President twice says 'Ukraine' when refering to Gaza

‘No excuses’: Biden announces US military to airdrop food, supplies into war-torn Gaza

‘Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere near enough,’ says president; White House: Deliveries to start in days, continue for weeks; US to also consider ‘marine corridor’ for deliveries

US President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 1, 2024. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 1, 2024. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

US President Joe Biden announced on Friday plans to carry out a first US military airdrop of food and supplies into Gaza, a day after the reported deaths of dozens of Palestinians in a crowd crush as they rushed an aid convoy threw a spotlight on an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in the war-torn coastal enclave.

“We need to do more, and the United States will do more,” Biden told reporters at the White House at the start of a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough,” Biden said. “Now, it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line. We won’t stand by until we get more aid in there. We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several.”

The White House later said the airdrop will take place “in the coming days” and that the operation will be replicated in the following weeks.

The delivery of aid to Gaza has been a point of contention in the devastating five-month war, triggered by the unprecedented shock Hamas attack on October 7, when thousands of terrorists rampaged through southern Israeli communities, killing some 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages.

Israel, which checks all trucks entering Gaza from both crossings, has blamed the United Nations for not delivering the aid fast enough after they are cleared, and for leading to a general fall-off in deliveries over the past month.

The UN has said it is becoming more difficult to distribute aid inside Gaza. The flow of aid from Egypt has almost dried up in the past two weeks, and a collapse in security has made it increasingly difficult to distribute the food that does get through, according to UN data and officials.

While more trucks have arrived through Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing, they have, of late, been disrupted by relatives of Israeli hostages and protesters seeking to block deliveries. Israel has repeatedly said it is prepared to speed up the clearance of aid.

Before the war with Hamas, Gaza relied on 500 trucks with supplies entering daily.

The US has consistently pressured Israel to increase the delivery of aid since the war started, following the Hamas October 7 massacre.

A worker carries bags of humanitarian aid that entered Gaza by truck through the Kerem Shalom border crossing on February 17, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA said on Friday that during February an average of nearly 97 trucks were able to enter Gaza every day, compared with about 150 trucks a day in January, adding: “The number of trucks entering Gaza remains well below the target of 500 per day.”

Biden said Friday that “in the coming days, we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others in providing air drops of additional food and supplies.

Jordan and the UK conducted airdrops of aid last week in north Gaza.

Biden said the US would also look at a possible “marine corridor” to deliver large amounts of aid into Gaza, where residents face dire shortages of food, water and medicine due to the war. A US official said that shipping assistance by sea from Cyprus, some 210 nautical miles off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast, was being looked at.

The US president also said that he would “insist” that Israel let in more aid trucks. “No excuses, because the truth is aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere near enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line,” Biden added.

US President Joe Biden meets Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, March 1, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

During his remarks Biden twice said Ukraine, but the White House confirmed he meant Gaza.

The White House said Biden had been planning airdrops for some time but that the need for them was pressed home by the aid convoy horror in Gaza Thursday, in which the Strip’s Hamas authorities claim at least 112 Palestinians were killed by IDF fire during the aid delivery.

The military has vehemently contested the claims and said most of the casualties were caused by a stampede as crowds swarmed the trucks, and being run over by the supply vehicles. Gunmen also opened fire in the area as they looted the supplies.

The army said it did not fire at the crowd rushing the main aid convoy. And it acknowledged that troops opened fire on several Gazans who moved toward soldiers and a tank at an IDF checkpoint, endangering soldiers, after they had rushed the last truck in the convoy further south.

The New York Times on Friday quoted eyewitnesses claiming that Israeli tanks and other forces fired at people trying to get supplies from the convoy. IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari on Thursday said the IDF “did not fire on those seeking aid, despite the accusations.”

Also Friday, the head of a Gaza City hospital where some of the wounded from the deadly melee were being treated claimed that more than 80% had been hit by gunfire. The remainder of the patients — 34 of 176 — were injured in a stampede triggered by the shooting, said Dr. Mohammed Salha, acting director of the Al-Awda Hospital.

The UN later said a team visiting a Gaza hospital Friday reported “a large number of gunshot wounds” among those injured in Thursday’s aid disaster.

In addition to the 112 fatalities, Hamas authorities say more than 750 were injured in the incident.

“What [Thursday’s] event underscores, and certainly underscored for the president, is the need to continue to find alternative routes” for aid, said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby speaks during the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, March 1, 2024. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

The US planned to carry out multiple air drops that would last weeks. “This isn’t going to be one and done,” Kirby told reporters at the briefing.

Kirby said the first US airdrop of humanitarian aid into Gaza will take place “in the coming days” and that the operation will be replicated in the following weeks. “The third and fourth and fifth one won’t look like the first and second one,” said Kirby.

The first airdrop will consist of food, likely MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) used by the US military, Kirby said, adding that the US is still working to finalize details regarding who will distribute the aid once it hits the ground.

While airdrops are a faster method of delivery than trucks have been in Gaza, Kirby noted that the new tactic is only meant to supplement ground shipments, given that the latter can deliver at a far larger scale.

But it was also a “tough military operation” that required careful planning by the Pentagon for the safety of both Gazan civilians and US military personnel. “It is extremely difficult to do an airdrop in such a crowded environment as is Gaza,” said Kirby.

Illustrative: IDF troops observe aid airdropped to southern Gaza, February 27, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“It’s not the kind of thing you want to do in a heartbeat. you want to think it through carefully,” Kirby said. He added, “There’s few military operations that are more complicated than humanitarian assistance airdrops”

Kirby said the US has been in touch with Israel about this effort and notes that Israel recently conducted its own airdrop and is supportive of the US initiative.

“We are aware of the humanitarian airdrop,” an Israeli official in Washington confirmed to Reuters. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not reply to a question on whether the US had sought Israeli agreement in advance on the airdrops or was coordinating the effort with it.

Pressed repeatedly on whether the decision to announce the impending airdrops had to do with Thursday’s deadly incident in northern Gaza, Kirby insisted that the idea had been in the works for “some time.” He added that the aid stampede highlighted the need for more aid to enter Gaza through additional methods.

Kirby stressed in his Friday comments that ground routes will still be used to get aid into Gaza, and that the airdrops are a supplemental effort.

He added that the US will continue to push Israel to open additional crossings into Gaza to facilitate the delivery of more aid.

Jerusalem has been reluctant to answer calls to open the Erez Crossing into northern Gaza where it is seeking to prevent a resurgence of Hamas activity.

View of the closed Erez Crossing, also known as the Beit Hanoun Crossing, between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, on August 18, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Pressure has been mounting for Biden to move more aggressively to ease Palestinian suffering, including from lawmakers of Biden’s Democratic Party. Even before Thursday’s deaths, Sen. Jack Reed, chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, wrote Biden this week to urge that the administration deploy a military hospital ship and support units to help treat Gaza’s wounded and open a sea route to Gaza for delivery of humanitarian aid.

NBC News reported on Friday, citing unnamed US officials, that despite the increasing pressure, Biden remains unwilling to fundamentally shift his policy in support of Israel by placing conditions on military aid to Jerusalem. The officials reportedly added that the president would not change his decision as long as he thought that a hostage deal is still possible.

While Biden said Thursday that the Gaza aid crowd crush incident would complicate ongoing hostage negotiations, Kirby told reporters Friday that “it’s too soon to know whether yesterday’s incident will impact the talks.”

“With the fighting stopped, aid will be able to flow more freely at an increased level, and the hostages — starting with women, the elderly and the wounded — can be released in stages,” Kirby said. “We’re going to keep our shoulder to the wheel on that and work very, very hard in the coming days.”

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