The US launched its first airlift into Gaza

By Idris Ali, Phil Stewart and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military said it carried out its first humanitarian aid operation in Gaza on Saturday after the killing of Palestinians queuing for food highlighted the growing humanitarian crisis in the crowded coastal enclave.

Other countries, including Jordan and France, have flown air aid into the Gaza Strip. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says at least a quarter of its population, 576,000 people, is one step away from famine. Beginning of Israeli military operations.

The US military said in a statement that the airbase was carried out using C-130 aircraft, noting that more than 38,000 food items had been dropped on the Gaza Strip. Jordanian forces participated in the operation.

“We are making plans for a possible continuation of air support delivery operations,” the statement added.

A senior U.S. administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the aborted operation was not coordinated with any group on the ground in Gaza, but U.S. officials were seen reaching out to civilians and distributing aid among themselves.

He further said, “We are monitoring the place where the aid was dropped.”

Another US official told Reuters the airstrikes took place over southwestern Gaza and al-Mawasi city.

The White House said on Friday that the airdrops would continue and that Israel supported the missions.

In light of internal and external pressure, US President Joe Biden's administration is considering shipping aid by sea from Cyprus, which is 210 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza, a US official said.

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For months, Israel has resisted US calls for more aid into Gaza.

Experts said the need for costly and ineffective airdrops was the latest evidence of Washington's weakening influence over Israel, which continues its war with Hamas. Washington supplies Israel with weapons and considers it one of its closest allies in the region.

Critics of airdrops say they have limited effect in reducing this suffering and cannot guarantee that weapons will not end up in the hands of militants.

Another U.S. official said distributing aid was a major challenge because of the growing chaos in Gaza, and criminal gangs seizing and reselling the aid.

“There is a way to solve this problem,” the official told reporters. The method is to flood the market. Aid should be brought in from wherever possible, by air, sea and land… the President wants to see it go into the region.”

Before the war, Gaza relied on the daily entry of 500 trucks carrying supplies.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said on Friday that an average of about 97 trucks entered the Strip daily in February, up from about 150 a day in January.

Aid deliveries from the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza have almost stopped. Although trucks sometimes pass through the Israeli Kerem Shalom crossing, Israeli protesters deliberately block them. UNRWA says the crossing was closed from the 8th to the 10th of February and from the 15th to the 17th of the same month.

The United Nations says it faces “huge obstacles” in getting aid, as people rely on animal fodder to survive and doctors say children are dying of malnutrition and dehydration.

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Gaza health officials said Israeli forces killed more than 100 people as they tried to reach a relief force near Gaza City on Thursday. Nearly five months after the outbreak of war, Palestinians face an increasingly dire situation.

Israel said most of the deaths were the result of congestion or when trucks rammed into them during the siege amid the chaos. But an Israeli official said, “It's a limited response.”

Israel says it is committed to improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and accuses Hamas militants of using Palestinian civilians as human shields and putting them at risk.

Thursday's incident near Gaza City marked the largest civilian loss of life in weeks. Hamas said it would jeopardize ongoing talks in Qatar aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages. Hopes rose that a ceasefire would be reached before Ramadan.

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