(Bloomberg) -- As Israel steps up its military assault on Gaza to the highest level yet, a top official said aid shipments will also pick up somewhat, helping ease the dire situation for civilians caught in its offensive and blockade.
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“The next several days should see the lowest number of civilian casualties of the war,” Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer said in a telephone interview, while acknowledging that unanticipated events may affect that outlook. “We are expecting 100 trucks a day of aid starting tomorrow or Wednesday, and water is now on in the south and central parts.”
Israel has come under increasing international criticism for the toll on Gaza civilians from its campaign of airstrikes and ground raids there after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel that killed more than 1,400 people. There’s no independent count of the dead in Gaza, but the Hamas-controlled authorities put the toll at more than 8,000. United Nations officials have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe as desperate Gazans raid aid warehouses.
Even if Dermer’s forecast of increased supplies in the coming days proves accurate, 100 trucks a day is still only a fifth of the pre-war level. Israel will continue to block supplies of fuel to Gaza, fearing that it may fall into the hands of Hamas, he said. Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the US and the EU. Aid enters Gaza from Egypt, but Israel inspects all shipments and can control the flow.
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Dermer, a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, offered no prediction on how long the war would last, but military officials have spoken of months. Dermer said Hamas’ arsenal of rockets and missiles is dwindling, especially the longer-range ones that can hit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
He also said the stepped-up aid wasn’t part of any deal related to the 230 hostages being held. He said Israel’s ground maneuvers were helping bring a deal closer by pressuring Hamas leaders.
Israel hopes that efforts to limit civilian casualties will help it win over Arab neighbors, who Dermer said are eager for a quick end to the war. The US has also pushed Israel to do more to reduce suffering in Gaza.
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Dermer gave an upbeat assessment of the ground assault so far, saying that Israel’s decision to order civilians to evacuate northern Gaza more than a week ago helped remove them from the battlefield.
His claims couldn’t be independently confirmed. Israel’s sudden evacuation order was criticized by the United Nations as impossible, giving more than a million people less than 24 hours to leave and providing neither transport nor a place to go. Gaza’s borders remain sealed and Israeli air strikes have hit targets in the south, as well. In addition, Hamas blocked some people from heading south.
Dermer said medical help is also on the way to Gaza. A French navy vessel, the Tonnerre, is headed toward the southwest part of Gaza, the United Arab Emirates has sent medical equipment, Jordanian health personnel are coming and the Red Cross is planning a field hospital in the Egyptian Sinai, he said.
How to move civilians to those facilities safely remains a big challenge, however. Relief groups have said hospitals have been damaged in the fighting and left without fuel and other supplies, while medical personnel have been killed and wounded.
Dermer said hospitals are linked to Hamas’ underground tunnel network, a key target of the Israeli military operation.
(Updates with detail on aid flow in fourth paragraph)
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