to be shipped in over time.

The port of Ashdod, one of the two largest commercial ports in Israel, is located on the coast about 20 miles north of Gaza. The White House did not publicize other details about the shipments, such as when they would begin or where the flour would cross into Gaza after arriving in Ashdod.

The announcement came four days after the heads of the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the U.N. agency for children, had called on Israel to authorize the use of the port to ship in greater amounts of humanitarian assistance.

Opening the Ashdod port to humanitarian shipments “would enable significantly larger quantities of aid to be shipped in and then trucked directly to the badly affected northern regions of Gaza, which few convoys have managed to reach,” the agency heads wrote in a statement.

In its readout of the Biden-Netanyahu call, the White House said its teams would continue to “separately work on options for more direct maritime delivery of assistance into Gaza.”

Food assistance, including flour, arrives daily to southern Gaza via the border crossings at Rafah and Kerem Shalom. But aid groups say much more flour is needed, including in northern Gaza, which is mostly inaccessible from the south due to fighting and damaged roads.

For many Palestinians in Gaza, each day has become a struggle to find basic necessities, like clean water and food to eat. Flour, especially, is in demand to make bread.

Every two days, Om Mohammed, a Palestinian living in a tent in Rafah, pays 20 shekels, or about $5, for a family’s worth of bread, he said, a price he described as at least double what it was before the war.

Food of other varieties is scarce, and the family has come to rely mostly on bread after evacuating to Rafah from their home in Al-Qarara, north of Khan Younis, he said. “My children now ask for bread and only bread,” Mohammed said. “Flour is out of reach and very expensive.”

Only 15 bakeries are operational across southern Gaza, and none are operating in the north, the World Food Programme reports. Palestinians have described extremely long lines at aid stations and high prices at informal markets.

The U.N. warns that Gaza’s entire population of 2.2 million is at imminent risk of famine. Nearly 380,000 Palestinians in Gaza are currently at catastrophic levels of food insecurity, the U.N. says, meaning they are experiencing an extreme lack of food despite exhausting all coping mechanisms.

Additional reporting by NPR’s Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv and Anas Baba in Rafah.