18 Gazans die trying to collect airdropped aid

Published March 27, 2024
Palestinians gather on a beach as they collect aid dropped by an airplane, amid the ongoing Israeli bombardment of the northern Gaza Strip.—Reuters
Palestinians gather on a beach as they collect aid dropped by an airplane, amid the ongoing Israeli bombardment of the northern Gaza Strip.—Reuters

• US defence secy calls protecting Palestinians ‘moral imperative’
• Tel Aviv withdraws from Doha talks

GAZA STRIP: Twelve people drowned and at least six were killed in stampedes trying to recover aid airdropped into Gaza, local authorities said on Tuesday.

The deaths occurred in the north of the besieged territory on Monday, with people rushing to collect packages dropped from planes along Gaza’s Mediterranean coast.

The UN humanitarian office called on Tuesday for Israel to revoke a ban on food deliveries to northern Gaza from the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, saying people there were facing a “cruel death by famine”.

Israel had earlier said it would stop working with UNRWA in Gaza, accusing the aid agency of perpetuating conflict. The agency said Israel told it that it would no longer approve its food convoys to north Gaza. Four such requests were denied since March 21, it said.

“The decision must be revoked,” United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesperson Jens Laerke told a UN briefing in Geneva. “You cannot claim to adhere to these international provisions of law when you block UNRWA food convoys.”

A UN-backed report this month said famine was imminent and likely to occur by May in northern Gaza.

James Elder, spokesperson for the UN children’s agency Unicef in Gaza, described seeing “paper thin” children in a hospital in northern Gaza and incubators full of underweight babies from malnourished mothers.

“Tens of thousands of people crowd the streets,” he told the same briefing, describing his latest visit to the north on Monday. “They make that universal signal of hand to mouth desperately asking and seeking for food.

“Life-saving aid is being obstructed. Lives are being lost. I saw children whose malnutrition state was so severe, skeletal,” he said.

Other aid agencies also deliver food parcels to northern Gaza, although UNRWA is the biggest provider.

Protecting Palestinians

In Washington, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday that it was a moral and strategic imperative to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and that the humanitarian catastrophe in the besieged enclave was getting worse.

He was speaking at the start of a meeting with Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon as relations between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sank to a wartime low.

“In Gaza today, the number of civilian casualties is far too high and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low,” Austin said.

“Gaza is suffering a humanitarian catastrophe and the situation is getting even worse,” Austin said, using more forceful language than he has in the past on the crisis.

He added that he and Gallant would discuss how to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Fighting rages on

On the ground in Gaza, the fighting raged on unabated, with Israeli operations in and around at least three major hospitals in the besieged territory.

The Israeli military said its jets had struck more than 60 targets in Gaza in the past day, including what it claimed to be tunnels, infrastructure and military structures.

Gaza’s health ministry said 70 people were killed early Tuesday, 13 of them in Israeli air strikes around the southern city of Rafah.

Dozens of Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles surrounded the Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis, where thousands of displaced people have sought refuge, witnesses said.

The health ministry said shots were being fired around the sprawling complex, but no raid had yet taken place.

At Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, Israeli troops have been involved in heavy fighting for the past nine days. Israel claims to have killed 170 Palestinian militants and arrested hundreds of others.

Doha talks at ‘dead end’

Meanwhile, Israel recalled its negotiators from Doha after deeming mediation talks on a Gaza truce “at a dead end” due to Hamas demands, a senior Israeli official told Reuters on Tuesday.

The official accused Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar of sabotaging the diplomacy “as part of a wider effort to inflame this war over Ramazan”.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2024

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