Israel faces mounting pressure to investigate Gaza food aid deaths

Israel is facing growing international pressure for an investigation after more than 100 Palestinians in Gaza were killed when desperate crowds gathered around aid trucks and Israeli troops opened fire on Thursday.

Israel said people died in a crush or were run over by aid lorries although it admitted its troops had opened fire on what it called a “mob”. But the head of a hospital in Gaza said 80% of injured people brought in had gunshot wounds.

The UK called for an “urgent investigation and accountability”. In a statement, David Cameron, the foreign secretary, said: “The deaths of people in Gaza waiting for an aid convoy were horrific … this must not happen again.” Israel must allow more aid into Gaza, Lord Cameron added.

France called for an independent investigation into the circumstances of the disaster, and Germany said the Israeli army must fully explain what happened. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said: “Every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency.”

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 112 people were killed and more than 750 others were injured as crowds rushed towards a convoy of trucks carrying food aid.

Accounts of what happened differed. Witnesses in Gaza and some of the injured said Israeli forces opened fire on the crowd, causing panic.

Dr Mohammed Salha, the acting director of al-Awda hospital in northern Gaza, told the Associated Press that 176 wounded were brought to the facility, of whom 142 had gunshot wounds. The other 34 showed injuries from a stampede.

Palestinians transporting casualties from the scene. Photograph: Reuters

An Israeli military spokesperson claimed “tens” of people were killed in a crush or run over by trucks as they tried to escape. He also said Israel Defense Forces troops had later “opened fire” in self-defence after feeling under threat, but that they did not target the convoy or the crowd.

R Adm Daniel Hagari said: “Tens of Gazan residents were killed as a result of overcrowding, and the Palestinian trucks unfortunately ran over them during an attempt to escape.

“An IDF force that was securing the area passed by the crowd and opened fire only when they encountered danger, when the mob moved toward it in a manner that endangered the force.

“Contrary to accusations, we did not fire toward individuals seeking aid and we did not fire toward the humanitarian convoy from the ground nor from the air.”

Earlier, another Israeli military spokesperson appeared to give a different account of which forces had opened fire. Lt Col Peter Lerner said troops guarding a checkpoint into north Gaza were responsible.

“At the crossing point itself is where people approached the forces posing a threat and therefore the forces opened fire,” he told a press briefing. Asked for clarification, the Israeli military said Hagari’s statement was “the correct one”.

Despite a lack of clarity about the facts, international condemnation mounted on Friday. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said civilians had been “targeted by Israeli soldiers” and called for an immediate ceasefire.

“Deep indignation at the images coming from Gaza where civilians have been targeted by Israeli soldiers. I express my strongest condemnation of these shootings and call for truth, justice and respect for international law,” he posted on X.

“The situation in Gaza is terrible. All civilian populations must be protected. A ceasefire must be implemented immediately to allow humanitarian aid to be distributed.”

Palestinians gather in a street as aid is airdropped into Gaza City on Friday. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, said she was shocked by reports of the incident. “People wanted relief supplies for themselves and their families and ended up dead. The reports from Gaza shock me. The Israeli army must fully explain how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” she wrote on social media.

The White House said the deaths of 112 desperate people seeking food for their families were “tremendously alarming”. The state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US was “urgently seeking additional information on exactly what took place” and not all the facts were known. He said Washington would be “pressing for answers”.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, said that at a closed-door emergency session of the UN security council the US had blocked a resolution put forward by Algeria that said the deaths were “due to opening fire by Israel forces”.

He said: “This outrageous massacre is a testimony to the fact that as long as the security council is paralysed and vetoes [are cast] then it is costing the Palestinian people their lives.” Washington has three times blocked security council resolutions for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Before news of the attack was widely reported on Friday, the head of the UN’s agency for Palestinians (UNRWA) had said extreme hunger in north Gaza, which is getting even less aid than the south, was fuelling a “chaotic situation” around the few aid trucks approved to enter the area.

Philippe Lazzarini said the “deep level of distress and desperation prevailing in the north” was a “man-made” crisis, that could be easily reversed if Israeli authorities allowed in more aid, particularly food.

“We know the answer. We know what needs to be done,” he told journalists in Jerusalem. “You have about 300,000 people [in the north] right now, much fewer people in the north than you have in the south. Just open a crossing in the north [to let aid in], that’s it.”

Some major donors have suspended contributions to UNRWA since Israeli allegations a month ago that 12 of the agency’s employees had been involved in the Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the current conflict. A UN inquiry reported on Wednesday that it had yet to receive evidence from Israel to back up the allegations. On Friday, the EU announced it would disburse €50m (£43m) of its funding for UNRWA immediately, with the remaining €32m to be paid in two further tranches, pending reforms and the completion of the investigation.

Stéphane Séjourné, France’s minister for Europe and foreign affairs, told France Inter: “We will ask for explanations and there will have to be an independent probe to determine what happened. France calls things by their name. This applies when we designate Hamas as a terrorist group, but we must also call things by their name when there are atrocities in Gaza.”

If an investigation concluded that the Israeli shooting was a war crime, “then obviously this becomes a matter for the judiciary”, he said.

Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, said the “unacceptable” events underlined the “urgency of a ceasefire”, while the EU foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, expressed horror at “yet another carnage among civilians in Gaza desperate for humanitarian aid”.

Egypt said it still hoped that talks initiated by Qatar could agree on a ceasefire in Gaza before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in about 10 days’ time.

Thursday’s casualties added to a death toll in Gaza that the Hamas-run health ministry said had exceeded 30,000, mainly women and children.

The war began after the Hamas attack on southern Israel on 7 October that resulted in the deaths of nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians. About 250 people were taken hostage.


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