Carnage at Gaza food aid site amid Israeli gunfire. Here’s what we know

Feb 29, 2024, 1:34 PM

At least 104 people were killed, and at least 760 were injured, in a chaotic incident where Israel ...

At least 104 people were killed, and at least 760 were injured, in a chaotic incident where Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops used live fire as hungry and desperate Palestinian civilians were gathering around food aid trucks, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza. Mandatory Credit: IDF via CNN Newsource


(CNN) — One of the worst single tragedies to occur during Israel’s war with Hamas took place Thursday, when scores of Palestinians were killed trying to access food aid in Gaza City.

At least 104 people were killed, and at least 760 were injured, in an incident where Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops used live fire as hungry and desperate Palestinian civilians were gathering around food aid trucks, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza. CNN is unable to independently confirm these numbers.

The incident took place amid a backdrop of vast hunger and dire poverty in the besieged enclave, where food aid has been so rare as to frequently elicit panic when it arrives.

But there are competing narratives surrounding the devastation that have been put forward by Israel and by eyewitnesses on the ground.

Here’s what we know.

What happened?

The deaths occurred amid scenes of chaos on Haroun Al Rasheed Street in western Gaza City, where crowds of hungry Palestinians had gathered for food aid.

A convoy of at least 18 food trucks arrived at around 4.30 a.m. on Thursday morning, sent by countries in the region including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to eyewitnesses.

Civilians swarmed around the newly arrived aid trucks in the hope of getting food, and Israeli forces soon started shooting, witnesses said.

The aid trucks tried to escape the area, accidentally ramming others and causing further deaths and injuries, the eyewitnesses added to CNN. Ambulances struggled to reach those in need because rubble was blocking the way, one of those witnesses, Ahmad Abu Al Foul told CNN.

The majority of the casualties occurred as a result of people being rammed by aid trucks trying to escape Israeli fire, according to a local journalist in Gaza, Khader Al Za’anoun.

Al Za’anoun, who was at the scene and witnessed the incident, said that while there were large crowds waiting for food to be distributed from aid trucks, the chaos and confusion that led to people being hit by the trucks only started once Israeli soldiers opened fire.

“Most of the people that were killed were rammed by the aid trucks during the chaos and while trying to escape the Israeli gunfire,” Al Za’anoun said.

What is Israel saying?

Israel offered an evolving account of the incident as the day progressed.

In its first comments, the IDF said the incident began when Palestinians attempted to loot the trucks. “Early this morning, during the entry of humanitarian aid trucks into the northern Gaza Strip, Gazan residents surrounded the trucks, and looted the supplies being delivered. During the incident, dozens of Gazans were injured as a result of pushing and trampling,” the IDF told CNN.

Later on Thursday, an Israeli military spokesperson claimed in a briefing that there were two separate incidents involving aid trucks in Gaza Thursday.

First, he said trucks entered northern Gaza and were rushed by crowds, with trucks running over people. Subsequently, he said, a group of Palestinians approached Israeli forces, who then opened fire on the Palestinians.

“The truckloads went into the north, then there was the stampede, and then afterwards, there was the event against our forces. That’s how things transpired this morning,” the spokesman said.

That timeline directly contradicts the eyewitness accounts, which suggested that the Israeli military opened fire on people near the trucks, causing drivers to pull away in panic.

IDF spokesperson Daniel Hargari said at a press conference Thursday there was no strike on the aid convoy. “I want to repeat that. No IDF strike was conducted towards the aid convoy. On the contrary, the IDF was there conducting a humanitarian operation,” he said.

What is the humanitarian situation in Gaza?

More than a half a million people in Gaza are on the brink of famine, United Nations agencies warned on Tuesday, as the war in the enclave stretches towards the five-month mark.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said at least 576,000 people across Gaza are “facing catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation.” Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned “of a real prospect of famine by May, with 500,000 people at risk if the threat is allowed to materialize.”

“Today, food aid is required by almost the entire population of 2.2 million people. Gaza is seeing the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world,” Carl Skau, WFP Deputy Executive Director, told the Security Council during its Tuesday session. “One child in every six under the age of 2 is acutely malnourished.”

Aid has been so sparse that, when available, it has often prompted panic. Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned of chaotic scenes around aid trucks in Gaza, during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour earlier this week.

“The chaos, yes, around the aid line is becoming worse and worse because there’s so little aid coming in,” he said.

“Today, I’m pretty shaken actually from what I saw,” he went on. “The minute we crossed the border … you see the aid trucks going full speed down the road, being chased by gangs of youth who jumped the trucks and before our eyes, loot mattresses, blankets, food, et cetera, to the desperate people outside who want to get some aid.”

What this means for the war

Thursday’s tragedy represented one of the deadliest single incidents in Gaza since Israel’s war against Hamas began.

And it came at a critical time for the conflict, with negotiations between Israel and Hamas on a deal to pause fighting and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza reaching a potentially pivotal moment.

Hamas senior member Izzat Al-Risheq warned that the killing of people collecting aid from trucks in Gaza could lead to the failure of ongoing talks.

“Negotiations are not an open process,” he said in a statement published by the Hamas on Telegram.

“We will not allow for the pathway of the negotiations…[to become] a cover for the enemy’s continued crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip,” Al-Risheq said.

A spokesperson for the US National Security Council said Thursday the White House is looking into the scenes, calling it a “serious incident” and also using its statement to urge for a temporary ceasefire in the war.

“This is a serious incident and we are looking into the reports. We mourn the loss of innocent life and recognize the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where innocent Palestinians are just trying to feed their families.”

“This underscores the importance of expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, including through a potential temporary ceasefire,” the statement said. “We continue to work day and night to achieve that outcome.”

President Joe Biden said Monday during an appearance at an ice cream shop in New York City that he hoped there would be a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict by “next Monday,” though officials from Israel, Hamas and Qatar – which is helping mediate negotiations – distanced themselves from that timeline.

Biden said Thursday “there are two competing versions of what happened” that his administration is looking into. When asked by CNN’s Arlette Saenz at the White House on Thursday if he worried the deaths would complicate negotiations, Biden responded: “Oh, I know it will.” But he still expressed optimism that a deal on the hostages and a potential ceasefire could be reached soon.

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Carnage at Gaza food aid site amid Israeli gunfire. Here’s what we know