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A view from the Egypt-Gaza border

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now to the Egypt-Gaza border, a critical aid route. Since the Hamas attack that Israel says killed 1,200 people and took some 240 hostages, Israel has had Gaza under siege. There are shortages of food, medicine, clean water and fuel, which is now causing phones to go down and hampering relief efforts. NPR's Aya Batrawy was in a small group of reporters whom Egypt allowed to visit the one crossing where goods and people are getting through.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCKS MOVING)

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: That's the sound of trucks that are lined up right now at...

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK HORN HONKING)

BATRAWY: ...Rafah Crossing, and they are getting ready to go into the crossing here from Egypt into Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK HORN HONKING)

BATRAWY: Huge 18-wheeler trucks are carrying tents for displaced people, food and basic anesthesia for surgeries to Gaza's besieged and desperate population. The day I'm here happens to be the first time in nearly six weeks Israel has allowed any fuel to be trucked in, but it's not enough to run Gaza's hospitals, sewage pumps, desalination plants, or even keep its phone lines operating. Israel is only allowing the little fuel that entered to be used by U.N. trucks to distribute some of the lifesaving aid, like water, that's coming from Egypt just like I saw at the border.

I have a truck right now in front of me. It says UNICEF for every child, filled with crates of aqua water. These are just water bottles going in 'cause people cannot find drinking water. It's just one truck. You know, this truck of water doesn't look like it could supply water to more than a few thousand people for just a bottle each.

Israel insists on inspecting each aid truck that comes in from Rafah at a location some 50 miles south, saying it's to ensure no weapons are smuggled in. But this process slows down the amount of aid that enters Gaza each day, and there is tons of aid flying into Egypt from all over the world to help with relief efforts in Gaza. It's a huge logistical operation, and it's being overseen by Egypt's Red Crescent. The group's head of operations, Lotfy Gheith, tells me that despite their best efforts, Egypt's border crossing cannot meet the scale of Gaza's daily needs.

LOTFY GHEITH: We are providing now the jerrycans with the filters so they could be able to do filtration for the water they have because providing this huge number of water and a limited number of trucks - this is very difficult. We are talking about 1.5 million displaced person. Due to the minimum guidelines, you have to provide them with 3 liters of water for drinking. That mean more than 9 million liters of water per day. This is one of the impossible things even to be provided through trucks.

BATRAWY: It's not only what's going into Gaza that makes this dusty desert border crossing so vital. More than 150 critically injured Palestinians - out of more than 27,000 wounded in Gaza - have been transported by ambulances to hospitals in Egypt.

HANAN: (Speaking Arabic).

BATRAWY: Around 3,000 Palestinians with foreign passports have also been able to leave through Rafah. Hanan is one of them. She's with her husband and four teenage sons. They're dragging a few suitcases and have just crossed into Egypt when I meet them.

HANAN: (Speaking Arabic).

BATRAWY: "Our house was bombed," she tells me. "We stayed with relatives. We left with just these clothes." She tells me she's exhausted. The rubble of their home collapsed on her and her boys. Diya was injured on his head, Mohammed on his hand. Zayn was in a state of shock. Hanan only gives her first name. She's rushing, pale in the face and dazed. The family has Norwegian passports, but their livelihood and memories are in Gaza. I ask her who she's left behind.

HANAN: (Speaking Arabic, crying).

BATRAWY: "My parents," she tells me. Her youngest hugs her, tries to make her laugh, but she's despondent.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

HANAN: (Speaking Arabic).

BATRAWY: "There's no hope in life," she says. The U.N. Security Council Wednesday called urgently for extended pauses in the fighting to get more aid to people. Israel has refused, saying its aim is to destroy Hamas and free hostages. But its offensive has killed more than 11,400 people, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza. Aid groups say the needs of everyone right now in Gaza are overwhelming, and it's why the U.N. Relief Agency is calling on Israel to open one of its crossings with Gaza, too. But for now, the lifeline is through Rafah.

Aya Batrawy, NPR News, Rafah, Egypt. 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.

Aya Batrawy
Aya Batrawy is an NPR International Correspondent. She leads NPR's Gulf bureau in Dubai.