U.S. military airdrops meals into Gaza amid mass hunger crisis

U.S. military airdrops meals into Gaza amid mass hunger crisis

U.S. military airdrops meals into Gaza amid mass hunger crisis

U.S. military C-130 cargo planes dropped food in pallets over Gaza on Saturday in the opening stage of an emergency humanitarian assistance authorized by President Joe Biden after more than 100 Palestinians who had surged to pull goods off an aid convoy were killed during a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.

Three planes from Air Forces Central dropped 66 bundles containing about 38,000 meals into Gaza at 3:30 p.m. local time. The bundles were dropped in southwest Gaza, on the beach along the territory’s Mediterranean coast.

The airdrop was co-ordinated with the Royal Jordanian Air Force, which said it completed two food airdrops Saturday in northern Gaza and has conducted several rounds in recent months.

“The combined operation included U.S. Air Force and RJAF C-130 aircraft and respective Army Soldiers specialized in aerial delivery of supplies, built bundles and ensured the safe drop of food aid,” U.S. Central Command said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The U.S. airdrop is expected to be the first of many.

Three Biden administration officials said the planes dropped the military Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) — shelf-stable meals that contain a day’s worth of calories in each sealed package — in locations that would provide civilians with the greatest level of safety to access aid.

Afterward, the U.S. monitored the sites and was able to see civilians approach and distribute food among themselves, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide additional details that had not been made public.

Dozens killed during aid delivery

Gaza’s Health Ministry raised the death toll from Thursday’s violence to 118 after two more bodies were recovered Saturday. It said the wounded remained at 760.

In the violence Thursday, people rushed about 30 trucks bringing a predawn delivery to the north. Palestinians said nearby Israeli troops shot into the crowds. Israel said they fired warning shots toward the crowd and insisted many of the dead were trampled. Doctors at hospitals in Gaza and a UN team that visited a hospital said large numbers of the wounded had been shot.

The European Union’s diplomatic service said many of the hundreds of Palestinians killed or wounded in the chaos surrounding an aid convoy on Thursday were hit by Israeli army fire and urged an international investigation. It said responsibility for the crisis lay with “restrictions imposed by the Israeli army and obstructions by violent extremist(s) to the supply of humanitarian aid.”

WATCH | International outcry after deaths reported at Gaza aid convoy

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Pressure is mounting on Israel over the deaths of Palestinians lining up for aid in an incident during which its soldiers fired at the crowd. Several countries are backing a UN call for an inquiry.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Israel organized Thursday’s convoy, “and claims that we attacked the convoy intentionally and that we harmed people intentionally are baseless.”

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Friday that the airdrops were being planned to deliver emergency humanitarian assistance in a safe way to people on the ground.

The United States believes the airdrops will help address the dire situation in Gaza, but they are no replacement for trucks, which can transport far more aid more effectively, though Thursday’s events also showed the risks with ground transport.

‘Not a replacement’ for ground aid

Kirby said the airdrops have an advantage over trucks because planes can move aid to a particular location very quickly. But in terms of volume, the airdrops will be “a supplement to, not a replacement for moving things in by ground.”

The C-130 cargo plane is widely used by the military to deliver aid to remote places due to its ability to land in austere environments and cargo capacity. 

A C-130 can airlift as much as 19,000 kilograms of cargo and its crews know how to rig the cargo, which sometimes can include vehicles, onto massive pallets that can be safely dropped out of the back of the aircraft. 

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At least 17,000 children are now orphaned or separated from their parents in Gaza, UNICEF says, and encounter daily, repeated trauma from which they are unable to flee.

U.S. air force loadmasters secure the bundles onto pallets with netting that is rigged for release in the back of a C-130, and then crews release it with a parachute when the aircraft reaches the intended delivery zone.

The Air Force’s C-130 has been used in years past to air drop humanitarian into Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and other locations and the airframe is used in an annual multi-national “Operation Christmas Drop” that airdrops pallets of toys, supplies, nonperishable food and fishing supplies to remote locations in the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.

Since the war began, Israel has largely barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies, except for some aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.

WATCH | Gaza hunger crisis ‘unprecedented,’ says WFP official:

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Arif Husain, chief economist for the World Food Program, told Rosemary Barton Live that ‘pretty much everybody’ living in Gaza is suffering from hunger, and about a quarter of the population is ‘literally starving.’

Additionally, right-wing Israeli protesters have for weeks held demonstrations to block trucks, saying Gaza’s people should not be given aid. UN agencies have also complained that cumbersome Israeli procedures for searching trucks have slowed crossings.

The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation after nearly five months of fighting that began with a Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 — which saw 1,200 people killed and some 250 hostages taken by militants, according to Israeli tallies.

Aid officials have said airdrops are not an efficient means of distributing aid and are a measure of last resort.

Roughly one in six children under the age of two in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting — “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world,” Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program, said this week. “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”

Late Wednesday, Canadian International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen confirmed Canada is working to airdrop humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip as soon as possible.