Survivors of Gaza aid chaos say IDF troops shot at them, a charge Israel denies

Injured Gazans say Israeli forces opened fire in deadly incident as Hamas claims 115 dead; Israel says casualties in dozens, most from crowd crush, trucks running them over

Palestinians gather in a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City on March 1, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas terror group. (AFP)
Palestinians gather in a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City on March 1, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas terror group. (AFP)

Some Palestinians injured in a Gaza aid delivery disaster said on Friday that Israeli forces shot them as they rushed to get food for their families, describing a scene of terror and chaos.

Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza said 115 people were killed in the incident in Gaza City early Thursday, attributing the deaths to Israeli gunfire and calling it a massacre.

Israel has disputed those figures, indicating casualties were in the dozens, and saying most victims were trampled or run over in the chaos, as crowds swarmed the delivery trucks.

The army said it did not fire at the crowd rushing the convoy.

The military acknowledged that troops did fire warning shots in the air and opened fire on several Gazans who moved toward soldiers and a tank at an IDF checkpoint, endangering troops, after they had rushed the last truck in the convoy further south.

One Israeli official also said there was “limited fire.”

In this screen grab taken from video and released by the Israeli army on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, Palestinians surround aid trucks in northern Gaza in what officials described the day before as the first major delivery in a month. (IDF via AP)

The incident underscored the collapse of orderly aid distribution in areas of Gaza controlled largely by Israeli forces with no administration in place and the main UN agency UNRWA hamstrung by an inquiry into alleged strong links with Hamas.

Four witnesses, who spoke at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in a video obtained by Reuters, said they were fired upon by Israeli forces, some describing tanks and armed drones being involved.

Mahmoud Ahmad said he began waiting on Wednesday evening for the convoy that eventually arrived early Thursday morning, saying hunger forced him to take the risk of going to the delivery route in hopes of getting flour for his children.

As the aid trucks came into northern Gaza he went towards them but, he said, a tank and a “quadcopter” drone began to fire. “I was injured in my back. I was bleeding for an hour until one of my relatives came and took me to hospital,” he said.

“When the aid entered, the tank and quadcopter started firing at the people gathered, the people who went to get food for themselves and their children. They started shooting at them,” he said.

Jihad Mohammed said he was waiting at Nabulsi roundabout on the Al-Rashid coast road, the main delivery route into northern Gaza from the south.

“We went and waited for the trucks and then there was firing at all the people and then I was injured,” he said.

Asked if he believed Israeli forces had fired on them deliberately, he said “Yes, that’s right. They used tanks, soldiers, aircraft… all were firing towards us.”

People mourn following a deadly incident when residents rushed toward aid trucks in Gaza City on February 29, 2024. (AFP)

Sami Mohammed was at the Al-Rashid road with his son waiting for the aid convoy to arrive. “My son ran to the beach and they shot him twice… one grazed his head and the other hit his chest,” he said. He said bullets and shells were fired.

The boy was lying in a hospital bed with bandages on his chest and arm and a cut on his face.

Abdallah Juha said he went to try to get a sack of flour for his parents. “We are very hungry. We don’t have food or anything. They fired at us… they squashed us,” he said, adding that the fire came from tanks.

Juha, who had a bandage on his face, was injured in the head by a bullet. “My little brother cries because he wants to eat. Where should I get him food?” he said.

The New York Times on Friday also quoted eyewitnesses claiming that Israeli tanks and other forces fired at people trying to get supplies from the convoy.

IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari said the IDF “did not fire on those seeking aid, despite the accusations.”

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said a UN team visited Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Friday to deliver medical supplies and met people injured in the incident.

“By the time of the team’s visit, the hospital had also received the bodies of more than 70 people who had been killed,” it said.

The UN team also reported “a large number of gunshot wounds” among those wounded, according to a UN spokesperson who added that he did not know whether the representatives were able to examine the bodies of those killed.

The head of another Gaza City hospital, Al-Awda, 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 hospital.

In addition to the 115 fatalities reported by Hamas authorities, they say more than 750 were injured in the incident.

Divergent accounts

An Israeli official said on Thursday there had been two incidents, hundreds of meters apart. In the first, dozens were killed or injured as they tried to take aid from the trucks and were trampled or run over.

He said there was a second, subsequent incident as the trucks moved off. Some people in the crowd approached troops who felt under threat and opened fire, killing an unknown number in a “limited response,” he said.

He dismissed the casualty toll given by Gaza authorities but gave no figure himself.

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

In a later briefing on Thursday, Israel Defense Forces spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari also said dozens had been trampled to death or injured in a fight to take supplies off the trucks.

He said tanks escorting the trucks had subsequently fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and backed away when events began to get out of hand.

“No IDF strike was conducted towards the aid convoy,” he said.

Speaking in English, Hagari said that troops had fired warning shots in an attempt to disperse the mob of Palestinians.

“This morning, the IDF coordinated a convoy of 38 trucks to provide additional humanitarian assistance to the residents of northern Gaza. This humanitarian aid came from Egypt, went through a security screening at the Kerem Shalom humanitarian crossing in Israel, and then entered Gaza, for distribution by private contractors,” Hagari said.

“As these vital humanitarian supplies made their way toward Gazans in need, thousands of Gazans [rushed] the trucks, some began violently pushing and trampling other Gazans to death, looting the humanitarian supplies.”

“Here are the facts: At 4:40 a.m., the first aid truck in the humanitarian convoy started making its way through the humanitarian corridor that we were securing,” Hagari continued. “Our tanks were there to secure the humanitarian corridor for the aid convoy. Our UAVs were there in the air to give our forces a clear picture from above.”

IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari gives a statement to the media in Tel Aviv on October 16, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

“At 4:45 a.m., a mob ambushed the aid trucks, bringing the convoy to a halt,” he said, showing a new video of the incident.

“In this video, the tanks that were there to secure the convoy saw the Gazans being trampled and cautiously tried to disperse the mob with a few warning shots,” he said. “When the hundreds became thousands and things got out of hand, the tank commander decided to retreat to avoid harm to the thousands of Gazans that were there.”

“You can see how cautious they were when they were backing up. They were backing up securely, risking their own lives, not shooting at the mob,” he continued, insisting that the army “operates according to the rules of engagement and international law.”

“No IDF strike was conducted toward the aid convoy,” Hagari said. “On the contrary, the IDF was there carrying out a humanitarian aid operation, to secure the humanitarian corridor, and allow the aid convoy to reach its distribution point, so that the humanitarian aid could reach Gazan civilians in the north who are in need.”

The US announced plans on Friday to carry out a first US military airdrop of food and supplies into Gaza in the wake of the incident.

Palestinians run along a street as humanitarian aid is airdropped in Gaza City on March 1, 2024 (Photo by AFP)

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 ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians face starvation; around 80% have fled their homes.

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