A US Air Force loadmaster releases humanitarian aid pallets of food and water over Gaza, on March 2, 2024.
A US Air Force loadmaster releases humanitarian aid pallets of food and water over Gaza, on March 2, 2024. Image Credit: US Air Force/via REUTERS

Washington: American cargo planes air-dropped 38,000 meals into the besieged Gaza Strip on Saturday, part of a series of drops planned by Washington to help curb a growing humanitarian crisis in the war-racked territory.

The United Nations has warned of famine in Gaza, and more than 100 people were left dead earlier this week in a frenzied scramble for food from a truck convoy delivering aid, with Israeli forces opening fire on the crowd.

US President Joe Biden - under mounting political pressure over the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip - had announced the imminent air drops on Friday.

"US Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance air drop into Gaza on March 2, 2024, between 3:00 and 5:00 pm (Gaza time) to provide essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict," the American military command said on social media.

CENTCOM said US C-130 military cargo planes "dropped over 38,000 meals along the coastline of Gaza allowing for civilian access to the critical aid."

The air drops are "part of a sustained effort to get more aid into Gaza, including by expanding the flow of aid through land corridors and routes," the command added.

A CENTCOM official told AFP that the drop was made up of US military rations that did not contain pork, the consumption of which is prohibited by Islam.

Ground route still key

The amount of aid brought into Gaza by truck has plummeted during nearly five months of war, and Gazans are facing dire shortages of food, water and medicines.

The United Nations has accused Israeli forces of "systematically" blocking access to Gaza, which Israel denies.

Some foreign militaries have air-dropped supplies to Gaza, sending long lines of aid pallets floating down into the war-torn territory on parachutes.

Jordan has been conducting many of the operations with the support of countries including Britain, France and the Netherlands, while Egypt sent several military planes on an air drop Thursday together with the United Arab Emirates.

Biden has pushed Israel to reduce civilian casualties and allow aid in, while at the same time he has maintained military assistance for the key US ally.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday that the United States planned to carry out multiple air drops over a period of weeks, which will "be a supplement to, not a replacement for, moving things in by ground."

He described it as a "tough military operation" that required careful planning by the Pentagon for the safety of both Gazan civilians and US military personnel.

"It is extremely difficult to do an air drop in such a crowded environment as is Gaza," said Kirby, adding: "This is a war zone. So there's an added element of potential danger to the pilots in the aircraft."