Wednesday, April 17, 2024

US airdrops food into besieged Gaza Strip, aid organizations outraged

United States military cargo planes have air-dropped food into blockaded Gaza Strip, in the first of series of aid drops as humanitarian groups criticize Israel for blocking access to the besieged and bombarded enclave.

The US, together with Jordan’s air force, “conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza … to provide essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict”, US Central Command said in a statement on Saturday.

The C-130 planes “dropped over 38,000 meals along the coastline of Gaza allowing for civilian access to the critical aid”, it added, as the enclave faces a humanitarian crisis after almost five months of war.

US President Joe Biden had announced a day earlier that Washington would airdrop aid there after more than 100 Palestinians were killed on Thursday in northern Gaza while queuing for aid.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that the US will carry out multiple airdrops in the next few weeks, which will be coordinated with Jordan.

Kirby added the airdrops have an advantage over trucks because planes can move aid to a particular area quickly. However, in terms of volume, the airdrops will be “a supplement to, not a replacement for moving things in by ground”, he continued.

The Biden administration is also considering shipping aid by sea from Cyprus, according to a US official.

Since Israel’s war began on October 7 following Hamas’s attack, Israel has barred the entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies, except for a tiny trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing.

The US’s move has been criticised as inefficient and simply a public relations move by members of international aid organisations.

“The airdrops are symbolic and designed in ways to appease the domestic base,” Dave Harden, former USAID director to the West Bank, told Al Jazeera.

“Really what needs to happen is more crossings [opening] and more trucks going in every day.”

“I think the United States is weak and that’s really disappointing to me,” Harden continued, adding, “The US has the ability to compel Israel to open up more aid and by not doing that we’re putting our assets and our people at risks and potentially creating more chaos in Gaza.”

UK-based charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) echoed Harden’s statement, telling Al Jazeera in a statement that the US, the UK and others should instead work to “ensure that Israel immediately opens all crossings into Gaza for aid”.

Oxfam also blasted the Biden administration’s plans, labelling the effort an attempt to assuage the guilty consciences of US officials.

“While Palestinians in Gaza have been pushed to the absolute brink, dropping a paltry, symbolic amount of aid into Gaza with no plan for its safe distribution would not help and be deeply degrading to Palestinians,” Scott Paul, who leads Oxfam’s US government advocacy work, said in a statement on X.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry also criticised the US for acting as a “weak, marginal state” unable to secure aid to Palestinians.

Mahjoob Zweiri, the director of the Gulf Study Centre in Doha, told Al Jazeera the international community is not putting enough pressure on Israel to allow the waiting aid trucks to enter Gaza by land.

“Why not send food in through Karem Abu Salem?” Zweiri said, adding, “There are 2,000 trucks waiting to get into Gaza” at border crossings, he said, while food and medicines pile up for months past their expiry dates.

“Why is the international community not putting enough effort into delivering aid in an organised manner?” he asked.

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