2 Mar 2024

US military to airdrop food and supplies into Gaza, Biden announces

11:03 am on 2 March 2024
US President Joe Biden speaks about immigration at the Brownsville Station during a visit to the US-Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas, on February 29, 2024. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP)


By Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Nandita Bose, Reuters

US President Joe Biden announced on Friday plans for a military airdrop of food and supplies into Gaza, a day after the deaths of Palestinians queuing for aid threw a spotlight on an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in the crowded coastal enclave.

Biden said the airdrop would take place in the coming days but offered no further specifics. Other countries including Jordan and France have already carried out airdrops of aid into Gaza.

At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip - one quarter of the enclave's population - are one step away from famine, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces had killed more than 100 people trying to reach a relief convoy near Gaza City early on Thursday, as Palestinians face an increasingly desperate situation nearly five months into the war that began with a Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October.

Israel blamed most of the deaths on crowds that swarmed around aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over. An Israeli official also said troops had "in a limited response" later fired on crowds they felt had posed a threat.

With people eating animal feed and even cactuses to survive, and with medics saying children are dying in hospitals from malnutrition and dehydration, the UN has said it faces "overwhelming obstacles" getting in aid.

David Deptula, a retired US Air Force three-star general who once commanded the no-fly zone over northern Iraq, said airdrops are something the US military can effectively execute.

"It is something that's right up their mission alley," Deptula told Reuters.

"There are a lot of detailed challenges. But there's nothing insurmountable."

Israel 'aware' of airdrop

Still, there have been questions about the effectiveness of air dropping aid into Gaza.

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the airdrops would have only a limited impact on the suffering of those in Gaza.

"It doesn't deal with the root cause," the official said, adding that ultimately only opening up land borders could deal with the issue in a serious manner.

Another issue, the official added, was that the US could not ensure that the aid simply did not end up in Hamas' hands, given that the United States did not have troops on the ground.

"Humanitarian workers always complain that airdrops are good photo opportunities but a lousy way to deliver aid," Richard Gowan, the International Crisis Group's UN Director, said. Gowan said that the only way to get enough aid was through aid convoys which would follow a truce.

"It is arguable that the situation in Gaza is now so bad that any additional supplies will at least alleviate some suffering. But this at best a temporary (band) aid measure," Gowan added.

It was unclear if Biden's announcement was coordinated with Israel.

"We are aware of the humanitarian airdrop," said an Israeli official in Washington.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not reply to a question on whether the US had sought Israeli agreement in advance on the air drops or was coordinating the effort with it.

The UN delivered aid to besieged northern Gaza for the first time in over a week on Friday, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The UN delivered medicines, vaccines and fuel to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

The World Food Programme said 10 days ago that it was pausing deliveries of food aid to northern Gaza until conditions in the Palestinian enclave allow for safe distribution.

The UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA said on Friday that during February an average of nearly 97 trucks were able to enter Gaza each day, compared with about 150 trucks a day in January, adding: "The number of trucks entering Gaza remains well below the target of 500 per day."

This story was originally published by Reuters.

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