An American ceasefire move… and a political path

Witnesses to the “massacre of the hungry” in Gaza recount moments of death, horror and chaos

“I saw things that I never thought I would ever see,” says Muhammad Al-Shuli, who camped all night along the “Al-Rashid” coastal road in cold Gaza for a chance to get food for his family before the bloody night that was called “the massacre of the hungry.”

Al-Shouli continued to the New York Times: “I saw people falling to the ground after being shot, and others simply took the food supplies they had with them and continued to run for their lives.”

Thousands had gone out and camped all night along the coastal road in the cold Gaza night, huddled together amid small fires, waiting for supplies to arrive so they could feed their families, amid a famine that was escalating in the Gaza Strip.

An image from a video announced by the Israeli army showing what the army says is a Palestinian stampede over aid that led to the deaths of 104 people on Thursday (AFP)

Hundreds faced death and injury, according to witnesses and a doctor who treated the wounded, when Israeli forces opened fire on desperate Palestinians who pushed forward when aid trucks finally arrived before dawn on Thursday.

Eyewitnesses describe seeing people shooting as Israeli soldiers opened fire on crowds flocking around the aid convoy. One eyewitness told the newspaper: “This cannot happen.” He continued: “Desperate civilians trying to feed their hungry families should not be shot.”

Al-Shuli, a 34-year-old taxi driver, said he went to meet the aid convoy because he and his family, including three young children, were living on little more than the spices, chopped wheat and wild greens they could find. Al-Shuli had heard on Wednesday that people were getting bags of flour from aid trucks, and there were rumors that another convoy was arriving. So he went to the traffic circle with friends to wait. He said he had never seen so many people gathered in one place.

Al-Shuli said, referring to the Israeli tanks: “Just before the trucks arrived, a tank started moving towards us – it was about 3:30 in the morning – and fired a few shots into the air,” and he added: “That tank fired at least one shell.” It was getting dark, so I ran back towards a destroyed building and took refuge there.”

Read also: Guterres condemns the killing of people in Gaza while waiting for “life-saving aid”

Muhammad Hamouda, a photographer in Gaza City, told the New York Times that when the trucks arrived shortly afterward, “people ran toward them to get food and drink and anything else they could get.” But when people got to the trucks, he said, “the tanks started shooting directly at the people.”

Hamouda said that despite the panic at the scene, many were still running to get supplies. He added: “People were terrified, but not everyone.” He continued: “There were those who risked death just to get food. They just want to live.”

He added: “I saw them shooting directly from machine guns.”

Witnesses said that Israeli tanks fired on people even when they started to flee. Israeli forces continued to regularly fire on Gaza residents between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., when they first arrived, until about 7 a.m., witnesses said.

Palestinians pray the funeral prayer for one of the martyrs in the “massacre of the hungry” at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahia (AFP)

Gaza health authorities said that Israeli forces killed more than 100 people and wounded 700 others in a “massacre” as the convoy traveled on a dark road, an account denied by Israel.

Dr. Eid Sabah, director of nursing at Kamal Adwan Hospital, said that about 150 wounded and 12 dead were transferred to the hospital located in northern Gaza. He said that about 95 percent of the injuries were the result of gunshots to the chest and abdomen.

Palestinians, especially in northern Gaza, face starvation and regularly gather in front of the relatively few aid trucks that have entered the area. Aid groups and the United Nations accused Israel of preventing aid from reaching northern Gaza, which Israel denied. Aid groups have also reported rampant looting of aid trucks in the area.

Mahmoud Ahmed said that he had been waiting since Wednesday evening for the convoy that arrived on Thursday morning, and that hunger forced him to risk going to the place where the trucks arrived in the hope of getting flour for his children. With the arrival of aid trucks in northern Gaza, he headed towards them, but a tank and a drone, he said, They started shooting.

He said: “We went (went) at seven o’clock in the afternoon and arrived (and remained there) for the second day at five in the morning, and when the aid had departed (came) I went to him (then) the tank and the quadcopter (the drone) began to shoot (fire) and I was hit (hit). “I was shot twice in my back, and I kept bleeding for an hour until one of my relatives came to take me to a hospital.”

He added to Reuters news agency: “From some point (when) the aid entered, the tank and the quadcopter (drone) started shooting (firing) at the people present, and Ghada (towards) the people who were going to get food for her livelihood, food for her children, started shooting at them.”

Jihad Muhammad said that he was waiting at the Nabulsi roundabout on the coastal “Al-Rashid” road, which is the main delivery road to northern Gaza. He added: “We waited for the trucks to enter, and all we saw was the bullets that fell on all the people in Abu Janb, and all of these bullets were my share.”

When asked whether the army was intentionally shooting, Jihad Muhammad answered: “It is true, whether a tank, soldiers, or a plane, they were all firing.”

Sami Muhammad was one of those who came on the “Al-Rashid” road with his son, waiting for the aid convoy to arrive. He said: “We were on the (Al-Rashid) line waiting (waiting) for aid at three and a half (three and a half), except for them (until) they started throwing (firing) missiles and splashing people, so we were on the beach, and my son started running on the beach again (until).” They stabbed him with two bullets, one in the side of his head, one in the side of his head, one in the chest. The boy was lying in the hospital bed with bandages on his chest and arm, and a visible wound on his face.

Abdullah Juha said that he went there trying to get flour for his parents. He added: “I am going to get a bag of flour to feed my family. We (we) are dying of hunger… There is nothing to provide for us (we have nothing), and we do not have food and we do not eat anything… They feared for us, threw shells at us, attacked us, and disobeyed us.”

Juha, who had a compress placed on his face, was injured by a bullet in the head. He added: “My little brother, by God, he is giving me food. I want to eat. Where can I get him (bring him food), should I go?”

Global condemnation of the massacre

The “massacre of the hungry” sparked global outrage and intensified pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire in the Strip, which would allow more aid to enter Gaza.

The New York Times considered that the video released by the Israeli army of the “massacre of the hungry” “does not fully explain the sequence of events,” while the Israeli army questioned the numbers of deaths, and Israel said that most of the dead died in a stampede or were run over by relief trucks.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said that dozens were trampled to death or injured during a clash to unload supplies from the trucks. Hagari stated that the tanks accompanying the trucks fired warning shots to disperse the crowd and retreated when events began to get out of control. He added: “The IDF did not carry out an attack on the aid convoy.”

French Foreign Minister Stephane Ségournet called for an independent investigation and said that the violence surrounding the convoy was the result of a humanitarian catastrophe that left people “fighting for food.” Ségournet told France Inter radio on Friday: “What is happening cannot be justified.” “Israel must be able to hear this, and it must stop.”

Annalena Baerbock, German Foreign Minister, called on the Israeli army to provide a “full explanation” for the killings, and joined calls for a ceasefire.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said that Israel is obligated to ensure that more humanitarian aid reaches civilians in Gaza, and said in a statement: “A sustained cessation of fighting is the only way to deliver life-saving aid in the required volume and free the hostages that Hamas is cruelly holding.”

In a related context, the European Union said yesterday (Friday) that it intends to significantly increase funding this year for UNRWA and will grant it 50 million euros, or about 54 million dollars, next week.

The data shows that the number of aid trucks entering Gaza fell dramatically in February, even as humanitarian leaders warned of famine and said some people had resorted to eating bird seeds and leaves.

An average of 96 trucks per day entered Gaza as of February 27, a 30 percent decrease from the January average and the lowest monthly average since before the ceasefire in late November, according to UNRWA. Before the war, about 500 aid trucks entered Gaza daily.

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