Israel helped organize a convoy that ended in disaster


The aid convoy to Gaza that ended in bloodshed this week was organized by Israel itself as part of a newly created partnership with local Palestinian businessmen, according to Israeli officials, Palestinian businessmen and Western diplomats.

Israel has been involved in at least four such aid convoys to northern Gaza over the past week. He undertook the effort, Israeli officials told two Western diplomats, to fill a gap in assistance to northern Gaza, where famine looms as international aid groups have suspended most operations, citing Israel’s refusal to shed light. green to aid trucks and growing anarchy. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Israeli officials approached several Gaza businessmen and asked them to help organize private aid convoys to the north, two of the businessmen said, while Israel would provide security.

The United Nations has warned that more than 570,000 Gazans, particularly in northern Gaza, face “catastrophic levels of deprivation and hunger” after nearly five months of war and a near-complete Israeli blockade of the territory following the September 7 attacks. October led by Hamas. .

Some residents have resorted to raiding the pantries of neighbors who fled their homes, while others have been grinding animal feed into flour. UN aid convoys carrying essential goods to northern Gaza have been looted – either by civilians fearing starvation or by organized gangs – amid the anarchy that followed Israel’s ground invasion.

“My family, my friends and my neighbors are starving,” said Jawdat Khoudary, a Palestinian businessman who helped organize some of the trucks that participated in the Israeli aid initiative.

The convoy that arrived in Gaza City before dawn on Thursday ended tragically. More than 100 Palestinians died after thousands of people gathered around trucks loaded with food and supplies, Gaza health officials said.

Israeli and Palestinian officials and witnesses offered widely divergent accounts of the chaos. Witnesses described intense gunfire by Israeli forces and doctors at Gaza hospitals said most of the casualties were due to gunfire. But the Israeli military said most of the victims were trampled by a crowd trying to seize the cargo.

Israel also acknowledged that its troops had opened fire on members of the crowd who the military said approached the troops “in a way that endangered them.”

The deaths sparked global outrage and increased pressure on Israel to reach a ceasefire deal with Hamas that would allow more aid into Gaza.

The United States has been trying to negotiate such an agreement, and on Saturday, as the United States began its own effort to drop air aid to Gaza, American and Israeli officials said Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with party member Benny Gantz. Israeli. war cabinet, at the White House on Monday.

Israel agreed to a plan that would include a six-week ceasefire, the release of dozens of the most “vulnerable” Israeli hostages in Gaza and the entry of more aid convoys into the territory, a US official said.

The United States and other countries, including Egypt and Qatar, are trying to persuade Hamas to accept the deal, the U.S. official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing diplomacy.

On Saturday afternoon, three US Air Force cargo planes dropped 66 pallets containing 38,000 ready-to-eat meals over southwestern Gaza, a small fraction of the food and other supplies needed in a territory of 2.2 millions of people. President Biden announced the airdrops on Friday, saying, “Innocent lives are at stake.”

Izzat Aqel, a Gaza businessman who told the New York Times that he had helped coordinate the trucks in Thursday’s convoy, said an Israeli military officer had asked him about 10 days earlier to organize aid trucks to northern Gaza as quickly as possible. food and water as possible.

And on Thursday, an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said this particular convoy was part of multi-day humanitarian operations in northern Gaza that Israeli troops were overseeing.

“Over the last four days, convoys like the one we drove this morning (this morning there were 38 trucks) passed into northern Gaza to distribute food supplies that are international donations but in private vehicles,” he told British Channel 4 television.

The convoy that ended in disaster left the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza before heading to areas of northern Gaza that had not received aid in weeks, Aqel said. In an attempt to ensure the safety of the trucks, he added, they ventured into northern Gaza in the dark around 4:45 am.

Since the war began, Israel has been reluctant to take responsibility for caring for Gaza’s civilians. But its bombing campaign and ground invasion have decimated Hamas’ control over northern Gaza, leaving a gaping security vacuum amid a humanitarian catastrophe that worsens by the day.

Conditions have deteriorated rapidly. The number of aid trucks entering Gaza dropped significantly in February, both due to increasing lawlessness and Israel’s insistence on inspecting every truck, aid groups said.

The signs of desperation have become more evident as time passes. Gaza residents have resorted to eating leaves and animal feed, and Gaza health authorities reported this week that some children have died of malnutrition.

President Biden had said on Friday that the United States would begin airdropping humanitarian aid supplies to Gaza, working with Jordan, which has been at the forefront of such efforts recently, as well as other allies.

But the plan drew immediate criticism from international aid groups who said it would be ineffective and distract from more significant measures such as pressuring Israel to lift its siege of Gaza.

“Airdrops do not and cannot replace humanitarian access,” the International Rescue Committee, a New York-based aid organization, said in a statement Saturday. “Airdrops are not the solution to alleviating this suffering and divert time and effort from proven solutions to help at scale.”

Egypt, France, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have participated in airdrops of aid to Gaza, but experts say they are inefficient, expensive and unable to deliver enough aid to prevent famine. Given the inconvenience, as well as the dangers to people on the ground, airdrops are often a last resort.

The United States and other countries should focus their efforts on “ensuring that Israel lifts its siege of Gaza” and getting Israel to reopen border crossings to allow unimpeded movement of fuel, food and medical supplies, the International Rescue Committee said.

As hunger worsens in Gaza, United Nations officials have warned that famine is imminent. Categorizing a food crisis as a famine is a technical process that requires analysis by food insecurity experts.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, known as IPC, which is controlled by the United Nations and major aid agencies, three conditions must be met before a food shortage is declared a famine: at least 20 percent of households face extreme food shortages, at least 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition, and at least two adults or four children per 10,000 people die every day from hunger or malnutrition-related diseases.

The IPC has been selective in declaring famines, identifying only two since its founding in 2004: in Somalia in 2011 and in South Sudan in 2017. In Somalia, more than 100,000 people died before famine was officially declared.

Regardless of its technical classification, the situation in Gaza, particularly in the north, is dire. Two weeks ago, UNICEF said one in six children in northern Gaza were severely malnourished. Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Wednesday that at least six children had died in the territory from dehydration and malnutrition.

Arif Husain, chief economist of the World Food Programme. He said his goal was to improve conditions before famine hit.

“For me, the important thing is to basically say, ‘Look, technically we haven’t met the conditions of a famine and, frankly, we don’t want to meet those conditions,’” ​​he said. “So please help and help now.”

Gaya Gupta, Vivian Nereim, Michael Crowley, Eric Schmitt and Erica L. Green contributed reports.

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