Hamas urges end to Gaza airdrops after deaths, more aid trucks

AFP , Tuesday 26 Mar 2024

Hamas on Tuesday urged foreign nations to stop parachuting aid into war-torn Gaza after officials and humanitarians said 18 people died trying to reach food packages in the starving north.

Palestinians run to get food in Gaza
File Photo: Palestinians run along a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City, amid the ongoing Israeli war. AFP


Instead, the Palestinian resistance group that rules the Gaza Strip demanded that its enemy Israel allow more aid trucks to enter the besieged territory, which the United Nations has warned is on the brink of a "man-made famine".

Fighting raged on unabated a day after the UN Security Council passed its first resolution calling for an "immediate ceasefire" in the bloodiest-ever Gaza war, sparked on October 7.

The resolution also demands that Hamas free the roughly 130 captives Israel says remain in Gaza.

Jordanian, US, and other planes have airdropped food into Gaza, even as UN officials and aid agencies have warned this falls far short of the dire needs of its 2.4 million people and is far less effective than ensuring overland access.

On Tuesday, Jordanian, Egyptian, Emirati, and German planes again airdropped relief goods, with the sight of food packages floating down on parachutes sending Palestinian crowds rushing toward them.

Six people were killed in stampedes and 12 others drowned off the territory's Mediterranean coast, the Hamas government and the Swiss-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said.

Hamas in a statement called for "an immediate end to airdrop operations" and "the immediate and rapid opening of land crossings to allow humanitarian aid to reach our Palestinian people".

The UN children's fund, UNICEF, said vastly more aid must be rushed into Gaza by road, rather than air or sea, to avert "this imminent famine".

Food aid is usually only airdropped in crises where "people are cut off for hundreds of kilometers", said UNICEF spokesman James Elder, speaking via video link from Gaza.

But "the lifesaving aid they need is a matter of kilometers away", he said, as trucks loaded with aid have been waiting across Gaza's southern border with Egypt.

"We need to use the road networks."

UN ceasefire vote 
 

Israeli troops meanwhile battled Hamas with no sign of a let-up in the war raging for almost six months.

The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said 70 people were killed early Tuesday, 13 of them in air strikes around the southern city of Rafah.

The Security Council resolution passed Monday demanded a ceasefire for the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan that should lead to a "lasting" truce.

Israel's top ally the United States, which had blocked previous resolutions, abstained amid growing concern for the worsening humanitarian situation, sparking an angry reaction from Israel.

Washington has balked at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's determination to launch an assault on Rafah.

The far southern city is Gaza's last major population center still untouched by Israeli ground troops, and where most of Gaza's population has sought refuge.

Israel charged that the UN resolution "hurts" both its war effort and attempts to free captives, though the White House insisted there had been no shift in its policy.

Palestinians in Rafah welcomed the UN vote and called on Washington to ensure the resolution is implemented.

Bilal Awad, 63, said the United States must "stand against an attack on Rafah, and support the return of the displaced to their cities" further north in Gaza.

'Political isolation' 
 

Since Oct.7, Israel's brutal military campaign on the Gaza Strip has killed at least 32,414 people, 70% of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Hamas welcomed the UN resolution and reaffirmed its readiness to negotiate the release of captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, during a visit to Iran on Tuesday, said Israel is experiencing "unprecedented political isolation" and losing US "protection" at the Security Council.

In an earlier statement, Hamas had blamed Israel for the failure to make progress in the latest round of talks hosted by mediator Qatar.

Hamas argued Netanyahu and his cabinet were "entirely responsible for the failure of negotiation efforts and for preventing an agreement from being reached up until now".

Netanyahu's office hit back on social media platform X, charging that Hamas was "not interested in continuing negotiations".

Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari said on Tuesday the talks were "ongoing", adding there had been no "development that would lead to thinking that one of the teams has pulled out of the negotiations".

Battles near hospitals 
 

On the ground in Gaza, dozens of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles surrounded the Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis, where thousands of displaced people have sought refuge, witnesses said.

The Palestinian health ministry said shots were being fired around the sprawling complex, but no raid had yet taken place.

At Gaza City's Al-Shifa Hospital, the territory's largest, Israeli troops have been engaged in heavy fighting for nine days.

On Monday, the Israeli military reported killing about 20 around Al-Amal Hospital, also in Khan Yunis, over the previous day in close-quarters combat and air strikes.

Israel has labeled its operations "precise operational activities", but aid agencies have voiced concern for civilians caught up in the fighting.

Palestinians living near Al-Shifa have reported corpses in the streets, constant bombardment, and the rounding up of men who are stripped to their underwear and questioned.

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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