‘Massacre’: Israel forces attack crowds waiting for aid in Gaza, killing 21

Palestinian officials call latest assault ‘premeditated’ as people seeking humanitarian supplies increasingly targeted.

At least 21 Palestinians have been killed after Israeli forces opened fire on thousands of people waiting for aid in Gaza City in the same area that was targeted hours earlier, government officials said.

The Ministry of Health in Gaza described the late Thursday attack as a “new, premeditated massacre” and said more than 150 people were wounded.

Witnesses told Al Jazeera that Israeli forces had used helicopters, tanks and drones to target thousands of people waiting on food trucks.

It was the latest in a string of assaults on people desperately in need of food and other essential supplies as Israel continues to obstruct and severely control the entry of aid into the enclave.

Earlier on Thursday, at the same food distribution point at the Kuwait Roundabout, Israeli forces had shot dead at least six Palestinians, as the death toll has risen to more than 400 people in such attacks.

The Israeli military carried out five separate attacks on aid distribution centres in the past 48 hours in the Gaza Strip, killing 56 people and injuring more than 300,  the media office of the enclave’s government said on Friday.

“We hold the US administration and the international community, in addition to the ‘Israeli’ occupation, fully responsible for the crime of genocide,” it said in a statement on Telegram.

The Israeli military denied that its forces had opened fire on the crowds and claimed instead that “armed Palestinians” were responsible for the attack.

“Armed Palestinians opened fire while Gazan civilians were awaiting the arrival of the aid convoy” in Gaza City on Thursday and then “continued to shoot as the crowd of Gazans began looting the trucks”, the military said in a statement on Friday.

“Additionally, a number of Gazan civilians were run over by the trucks,” it said, adding that a preliminary review determined that its forces did not carry out the attack with tanks, guns or air strikes.

The military was “continuing to review the incident”, it said.

Weapon of war

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, said on Friday that incidents of Israeli forces shooting at Palestinians searching for food “cannot be allowed to continue”.

“People should not have to die while trying to keep their families alive,” he said in a post on X.

“Distributing aid in Gaza should be done in a safe, dignified and predictable manner. Anything less is unconscionable. The war must end.”

Shaina Low, communications adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said the ongoing killings of aid seekers represent a breakdown in communication between aid groups and Israeli authorities.

“It’s a clear sign that the deconfliction system, in which humanitarian agencies and the UN notify and correspond with Israel … is completely failing,” she told Al Jazeera, adding that this system is meant to allow aid agencies to inform Israel of routes they will take to ensure they aren’t targeted.

“This is something that is preventable and shouldn’t be happening,” Low added.

Rights groups say that Israel is using starvation as a weapon of war against Palestinians.

With Israel’s war on Gaza now in its sixth month, the United Nations has warned that at least 576,000 people in the enclave – a quarter of the population – are on the brink of famine, and global pressure has been growing on Israel to allow more access to aid.

Israel, which controls Gaza’s crossings, has opened just one entry point into the enclave since the start of the war and imposed “endless checking procedures” for trucks to pass through, UN agencies say.

Faced with Israel’s obstruction of aid trucks, the international community has devised complicated workarounds, including a sea corridor from Cyprus to the besieged Strip and plans by the United States to set up a temporary jetty off Gaza’s coast to bring in supplies –  a move criticised as an attempt to divert attention from Washington’s continued military and political support for Israel as famine looms and the onslaught persists.

Last month, Israeli forces killed 118 people scrambling for flour on the coastal al-Rashid Street, southwest of Gaza City, provoking worldwide condemnation, but the attacks have nonetheless continued unabated.

The Gaza Health Ministry said in its latest update on Friday that at least 31,490 Palestinians have been killed and 73,439  wounded by Israeli attacks since October 7.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies