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Israel extends road to now traverse Gaza, satellite imagery shows

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(LONDON) — A Gaza road being extended and expanded for use by the Israeli military now runs across the full width of the Gaza Strip from east to west, satellite imagery provided by Planet Labs shows. The expansion of the road opens the possibility that much-needed humanitarian aid could be delivered using the new infrastructure.

The images show this is the second Israeli-built road traversing the territory.

The road, which runs just south of Gaza City, may also be key to getting more humanitarian aid into northern Gaza, according to Jamie McGoldrick, United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Palestinian territories.

Before Israel’s construction activities in the last few weeks, visual analysis shows the road ran a little over a mile east-west across a central portion of the Gaza Strip.

It now cuts a straight line about 4 miles from the Mediterranean coastal road in the west to the Israeli border in the east just opposite Kibbutz Be’eri in Israel, according to an ABC News visual analysis.

In response to questions about satellite images showing the road being finished and its uses, the Israel Defense Forces told ABC News on Friday the road is an “active logistical route, constantly maintained during the war,” and it’s intended to be used for the mobilization of troops and supplies.

Construction on the road is continuous and ongoing to repair “damage caused by armored military vehicles,” the IDF added.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 14 in February, a lieutenant colonel in an Israeli combat engineering corps identified as being involved in the construction said the road would help defend the area from enemy raids, as well as prevent movement of people from the south back to the north of the strip while the military is actively using the road. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated south from Gaza City at the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.

The latest portion of the road, extending it to Al-Rashid Road — which spans Gaza from north to south — on the coast, was finished between March 4 and 6, as seen in satellite imagery from those days.

Satellite imagery also shows Israel built another road that cuts a more winding path across the territory in November. It appears to currently connect IDF positions on the major north-south roads in Gaza — Al-Rashid and Salah al-Din — and runs just north of the newer road that cuts a path straight across Gaza. The two Israeli-built roads then connect and meet at the same point on the Israeli border, the satellite imagery shows.

The IDF told ABC News the second road is also a logistical route for troops and supply movement.

The new road and the newly expanded road both run along the Netzarim corridor, which historically was part of Israel’s “five-finger plan,” devised after it occupied Gaza in 1967 to divide Palestinian territory by splitting Gaza into four “blocks” and establishing Jewish settlements there, according to the IDF.

Per the IDF, the Netzarim “finger” historically separated Gaza City from the southern part of the strip, and an isolated settlement was built on its west end. A border crossing, named the Karni crossing, was opened on the east end to enable the import and export of goods between Gaza and Israel.

After Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, during which all settlements were evacuated and the IDF left the strip, the so-called “Karni-Netzarim” continued to operate, before Israel shut down the crossing in 2011 following a series of terror attacks.

The new road seen in satellite imagery that runs straight across Gaza connects to Al-Rashid Road just south of an established IDF position and checkpoint where trucks carrying humanitarian aid cross into Gaza City. The IDF and the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) have posted numerous social media videos featuring the checkpoint in statements about aid arriving in northern Gaza.

Right now, trucks carrying aid have to enter Gaza through two border crossings in the south: the Rafah crossing with Egypt and the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel. Once inside Gaza, trucks have to drive through the territory on the Al-Rashid or Salah al-Din Road to the north.

A U.S. defense official said Thursday that Israel has been working in recent days to establish a third land crossing into Gaza that “will allow for aid to flow directly to the population in northern Gaza that is in dire need of assistance.” The U.S. expects the first delivery via this passage to happen over the next week, the official said at the time.

An Israeli official told ABC News on Friday that a crossing for aid trucks from Israel directly into northern Gaza may be opened “very rapidly, within days,” although it would require approval by the Israeli political echelon.

A faster and safer land route to deliver aid to northern Gaza would help alleviate the dire humanitarian situation in the area, where thousands of Palestinians are facing malnutrition and starvation, according to the World Health Organization, World Food Programme and multiple senior U.N. officials.

Hunger has reached “catastrophic levels, and especially in the north of Gaza,” McGoldrick said during a press conference Wednesday, and that the U.N. would look at using a “military road” that runs parallel to the edge of the Gaza Strip on the eastern side.

The distribution of aid in Gaza and getting it to those most in need in the north is one of the most pressing issues, according to Israeli officials from COGAT. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has previously said Israel doesn’t provide enough authorization to deliver sufficient aid and, even when it does give authorization, the fighting makes it difficult to deliver that aid. Israel has denied accusations that it isn’t letting enough aid into Gaza, with officials saying the U.N., its partners and other aid agencies have created logistical challenges, resulting in a bottleneck. The U.N. disputes these claims.

Adam Bouloukos, a UNRWA senior official, told ABC News that opening more land crossings is crucial and the only solution to the humanitarian crisis was getting aid in by road, alongside a lasting cease-fire.

McGoldrick alluded Wednesday to the imminent use of the new crossing where the road meets the border for aid deliveries. McGoldrick said the World Food Programme was in talks to use a military road on the Israeli side to drive up to a crossing point into Gaza, saying that “below Karni, there’s a place called Be’eri.”

Satellite imagery shows both the new road and the extended road across Gaza sit just below the old Karni crossing, and at about the latitude of Kibbutz Be’eri in Israel.

The IDF did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment about whether humanitarian aid could also use this newly extended road to enter directly into northern Gaza.

“Other options like airdrops, these are helpful, but these are not going to address the significant needs which can only be done by road transport. And that’s something we have to do,” McGoldrick said during the Wednesday press conference.

Israel has also blamed Hamas for the lack of aid, claiming the group is holding aid for itself and not distributing it to Gazans. Hamas denies the allegations.

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