Feb 29, 2024 - World

Dozens of Palestinians killed in incident around Gaza aid convoy

Injured Palestinians receive medical treatment in Al-Shifa Hospital

Injured Palestinians receive medical treatment in Al-Shifa Hospital on Feb. 29. Photo: Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu via Getty Images

Dozens of Palestinians were killed on Thursday in an incident around an aid convoy in northern Gaza. Hamas blamed Israeli forces who opened fire on a crowd of Palestinians, while Israel claimed most of the casualties were the result of Palestinians being trampled as crowds stormed and looted the trucks.

The big picture: The incident, which took place amid indirect talks between Israel and Hamas over a new hostage deal, will likely dramatically increase pressure for a temporary ceasefire. The Biden administration has been warning Israeli officials for weeks about the breakdown of law and order in the enclave, with one U.S. official telling Axios that Gaza was "turning into Mogadishu."

Driving the news: At least 104 Palestinians were killed in Thursday's incident, Gaza health officials say, pushing the Palestinian death toll from the nearly five months of war above 30,000.

  • More than 750 others were wounded on Thursday, health officials said. The incident took place as a convoy of 30 aid trucks traveling from Rafah to northern Gaza reached al-Rashid Street in western Gaza City.
  • The convoy was bringing food to shelters for Palestinian civilians in the Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City, according to Israel Defense Forces officials.

An IDF official told reporters that shortly after the trucks crossed the last Israeli military checkpoint on the way to Gaza City, thousands of Palestinian civilians arrived in the area and many began looting the trucks. The IDF released a drone video showing Palestinians crowding around and looting the trucks.

  • The IDF official said Israeli forces fired on dozens of Palestinian civilians who approached the IDF and got within tens of meters. According to the official, the soldiers felt threatened and initially fired warning shots.
  • They then fired at the legs of the Palestinians who continued their approach, the official claimed, adding that most casualties were the result of the stampede or truck drivers running over people.
  • The IDF official claimed that according to the initial investigation, around 10 Palestinian civilians were hit by the Israeli soldiers' fire.

Hamas, however, claims most of those killed and wounded were shot by Israeli soldiers.

  • Hamas in a statement said Israeli soldiers "committed a massacre" against Palestinian civilians and accused the Biden administration of "giving cover to Israel's aggression."
  • Hamas spokesperson Izzat al-Rishq said the group told the mediators in the hostage talks that "the negotiations are not open-ended and we won't allow it to be used as cover for crimes against the Palestinians in Gaza."
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stressed in a statement that Israel is responsible for "the heinous massacre" and said it was "an integral part of the Israeli war of genocide against the Palestinian people."
  • The Jordanian, Egyptian and Saudi Foreign Ministries issued statements condemning Israel and accusing it of attacking Palestinian civilians.

Zoom out: Getting aid into Gaza has become increasingly difficult over the last month due to the security situation in the enclave and Israeli restrictions.

  • 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.

What they're saying: "This is a serious incident and we are looking into the reports. 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," the White House National Security Council said in a statement.

  • White House deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton said the U.S. asked the Israeli government Thursday morning to thoroughly investigate the aid convoy incident and provide more information about the circumstances that led to it.
  • Dalton said the Biden administration urged Israel for weeks to have a viable plan to maintain basic security in areas of Gaza where military operations against Hamas are concluded. "We have yet to see those plans and we are deeply concerned about that. We want to see those plans implemented soon," she said.

What to watch: The White House has been exploring the possibility of airdropping aid from U.S. military planes into Gaza as deliveries by land become increasingly difficult and dangerous, U.S. officials previously told Axios.

  • Thursday's incident took place as USAID Administrator Samantha Power visited the region to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. She said on Wednesday that it was "absolutely clear that as conditions continue to deteriorate in Gaza for the Gazan people, two crossings is not enough."
  • "We are talking to Israeli officials about the need to open up far more crossings.... This is a matter of life and death," she added.
  • Power, who held a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, met with Abbas several hours after the incident on Thursday.

Go deeper: Israeli minister blocking flour Bibi promised Biden would be allowed into Gaza

Go deeper