Israel’s defense minister’s order to place a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip came on top of a 16-year blockade that Israel, often along with Egypt, has imposed on the coastal territory.
The announcement by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday that Gaza would receive “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” after a major incursion by Palestinian gunmen left hundreds dead has led aid agencies to warn of an exacerbated humanitarian crisis.
Under the longstanding blockade, the densely populated strip, with more than two million residents, nearly half of whom are under 18 years old, faces severe restrictions on the movements of goods and people.
Most commodities in Gaza, from foodstuffs to construction supplies, are imported from Israel through official border crossings, according to the United Nations. Gaza gets most of its electricity via Israeli power lines, and produces some at a power plant in Gaza with fuel imported from Israel. It receives a smaller number of goods through its much shorter border with Egypt.
Electricity shortages are chronic, with power often available for only 12 to 15 hours per day. That undermines health services, water pumping and purification and the area’s fragile economy, aid workers say.
Movement of people in and out of Gaza was heavily restricted before the attacks, with Israel and Egypt granting small numbers of people permission to travel, mostly for work or medical care.
On Saturday, after Palestinian gunmen began their assault inside Israel, the Israeli authorities stopped supplying electricity, leaving Gaza’s residents with only about three or four hours of power per day, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian office, which said Gaza’s power plant might soon run out of fuel.
Now, Israel has closed both of its crossings with Gaza, the Kerem Shalom Crossing for cargo and the Erez Crossing for people.
“Before things were restricted, now they are blocked entirely,” said Tania Hary, the executive director of Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit that focuses on free movement of Palestinians in Gaza.
Humanitarian officials said that a complete blockade would create more severe suffering for Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
“Overwhelmed hospitals treating thousands of wounded will now have to do so without reliable access to electricity,” Mahmoud Shalabi, a senior program manager for Medical aid for Palestinians, a charity based in the U.K., said in an email.
Egyptian officials have not said whether Israel’s announced siege of Gaza would affect their policy toward the movement of goods and people in and out of the territory.
Gaza’s border with Egypt remained open with limited traffic on Tuesday, and truckloads of food, construction material, fuel and emergency medical supplies entered over the weekend. But Egypt also heavily controls the movement of people and goods across its border crossing, opening and closing it in response to security conditions.
Even if Egypt left its crossing open, experts said, it could not fill the gaps left by the complete closure of Israel’s crossings. In 2022, some 32 percent of goods entering Gaza came from Egypt, Gisha said in a report.