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First on CNN: Top US humanitarian official to travel to Middle East this week

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

(CNN) — The US government’s top humanitarian aid official will travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan this week in an effort to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that is veering into catastrophe.

US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power will meet with Israeli, Palestinian Authority and Jordanian government officials, as well as international humanitarian aid organizations, “to discuss the urgent need for expanded access to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian and commercial supplies to civilians in Gaza,” according to a USAID spokesperson.

Power will “underscore the importance of protecting civilians and aid workers in accordance with international humanitarian law,” the spokesperson said.

Power is the latest Biden administration to travel to the region to emphasize the US’ strong concerns over the deepening humanitarian crisis in the war-torn strip. The trip – her second since the October 7 Hamas attacks – also comes amid concerns about an Israeli military campaign in Rafah, which international aid organizations warn could “deal a death blow to a humanitarian response that is already on its knees.”

US officials, including President Joe Biden, have consistently called on the Israeli government to reduce the number of civilian casualties and increase the amount of aid entering Gaza. US officials have also warned against an offensive in Rafah, where more than a million displaced people have fled, without a plan to protect civilians.

Although the Biden administration has become increasingly critical of the toll of the Israeli offensive, it remains at odds with the international humanitarian community and nations like Jordan by vetoing calls for an immediate ceasefire. Instead, US officials say any temporary ceasefire must be coupled with the release of the hostages held by Hamas, or else it will not lead to a “durable peace.”

Power has faced protests internally at USAID and externally over the Biden administration’s position on Gaza. Ongoing outrage over the administration’s continued support for the Israeli military offensive threatens to be a political problem for Biden in an election year. Earlier this month, Power and a group of administration officials met with members of the Arab American and Muslim community in Michigan to discuss the conflict.

The USAID spokesperson said Power’s trip “reaffirms the United States’ commitment to supporting the humanitarian response to the crisis in Gaza, accelerating life-saving assistance, and promoting lasting peace, security and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

The spokesperson declined to give specific details about Power’s meetings on the trip or if she plans to meet with any officials from UNRWA – the UN’s main humanitarian agency operating in Gaza – which has a headquarters in Jordan. The US and a number of other countries suspended funding to the embattled UN agency after allegations emerged UNRWA staffers were involved in the October 7 attack. Congress has moved to bar any future US funding to UNRWA.

According to the United Nations, 75% of the population of Gaza has been displaced by the ongoing conflict and more than two million people are now “at imminent risk of famine.”

Christopher Lockyear, secretary general of Doctors Without Borders, warned last week “there is no health system to speak of left in Gaza.”

The top officials from 19 international humanitarian organization and UN agencies jointly called for an immediate ceasefire last week, stating “no amount of humanitarian response will make up for the months of deprivation that families in Gaza have endured.”

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