Hamas describe massacre as Gazans seek aid; Israel disputes circumstances and death toll

A still image taken from a video released by the Israeli army on 29 February, which it says shows people around aid trucks in Gaza City. Israel confirmed it opened fire on a crowd.  (Aline MANOUKIAN / Israeli Army / AFP)

A still image taken from a video released by the Israeli army on 29 February, which it says shows people around aid trucks in Gaza City. Israel confirmed it opened fire on a crowd. (Aline MANOUKIAN / Israeli Army / AFP)

  • Hamas said more than 100 people were killed when Israeli forces fired on a group of Palestinians waiting for an aid delivery.
  • Israel admits opening fire on a crowd, but disputes the Hamas account of events and the death toll.
  • The US and UN both want answers.

Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces on Thursday shot dead more than 100 Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery, but Israel challenged the death toll and said many of the victims were run over by aid trucks.

At least 112 people were killed and more than 280 wounded in the incident near Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said, as the death toll in nearly five months of war passed 30 000.

Medics said they could not cope with the volume and severity of the injuries. Dozens were taken to Al-Shifa Hospital, which is only partially operational after Israeli raids.

Hamas said the incident could jeopardise talks in Qatar aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages it is holding, while US President Joe Biden, when asked if he thought it would complicate the talks said, “I know it will.”

The White House said Biden discussed the “tragic and alarming incident” with the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, as well as ways to secure the release of Hamas hostages and a six-week ceasefire.

The US is urgently seeking information on what took place, its state department said, adding Washington will push for answers from Israel which said it is investigating.

The loss of civilian lives was the biggest in weeks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was an “ugly massacre conducted by the Israeli occupation army on people who waited for aid trucks at the Nabulsi roundabout”.

The UN condemned the deaths and injuries, and called for an investigation.

It said it had not been able to deliver supplies to Gaza’s north in more than a week and was not involved in the distribution.

Men carry the bodies of people killed in an early

Men carry the bodies of people killed in the 29 February aid truck incident in Gaza City. (Photo by AFP)

Israel disputed the account provided by health officials in Hamas-run Gaza, which has been bombarded by Israeli forces for months in a war that began after the Palestinian militant group’s deadly rampage in southern Israel on 7 October.

An Israeli military official said two separate incidents occurred as the convoy of trucks passed into northern Gaza from the south along the main coastal road.

In the first, he said aid trucks were surrounded by hundreds of people and, in the confusion, dozens were injured or killed, by being trampled or run over.

As the trucks left, he said, some of those who had rushed the convoy approached Israeli forces including a tank, which then opened fire.

“The soldiers fired warning shots in the air and then fired towards those who posed a threat and did not move away,” he told journalists. “This is what we understand. We’re continuing to review the circumstances.”

He said he did not believe the death toll from Palestinian authorities but provided no Israeli estimate, saying: “It was a limited response.”

‘Aid and bullets’

Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, said the comments showed Israel “had pre-plotted intentions to carry out the new crime and massacre”, and that the death toll could rise.

One video shared on social media, whose location Reuters was able to verify, showed trucks loaded with many dead bodies as well as wounded people.

Another, which Reuters could not verify, showed bloodstained people being carried in a truck, bodies wrapped in shrouds and doctors treating injured patients on the hospital floor.

“We don’t want aid like this. We don’t want aid and bullets together. There are many martyrs,” a man said in one of the videos.

RAFAH, GAZA - FEBRUARY 29: Palestinians gather and

Palestinians gathered in front of a bakery to get bread in Rafah, in south Gaza, as food runs short. (Yasser Qudih/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Palestinian death toll tops 30 000

The Palestinian health authorities said more than 30 000 Palestinians were now confirmed killed and more than 70 000 wounded in Israel’s offensive, launched after the 7 October attack in which Israel said Hamas gunmen killed 1 200 people and abducted 253.

Much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble and the majority of its 2.3 million population displaced from their homes at least once.

Aid deliveries to northern Gaza have been rare and chaotic, passing through more active military zones to an area where the UN says many people are starving, with videos showing desperate crowds surging around supply trucks.

UN and other relief agencies have complained that Israel has blocked or restricted their attempts to get aid to the area.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Palestinian aid agency UNRWA, told reporters in Jerusalem that the supply of aid into Gaza as a whole had halved since January.

He described Thursday as “another day from hell,” and asked, “when will this madness end?”

Gaza’s uniformed municipal police were refusing to accompany aid convoys because several had been killed by Israeli strikes.

Israel has denied restricting humanitarian aid and has blamed the UN for failures to deliver supplies.

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