Israeli troops ‘open fire’ at crowd waiting for aid

PALESTINIANS displaced by Israeli bombardment of northern Gaza Strip play next to the border with Egypt, in Rafah, southern Gaza on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. / AP
PALESTINIANS displaced by Israeli bombardment of northern Gaza Strip play next to the border with Egypt, in Rafah, southern Gaza on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024. / AP

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s Health Ministry and witnesses said Israeli troops opened fire as a crowd of Palestinians gathered for humanitarian aid in Gaza City on Thursday, killing at least 20 and wounding dozens.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports. The Associated Press could not independently confirm the details of what happened.

Witnesses and health officials said the shooting took place at a roundabout on Gaza City’s southern edge, where a large crowd had gathered for distribution of food. Footage posted online and confirmed to have been taken on the main road near the roundabout showed hundreds of people fleeing, some carrying boxes of aid, as fire rang out in the background. Men loaded wounded Palestinians onto horse and donkey carts that took off charging down the avenue.

At Shifa Hospital, where casualties were treated, Mohammad al-Reafi lay on the floor, his bloodied leg bandaged, as medics worked on other wounded around them. He said Israeli troops fired into the crowd.

“We were going to get flour ... young people were martyred and other young people were injured,” he said.

Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said 20 people were killed and 150 others wounded by the shooting.

A number of aid agencies distribute food and other supplies in Gaza. It was not immediately known which one was operating in the area at the time of the incident. The U.N. refugee agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, and the U.N. World Food Program both said they were not involved.

Israeli troops and tanks pushed into Gaza City shortly after the ground invasion began in October and have been battling Palestinian militants there for nearly two months. The military says it has largely dismantled Hamas in northern Gaza but is still facing pockets of resistance, and large swaths of Gaza City and surrounding areas have been reduced to rubble by Israeli bombardment.

Aid

The U.N. has said it has been struggling to deliver aid to the north amid Israeli restrictions and continued fighting. Several hundred thousand people are believed to remain in the north after most of the population fled south. U.N. officials say a quarter of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million are facing starvation.

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza vowing to destroy Hamas after the Oct. 7 cross-border attack in which the militants killed around 1,200 people and abducted around 250 others. One of the largest air and ground campaigns in recent history, the assault has killed over 25,900 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s

Health Ministry.

Its count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but the ministry says most of the dead are women and minors. It says the real toll is higher because many casualties were buried under the rubble or are in areas where medics can’t reach them.

Israel blames the high civilian toll on Hamas because the militant group positions fighters, rocket launchers and tunnels in dense, residential neighborhoods. The military says it has killed thousands of militants, without providing the basis for its count, and that 219 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza offensive.

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