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Biden says US will begin humanitarian aid airdrops into Gaza

The United States will soon begin airdropping humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip to alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s war against Hamas.

President Joe Biden confirmed on Friday that US forces would join the Jordanian Air Force’s existing mission that has been conducting airdrops of food, medicine and other supplies in recent days.

Speaking alongside Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni in the Oval Office, Mr Biden referenced the tragic deaths of more than 100 Palestinians who were killed after the Israeli army opened fire at a crowd trying to get food from an aid convoy on Wednesday, calling the loss of life “heartbreaking”.

“Innocent people got caught in a terrible war unable to feed their families and you saw the response when they tried to get aid,” he said. “We need to do more, and the United States will do more”.

Israeli officials acknowledged troops fired towards some in the crowd they believed posed a threat. The Israeli military said publicly the incident was under review and disputed the account given by the Health Ministry, saying “dozens were killed and injured from pushing, trampling and being run over by the trucks”.

Mr Biden continued: “In the coming days, we are going to join with our friends from Jordan and others to provide airdrops of supplies,” he continued. The president mistakenly said the airdrops would go into Ukraine before correcting himself.

He also said the US is working to “open up other avenues” for aid, “including the possibility of a marine corridor delivering large amounts of humanitarian assistance”.

“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough now — it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line,” he said.

The president also said the US would work to push Israeli authorities to allow more aid deliveries by land, including “more trucks and more routes” into Gaza, by “pulling out every stop we can to get more assistance”.

The decision to send aid into Gaza by air follows a months-long effort by the US to convince its ally Israel to allow much-needed humanitarian supplies in on the ground. Despite those efforts, the United Nations said that 80 per cent of aid deliveries destined for northern Gaza were blocked by the Israeli army in January.

The UN warned this week that some 576,000 people, or one quarter of Gaza’s population, are “one step away from famine.” It has also accused Israel of “systematically” blocking aid deliveries into Gaza and of opening fire on convoys that do make it through.

The US plan to airdrop aid has drawn criticism from humanitarian groups for being insufficient to prevent a looming famine.

Jeremy Konyndyk, who led USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance during the Obama administration and oversaw humanitarian air drops to Nepal, the Philippines and Iraq, described the potential US plan to drop aid by air as a “major policy failure” on the part of the Biden administration.

“When the US government has to use tactics that it otherwise used to circumvent the Soviets and Berlin and circumvent Isis in Syria and Iraq, that should prompt some really hard questions about the state of US policy,” he told The Independent.

Mr Konyndyk, who is now president of Refugees International, said that airdrops are “the most expensive and least effective way to get aid to a population. We almost never did it because it is such an in extremis tool.”

The dire conditions on the ground in Gaza were drawn into sharp relief on Wednesday when more than 100 Palestinians were killed after Israeli forces opened fire on a crowd that was scrambling to collect aid from food trucks near Gaza City. The Israeli army said its forces had “fired at those who posed a threat” after some civilians rushed towards the trucks.

The incident was condemned by several US senators yesterday.

Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who voted against sending military aid to Israel last month, said the deaths are another reason why the United States should not “provide another nickel” for Israel’s war against Hamas.”

“It’s not only that Israeli troops shot at these people, these people were trying desperately to get food,” Mr Sanders told The Independent. “And we are not talking about but we’re looking at massive levels of starvation. In Gaza right now children are starving to death. Children are right now suffering from malnutrition.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts condemned the shooting as “obscene.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu and his war cabinet are expanding a humanitarian disaster beyond anything we’ve seen in decades,” she told The Independent. “We need to put pressure on Netanyahu and his right-wing government to change his approach and releasing the hostages, a ceasefire, expanding humanitarian relief and a two-state solution.”

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Independent that he hoped that there would be a cessation of hostilities and a release of hostages.

“I think the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza is so nightmarish right now that Israel needs to suspend military activities temporarily, in order to get food and water and aid out to the people of Gaza in particular, to the northern section of Gaza, which can’t receive shipments today,” he said.

In his remarks on Friday, Mr Biden said that efforts are still ongoing to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas which would include the return of hostages and a six-week pause in fighting to allow a “surge of aid” to the entire territory.

Yet the need for such a “surge” — and the US airdrops — are the result of Israel’s conduct of its’ war on Hamas, which continues to claim significant civilian lives despite pleas from Mr Biden and other US officials for the Israeli Defence Forces to take action to protect civilians and minimise harm to non-combatants.

Asked why the US was resorting to putting American airmen at risk because Israel — a putative US ally — continues to choke off aid to Gaza under the guise of maintaining security, White House national security communications adviser John Kirby told reporters on Friday that the airdrops are necessary because “it’s a war zone” and there is “nowhere else” for Gaza residents to go.

“It’s not like in some other conflicts where they can they can easily flee,” he said.

But Mr Kirby stressed that there would be “no need for airdrops” but for Hamas’ decision to touch off this latest conflict by carrying out attacks against Israel in October.

“Many people are in desperate need of food, water, medicine and fuel and the United States was and remains and will continue to be the leading provider of humanitarian assistance to them. And we take that responsibility seriously,” he said.


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