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The Latest | Gaza death toll tops 30,000 as over 100 killed in aid convoy violence

Palestinians walk through the destruction from the Israeli offensive in Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Essa)
Original Publication Date February 29, 2024 - 2:31 AM

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed and over 70,000 wounded in the Gaza Strip since the Israel's war on Hamas began nearly five months ago, health officials in the territory said.

On Thursday, Palestinian witnesses say Israeli troops opened fire on a crowd of people scrambling for aid in Gaza City. More than 100 people were killed and at least 700 wounded, according to Palestinian witnesses and Gaza's Health Ministry.

Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a chaotic stampede for the food aid and that its troops only fired when they felt endangered by the crowd.

Israel's war against Hamas has created a humanitarian catastrophe throughout the Gaza Strip and devastation in northern areas like Gaza City, which are largely cut off from the rest of the territory with little aid entering.

The U.N. says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians face starvation; around 80% have fled their homes.

The war began after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 others hostage.

Currently:

— Israel-Hamas war brings painful memories for Argentine Jewish community long after 1994 bombing

Palestinian-American woman who faces trial in Israeli military court is released on bail

— Aid groups appeal to the EU to release urgent funds for Palestinian refugee agency

Journalism leaders express support for media covering the war

— Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.

Here's the latest:

U.N. COUNCIL DOESN'T AGREE ON STATEMENT BLAMING ISRAEL FOR GAZA CITY DEATHS

UNITED NATIONS — Arab nations have failed to get immediate support for a U.N. Security Council statement that would have blamed Israeli forces for opening fire at Palestinians waiting for the delivery of food and other humanitarian aid near Gaza City and killing over 100 people.

Witnesses said Israeli troops fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy on Thursday. More than 100 people were killed in the chaos, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to over 30,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told reporters after an emergency closed council meeting on the killings late Thursday that 14 of the 15 council members supported the statement put forward by Algeria, the Arab representative on the body.

The United States didn’t support the statement and U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood told a reporter who questioned why, “We don’t have all the facts on the ground – that’s the problem.”

He said there are contradictory reports and the U.S. is trying to gather all the facts, including on the “circumstances around how people died” which is a key issue.

Wood said diplomats were working “to see if we can find some language that everyone can agree on,” and an agreement could come Thursday night or not at all.

PALESTINIAN U.N. AMBASSADOR SAYS ISRAEL DELIBERATELY SHOT PEOPLE IN AID CONVOY VIOLENCE

UNITED NATIONS – The Palestinian ambassador to the U.N. is accusing Israel of “deliberately and systematically” targeting a humanitarian convoy, saying according to his information dozens of the 112 Palestinians killed were shot in the head.

Riyad Mansour told reporters ahead of a closed emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council late Thursday afternoon that according to his information every few days trucks with humanitarian supplies including flour, sugar and other basic necessities traveled to the same place in northern Gaza to give desperately needed help to Palestinians in need.

He said the trucks did the same thing earlier Thursday, and thousands of Palestinians were there. “And then all of a sudden, the Israel army started firing at them and shooting, and according to the information that we have, dozens of them have bullets in their heads,” he said. There has been no independent confirmation of this claim.

“It’s not like, you know, firing in the sky to restrain people if there was confusion and chaos,” Mansour said. “It was intentionally targeting and killing, and the number that we have now is 112 have been killed and the number is increasing, and 750 injured, and possibly the number would be increasing.”

Mansour said he met U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and implored her to support a U.N. Security Council statement condemning the killings and urging that those responsible be found and held accountable.

UNITED NATIONS CHIEF SAYS HE'S SHOCKED BY GAZA DEATH TOLL AND KILLINGS NEAR AID TRUCK

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “appalled” that 30,000 people have been killed by the war in Gaza and condemned Thursday's killing of more than a hundred people seeking life-saving aid, his spokesperson said.

Witnesses say Israeli troops fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City on Thursday. More than 100 people were killed in the chaos, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters this was not a U.N. convoy and “there was no U.N. presence there,” so it is trying to determine the facts.

“These people died because humanitarian aid has not been able to be delivered in a safe manner,” Dujarric said. Whether they died or were wounded by Israeli gunfire, were crushed by a crowd or run over by trucks, “these are all acts of violence in a sense due to this conflict.”

Dujarric said the United Nations hasn’t been able to deliver aid to northern Gaza for more than a week because of the ongoing conflict and lack of safety for humanitarian staff and the people receiving aid.

“We want to see an immediate humanitarian cease-fire so that we can distribute aid in an organized, predictable and safe manner which is currently not an option for us,” he said.

Guterres reiterated his call for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and release of all hostages taken captive during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, Dujarric said.

GERMANY PLEDGES ANOTHER 20 MILLION EUROS IN AID TO GAZA

BERLIN — Germany will increase its humanitarian aid for Gaza by 20 million euros, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Thursday night. She called on Israel to “immediately” allow more aid into Gaza and make sure that aid can also be distributed.

Baerbock added that if not enough aid was able to get into Gaza by trucks, Germany would cooperate with Jordan to airlift aid into Gaza.

Her statement didn’t specify the total amount of aid Germany has promised for Gaza. The website of the German Foreign Office says it has given 138 million euros of humanitarian aid since Oct. 7 to the Palestinian Territories, which would include aid for the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

U.S. SENATORS ASK BIDEN TO SEND HOSPITAL SHIP TO GAZA AND OPEN SEA ROUTE FOR AID

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate’s armed services committee has asked President Joe Biden to deploy a military hospital ship and support units to treat Gaza’s wounded and help establish a sea route for delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Chairman Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, made the request in a letter to the White House Wednesday night. Sen. Angus King, a political independent from Maine and another senior member of the armed services committee, joined in the request.

Despite U.S. appeals to Israel, Gaza residents trapped in the conflict between Israel and Hamas continue to suffer without adequate medical care, food and other aid, the senators said.

“Consequently, we urge you to take additional steps to deliver humanitarian aid by deploying a U.S. Navy hospital ship and support elements to the region and by working with the Israeli and Egyptian governments to establish maritime logistics routes and ensure civilian access to aid,” the senators wrote.

The two acknowledged the risks but said the U.S. military was best-equipped to handle them. The deployments “would bring immense capacity to bear off the coast of the Gaza strip.” they wrote the White House. “It would be a visible embodiment of America’s commitment to the humanitarian challenges of the region.”

The U.S. has two dedicated hospital ships, the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort. Each has a suite of advanced medical facilities, including scores of intensive care unit beds, blood banks and operating rooms.

BIDEN SAYS CEASE-FIRE DEAL ‘PROBABLY’ NOT DONE BY NEXT WEEK

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday that a deal to pause fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and release some hostages held by the militant group would “probably” not be done by Monday. His comments at the White House came days after he said he hoped to have an agreement in place by the end of the upcoming weekend.

“Hope springs eternal,” Biden told reporters on the South Lawn before departing for Texas, where he is to visit the U.S.-Mexico border. “I was on the telephone with people from the region. Probably not by Monday, but I’m hopeful.”

The White House later said the president had spoken by phone Thursday with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani. The calls focused on the war in Gaza and cease-fire negotiations, as well as plans to get more humanitarian aid into the besieged territory.

Biden and the two leaders emphasized in their calls how “the release of hostages would result in an immediate and sustained cease-fire in Gaza over a period of at least six weeks,” a White House statement said.

Biden also said the U.S. was still trying to determined what happened in Gaza City on Thursday, where witnesses say Israeli troops fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy. Biden said the loss of life would complicate ongoing talks to free hostages and pause fighting between Israel and Hamas.

“We’re checking it out right now,” Biden told reporters. “There’s two competing versions of what happened. I don’t have an answer yet.”

PALESTINIAN SHOOTING ATTACK IN WEST BANK KILLS 2 ISRAELIS

JERUSALEM — Two Israelis were killed in a Palestinian shooting attack at a gas station in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the Israeli military said.

The Israeli military said one attacker was killed after opening fire at the gas station near the Jewish settlement of Eli, and that Israeli forces were searching the area for additional suspects.

Paramedics pronounced a 57-year-old man and another in his 20s dead at the scene, one in a vehicle and another nearby, the Magen David Adom medical agency said in a statement. It said a civilian shot and killed the attacker.

SAUDI ARABIA, EGYPT AND JORDAN CONDEMN ISRAEL FOR FIRING ON CROWD IN NORTHERN GAZA

BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan’s foreign ministries condemned Israel for its forces firing on a large crowd of Palestinians trying to get aid in northern Gaza, which the three Arab governments called an attack targeting civilians.

The three foreign ministries in separate statements called for increased safe passages to deliver humanitarian aid and for the international community to take decisive action to pressure Israel to abide by international law and to reach an agreement for an immediate ceasefire.

ISRAELI OFFICIALS SAY TROOPS SHOT INTO CROWD OF PALESTINIANS SEEKING FOOD AID IN NORTHERN GAZA

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli officials have acknowledged that troops opened fire on a large crowd of Palestinians who had converged on an aid convoy as it entered northern Gaza.

The officials insisted on anonymity to give details about what happened early Thursday. They said troops opened fire after the crowd approached the soldiers in a threatening way.

Gaza’s Health Ministry says 104 people were killed and 760 wounded. Palestinian witnesses told The Associated Press that troops shot at the crowd and a tank opened fire.

The Israeli military said in a statement that “dozens were killed and injured from pushing, trampling and being run over by the trucks.”

The military also circulated aerial footage showing hundreds of people crowding around trucks, saying it showed that the deaths and injuries were caused by the crowd itself. It was not clear from the footage if anyone was being trampled.

___

Associated Press writer Melanie Lidman contributed.

EGYPT SAYS THURSDAY'S KILLINGS IN GAZA CITY ARE A ‘HEINOUS CRIME’

Egypt has condemned the killings on Thursday in Gaza City, when the territory's health officials say Israeli forces fired at a crowd of Palestinians waiting for aid, killing at least 104 people.

Also, around 760 were wounded, Gaza's Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said. The ministry described it as a “massacre.”

“It is a heinous crime to target peaceful civilians who are rushing to get their share of humanitarian aid,” read a statement released by Egypt’s foreign ministry.

“It is a flagrant violation of the international law and the international humanitarian law, and also shows disregard to the sanctity of human lives,” the Egyptian statement added.

‘MASSACRE’ AND MAYHEM AS ISRAELI FORCES OPEN FIRE, KILLING 104 PEOPLE WAITING FOR AID IN GAZA

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops fired on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for aid in Gaza City on Thursday, witnesses said. At least 104 people were killed and 760 were wounded, Gaza health officials said.

Kamel Abu Nahel, who was being treated for a gunshot wound at 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.

He said Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd, causing it to scatter, with some people hiding under nearby cars. After the shooting stopped, they 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.

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.

Gaza's Health Ministry described it as a “massacre.”

THE U.N. AGENCY FOR PALESTINIAN REFUGEES SAYS ITS FUNDS WILL START TO DRY UP AFTER MARCH

JERUSALEM — The embattled U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees may have to scale down operations at the end of March if it doesn't secure a new influx of funds, the agency’s head told reporters Thursday.

Some $450 million in funding for UNRWA has been frozen by donor states after Israel alleged that 12 members of the agency took part in the deadly Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel by Hamas militants that sparked the war in Gaza. UNRWA has thousands of staff members.

“We have no (funding) visibility past March,” said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the agency. He said the agency is in talks with the European Commission to secure a donation of 82 million euros ($89 million) that could temporarily alleviate its financial shortfalls.

The funding cuts would impact UNRWA operations in all areas where it has a presence — Gaza, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The shortfalls would result in a “slow-onset implosion” of the agency, he said.

Israeli officials have alleged that UNRWA has not done enough to push back against purported attempts by Hamas to infiltrate the agency, a claim vehemently denied by Lazzarini.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he intends to force the closure of UNRWA after the Gaza war, now in its fifth month. Israeli officials have called for the eviction of the agency from its headquarters in Jerusalem and have frozen its bank account, according to Lazzarini.

W.H.O. OFFICIAL DECRIES GAZA DEATH TOLL, SAYS THESE ARE HUMAN LIVES, NOT “MERE STATISTICS”

CAIRO — A regional director of the World Health Organization decried on Thursday the latest surge in the Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip and urged world leaders to join her in a push for a permanent cease-fire.

Hanan Balkhy, who is WHO's head for the Eastern Mediterranean, said “concrete steps” toward peace are desperately needed.

“The 30 thousand are not mere statistics, they are human lives,” Balkhy wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “As a doctor and humanitarian, I will keep advocating for the right of all people to life and health. I call on all leaders to join.”

The WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had previously described Gaza as “a death zone” and called repeatedly for a cessation of hostilities.

Last week, WHO warned at a regional news conference in Cairo that poor sanitation, the lack of access to clean water, and the over-crowdedness of settlements where displaced Gazans have relocated, could lead to further infectious disease outbreaks and ultimately more deaths in the battered territory.

PALESTINIAN DIPLOMAT AT THE U.N. IN GENEVA DENOUNCES LATEST STRIKE IN GAZA

GENEVA — The Palestinian ambassador at the United Nations in Geneva denounced Thursday's apparent Israeli strike that killed at least 70 people waiting for aid in Gaza City.

“Are these human shields? Are these Hamas combatants,” asked Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi, addressing his Israeli counterpart Meirav Eilon Shahar.

Khraishi spoke as the U.N. human rights chief was presenting a report from his office about the Gaza situation to the Human Rights Council. ,

“Hundreds of Palestinian citizens, civilians … who were waiting for trucks loaded with humanitarian aid, and they were bombed by the occupying power,” said Khraishi. "I would say to you: Let us put an end to the massacre.”

Khraishi represents the Palestinian Authority that runs pockets of the occupied West Bank but not the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas. He reiterated that the authority had condemned Hamas' Oct. 7 attack that triggered the latest Israel-Hamas war.

Volker Türk, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned of the risk of famine in north Gaza, where aid groups have largely been denied access in recent weeks, and railed against the “carnage” in Gaza and the attacks in Israel that preceded them.

Eilon Shahar, who spoke right before Khrashi and after the U.N. rights chief, stressed that more than 1,200 people were “butchered” in the Oct. 7 attack while others were subjected to “unspeakable acts of violence” by Hamas,

She also criticized Türk’s comments.

“The minimal reference to these horrific acts in your statement today is an affront to the victims and supports those who seek to remove these crimes from the narrative altogether,” she said.

Dozens of diplomats were taking part in Thursday’s council debate, which was focusing on recent developments in Palestinian areas.

AUSTRIA'S TOP DIPLOMAT ON MIDEAST TOUR APPEALS FOR A PAUSE IN FIGHTING AHEAD OF RAMADAN

BEIRUT — Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group against escalating the conflict along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border and expressed hope for a pause in the fighting in Gaza in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in March.

The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, said Alexander Schallenberg, speaking after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut. He came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli occupied West Bank.

Overnight, Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese villages along the southern border killed two people and wounded 14 others in the village of Kafra, state-run National News Agency reported.

Since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, after Palestinian militants stormed parts of southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 hostage, Hezbollah started attacking Israeli posts, drawing return fire from Israel in daily exchanges.

More than 210 Hezbollah fighters and nearly 40 civilians have been killed since then on the Lebanese side. In Israel, nine soldiers and nine civilians have been killed in Hezbollah attacks since Oct. 7.

European and American officials have tried to ease the tensions in visits to Beirut, to avoid a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah, which has said it won’t discuss any deals before the war in Gaza ends.

“Everybody is asked not to escalate and it always takes two sides,” Schallenberg said.

RELATIVES OF HOSTAGES MARCH TO DEMAND FREEDOM FOR LOVED ONES

TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli families of hostages held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and their supporters are launching a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free.

The march comes as negotiations are underway in Qatar to bring about a deal between Hamas and Israel that would lead to a cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages. President Joe Biden has said such a deal was at hand but officials from Israel and Hamas have expressed skepticism about it.

Negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar have been working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting.

During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

Hostages freed in a late-November deal, some of whom still have relatives held in Gaza, joined the march on Wednesday. It will end near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this week.

In its Oct. 7 attack, Hamas abducted roughly 250 people, according to Israeli authorities, including men, women, children and older adults. Roughly 100 were freed about 50 days into their captivity. Some 130 hostages remain and Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.

The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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