Israel-Hamas war: Gaza’s Health Ministry and witnesses on Thursday alleged that Israeli troops opened fire on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City, killing 20 and wounding dozens of others. Witnesses described the shooting taking place in the city’s southern edge where the crowd had gathered for the distribution of food, while the Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.
Footage posted online and confirmed to have been taken on the main road near the roundabout showed hundreds of people fleeing, some carrying boxes of aid, as fire rang out in the background. Men loaded wounded Palestinians onto horse and donkey carts that took off charging down the avenue.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said 20 people were killed and 150 others wounded by the shooting. A number of aid agencies distribute food and other supplies in Gaza, but it was not immediately known which one was operating in the area at the time of the incident. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and the UN World Food Program both said they were not involved.
The National and Islamic Forces Follow-up Committee, a coalition of militant and political groups, said Israeli forces targeted the civilians waiting for relief aid. Dozens were killed and injured in a “war crime and genocide,” the group said in a statement. Additionally, Palestinian health officials said an Israeli airstrike at a refugee camp killed at least six Palestinians.
Israeli troops and tanks pushed into Gaza City shortly after the ground invasion began in October and have been battling Palestinian militants there for nearly two months. The military says it has largely dismantled Hamas in northern Gaza but is still facing pockets of resistance, and large swaths of Gaza City and surrounding areas have been reduced to rubble by Israeli bombardment.
US sets up channel to seek answers
In northern Gaza, a World Health Organisation (WHO) official described the food situation in Gaza as “absolutely horrific” and humanitarian workers said rare deliveries of aid were mobbed by desperate people who were visibly starving with sunken eyes. Most of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million population is now squeezed into Khan Younis and towns just north and south of it, after being driven out of Gaza’s northern part in Israel’s military campaign.
Meanwhile, the United States has set up a channel with Israel to discuss concerns over incidents in Gaza, two US officials told Reuters. It was created after a meeting earlier this month between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israel’s war cabinet during which Blinken expressed concern about the “constant” reports of Israeli strikes that either hit humanitarian sites or resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths.
In the meeting, Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz that Washington needed to know “what the answers are” when it comes to reports of strikes, and sought a “reliable channel” through which the United States can raise such issues with the Israelis regularly, said an official.
The channel comes as a response to the mounting pressure on the Biden administration over the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians of Israel’s campaign against Hamas that has killed close to 26,000 people, according to the Palestinian health ministry, while displacing almost the entire population of the Palestinian enclave.
A US State Department official said Washington was making clear that Israel must protect humanitarian infrastructure and take every possible precaution to minimize civilian casualties. “When we see reports of incidents that raise concerns, we raise those incidents directly with the government of Israel and seek additional information,” the spokesperson said.
The effort, which is the first formal push by Washington to demand explanations from Israel on the high civilian death toll, falls short of the more robust tools Washington has deployed in the past to investigate allegations of large-scale killings of civilians. One of these processes was used to address Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Israel orders Palestinians to leave
On Thursday, thousands of homeless people sheltering in Khan Younis sought to flee to Rafah, 15 km (nine miles) away, the UNRWA said, after Israeli tank forces ordered more than 30,000 civilians inside a UN centre in Khan Younis to leave. This came on the heels of an alleged tank strike on the UN shelter that killed 13 and injured 75 in Khan Younis.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said the death toll could be higher and condemned the attack as “a blatant disregard of basic rules of war”, even though Israel denied carrying out the attack. The attack, which the UN said hit a vocational training centre housing 30,000 displaced people in Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s main city, prompted a rare outright condemnation from the United States.
Israel launched an offensive last week to capture Khan Younis, which it now says is the principal headquarters of the Hamas militants responsible for the October 7 attacks on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people. At least 25,900 Gazans have been killed since October 7, Gaza health authorities said in an update on Monday. International concern has mounted over the Palestinian death toll from Israel’s assault on the densely populated enclave and a humanitarian crisis afflicting hundreds of thousands of people.
Ahead of a ruling by UN judges on Friday on South Africa’s request for an immediate halt to Israel’s military operation in Gaza, which it has accused of state-led genocide, Hamas said it would abide by any ruling for a ceasefire if Israel reciprocates. Israel has asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to reject the case outright.
(with inputs from agencies)