B-Fast's first aid package on its way to Gaza

The first part of the B-Fast humanitarian aid package for the people of Gaza left Ostend airport Thursday morning for el-Arish in Egypt. Belgium's minister for Development Cooperation, Caroline Gennez, who was present at the departure, reiterated her call for a lasting ceasefire. Meanwhile, prime minister Alexander De Croo announced that “extremist settlers in the West Bank will be banned from entering Belgium”.

B-Fast, an interdepartmental structure that organises the dispatch of Belgian emergency aid abroad, set off with the first part of a larger shipment of humanitarian goods coordinated by the European Union. It includes sleeping bags and hygiene kits. "These are urgently needed," said Gennez.

"1.8 million people in Gaza are currently displaced," she said. "People are forced to sleep on the ground or in the streets, wait hours to go to the toilet and have no access to showers. It's an inhumane situation and the hygiene conditions are correspondingly poor."

Winter shelter

The B-Fast aid package includes winter shelter materials, sleeping bags, hygiene kits and a substantial donation of medical supplies and medicines mobilised by the public health department. Additional emergency humanitarian supplies will leave next week. Once in Egypt, these supplies will be handed over to the Egyptian Red Crescent and transported to Gaza.

Gennez also reiterated her call to the Israeli government on Thursday to ensure humanitarian access to the people of Gaza and the West Bank, saying: "There needs to be a durable ceasefire to allow for a large-scale humanitarian operation."

"There is no indication that the Israeli government will allow this to happen immediately," she said. "They intend to allocate additional funds to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank further, destroying humanitarian projects co-funded by Belgium and the EU. This is unacceptable. It's time to take action."

Meanwhile, De Croo announced that “extremist settlers in the West Bank will be banned from entering Belgium”. He will work with the US on sanctions and “push the EU to follow suit.” EU foreign ministers meet on Monday, where the issue is likely to be discussed.

People gather in the street as smoke rises from burning buildings in an adjacent neighbourhood, following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 6 December 2023 © PHOTO MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

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