BBC 2024-03-03 04:32:47

Israel-Gaza war: US carries out first aid airdrop in strip

The US has carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid for Gaza, with more than 30,000 meals parachuted in by three military planes.

The operation, carried out jointly with Jordan’s air force, was the first of many announced by President Joe Biden.

He promised to step up aid after at least 112 people were killed as crowds rushed a convoy on Thursday.

The airdrop comes as a top US official said the framework of a deal for a six-week ceasefire in Gaza was in place.

The Biden administration official said on Saturday that Israel had “more or less accepted” a deal on a new ceasefire.

“It will be a six-week ceasefire in Gaza starting today if Hamas agrees to release the defined category of vulnerable hostages (…) the sick, the wounded, elderly and women,” the unnamed official said.

On Saturday C-130 transport planes dropped more than 38,000 meals along the coastline of the territory, US Central Command said in a statement.

“These airdrops are part of a sustained effort to get more aid into Gaza, including by expanding the flow of aid through land corridors and routes,” it added.

Other countries including the UK, France, Egypt and Jordan have previously airdropped aid into Gaza, but this is the first by the US.

Administration officials said that Thursday’s “tragic incident” had highlighted “the importance of expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza in response to the dire humanitarian situation”.

Aid agencies have said that airdrops are an inefficient way of delivering aid.

Displaced Gaza resident Medhat Taher told Reuters news agency that such a method was woefully inadequate.

“Will this be enough for a school? Is this enough for 10,000 people?” he said. “It’s better to send aid via crossings and better than airdropping via parachutes.”

In his statement on Friday, President Biden said the US would “insist that Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to get more and more people the help they need”.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris will meet Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz in Washington on Monday to discuss a truce and other issues, Reuters quotes a White House official as saying.

In Thursday’s incident, 112 people were killed and more than 760 injured as they crowded around aid lorries on the south-western edge of Gaza City.

Hamas accused Israel of firing at civilians, but Israel said most died in a crush after it fired warning shots.

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Giorgios Petropoulos, head of the Gaza sub-office of the UN Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told the BBC that he and a team sent to al-Shifa hospital had found a large number of people with bullet wounds.

Hamas meanwhile said an Israeli bombardment had killed at least 11 people at a camp in Rafah in southern Gaza on Saturday. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the attack “outrageous”. The Israeli army said it had carried out a “precision strike” against Islamic Jihad militants in the area.

The UN’s World Food Programme has warned that a famine is imminent in northern Gaza, which has received very little aid in recent weeks, and where an estimated 300,000 people are living with little food or clean water.

The Israel military launched a large-scale air and ground campaign to destroy Hamas after its gunmen killed about 1,200 people in southern Israel on 7 October and took 253 back to Gaza as hostages.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 30,000 people, including 21,000 children and women, have been killed in Gaza since then with some 7,000 missing and at least 70,450 injured.

Fergal Keane: Aid convoy tragedy shows fear of starvation haunts Gaza

After the events at al-Rashid Street in Gaza, in which more than 100 people were reported killed after a rush on an aid convoy, the international community is under pressure to tackle the growing crisis of hunger in the territory, as Fergal Keane reports from Jerusalem.

They die in all kinds of places and ways. Broken under the rubble of their homes, blasted by explosives, punctured by high velocity bullets, cut open by flying shards of metal.

And now – as the war enters its fifth month – death from hunger has come to haunt Gaza.

It is essential to know the when, what and how of the tragedy at al-Rashid Street.

Although the precise facts require an independent investigation of a kind not likely in Gaza under current conditions, that should not distract from trying to answer why people risked their lives to gather in the pre-dawn darkness in the middle of a war zone.

The refugees were there because they were desperate to feed their families. They died by bullets and trampling – we do not yet know in what proportion – simply because they wanted to live. That is a cruel irony.

Eighty-five per cent of the population of Gaza is now displaced. The war has dismantled all normal economic activity and food supplies. Water and electricity supplies have been disrupted. Hospitals struggle without adequate medicine or power.

For the last week the UN – citing concerns over security – has said it is unable to deliver aid to northern Gaza. These are fundamental facts to bear in mind when trying to understand the tragedy.

From the outset the international community – expressed in public statements – has regarded Israel as having the primary responsibility for ensuring aid can be delivered safely.

  • What video and eyewitness accounts tell us about Gazans killed at aid drop

But, after months of war there is no sign of what the UN calls “an enabling environment” in which large volumes of aid can be delivered to those who need it.

It is not as if there has been absence of evidence of a mounting humanitarian crisis. Witness the statements made by the UN over several months.

“We are already seeing a cascading collapse in water, sewage, and sanitation services, telecoms, food shortages, and healthcare,” the UN’s Human Rights office reported on 15 November.

On 2 December, the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported: “UN humanitarians on Monday said that aid teams had only ‘extremely limited’ movement and access to the north was “now entirely blocked.”

Twelve days later the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2720 calling on “the parties to the conflict to allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to Palestinian civilians throughout that territory.”

On 26 January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) required Israel “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

By 9 February, director of the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) Phillipe Lazzarini was accusing Israel of blocking food for 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza.

According to the UN, 500 lorries of aid are required each day. The daily average has been 90.

The aid falling by parachute from the skies in recent days is welcomed on the ground, but it is also a symbol of the failure of the aid effort.

There are roads leading into Gaza from Israel and Egypt along which lorries carrying huge amounts of aid could travel – if those roads were safe.

The continuing war, and the chaotic conditions it has spawned, mean many lorry drivers will not risk their lives.

Civilians looting aid, and criminal gangs stealing aid to sell, are part of what one UN official termed the “Mogadishu-like” conditions that may be developing – a reference to the chaos that enveloped the Somali capital during the civil conflict of the early 1990s.

The Hamas-run police force in Gaza is unwilling to escort aid convoys because its members reportedly fear being shot by the Israelis.

As for Hamas’s leaders, having provoked this war they have vanished and are now fighting to survive in the tunnels and ruins of Gaza.

Israel says it is facilitating aid delivery and that, for example, there were three escorted deliveries on the nights prior to the tragedy at al-Rashid street. It has blamed the UN saying aid is stacked up inside the northern border and the UN hasn’t “turned up” to distribute the supplies.

It is also deeply mistrustful of UNRWA – accusing the agency of being infiltrated by Hamas.

In the wake of the allegations UNRWA sacked 12 employees accused of either being involved in the 7 October attacks in Israel or helping in the detention of hostages.

Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said the IDF would no longer deal with the agency. “UNRWA has lost legitimacy,” he said, “and can no longer function as a UN body.”

At the beginning of the conflict, days after Hamas killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others, Mr Gallant ordered a complete blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed… We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” he said.

That position changed under US pressure with President Joe Biden announcing a deal on 19 October under which Israel and Egypt allowed aid into Gaza.

Some supplies began to flow but there were still reports of growing hunger.

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There were repeated entreaties from Western politicians including UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron.

On 9 January, he said he was worried Israel had “taken action that might be in breach of international law” – adding he wanted Israel to restore water supplies to Gaza.

A month later – on 12 February – he told the UK’s House of Lords that Israel had to make sure food, water and shelter were available to people in Gaza “because if they don’t do that, that would be a breach of international humanitarian law”.

In the wake of al-Rashid Street he called for an urgent investigation. “This must not happen again,” he said.

But the evidence from many civilians in Gaza is they live in constant fear of violent death and – increasingly – starvation.

In time the world will ask itself why the UN Security Council, comprising the most powerful nations on earth, did not ensure the delivery of life-saving aid to hundreds of thousands of desperate people in Gaza.

This after nearly eight decades of UN humanitarian operations around the world. There is no shortage of experience or resources.

Addressing the Security Council a week before al-Rashid street incident, secretary general of aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres Christopher Lockyear spoke of a situation where “the laws and the principles we collectively depend on to enable humanitarian assistance are now eroded to the point of becoming meaningless… the humanitarian response in Gaza today is an illusion.”

It is still too early to speak of the tragic events of 29 February as a turning point.

But, the deaths of so many in such terrible circumstances have added to the growing pressure for a ceasefire deal that would allow food to reach the hungry.

The coming days will tell if those hopes can be realised.

Trump heads towards nomination with wins in Michigan, Missouri and Idaho

Donald Trump has won the Republican nomination in three more US states.

The former US President comprehensively defeated his only challenger Nikki Haley in the Idaho, Missouri and Michigan caucuses.

Mr Trump’s victories mean he edges closer to becoming the party’s official candidate in the 2024 election.

He has now won 247 Republican delegates, according to the BBC’s US partner CBS news – overwhelmingly more than Nikki Haley’s 24.

Donald Trump’s popularity among Republican voters means he is almost certain to face Joe Biden in the US presidential election in November.

His victories come just days ahead of Super Tuesday: voters in 15 states will choose their preferred candidate for both parties on 5 March.

There are 854 Republican delegates at stake on Super Tuesday.

Delegates are people who represent their state or district at the respective party’s national convention, and decide who its presidential nominee will be.

On Saturday, Mr Trump won 39 delegates in Michigan, 54 in Missouri and 32 in Idaho.

His victory in the Michigan caucus – where he won all 13 districts – is especially significant, given its status as a battleground state that is key for either candidate to win the White House.

Caucuses and primaries are two ways that help political parties and US states pick their presidential nominees.

Caucuses are meetings run by political parties held in select locations, where attendees vote on their preferred candidate.

Unlike a caucus, voters in a primary can turn up to a polling station and vote in secret.

Some states – such as Michigan – have held both a Republican primary and a caucus, both of which were won by Donald Trump.

Earlier this week, Michigan’s Democratic primary was in the news for a protest vote against President Biden.

While the president comfortably secured the Democratic nomination, over 100,000 people voted “uncommitted” – in what was seen as a clear message to Mr Biden over his stance on Israel’s war in Gaza.

That was roughly Mr Biden’s margin of victory in Michigan over Donald Trump during the 2020 presidential election, which was key to his eventual victory.

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Russia publishes German army meeting on Ukraine

Germany has admitted the apparent hack by Russia of a military meeting where officers discussed giving Ukraine long-range missiles – and possible targets.

Audio of the video-conference meeting was posted to social media by the head of Russia’s state-run RT channel.

The officers discuss how the missiles could hit the Kerch Bridge, which links Russia to the illegally annexed Crimea.

Russian politicians said the audio proved that its “sworn enemy” was planning attacks.

Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday called the apparent leak “a very serious matter and that is why it is now being investigated very carefully, very intensively and very quickly”.

According to Der Spiegel magazine, the videoconference was not held on a secret internal army network but on the WebEx platform.

The 38-minutes of audio was posted by RT chief Margarita Simonyan on Friday, who said it was proof Germany was planning strikes on Crimea.

In the recording, discussions can be heard on the possible use by Ukrainian forces of German-made Taurus missiles and their potential impact.

A spokeswoman for the German defence ministry told the AFP news agency that a secret air force conversation had been tapped.

However, she said that she was “unable to say for certain” whether the voices on the recording had been tampered with before publication.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova demanded that Germany “promptly” provide explanations.

“Attempts to avoid answering the questions will be regarded as an admission of guilt,” she said.

Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said on Telegram: “Our age-old rivals – the Germans – have again turned into our sworn enemies.”

“Look, with what thoroughness and in such detail the (Germans) discuss striking our territory with long-range missiles, choose targets to hit and discuss how to inflict the maximum harm to our motherland and our people,” he said.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that the discussion betrayed the “cunning plans” of the German armed forces, which he said had committed “a blatant self-exposure”.

Kyiv wants Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which have a range of around 500km (300 miles).

Mr Scholz has so far refused, fearing it would lead to an escalation of the conflict.

France and Britain have supplied Kyiv with Scalp or Storm Shadow missiles, both of which have half the range.

Roderich Kiesewetter, from Germany’s opposition conservatives, warned that further recordings may also be leaked.

“A number of other conversations will certainly have been intercepted and may be leaked at a later date for Russia’s benefit,” he told broadcaster ZDF.

It can be assumed “that the conversation was deliberately leaked by Russia at this point in time with a specific intention”, namely “to prevent Taurus delivery by Germany”, he said.