Palestinians accuse Israel of 'massacre'

Dozens killed in Gaza aid stampede; IDF says its fire caused no more than 10 casualties

Hamas puts toll at 104, blames Israel, could suspend hostage talks; IDF: Most casualties were trampled or run over; troops did not fire on crowd, shot at several Gazans who endangered them

Dozens of Palestinians were killed Thursday in Gaza City as they swarmed aid trucks that entered the city.

Hamas blamed the IDF for the deaths. The military said most of the casualties were caused by a stampede 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. 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 Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said the death toll reached 104, with hundreds more injured. The figures could not be independently confirmed.

The Israel Defense Forces published drone video showing thousands of people swarming around the aid trucks as they reached the area in northern Gaza. In some cases, the vehicles continued to try and push past the crowds.

The trucks were being driven by “private contractors,” the IDF said.

According to an initial IDF probe of the crush, the vast majority of the casualties were a result of trampling and being struck by the aid trucks.

The incident began at around 4 a.m., when some 30 trucks carrying humanitarian aid arrived at the coast of Gaza City, to deliver food to Palestinians in the Rimal neighborhood.

Thousands of Palestinians rushed the trucks after they passed an IDF checkpoint in central Gaza, leading to a stampede in which dozens of Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded, some after being run over by the trucks, according to the probe.

The IDF’s initial investigation found that some of the trucks managed to continue further north, where armed men reportedly opened fire at the convoy near Rimal and looted it.

Dozens of Palestinians who rushed the last truck in the convoy, further south, began to move toward an IDF tank and troops stationed at the military’s checkpoint, the investigation found.

An officer stationed in the area ordered soldiers to fire warning shots in the air as the Palestinians were within a few dozen meters, as well as gunfire at the legs of those who continued to move toward the troops, the probe said.

The IDF said that fewer than 10 of the casualties were a result of Israeli fire.

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 incident.

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.

Gaza City and the rest of northern Gaza were the first targets of Israel’s air, sea, and ground offensive. The area has suffered widespread devastation and has been largely isolated from the rest of the territory for months, with little aid entering and most of the population having evacuated southward.

Aid groups say it has become nearly impossible to deliver humanitarian assistance in most of Gaza because of the difficulty of coordinating with the Israeli military, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order, with crowds of desperate people overwhelming aid convoys. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians face starvation; around 80% have fled their homes.

The Hamas health ministry said in addition to at least 104 people killed, around 760 were wounded, describing it as a “massacre.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s office said he “condemned the ugly massacre conducted by the Israeli occupation army this morning against the people who waited for the aid trucks at the Nabulsi roundabout.”

Medical teams were unable to cope with the volume and severity of injuries from dozens of wounded people who arrived at Shifa Hospital, said ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra.

Screen capture from video purportedly showing people at the scene where crowds were trampled waiting for humanitarian aid in northern Gaza, February 29, 2024. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The head of Kamal Adwan hospital in Gaza City, Hussam Abu Safieyah, said it had received 10 dead bodies and dozens of wounded patients from the incident west of the city.

“We don’t know how many there are in other hospitals,” Safieyah told Reuters by phone.

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, referring to Thursday’s deaths and saying Israel would be responsible for any failure of the talks.

Videos posted on social media showed trucks carrying many dead bodies. Reuters verified the location of one video to al-Nabulsi roundabout that showed several men who were motionless, as well as several wounded people.

Another video, which Reuters was unable to verify, showed bloodstained people being carried in a truck, medics treating people on a hospital floor, and bodies being wrapped in shrouds.

“We don’t want aid like this. We don’t want aid and bullets together. There are many martyrs,” one man was saying in a video.

Kamel Abu Nahel, who was being treated for a gunshot wound at Shifa Hospital, said he and others went to the distribution point in the middle of the night because they heard there would be a delivery of food. “We’ve been eating animal feed for two months,” he said.

He said Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd, causing it to scatter, with some people hiding under cars. After the shooting stopped, they went back to the trucks, and the soldiers opened fire again. He was shot in the leg and fell over, and then a truck ran over his leg as it sped off, he said.

Medics arriving at the scene on Thursday said they found “dozens or hundreds” lying on the ground, according to Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at Kamal Adwan Hospital. He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals in donkey carts.

Separately, the Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,035, with another 70,457 wounded.

The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed more that 12,000 Hamas operatives in addition to another 1,000 killed inside Israel on October 7.

Fighting also continued in other areas of Gaza.

The IDF is engaged in a large-scale operation in the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City where it said troops killed numerous Hamas operatives over the past day.

Israeli forces killed several gunmen — including by calling in airstrikes — destroyed tunnel shafts and rocket launchers, and captured weapons, the military said in an update. Troops also uncovered a Hamas explosives and rocket manufacturing plant in the neighborhood.

A weapons production plant in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, in a handout image published February 29, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Fighting continued in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, and airstrikes were called against Hamas operatives in northern Gaza, including against a pair that opened fire at troops, the IDF said.

Other strikes killed several more Hamas operatives in the central Gaza region.

Meanwhile, a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip struck an open field in southern Israel. The launch set off sirens in the border communities of Sa’ad and Kfar Aza. There were no reports of injuries.

The Hamas October 7 attack on southern Israel that ignited the war killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, amid horrific atrocities including widespread gang rape, torture, and mutilation of victims. Some of the 3,000 attackers who burst through the border from Gaza also abducted 253 hostages who were taken back to Gaza. Hamas is still holding around 130 hostages, a quarter of whom are believed to be dead.

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