Biden: US checking ‘competing versions’ of Gaza aid trucks incident

US president says event may harm hostage negotiations; Hamas says IDF killed 104 people trying to access aid, Israel says most deaths occurred because of stampede

US President Joe Biden waves to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC, Feb. 29, 2024. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
US President Joe Biden waves to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington DC, Feb. 29, 2024. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden said Thursday that the United States was checking “competing versions” of a shooting incident at a Gaza aid point, adding that it would likely complicate ceasefire negotiations.

“We’re checking that right now. There are two competing versions of what happened, I don’t have an answer yet,” Biden told reporters when asked about the incident west of Gaza City, in which the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claimed Israeli troops shot dead 104 people who were trying to access supplies from an aid truck.

Israel says that most of the casualties were caused by a chaotic stampede as masses rushed supply vehicles and that gunmen opened fire in the area as they looted the supplies.

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 IDF said that it did not fire at the crowd rushing the main aid convoy.

Asked if he was worried whether the event would complicate negotiations for a pause in fighting and hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, Biden replied: “I know it will.”

But he also said that “hope springs eternal,” regarding the possibility for a deal, days after saying he thought one would be clinched by March 4. “I was on the phone with the people in the region… Probably not by Monday, but I’m hopeful,” he added.

In a statement, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said that the US mourns “the loss of innocent life and recognize[s] the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where innocent Palestinians are just trying to feed their families.

“This underscores the importance of expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, including through a potential temporary ceasefire.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the incident “in which more than a hundred people were reportedly killed or injured while seeking life-saving aid,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the besieged north where the United Nations has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week,” Dujarric added, noting that Guterres again called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the unconditional release of all hostages.

“Even after close to five months of brutal hostilities, Gaza still has the ability to shock us,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths wrote on X. “I’m appalled at the reported killing and injury of hundreds of people during a transfer of aid supplies west of Gaza City today.”

Hamas warned in a statement that the incident could lead to the failure of talks aimed at a deal on a truce and hostage release.

“The negotiations conducted by the movement’s leadership are not an open process at the expense of the blood of our people,” it said, adding that Israel would be responsible for any failure of the talks.

Jordan also condemned the incident, referring to it as a “ruthless attack,” while others were less nuanced, calling the event a “massacre.”

The IDF has coordinated several aid deliveries to northern Gaza in recent weeks, although this one was larger than usual. It said it would now look for a solution to prevent such incidents from happening again and was conducting probes into the matter.

Aerial footage showing crowds rushing aid trucks in northern Gaza, released on February 29, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The incident came amid mounting international concerns about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the difficulties in providing aid for the more than two million people caught up in a war that began when the Palestinian terror group Hamas carried out a massive October 7 attack on Israel, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking 253 hostage.

In response to the massacre, Israel began a military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip that has killed over 30,000 people, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. These numbers cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas operatives.

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