Gaza aid airdrops questioned after 18 more hungry Palestinians die on ground

AFP , Ahram Online , Wednesday 27 Mar 2024

Even before 18 people were killed when airdrops of aid into Gaza went disastrously wrong on Monday, many had questioned the sense in using planes when food can be delivered far more rapidly by road.

An image grab from video footage shows Palestinians running toward parachutes attached to food parcels airdropped from U.S. aircraft on a beach in the Gaza Strip on March 2, 2024. AFP


The problem is that "airdrops are as inefficient as they are dangerous", according to a source from an international NGO working in Gaza who asked to remain anonymous.

And they can be deadly to the desperate people waiting on the ground.

Twelve hungry Gazans drowned trying to fish food packages from the sea on Monday and six more were killed in stampedes as Israel continues to block aid deliveries into the Palestinian territory deliberately.

Others have been crushed by the crates after parachutes malfunctioned, with five killed and 10 injured earlier this month when crates fell "like rockets" on the Al-Shati refugee camp.

Despite the deaths and the risks, Palestinians like mechanic Ahmed Al-Rifi were back the day after the latest tragedy waiting for the next drop, on the same beaches where the 18 were killed.

"Every day people get hurt or even killed fighting to get flour, water, lentils and beans," he said.

Taxi driver Uday Nasser said it was "deeply humiliating".

"The strong take from the weaker ones. Sometimes they use knives or even shoot," he said.

UNICEF's James Elder, who is based in Gaza, said: "Typically food aid is delivered from the air because people are cut off and it's the only way to reach them".

"Here the lifesaving aid they need is a matter of kilometres away. We need to use the roads," he said.

Despite substantial evidence and live footage circulating on social media showing Israeli settlers blocking food lorries while Israeli forces stand idle, Israel denies blocking humanitarian aid from entering the Gaza Strip.

However, aid deliveries by land remain significantly below pre-war levels -- around 150 vehicles per day compared to at least 550 before the conflict, as reported by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

And only a small amount of that is getting to the famine-threatened north of Gaza, where the drops are concentrated, due to Israel blocking vital crossings in the north of the strip and unleashing relentless bombardment in the northern region.

'Pressure on Israel'

Hamas has appealed to foreign powers to cease aid drops, asserting that they pose a "real danger to the lives of hungry citizens," with some doing the drops admitting it is little more than a gesture with so many of Gaza's 2.4 million people starving.

US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Anderson told AFP during a drop earlier this month that the aid delivered by air was only a "drop in the bucket" of what was needed.

He said that if a parachute failed to open they try to make sure it ends up in the water where "nobody is going to get hurt".

Tragically, on Monday, people drowned as they tried to get the crates landing in the water, witnesses saying some of the dead were children.

"The countries doing the drops, particularly the US, know that it is making almost no difference," the humanitarian source claimed.

However, the drops are highly visible and make for striking television images.

You can see them from miles away -- military cargo planes flying low, leaving a trail of black, pink or grey parachutes behind them, each carrying up to a tonne of aid.

"I think it is a way of putting indirect pressure on Israel" to let more food aid in, the source added.

Despite the hazards, Jordan's army said five more drops were carried out on Wednesday with help from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, and Spain.

The United States also pledged to continue airdrops with US Central Command confirming it had dropped 46,000 powdered meals over northern Gaza on Monday.

Washington insisted Tuesday it was working "around the clock" to increase the flow of aid into Gaza by land as well as setting up a sea corridor.

The US Army said a floating jetty that will enable aid deliveries via the sea in Gaza was now crossing the Atlantic.

Up to now, only one vessel carrying aid has been able to deliver -- a Spanish vessel towing a barge from Cyprus carrying 200 tonnes of aid earlier this month.

That was the equivalent of what 12 lorries can carry, said Elder, when "hundreds of trucks are waiting on the other side of the Gaza border" full of aid.

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