This image grab from a handout video released by the Israeli army on February 29, 2024, shows what the army says are Gazans around aid trucks in Gaza City. Image Credit: AFP

Gaza: Israeli troops fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City on Thursday, witnesses said. More than 100 people were killed, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to more than 30,000, according to health officials.

Israeli officials acknowledged that troops opened fire, saying they did so after the crowd approached in a threatening way.

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Kamel Abu Nahel, who was being treated for a gunshot wound at Al Shifa Hospital, said he and others went to the distribution point in the middle of the night because they heard there would be a delivery of food.

“We’ve been eating animal feed for two months,” he said.

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He said Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd as people pulled boxes of flour and canned goods off the trucks, causing them to scatter, with some hiding under cars.

After the shooting stopped, people went back to the trucks, and the soldiers opened fire again. He was shot in the leg and fell over, and then a truck ran over his leg as it sped off, he said.

Alaa Abu Daiya, another witness, said Israeli troops open fire and also that a tank fired a shell.

Palestinians transport casualties after the massacre. Image Credit: Reuters

Medics arriving at the scene on Thursday found “dozens or hundreds” lying on the ground, according to Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at Kamal Adwan Hospital.

He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals in donkey carts.

Disturbing figures
* 30,035 Palestinians killed in war that began on October 7
* 20,000 of those killed are women and children
* 70,457 Gazans injured since the war began
* 2,685 Gazan families have been killed in the war
* 80% of 2.4 million Gazans fled their homes
* 600,000 residents of Gaza face starvation
* 2,300 aid trucks have entered the Gaza Strip in February, down by around 50 per cent compared to January
* 1.5 million people trying to flee the fighting are now packed into Rafah city
* 242 Israeli soldiers died in Gaza since ground operations began in late October.
* 250 hostages were taken to Gaza during October 7 attack
* 130 Israelis still being held in Gaza by militants.
* 1,160 people, mostly civilians, killed on October 7 attack.

Another man in the crowd — who gave only his first name, Ahmad, as he was being treated at a hospital for gunshot wounds to the arm and leg — said waited for two hours before someone with a horse-pulled cart had room to take him to Al Shifa.

Another witness told AFP that the violence unfolded when thousands of people desperate for food rushed towards aid trucks at the city’s western Nabulsi roundabout.

“Trucks full of aid came too close to some army tanks that were in the area and the crowd, thousands of people, just stormed the trucks,” the witness said, declining to be named for safety reasons.

Image Credit: Reuters

“The soldiers fired at the crowd as people came too close to the tanks.”

The Israeli army initially said that “during the entry of humanitarian aid trucks into the northern Gaza Strip, Gazan residents surrounded the trucks and looted the supplies being delivered”.

It added that “during the incident, dozens of Gazans were injured as a result of pushing and trampling. The incident is under review.”

Later an Israeli source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity, that “the crowd approached the forces in a manner that posed a threat to the troops, who responded to the threat with live fire”.

As the dead and wounded were taken to several of Gaza’s few functioning hospitals, health officials reported a steadily rising death toll.

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Injured at Kamal Edwan Hospital in Beit Lahia. Image Credit: AFP

Medics overwhelmed

“Medical teams are unable to deal with the volume and type of injuries arriving at Al Shifa Medical Complex as a result of weak medical and human capabilities,” one official said in a statement.

AFP TV footage showed the corpses of two men being taken away on the back of a donkey drawn cart.

Health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra said the death toll from the “massacre” in Gaza City “rose to 104 martyrs and 760 injuries due to the bullets of the occupation forces that targeted a gathering of citizens”.

Gaza is facing an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation nearly five months into the war started by Hamas’s unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7.

Injured at Al Shifa Hospital. Image Credit: AFP

According to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, just over 2,300 aid trucks have entered the Gaza Strip in February, down by around 50 per cent compared to January.

Thursday’s bloody incident spurred a heated exchange at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Mohammad Khraishi confronted his Israeli counterpart on the reported casualties and said: “Are these human shields? Are these Hamas combatants?”

Dr. Mohammed Salha, the acting director of the Al Awda Hospital, said the facility received 161 wounded patients, most of whom appeared to have been shot. He said the hospital can only perform the most essential surgeries because it is running out of fuel to power emergency generators.

Alarm over hunger

In addition to at least 104 people killed, around 760 were wounded, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qidra said. The Health Ministry described it as a “massacre.”

The ministry, which is part of the Hamas-run government in Gaza, maintains detailed records of casualties. Its counts from previous wars have largely matched those of the UN, independent experts and even Israel’s own tallies.

The increasing alarm over hunger across Gaza has fuelled international calls for another ceasefire, and the US, Egypt and Qatar are working to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in fighting and the release of some of the hostages.

Injured being treated at Al Shifa Hospital. Image Credit: AP

Mediators hope to reach an agreement before Ramadan starts around March 10. But so far, Israel and Hamas have remained far apart in public on their demands.

In a statement condemning Thursday’s attack, Hamas said it would not allow the negotiations “to be a cover for the enemy to continue its crimes.”

Meanwhile, UN officials have warned of further mass casualties if Israel follows through on vows to attack the southernmost city of Rafah , where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has taken refuge. They also say a Rafah offensive could decimate what remains of aid operations.

Hundreds of thousands Palestinians are believed to remain in northern Gaza despite Israeli orders to evacuate the area in October, and many have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive. The UN says one in 6 children under 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting.

Life draining out of Gaza at terrifying speed: UN aid chief

Life is draining out of Gaza at terrifying speed,” the UN humanitarian chief said following multiple deaths Thursday during an attempt to distribute aid supplies in the Palestinian territory.

“Even after close to five months of brutal hostilities, Gaza still has the ability to shock us,” UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said on X, formerly Twitter.

“I’m appalled at the reported killing and injury of hundreds of people during a transfer of aid supplies west of Gaza City,” Griffiths wrote.

“This comes as the death toll across Gaza since October 7 hits the 30,000 mark.

“Life is draining out of Gaza at terrifying speed.”