Published March 2, 2024

Many of those killed or wounded in Gaza stampede for aid were shot by Israel's army, EU arm says

Israel / Gaza - AP

By Wafaa Shurafa And Samy Magdy, The Associated Press

Many of the Palestinians killed or wounded in the chaos as they tried to get bags of flour from an aid convoy were hit by Israeli army fire, the European Union’s diplomatic service said Saturday, urging an international investigation.

Outrage is rising over the desperation of hundreds of thousands struggling to survive in northern Gaza after nearly five months of fighting between Israel and Hamas. United States military planes began the first airdrops of thousands of meals into Gaza, and Egypt’s military said it also conducted airdrops.

The European External Action Service said responsibility for the crisis lay with “restrictions imposed by the Israeli army and obstructions by violent extremist(s) to the supply of humanitarian aid.”

Residents in northern Gaza say they have taken to searching piles of rubble and garbage for anything to feed their children, who barely eat one meal a day. Many families have begun mixing animal and bird food with grain to bake bread. International aid officials say they have encountered catastrophic hunger.

“We’re dying from starvation,” said Soad Abu Hussein, a widow and mother of five children who has taken shelter in a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

At least 10 children have starved to death, according to hospital records in Gaza, the World Health Organization said.

Northern Gaza has borne the brunt of the conflict that began when the Hamas militant group launched an attack into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing around 250 hostages.

Gaza's Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,320. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures, but says women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

In Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where more than half of the territory’s people now seek refuge, an Israeli airstrike on Saturday struck tents outside the Emirati hospital, killing 11 people and wounding about 50, including health workers, Gaza’s Health Ministry said.

Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive, reduced much of densely populated northern Gaza to rubble. The military told Palestinians to move south, but as many as 300,000 people are believed to have remained.

Roughly one in six children under the age of 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting, “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world,” Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program, said this week. “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”

That has caused such desperation that people have overwhelmed trucks delivering food aid to the region and grabbed what they can, Skau said, forcing the WFP to suspend aid deliveries to the north.

“The breakdown in civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid — and we have a duty to protect our staff,” he said.

In the violence Thursday, hundreds of people rushed about 30 trucks bringing a predawn delivery of aid to the north. Palestinians said nearby Israeli troops shot into the crowds. Israel said they fired warning shots toward the crowd and insisted many of the dead were trampled.

Doctors at hospitals in Gaza and a U.N. team that visited a hospital there said large numbers of the wounded had been shot.

Ahmed Abdel Karim, who was being treated at Kamal Adwan Hospital for gunshot wounds in his feet, said he had spent two days waiting for aid trucks to arrive before Thursday’s convoy came.

“Everyone attacked and advanced on these trucks. Because of the large number, I could not get flour,” he said. He was shot by Israeli troops, he said.

Radwan Abdel-Hai, a father of four young children, heard a rumour late Wednesday that an aid convoy was on its way. He and five others took a donkey cart to meet it and found a “sea of people” waiting for the aid.

As people reached the trucks, “tanks started firing at us,” he said. “As I ran back, I heard tank shells and gunfire. I heard people screaming. I saw people falling to the ground, some motionless.”

Abdel-Hai took shelter in a nearby building. When the shooting stopped, many dead people were on the ground, he said. “Many were shot in their back,” he said.

Abu Hussein, the widow, said more than 5,000 people — mostly women and children — living with her in the Jabaliya school have not received any aid for more than four weeks. Adults eat one meal or less to save food for the children, she said.

A group of people went to the shore to try to fish, but three were killed and two were wounded by gunfire from Israeli ships, she said. “They just wanted to get something for their children.”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mansour Hamed, a 32-year-old former aid worker living with more than 50 relatives in a Gaza City house, said some are eating tree leaves and animal food. It has become normal to find a child coming out of the rubble with a rotten piece of bread, he said.

“They are desperate. They want anything to stay alive.”

Acknowledging the difficulty of getting aid in and the extreme need for food, U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. would look for other ways to get shipments in, “including possibly a marine corridor.” When asked if he thought Israel would fully investigate Thursday’s incident, he answered simply, “Yes.”

The pallets dropped Saturday over Gaza contained about 38,000 meals, U.S. officials said, and were expected to be the first of many. It was not immediately clear where the airdrops occurred.

But the EU statement, echoing humanitarian groups including the International Rescue Committee and Medical Aid for Palestinians, said airdrops “should be the solution of last resort as their impact is minimal and not devoid of risks to civilians.” It called for the opening of further ground crossings into Gaza and the removal of obstacles from the rare ones open.

Aid workers hoped a possible cease-fire would help. A senior Egyptian official said cease-fire talks would resume Sunday in Cairo. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

International mediators hope to reach agreement on a six-week pause in fighting, and an exchange of some Israeli hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10.

Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Tara Copp in Washington contributed to this report

Banner image via The Associated Press - Relatives of Yitzhak Zeiger place an Israeli flag over his body during his funeral at a cemetery in Jerusalem, Israel, Friday, March 1, 2024. Two Israelis, including Zeiger, were killed in a Palestinian shooting attack at a gas station near the Jewish settlement of Eli, in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the Israeli military said.

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