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Israel forces fire on Gazans rushing for food aid

By AFP - Mar 01,2024 - Last updated at Mar 01,2024

A photo taken from a position in southern Israel on Thursday shows destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip, amid ongoing battles between Hamas and Israel (AFP photo)

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — 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 104 people.

The Gaza health ministry condemned what it called a "massacre" before dawn in Gaza City in which 104 people were killed and more than 750 others wounded.

A witness told AFP the violence unfolded when thousands of people desperate for food rushed towards aid trucks at the city's western Nabulsi roundabout.

"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."

President Joe Biden said the United States was checking "competing versions" of the incident. "I don't have an answer yet."

Asked if the death toll was likely to complicate efforts by US and other mediators to broker a truce, Biden replied: "I know it will."

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said he was "appalled at the reported killing and injury of hundreds of people during a transfer of aid supplies west of Gaza City".

"Life is draining out of Gaza at terrifying speed," he wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

Saudi Arabia strongly condemned what it called the "targeting" of unarmed civilians "as a result of the occupation forces' bombing of humanitarian aid queues in Gaza".

The incident came after aid agencies had intensified warnings over Gaza's humanitarian situation, with famine threatening particularly in the north.

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

The Gaza City incident adds to a Palestinian death toll from the war which the health ministry earlier on Thursday said had topped 30,000.

It came after mediators said a truce deal between Israel and Hamas fighters could be just days away.

In a reflection of increased concern at the White House, the administration is considering air-dropping aid into Gaza, US news site Axios reported early Thursday.

Biden said later that a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was now unlikely to happen by Monday, the timeline that he had predicted earlier this week.

Fears of famine

Mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been seeking a six-week pause in the war.

Negotiators hope a truce can begin by around March 10 or 11 when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, depending on the lunar calendar.

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

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

Biden is “pushing all of us to try to get this agreement over the finish line”, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA described the food security situation as “extremely critical across Gaza, particularly in northern Gaza.”

The World Food Programme said humanitarian groups have been unable to deliver aid to the north for more than a month. The UN agency accused Israel of blocking access.

“If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza,” WFP’s Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau said.

Israeli officials have denied blocking supplies.

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.

Intense fighting has taken place in Khan Yunis city a few kilometres from Rafah.

On Thursday, Israel’s military said it had also killed fighters in central Gaza as well as in Gaza City’s Zeitun area.

While fighting continued, Muhammad Yassin, 35, battled to find flour in Zeitun.

“I found thousands of people waiting for long hours just to get a kilo or two kilos of flour,” he said.

“We have not eaten a loaf of bread for two months. Our children are starving.”

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.

 

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