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Palestine: ‘Total contempt for human life’

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Picture: Jordanian army / AFP / February 29, 2024 – Humanitarian aid is dropped from a military aircraft over northern Gaza, this week, in this picture released by the Jordanian Army.

By AFP writer

Global condemnation flowed yesterday after Israeli forces in war-ravaged Gaza opened fire as Palestinian civilians scrambled for food aid during a chaotic incident which the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said killed more than 100 people.

The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of desperate Gazans surrounded a convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over by the lorries.

An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat”.

Gaza’s health ministry called it a “massacre” and said 112 people were killed and more than 750 others wounded.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in a post on social media platform X, expressed his “strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice, and respect for international law”.

Iran denounced “the barbaric attack by the Zionist regime”.

China said it was “shocked”, and the head of the Arab League said the “brutal” act showed “total contempt for human life”.

US President Joe Biden said Washington was checking “two competing versions” of the incident which occurred early on Thursday in northern Gaza, where famine threatens after nearly five months of war between Israel and Hamas militants.

A US State Department spokesperson said aerial footage of the incident made clear “just how desperate the situation on the ground is”. Washington was pushing Israel to allow in more aid, he said.

The deaths came after the World Food Programme’s deputy executive director Carl Skau told the UN Security Council on Tuesday: “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”

While the situation is particularly acute in Gaza’s north, Gazans are struggling for food, water and medical care throughout the territory, including in far-south Rafah where around 1.4 million people have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere. Israel is threatening to send in troops against Hamas fighters in Rafah.

The war began on October 7 with a Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1 160 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign has killed more than 30,000 people, according to the health ministry, which yesterday said that 83 people had been killed in strikes overnight. Israel’s military says 242 soldiers have died in Gaza since ground operations began in late October.

The Gaza City aid incident would complicate efforts to broker a truce, Biden said. The White House said he spoke with Qatari and Egyptian leaders – fellow mediators – in separate phone calls to discuss both the ceasefire and the “tragic and alarming” incident.

The UN Security Council held a closed-door emergency meeting on the incident. Washington has blocked Security Council resolutions for a ceasefire in Gaza three times.

“This outrageous massacre is a testimony to the fact that as long as the Security Council is paralysed,” and vetoes were cast, “then it is costing the Palestinian people their lives,” Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour said ahead of the council meeting.

Separately, Saudi Arabia strongly condemned what it called the “targeting” of unarmed civilians, while Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates also issued condemnations.

Qatar warned that Israel’s “disregard for Palestinian blood … (will) pave the way for an expanding cycle of violence”. Turkey said the incident “is evidence that (Israel) aims consciously and collectively to destroy the Palestinian people”.

Spain’s foreign minister said the “unacceptable” events underline the “urgency of a ceasefire”, while EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell expressed horror at “yet another carnage among civilians in Gaza desperate for humanitarian aid”.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced the suspension of arms purchases from Israel after the “genocide” in Gaza City. A witness, who declined to be named for safety reasons, said the violence began when thousands of people rushed towards the aid trucks at the city’s Nabulsi roundabout, with soldiers firing at the crowd “as people came too close” to tanks.

The chief of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said no UN agency had been involved in Thursday’s aid delivery, and called the incident “another day from hell”. – AFP