Deadly chaos at Gaza aid distribution as WHO renews hospital warning

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, March 31 — An aid delivery in Gaza descended into chaos early today with shots fired and a Red Crescent paramedic reporting five dead, as almost six months of Israeli bombardment has left hundreds of thousands in desperate need.

Israel’s siege, sparked by a deadly attack on October 7, brings nightly air strikes and in recent days major operations around several hospitals, which it says are used by Palestinian fighters — claims denied by Hamas.

The World Health Organization warned that Gaza had just 10 “minimally functioning” hospitals for its more than two million people, with its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying around 9,000 patients urgently needed treatment abroad.

UN agencies have warned repeatedly that northern Gaza is on the verge of famine and called it a man-made crisis because aid lorries are backed up on the Egypt-Gaza border awaiting long checks by Israeli officials. Israel has denied responsibility.

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Two charities have organised aid deliveries by sea from Cyprus, with their second mission in just over two weeks setting sail yesterday.

Organisers said the flotilla, which had been repeatedly delayed by bad weather, was carrying around 400 tonnes of supplies, a fraction of Gaza’s needs.

The top UN court has ordered Israel to allow in aid and the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution demanding an “immediate ceasefire” but neither has affected the situation on the ground.

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Israel and Hamas have been unable to agree a truce in indirect talks in Qatar, with each side blaming the other.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the go-ahead Friday for a new round of talks with negotiators expected to resume their work on Monday.

A Cyprus Coast Guard patrol boat approaches the Guinea-Bissau-flagged cargo ship Jennifer, carrying food aid provided by US charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) bound for the Gaza Strip, off the coast of Cyprus’ southern port city of Laranca on March 30, 2024 ahead of its departure with the second batch along the new assistance sea corridor to the besieged Palestinian territory. — AFP pic

A Cyprus Coast Guard patrol boat approaches the Guinea-Bissau-flagged cargo ship Jennifer, carrying food aid provided by US charity World Central Kitchen (WCK) bound for the Gaza Strip, off the coast of Cyprus’ southern port city of Laranca on March 30, 2024 ahead of its departure with the second batch along the new assistance sea corridor to the besieged Palestinian territory. — AFP pic

‘This must stop’

A Red Crescent paramedic at a nearby hospital said five people were killed and dozens injured by gunfire and a stampede during a rare aid distribution in north Gaza.

Witnesses told AFP shots were fired both by Gazans overseeing the aid delivery and Israeli troops nearby, and panicked lorry drivers drove quickly away, hitting people trying to get the food. The Israeli military told AFP it had “no record of the incident described”.

Aid deliveries have become increasingly fraught as the needs of Gazans increase.

Foreign powers have ramped up airdrops of aid but several people have been killed by falling crates, or stampedes or drowned trying to retrieve packages from the Mediterranean.

UN agencies have said repeatedly that overland deliveries are the only way of supplying aid in the volume needed.

Palestinian Dalia al-Afifi, displaced to Deir el-Balah in central Gaza, has constructed a home from the cans received in aid packages to “make a point to the world” about the plight of the territory.

“This must stop. Our lives are not just cans,” she told AFP.

The Israeli bombardment continued apace into yesterday with the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip saying at least 82 people were killed overnight.

The Hamas press office said “civilian houses” had been hit by dozens of Israeli strikes. The Israeli military said it had struck dozens of targets including fighters and their compounds.

The war began with Hamas’s October 7 attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign against Hamas has killed at least 32,705 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

Palestinian women arrange kitchen utensils to dry atop a destroyed car at a makeshift camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 30, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. — AFP pic

Palestinian women arrange kitchen utensils to dry atop a destroyed car at a makeshift camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 30, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. — AFP pic

WHO ‘extremely worried’

With the healthcare situation increasingly dire, Tedros said roughly 9,000 patients needed to leave Gaza for “lifesaving health services, including treatment for cancer, injuries from bombardments, kidney dialysis and other chronic conditions”.

The WHO said Gaza had 36 hospitals before the war but now had only 10.

Israel’s military accuses Palestinian militants of hiding inside medical facilities — charges they have denied.

The army said yesterday it “continued to eliminate” militants around Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, with around 200 reported killed after 13 days of its operation.

The WHO chief said the hospital was no longer functioning but 100 patients and 50 health workers were reportedly still inside with fighting continuing around them.

“We are extremely worried about their condition and safety,” he said, adding that the agency had been forced on Saturday to postpone a fourth attempt to reach the hospital.

In their October attack, Palestinian militants seized about 250 hostages. Israel believes about 130 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

Netanyahu is under domestic pressure, facing regular demonstrations over his failure to bring home all the captives.

During a rally in Tel Aviv yesterday Shira Elbag, whose 19-year-old daughter Liri was among those seized, urged Israelis to demand a change of focus from the prime minister. “After 176 days, the excuses are over,” she said.

A central plank in the talks in Qatar has been negotiating the release of the hostages alongside a truce and access for humanitarian aid.

The talks had appeared deadlocked despite a push by the United States and fellow mediators Egypt and Qatar to secure a truce for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, now more than halfway through.

The United States is Israel’s chief military backer, but tension has been mounting.

Washington has urged Netanyahu to abandon his plan for a full ground invasion of Rafah, the southern Gaza city where most of the population have fled.

The Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed officials, that Washington had nonetheless approved billions of dollars of bombs and fighter jets for Israel in recent days. — AFP

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