Army fired 'few warning shots' at mob; no strike toward convoy

US seeks probe of Gaza aid stampede; IDF ‘tried to disperse mob’ that ambushed trucks

IDF shares drone footage showing tanks retreating as crowds of Palestinians swelled around convoy; Biden discusses deadly incident with leaders of Egypt, Qatar; France slams Israel

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)
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)

The White House said on Thursday that the incident in Gaza City in which dozens of Palestinians were killed as they swarmed a convoy of aid trucks 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.

Hamas has blamed the Israel Defense Forces for a reported 104 deaths in the early morning hours. The military said that fewer than 10 of the casualties were a result of Israeli fire and released new details Thursday night claiming that soldiers had fired warning shots and attempted to ease the crush of people looting a convoy of aid trucks that entered northern Gaza early Thursday morning.

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 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.

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.

“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.”

“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.”

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 the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Thursday accused Israel of adding “another crime to its crimes against humanity.”

“The fact that Israel, which has condemned Gazans to famine, this time targets innocent civilians in a queue for humanitarian aid, is evidence that (Israel) aims consciously and collectively to destroy the Palestinian people,” it added.

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

France’s foreign ministry also condemned Israel.

“The fire by Israeli soldiers against civilians trying to access food is unjustifiable,” the French foreign ministry said, adding that the “tragic event” came as an “increasing and unbearable number of Palestinian civilians” are suffering from hunger and disease.

Spain’s foreign minister called the deaths “unacceptable.”

“The unacceptable nature of what happened in Gaza, with dozens of Palestinian civilians dead as they were waiting for food, underlines the urgency of a ceasefire,” Jose Manuel Albares wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

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

“I am horrified by news of yet another carnage among civilians in Gaza desperate for humanitarian aid,” he said on X.

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.

“Asking for food, more than 100 Palestinians were killed by Netanyahu,” Petro said in a post on X. “This is called genocide and is reminiscent of the Holocaust even if the world powers do not like to recognize it. The world must block Netanyahu. Colombia suspends all purchases of weapons from Israel.”

The IDF spokesperson in his Thursday statement 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.

“We are working together with humanitarian organizations and the international community to help them solve the issue of aid distribution inside Gaza, it is a problem.”

“We recognize the suffering of the innocent people of Gaza. This is why we are seeking ways to expand our humanitarian efforts, this is why we are conducting humanitarian operations,” he added. “Our war is against Hamas, not against the people of Gaza.”

A worker carries bags of humanitarian aid that entered Gaza by truck through the Kerem Shalom border crossing on February 17, 2024. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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