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Lifesaving aid becomes a deadly struggle in Gaza

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At least 112 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured on Thursday after Israeli troops opened fire on civilians gathered at a convoy of food trucks southwest of Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said. Israel denied it was to blame, saying that many victims were run over by aid trucks in a rush to obtain food. The massacre comes as the UN warns of an “almost inevitable famine” in the besieged Palestinian enclave amid increasing reports of children dying of starvation.

At dawn on Thursday morning in Gaza City, photographer Mohammed Hajjar got word that trucks carrying food had finally made it into the capital of the besieged Palestinian enclave.

At 4am he went with his brother to the neighbouring Al-Rashid street to try and obtain what they could for their family, he told FRANCE 24 by phone.

They managed to get hold of one 25kg bag of flour and a box of pasta and cooking oil – food supplies, he told FRANCE 24, that would barely last his family a week.

Mohammed currently lives with 34 members of his family and the adults are carefully rationing what they eat.

Thousands of other Palestinians had also gathered by the food trucks – eager to obtain essentials to take home.  Food supplies have grown increasingly scarce in the last month in Gaza, particularly in the north of the enclave.

“People were happy to see that I managed to get food, but at the same time they were jealous of me,” Mohammed told FRANCE 24, explaining that many families are being forced to let their children go hungry. In some cases, they are feeding them animal grain.

“Every time I go out to find food, my family worries about me, about my safety,” Mohammed said. “They also worry that I will come back empty handed. Sometimes I go without eating for three or four days in a row.”

“At night my children are crying from hunger, but we don’t have enough to give them more than one piece of bread a day,” he added.

‘Flour massacre’

It was only after Mohammed got home with the flour, pasta and cooking oil that he learned there had been a shooting by the food trucks.

Shortly after he left the convoy, he said, witnesses reported that Israeli troops opened fire on the civilians trying desperately to get hold of food.

However, Israeli officials denied that civilians had been fired on. Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that people were trampled to death or injured during a fight to take supplies off the trucks.

Mohammed has been documenting Israel’s war on Gaza since it began on October 7 in response to Hamas’s deadly cross-border attack.

As soon as he heard about the shootings he rushed to Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, where many of the injured were taken.

He photographed an injured boy lying on a stretcher and corpses in white body bags, blood soaking through the wrappings. 

“They described it as the flour massacre,” he said.

Medics at Al-Shifa told him that children were amongst the hundreds of dead and injured. 

‘Famine almost inevitable,’ says UN

Gaza is seeing “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world”, Carl Skau, deputy head of the World Food Programme, told the UN Security Council on February 28.

“One child in every six under the age of two is acutely malnourished,” he said, adding that UNRWA – the Palestinian UN Relief and Works agency – is ‘indispensable’ to averting a famine.

The agency is the main provider of aid into Gaza, particularly during this war. But major country donors have frozen funding to the agency amid Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staffers participated in the October 7 attacks. 

“I woke up to children screaming because of the hunger that consumed their bodies. We may tolerate hunger, but children cannot. Their screams tore our heart,” said Gaza journalist Anes Al-Acharif, quoted by Algerian ambassador to the UN, Amar Bendjama, at the UN Security Council.

“Mothers struggle to find anything to satisfy their children’s hunger,” Bendjama told the Council, “resorting to animal fodder as a last resort”.

“If something doesn’t change, a famine is almost inevitable,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, on Friday.

“Once a famine is declared, it is too late for too many people,” Laerke added.

Attacks on aid convoys

The situation in northern Gaza is particularly dire. No aid has entered the area, now under Israeli control, since January 23.

The World Food Programme tried to resume food deliveries to the north on February 18 but much of the convoy’s cargo was taken by Palestinians in southern Gaza desperate for aid.

Shaza Moghraby, a New York-based spokesperson for the WFP, told FRANCE 24 that “gunfire and public disorder” had made it impossible for the agency to continue aid deliveries to northern Gaza. When asked who was behind the gunfire, she said she did not know. 

“We are still looking for solutions to make sure that the distribution happens in a safe manner,” Moghraby explained, “Unfortunately, we are seeing people, parents, risk their lives in order to get food to their starving children.”

 



 

Egyptian drivers putting themselves at risk 

One Egyptian driver of an aid truck, Sayed, told the media organisation PassBlue, that a fellow driver reported that the trucks were often looted by Gazans because of the scarcity of aid in the enclave.

“People would climb the aid trucks, smash the trucks, tear the sheets or plastic covering the supplies, and take whatever they can,” he said, describing what his colleague told him. “It becomes risky for drivers who decide to drive all the way inside Gaza because they are not secured at all.” 

Once fully inspected, aid trucks head from the Egyptian side of the border, the Rafah crossing, into Gaza. Some of the drivers head to a logistics point, before handing the truck over to a different driver, who then drives deeper into the enclave – as far as 70 kilometres.

Another truck driver told PassBlue that some of his colleagues would voluntarily drive further into Gaza if the drivers at the logistics point did not show up to finish the deliveries. 

However, some of the drivers return to Egypt with their trucks damaged and suffering from minor injuries themselves after their vehicles were seized in Gaza, Sayed said.

The IDF has also been accused of targeting multiple aid convoys near the Rafah Crossing in Gaza, Nebal Farsakh, the spokesperson for the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told PassBlue.

“The convoys trying to enter North Gaza have been targeted, and the IDF had fatally shot people who were just trying to get a bag of flour from the aid trucks,” she said.

Police officers in Gaza usually help to secure the aid convoys entering Rafah City as well as those en route to the north and prevent them from being looted, but that is no longer the case since the IDF started targeting them, Farsakh said. 

“The lack of civil order contributed to around a 50 percent decrease in the total number of aid trucks entering Gaza in February,” she said.

“When people talk about looting of convoys, it’s mostly not looting through criminality. Generally, when we see storming incidents it’s just people trying to get something to eat,” UNRWA spokesperson Jonathan Fowler told Passblue. “I mean, is that criminality?”

On Thursday evening, the UN Security Council met in an emergency session, called by Algeria, on what Gazans are calling the “flour massacre”,” but the 15 members failed to agree on a statement about the deaths and injuries of civilians seeking aid.  

Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, told reporters that “dozens of those killed had bullets in their heads”. However, FRANCE 24 was unable to verify this information. 

In a tweet on X, French President Emmanuel Macron said he felt “deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers”. On Friday he joined worldwide calls for an independent inquiry into Thursday’s shootings as the US vowed to air drop supplies into the enclave.

 



 

This article was produced in collaboration with PassBlue, an independent media organisation. Dulcie Leimbach, Fatma Khaled for PassBlue, contributed reporting





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