Sunday, 14 Apr, 2024


112 killed as Israel forces fire on Gazans rushing for food aid

International Desk |
Update: 2024-03-01 10:10:08
112 killed as Israel forces fire on Gazans rushing for food aid [Photo Collected]

Israeli forces in war-torn Gaza opened fire on Palestinians scrambling for food aid in a chaotic melee on Thursday that the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said killed more than 100 people.

The Israeli military said a "stampede" occurred when thousands of desperate Gazans surrounded a convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over by the lorries.

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

The Hamas-run health ministry condemned what it called a "massacre" in Gaza City in which 112 people were killed and more than 750 others wounded.

The incident adds to a Palestinian death toll from the war that the ministry said had topped 30,000, and dampens hopes a truce deal between Israel and Hamas militants could be just days away.

There were conflicting reports on what exactly unfolded in the hours before dawn.

A witness in Gaza City, declining to be named for safety reasons, said the violence began when thousands of people rushed towards aid trucks at the city's western Nabulsi roundabout, with soldiers firing at the crowd "as people came too close" to tanks.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said the military had fired "a few warning shots" to try to disperse a crowd that had "ambushed" the aid trucks.

When the crowd got too big, he said the convoy tried to retreat and "the unfortunate incident resulted in dozens of Gazans killed and injured".

Aerial images released by the Israeli army showed what it said were scores of people surrounding aid trucks in Gaza City.

Ali Awad Ashqir, who said he had gone to get some food for his starving family, told AFP he had been waiting for two hours when trucks began to arrive.

"The moment they arrived, the occupation army fired artillery shells and guns," he said.

Hagari later denied Israeli forces carried out any shelling or strikes at the time.

- 'Another day from hell' -
US President Joe Biden said Washington was checking "two competing versions" of the incident, while a State Department spokesman said the United States had been in touch with Israel and was "pressing for answers" on what happened.

The incident would complicate efforts to broker a truce, Biden said, later admitting that any deal was unlikely to happen by Monday -- the timeline that he had predicted earlier this week.

The US president spoke with Qatari and Egyptian leaders in separate phone calls, the White House said, saying he discussed both the ceasefire and the "tragic and alarming" aid incident.

The UN Security Council held a closed-door emergency meeting on the incident.

The US deputy ambassador to the UN Robert Wood condemned the incident before entering the meeting, calling it a "tragic day".

Saudi Arabia strongly condemned what it called the "targeting" of unarmed civilians, while Kuwait and the UAE also issued condemnations.

Qatar warned that Israel's "disregard for Palestinian blood... (will) pave the way for an expanding cycle of violence".

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his "strongest condemnation", while Spain's foreign minister described the events as "unacceptable".

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also denounced the "carnage".

Looting of aid trucks has previously occurred in northern Gaza, where desperate residents have taken to eating animal fodder and even leaves to stave off starvation.

The chief of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said that no UN agency had been involved in Thursday's aid delivery, and called the incident "another day from hell".

- Truce hopes -

The war began on October 7 with a Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

Militants also took about 250 hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 31 Israel says are presumed dead.

Israel's retaliatory military campaign has killed 30,035 people, according to Hamas-run Gaza's health ministry.

Israel's military says 242 soldiers have died in Gaza since ground operations began in late October.

Washington, a key ally of Israel, has been pushing for a reduction in civilian casualties and a ceasefire.

It has been working with mediators Egypt and Qatar to seek a six-week pause in the war.

Negotiators had hoped a truce could begin by the time the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, around March 10 or 11 depending on the lunar calendar.

The proposals reportedly involve the release of some Israeli hostages held by militants in Gaza in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Short of the complete Israeli withdrawal Hamas has called for, a source from the group said the deal might see troops leave "cities and populated areas", allowing the return of some displaced Palestinians and humanitarian relief.

- Fears of famine -
The World Food Programme has said Israel has blocked access for aid deliveries -- which Israeli officials have denied -- and warned that if nothing changes, "a famine is imminent in northern Gaza".

As fighting continued in Gaza, Muhammad Yassin, 35, struggled to find flour in Zeitun.

"We have not eaten a loaf of bread for two months," he said. "Our children are starving."

In the south, nearly 1.5 million people trying to flee the fighting are now packed into Rafah city, also short of food, as Israel threatens to send in troops against Hamas fighters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure to bring the remaining hostages home.

A group of 150 Israelis have started a four-day march from Reim, near the Gaza border, to Jerusalem, calling for the government to reach a deal.

Violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank, where two Israelis were killed on Thursday.

Source AFP

BDST: 1010 HRS, MAR 01, 2024

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