World in shock as more than 100 killed while seeking aid in Gaza, overall death toll passes 30,000


Gaza officials say more than 100 Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli forces as they waited for an aid delivery, but Israel has challenged the death toll and says many of the victims were run over by aid trucks. - PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO (Reuters): Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces on Feb 29 shot dead more than 100 Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery, but Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over.

At least 112 people were killed and more than 280 wounded in the incident near Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said.

The loss of civilian lives was the biggest in weeks. Hamas said the incident could jeopardise talks in Qatar aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages it is holding. When asked if he thought it would complicate the talks, US President Joe Biden said: “I know it will.”

Medics in Gaza said they could not cope with the flood of serious injuries, which came as the death toll in nearly five months of war passed 30,000, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Israel disputed the account provided by officials in Hamas-run Gaza, which has been bombarded by Israeli forces for months since the Palestinian militant group’s deadly rampage in southern Israel on Oct 7.

The Israeli military said the trucks were operated by private contractors as part of an aid operation that it had been overseeing for the past four nights.

One Israeli official said there had been two incidents, hundreds of metres apart. In the first, dozens were killed or injured as they tried to take aid from the trucks and were trampled or run over.

He said there was a second, subsequent incident as the trucks moved off. Some people in the crowd approached troops who felt under threat and opened fire, killing an unknown number in a “limited response”, he said. He dismissed the casualty toll given by Gaza authorities but gave no figure himself.

In a later briefing, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari also said dozens had been trampled to death or injured in a fight to take supplies off the trucks.

He said tanks escorting the trucks had subsequently fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and backed away when events began to get out of hand. “No IDF strike was conducted towards the aid convoy,” he said.

“The IDF was there conducting a humanitarian operation to secure the humanitarian corridor and allow the aid convoy to reach its designated distribution point.”

The US State Department said it was urgently seeking information on the incident as did the French foreign ministry.

A woman sits among Palestinians at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City after they were injured in an early morning incident when residents rushed toward aid trucks in Gaza City on Feb 29. - PHOTO: AFPA woman sits among Palestinians at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City after they were injured in an early morning incident when residents rushed toward aid trucks in Gaza City on Feb 29. - PHOTO: AFP

White House says aid incident is ‘alarming’ and ‘tragic’

Hamas issued a statement rejecting the Israeli account.

It said the Health Ministry had presented “undeniable” evidence of “direct firing at citizens, including headshots aimed at immediate killing, in addition to the testimonies of all witnesses who confirmed being targeted with direct fire without posing any threat to the occupying army”.

The White House said Biden discussed the “tragic and alarming incident” with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, as well as ways to secure the release of Israeli hostages and a six-week ceasefire.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was an “ugly massacre” by Israel, and French foreign ministry spokesperson Christophe Lemoine said Israel was responsible under international law for protecting aid distribution to civilians.

One video shared on social media, whose location Reuters was able to verify, showed trucks loaded with many dead bodies as well as wounded people.

Another, which Reuters could not verify, showed bloodstained people being carried in a truck, bodies wrapped in shrouds and doctors treating injured patients on the hospital floor.

“We don’t want aid like this. We don’t want aid and bullets together. There are many martyrs,” a man said in one of the videos.

The Pentagon expressed alarm but declined to assign any blame. “These are human beings that are trying to feed themselves” Air Force Maj-General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson, told a news briefing. “We’re all kind of looking at that and saying: ‘What happened here’?”.

The body of a Palestinian killed in an early morning incident when residents rushed toward aid trucks in Gaza City on Feb 29. - PHOTO: AFPThe body of a Palestinian killed in an early morning incident when residents rushed toward aid trucks in Gaza City on Feb 29. - PHOTO: AFP

Palestinian death toll tops 30,000

The Palestinian health authorities said 30,035 Palestinians were now confirmed killed and more than 70,000 wounded in Israel’s offensive, launched after the Oct 7 attack in which Israel said Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people and abducted 253.

Much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble and most of its 2.3 million population have been displaced from their homes at least once.

Aid deliveries to northern Gaza have been sparse and chaotic, passing through more active military zones to an area where the UN says many are starving, with videos showing desperate crowds surging around supply trucks.

UN and other relief agencies have complained that Israel has blocked or restricted their attempts to get aid in. Israel denies putting any restrictions on humanitarian aid.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations Palestinian aid agency UNRWA, told reporters in Jerusalem that the supply of aid into Gaza as a whole had halved since January. - REUTERS

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