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Dozens dead after violence near aid trucks in Gaza City

Ethan Bronner and Fares Akram, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Scores of Palestinians were killed and injured on Thursday during an outbreak of violence around a convoy of food trucks attempting to deliver humanitarian aid in northern Gaza.

Local health officials blamed Israeli forces for the unrest, which left 112 dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The Israeli military said: “Gazan residents surrounded the trucks and looted the supplies being delivered. During the incident, dozens of Gazans were injured as a result of pushing and trampling.” The events are under review, according to the statement.

The flare-up comes as Israel’s war in Gaza nears the end of its fifth month, with the military seeking to destroy the Islamist group Hamas after its militants invaded the country on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and kidnapping 250 more. Israel’s counterattack has left more than 30,000 dead, according to the health ministry, while the bombardment has devastated parts of the territory and limited access to food and health care.

Israel says more than a third of those killed were fighters of Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union.

Negotiations led by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt are underway for a pause in the conflict that would allow more aid to be delivered, as well as the exchange of Hamas-held hostages for Palestinian prisoners. President Joe Biden said Thursday he remains hopeful about the prospects of a cease-fire, but the aid-truck violence would likely affect the talks. He previously said Monday was the aimed-for starting date.

Senior Biden administration officials have been in touch with the Israeli government about the incident and the U.S. will monitor the investigation and press for answers, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Thursday.

“This tragic event also underscores the importance of expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza in response to the dire humanitarian situation, including through a potential temporary ceasefire as part of a hostage deal,” Miller said.

One Israeli military officer said some Gazans seeking aid approached the forces in a threatening manner, and some responded with live fire. An early army account said a handful of the casualties were caused by its soldiers, the rest a result of the chaos.

A witness, Mohammed al-Shouli, speaking by phone, said thousands of people had gathered to wait for the trucks, which started passing an Israeli checkpoint at around 4am.

“The first truck arrived and stopped 300 meters away from the checkpoint,” he said. “People swarmed the truck and thousands proceeded further to other trucks, looking for flour.”

He said 20 trucks entered, the first seven of them carrying water and canned food, and five others with flour.

“People went further south toward the flour trucks and got closer to the tanks and the shooting started,” he said. “Trucks were invisible because thousands of people climbed over them.”

 

The episode — shootings, stumbling, chaos, and running away with aid — lasted for about half an hour before all trucks were emptied, he said.

Barely functioning

Jadallah Shafai, the head of the nursing department at Shifa Hospital, told the Al Jazeera network that around 50 people were killed and 250 wounded. Al Jazeera ran footage showing several bodies and injured people arriving at Shifa.

Hussam Abu Safiya, the director of the Kamal Adwan Hospital, said the facility had received at least 10 bodies and 160 wounded people, according to the Associated Press.

The hospitals are barely functioning, however, after Israeli attacks since the start of the conflict, which initially focused on the north. Israel says Hamas fighters and military equipment were hidden inside and underneath the facilities, forcing it to send in its troops.

Northern Gaza, where the events occurred, is in a particularly dire state, with hungry people searching for animal feed to turn into flour. Aid enters Gaza from the south and Israel has been insisting that those seeking help should travel in that direction.

Nonetheless, several hundred thousand Palestinians have stayed in the north and Israel has started to allow trucks to travel there. But the delivery of the aid has been fraught with looting.

“We mourn the loss of innocent life and recognize the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where innocent Palestinians are just trying to feed their families,” White House National Security Council spokesman Eduardo Maia Silva said. “This underscores the importance of expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, including through a potential temporary cease-fire as part of a hostage deal.”

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(—With assistance from Jordan Fabian and Iain Marlow.)

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