Deadly chaos on Gaza aid convoy is a symbol of the desperation engulfing the territory

Rafah, Gaza Strip –

The chaos marked by intense Israeli fire that killed 115 Palestinians trying to get bags of flour from an aid convoy highlights the desperation of the hundreds of thousands of people struggling to survive amid the devastation of northern Gaza after of almost five months of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Residents say they have begun searching through piles of rubble and garbage for something to feed their children, who barely eat once a day. Many families have begun mixing animal and bird food with grains to bake bread. International aid officials say they have encountered catastrophic hunger.

“We are starving,” said Soad Abu Hussein, a widow and mother of five who has taken refuge in a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, on Saturday.

Northern Gaza has been hardest hit by the conflict that began when Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostages.

Israel’s air, sea and land offensive reduced much of the densely populated area to rubble. The army told Palestinians to move south, but about 300,000 people are believed to have stayed.

About one in six children under two years of age in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting, “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world,” Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Programme, said this week. “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”

That has caused such desperation among people living there that they have overwhelmed trucks delivering food aid to the region and seized what they could, Skau said, forcing the World Food Program to suspend aid deliveries to the region. north.

“The breakdown of civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid, and we have a duty to protect our staff,” he said.

In Thursday’s violence, hundreds of people rushed a group of about 30 trucks carrying a pre-dawn aid delivery north. Palestinians said nearby Israeli troops fired into the crowd. Israel said they fired warning shots into the crowd and insisted many of the dead were trampled in the stampede. Doctors at Gaza hospitals and a UN team that visited a hospital said a large number of wounded people had been shot.

Ahmed Abdel Karim, who was being treated at Kamal Adwan Hospital for gunshot wounds to his feet, said he had spent two days waiting in the area for aid trucks to arrive before Thursday’s convoy arrived.

“They all attacked and advanced towards these trucks. Due to the large quantity, I could not get flour,” he said. Israeli troops then shot him, he said.

Radwan Abdel-Hai, a father of four young children, heard a rumor Wednesday night that an aid convoy was on the way. He and five other people took a donkey cart to meet him and found a “sea of ​​people” waiting for help.

When the convoy arrived, people headed toward the trucks to grab whatever food and water they could get, he said. When they reached the trucks, “the tanks started shooting at us,” he said. “As I was running back, I heard tank shells and gunshots. I heard people screaming. “I saw people fall to the ground, some motionless.” Abdel-Hai fled and took refuge in a nearby building along with other people. When the shooting stopped, many dead were lying on the ground, he said. “We rushed to help evacuate the injured. Many were shot in the back,” he said.

Abu Hussein, the widow, said more than 5,000 people – mostly women and children – who live with her at the Jabaliya school have not received any help for more than four weeks. Adults eat one meal or less to save food for the children, she said.

A group of people went to shore to try fishing, but three were killed and two wounded by gunfire from Israeli boats, he said. “They just wanted to get something for their kids.”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mansour Hamed, a 32-year-old former aid worker who lives with more than 50 relatives in a house in Gaza City, said people are resorting to desperate measures to find something to eat. Some eat tree leaves and animal food. Some search through rubble and abandoned houses in search of old food. It has become normal to find a child emerging from the rubble with a piece of rotten bread, he said.

“They are desperate. “They want anything to stay alive.”

Acknowledging the difficulty of getting aid and the dire need for food, U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday that the United States will soon begin airdropping aid to Gaza and look for other ways to get shipments there, “including possibly a maritime corridor”.

Aid workers hoped that a possible ceasefire would allow them to bring food to hungry people across Gaza. A senior Egyptian official said ceasefire talks would resume on Sunday in Cairo. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

International mediators hope to reach an agreement on a six-week pause in fighting and an exchange of some Israeli hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10.

Meanwhile, the fighting continued. Gaza’s Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has risen to 30,320. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures, but says women and children account for around two-thirds of the dead.

Magdy reported from Cairo.

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