France, UN chief call for independent probe

US blocks Security Council motion blaming Israel for deadly Gaza aid convoy incident

Palestinian envoy says he implored members to go after ‘those responsible for this massacre’; Washington says facts not yet clear; Israel says most victims died in a stampede

File: The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss the situation in the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York on January 23, 2024. (Charly Triballeau / AFP)
File: The United Nations Security Council meets to discuss the situation in the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York on January 23, 2024. (Charly Triballeau / AFP)

Amid American opposition, Arab nations failed Thursday overnight to get immediate support for a UN Security Council statement that would have blamed Israeli forces for the more than 100 reported deaths as Palestinians in northern Gaza swarmed an aid convoy.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, told reporters after an emergency closed council meeting on the deaths, that 14 of the 15 council members supported the statement put forward by Algeria, the Arab representative on the body.

Algeria’s draft declaration expressed “deep concern,” and stated that the situation was “due to opening fire by Israel forces.”

The United States did not support the statement and US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told reporters: “The parties are working on some language to see if we can get to a statement.

“The problem is that we don’t have all the facts here,” he said, adding that he wanted the wording to reflect “the necessary due diligence with regards to culpability.”

Hamas has blamed the Israel Defense Forces for a reported 104 deaths in the early morning hours. The military said it did not fire at the crowd rushing the main aid convoy of aid trucks that entered northern Gaza early Thursday morning. It acknowledged that troops opened fire on several Gazans who moved toward soldiers and a tank at an IDF checkpoint, endangering soldiers. It argued most people had been killed in a stampede and asserted that fewer than 10 of the casualties were a result of Israeli fire.

Mansour said he met earlier in the day with US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

“I implored her that the Security Council has to produce a product of condemning this killing and to go after those responsible for this massacre,” he said.

If the Security Council has “a spine and determination to put an end to these massacres from happening all over again, what we need is a ceasefire,” Mansour said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday the deaths required an effective independent investigation.

Speaking in St. Vincent and the Grenadines ahead of a regional summit, Guterres said he was “shocked” by the latest episode in the Israel-Hamas war.

Guterres said worsening geopolitical divides have “transformed the veto power into an effective instrument of paralysis of the action of the Security Council.”

“I am totally convinced that we need a humanitarian ceasefire and we need the unconditional and immediate release of hostages and that we should have a Security Council able to achieve these objectives,” Guterres said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on his priorities for 2024 during a press briefing at UN headquarters on February 8 , 2024 in New York. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP)

France also wanted an independent inquiry, Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Friday. “We will ask for explanations, and there will have to be an independent probe to determine what happened,” Sejourne told the France Inter broadcaster.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Israel “must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened.”

The White House said on Thursday that the incident in Gaza City was “tremendously alarming,” as Israel shared drone footage of troops’ attempts to disperse the swelling mob, denying responsibility for the mass deaths amid international criticism of its Gaza offensive.

The violence was quickly condemned by Arab countries. US President Joe Biden held talks on the incident with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, as well as on ways to secure the release of some 130 hostages held by Hamas since October 7 and a six-week ceasefire in the war.

Both the White House and State Department expressed horror over what occurred and indicated that they would demand answers from Israel.

“This latest event needs to be thoroughly investigated,” White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton told reporters on Air Force One. “This event underscores the need for… expanded humanitarian aid to make its way into Gaza.”

The IDF published a 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 military 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.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller offered condolences for those killed and said that Washington had asked Israel to provide answers and ensure safe aid delivery.

“We have been in touch with the Israeli government since early this morning and understand that an investigation is underway. We will be monitoring that investigation closely and pressing for answers,” he said, calling on Israel to allow “as many points of access as possible, and to enable safe and secure distribution of that aid throughout Gaza.”

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.

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

The US spokesman said the rush for aid showed the situation was “incredibly desperate” in Gaza, where the United Nations has warned of the risk of famine. “People are swarming these trucks because they’re hungry, because they need food, because they need medicine and other assistance,” he said.

Palestinians wait for humanitarian aid on a beachfront in Gaza City, February 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Essa)

Speaking in English in a Thursday evening press conference, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said that troops had fired warning shots in an attempt to disperse the mob of Palestinians.

“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.

“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 IDF spokesperson denied that Israel was blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid. “This humanitarian aid was coordinated by Israel, for the people of Gaza. We want the aid to reach the people of Gaza. We are working around the clock to make this happen. Israel puts no limits on the amount of aid that can go into Gaza,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan accused Israel of targeting civilians in the incident. In separate statements, they called for increased safe passages for humanitarian aid. They also urged the international community to take decisive action to pressure Israel to abide by international law and to reach an agreement for an immediate ceasefire.

A Jordanian military aircraft (not pictured) drops humanitarian aid over Rafah and Khan Younis in the skies of the southern Gaza Strip on February 27, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

A statement from Turkey accused Israel of adding “another crime to its crimes against humanity.”

France’s foreign ministry also condemned Israel, saying ““The fire by Israeli soldiers against civilians trying to access food is unjustifiable.”

Writing on the social media platform X that Palestinian “civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers,” French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “strongest condemnation” of the killings.

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares called the deaths “unacceptable” and said they underlined “the urgency of a ceasefire.”

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell similarly denounced the deaths as “totally unacceptable.”

Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro announced his government was suspending purchases of weapons from Israel, describing the deadly incident as “genocide” and blaming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the violence. His statement came months after Israel suspended security exports to Colombia in a diplomatic spat over online messages by Petro comparing Israel’s military response to the Hamas-led October 7 atrocities to the actions of Nazi Germany.

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

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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