IDF’s probe into aid chaos says it fired shots at Gazans nearing troops – not trucks

12,000 Palestinians swarmed convoy in Gaza City in Feb. 29 incident, leading to many being crushed and run over; soldiers only fired at those who ‘posed a threat,’ says military

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

In this screenshot taken from video released by the IDF on February 29, 2024, Palestinians surround aid trucks in northern Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)
In this screenshot taken from video released by the IDF on February 29, 2024, Palestinians surround aid trucks in northern Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Force on Friday said it had completed its probe into the reported deaths of 115 Palestinians as they swarmed aid trucks that entered Gaza City in late February, finding that troops stationed in the area did not open fire on the convoy itself as the Hamas terror group had claimed.

Rather, the probe found that shots were fired at several Gazans who moved toward soldiers and a tank at an IDF checkpoint, in a way that “posed a threat to them.”

The probe into the February 29 incident was presented to IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi on Tuesday by the commander of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, the military said.

In a statement, the IDF said the probe included a timeline of events, from the moment the 38 aid trucks arrived at a coordinated location on the Strip’s coast at 4:00 a.m. to be escorted by Israeli forces to their designated distribution location in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood.

The IDF said that at 4:15 a.m., troops conducted a patrol along the route on which the trucks were set to drive and deployed troops for the operation. At 4:29 a.m., the convoy of aid trucks began to cross the route while accompanied by IDF tanks, the probe found.

A minute later, at 4:30 a.m., the IDF said a crowd of some 12,000 Palestinians swarmed the trucks from the east and west and began to loot the equipment they were transporting.

This IDF infographic released March 8, 2024, shows details on a February 29 incident in Gaza City, during which dozens of Palestinians were killed while rushing aid trucks. (Israel Defense Forces)

“During the course of the looting, incidents of significant harm to civilians occurred from the stampede and people being run over by the trucks,” the IDF said, noting that at 4:33 a.m., troops had spotted the bodies of Palestinians beside the trucks and amidst the large crowd.

Amid the looting of the trucks, the IDF said dozens of Palestinians advanced toward the Israeli tanks, escorting the convoy, reaching several meters from them and “thereby posed a real threat to the forces at that point.”

” At this stage [at 4:30 a.m.], the forces used cautionary fire in order to distance the suspects,” the IDF said. “As the suspects continued to advance toward them [at 4:45 a.m.], the troops fired precisely toward a number of the suspects to remove the threat.”

The convoy eventually continued north on its designated route, where at 4:51 a.m., it encountered a blockade of Palestinian vehicles, the probe found.

At 5:00 a.m., IDF troops retreated from the area of the crowds, and by 5:30 a.m., the trucks reached the distribution location, according to the probe.

The IDF said the incident would continue to be examined by the General Staff Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism, an independent military body responsible for investigating unusual incidents amid the war.

People mourn at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City over the bodies of Palestinians killed in an early morning incident when residents rushed toward aid trucks in Gaza City on February 29, 2024 (AFP)

It said the mechanism would “independently examine the incident and the findings, and will formulate its conclusions regarding the incident.”

“The IDF places great importance on the humanitarian efforts, and makes many efforts to facilitate humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and to improve the existing mechanisms,” the military added.

Hours after the chaos, the IDF published stitched-together drone videos showing thousands of people swarming around the aid trucks, driven by Palestinian “contractors.” In some cases, the vehicles continued to try and push past the crowds, the footage showed.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said the death toll reached 115, with more than 760 injured, describing it as a “massacre” and blaming Israeli fire. The figures could not be independently confirmed.

In an initial probe hours after the incident, 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, including after the February 29 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 hostages.

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.

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