Feb 28, 2024 - World

Scoop: U.S. weighs airdropping aid into Gaza as land deliveries slow

Palestinian people walk among rubble as they survive under difficult conditions at Jabalia Refugee Camp in Gaza on February 26, 2024

Palestinians walk among rubble in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on Feb 26. Photo: Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images

The White House is exploring the possibility of airdropping aid from U.S. military planes into Gaza as deliveries by land become increasingly difficult, four U.S. officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The fact the Biden administration is even considering such a move underscores the growing concern within the White House about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, especially in the north where there is a growing threat of starvation, U.S. officials said.

  • "The situation is really bad. We are unable to get enough aid [in] by truck so we need desperate measures like airdrops," one U.S. official told Axios.

Driving the news: The amount of aid reaching Gaza fell by half this month, compared to January, according to the UN. That's due to a number of reasons, officials say.

  • Hamas' civilian police who were escorting aid trucks walked off the job earlier this month after being targeted by Israel, creating a security vacuum that opened the door for armed gangs and Palestinians desperate for supplies to attack and loot aid trucks.
  • At the same time, Israeli airstrikes and the fighting in some areas have hit aid workers, making it increasingly difficult for humanitarian groups to continue their operations.
  • Those realities, along with restrictions put in place by Israel, have led to the bottlenecks of aid trucks at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza and the crossing between Israel and the Strip. The concerns have become increasingly dire in northern Gaza where the World Food Program recently warned "famine is imminent" if nothing changes.

Behind the scenes: The White House only recently started discussing the option of U.S. airdrops, according to a U.S. official.

  • The administration was skeptical of such an idea early in the war, but support for it has been growing, the official said, especially as humanitarian groups struggle to get aid to northern Gaza by land due to the security situation and the Israeli restrictions.
  • The warming to the idea comes after Jordan conducted several rounds of aid airdrops in Gaza. Its most recent drops were done with the cooperation of Egypt and France.

Yes, but: U.S. officials admit that aid airdrops will have a limited effect since a military plane can only drop the amount of supplies equivalent to that transported by one or two trucks.

  • The officials said that airdrops can offer some help due to the extreme need, but the only way to move aid into Gaza at the scale that is required is by land. That's why increasing access so that hundreds of trucks can enter Gaza daily continues to be the administration's highest priority, the officials added.

State of play: USAID Administrator Samantha Power, who is in the region, met on Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to discuss the problems with getting aid into Gaza, U.S. and Israeli officials said.

  • After visiting a WFP warehouse in Jordan that is a hub for aid going to Gaza, Power said on Tuesday that the Biden administration will provide an additional $53 million in humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank affected by the conflict.
  • Power said the level of food insecurity in Gaza is catastrophic and called on Israel to resolve the red tape and bottlenecks that prevent the aid from immediately reaching people in the Strip.
  • Israeli officials said they hope in the coming days to begin allowing aid trucks into Gaza through a new entry point that is much closer to Gaza City in the northern part of the enclave to reduce the risk of looting and increase the chances that the aid reaches the people who need it.

What they're saying: "We continue to work with our partners to expand and sustain the levels of much-needed assistance and to identify and address the persistent barriers to getting that aid to civilians in Gaza," a senior U.S. official said.

  • The official added that the breakdown in law and order in Rafah has further hampered the flow of humanitarian assistance and commercial goods through the two available crossings.
  • "Our team is engaged urgently to open new crossings even as this problem in the south is addressed," the official said.
  • The White House declined to comment.

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