US will airdrop aid to Gaza after Israeli forces opened fire as crowd sought food - GulfToday

US will airdrop aid to Gaza after Israeli forces opened fire as crowd sought food


A Palestinian woman and a child mourn over the body of a relative killed during an overnight Israeli attack on Friday. AFP

The United States military will airdrop humanitarian assistance into Gaza, President Joe Biden announced on Friday, a day after witnesses say Israeli forces shot desperately hungry Palestinians crowding around a food aid truck.

At least 115 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded in Gaza City on Thursday, the Health Ministry in Gaza said.

Israel says many of the dead were trampled in a chaotic crush for the food aid, and its troops fired warning shots after the crowd moved toward them in a threatening way.

Since the war began, Israel has barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies, except for a trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.

The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation. Aid officials have said that airdrops are not an efficient means of distributing aid and are a measure of last resort.

A plane drops aid over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. File/Reuters

The number of Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip has soared above 30,000 since Israel’s war on Hamas began nearly five months ago, after Hamas-led fighters stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 250 others hostage.

"We need to do more, and the United States will do more," Biden told reporters at the White House at the start of a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

"In the coming days we're going to join with our friends in Jordan and others in providing air drops of additional food and supplies," the 81-year-old Biden said in the Oval Office.

The announcement comes as negotiations continue for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza which has been under siege since Hamas's October 7 attacks on Israel.

A Palestinian man who was wounded in Israeli fire while waiting for aid lies on a bed at a hospital on Friday. Reuters

Biden has pushed Israel to reduce civilian casualties and allow aid in, while at the same time he has maintained military assistance for the key US ally.

Biden said later he was "hoping" for a deal on a six-week ceasefire by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

"We'll get there but we're not there yet -- we may not get there," Biden added, without elaborating, as he headed to his helicopter to spend the weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat.

Ceasefire talks have been complicated by Thursday's incident in which dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy in northern Gaza, where the UN has warned of famine.

A young boy caresses the head of a young victim of Israeli bombardment at a hospital in Rafah on Friday. AFP

An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it "posed a threat."

'Terrible war'

"Innocent people got caught in a terrible war, unable to feed their families. And you saw the response when they tried to get aid in," Biden said as he announced the air drops.

The US president added that he would "insist" that Israel let in more aid trucks, while it would also look at a possible "marine corridor" to deliver large amounts of aid into Gaza.

Biden had been planning air drops for some time but Thursday's incident "certainly underscored for the president" the need to find other ways to get aid in, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

The United States planned to carry out multiple air drops that would last weeks, said Kirby, adding that it would not be "one and done."

But it was also a "tough military operation" that required careful planning by the Pentagon for the safety of both Gazan civilians and US military personnel.

"It is extremely difficult to do an airdrop in such a crowded environment as is Gaza," said Kirby.

Palestinians carry bags of flour they grabbed from an aid truck near an Israeli checkpoint in Gaza City. Reuters

The United States also had to manage the risks to its own personnel.

"This is a war zone. So there's an added element of potential danger to the pilots in the aircraft," he added.

Kirby said Israel was meanwhile "seriously" investigating the aid convoy deaths.

However, Washington would continue to support Israel militarily despite the growing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, Kirby said.

"We are still helping Israel with their needs to defend themselves," he said.




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