Palestinians transport casualties following Israeli fire on people waiting for aid in Gaza City, on Thursday.—Reuters
Palestinians transport casualties following Israeli fire on people waiting for aid in Gaza City, on Thursday.—Reuters

• Israel claims truck drivers ran over crowds amid looting, admits soldiers fired at people
• UN slams killings; Biden says incident will complicate ceasefire talks

GAZA: Desperate for food amid the looming famine, hundreds of Palestinians flocked to an aid distribution point early on Thursday morning, only to be met with live fire by Israeli troops.

At least 104 people are said to have been killed in what has been described as a massacre, while the health ministry said around 760 people were wounded in the grisly incident.

The incident caused the largest loss of civilian lives in weeks and was condemned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as an “ugly massacre conducted by the Israeli occupation army on people who waited for aid trucks at the Nabulsi roundabout”.

Just hours earlier, the death toll from the nearly five-month-old war had topped 30,000.

There were conflicting reports on what exactly was responsible for Thursday’s deaths: Israel claimed that many of the dead were crushed by the truck drivers as they became overwhelmed by people trying to loot the supplies.

However, Israeli sources confirmed to AFP that the Israeli forces at the scene did open fire, having perceived the crowds near the trucks as a “threat”.

A young Palestinian man who was among the wounded spoke of chaotic scenes.

“There were crowds of people, but the occupation (forces) kept firing towards us,” the man told AFP while lying on the dirty, crowded floor at Kamal Adwan Hospital waiting for treatment.

At Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, doctors were “unable to deal” with the flood of casualties “as a result of weak medical and human capacities,” said Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for Gaza’s health ministry.

According to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, just over 2,300 aid trucks have entered the Gaza Strip in February, down by around 50 per cent compared to January.

That is an average of well below 100 trucks per day, down from around 500 that were entering daily before the war. It was precisely that scarcity that drove crowds to rush the trucks at Nabulsi roundabout on Thursday, a witness told AFP.

On Wednesday, Israel said that a convoy of 31 trucks had moved to northern Gaza on Tuesday night and said the UN was responsible for distribution. UN-OCHA, however, said no UN agency was involved.

Aerial footage distributed by the Israeli military showed large groups approaching a line of moving trucks on foot.

“Trucks full of aid came too close to some army tanks that were in the area and the crowd, thousands of people, just stormed the trucks,” the witness said, declining to be named for safety reasons.

“The soldiers fired at the crowd as people came too close to the tanks.”

UN condemnation

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Thursday he was appalled at the reported killings and injuries of people during the transfer of aid supplies west of Gaza City.

“Even after close to five months of brutal hostilities, Gaza still has the ability to shock us,” Griffiths said in a post on X.

“I’m appalled at the reported killing and injury of hundreds of people during a transfer of aid supplies west of Gaza City today… Life is draining out of Gaza at terrifying speed,” the UN humanitarian chief said.

Complicate negotiations

US President Joe Biden, who had been hopeful of securing a ceasefire by next week, admitted after the incident that it would complicate the negotiations.

Speaking to reporters, he said the White House was checking “competing versions” of the shooting incident. He also said a temporary ceasefire probably would not happen by Monday, as he had earlier predicted, but said he is still hopeful.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2024

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