Gunfire, lawlessness and gang-like looters are preventing aid distribution in Gaza, an official says

LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) — Thousands of tons of food, medicines and other aid piled up on a beach in war-torn Gaza is not reaching those in need because of a dire security situation and lawlessness on the ground, a U.S. aid official said Wednesday.

Truck drivers are getting caught in the crossfire or have their cargo seized by marauding “gang-like” groups, said Doug Strope, with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The sense of desperation gripping ordinary Palestinians is only compounded by the combination of Gaza being an active combat zone and a prevailing “general sense of lawlessness,” Stropes told The Associated Press.

The security “that’s needed for the humanitarians to work is what’s really lacking right now,” the USAID official added.

The remarks are the latest amid international criticism over Israel’s campaign against Hamas as Gaza faces severe and widespread hunger. The eight-month war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and basic goods to Gaza, and people there are now totally dependent on aid.

The war was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which the militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people and took about 250 hostage. Since then Israel's ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 37,600 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Over 80% of the territory’s 2.3 million people have been displaced. Palestinians in Gaza are heavily reliant on U.N. aid, which has only trickled in after Israel in early May expanded its offensive into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, shutting down a major land crossing and slowing deliveries from another one.

Meanwhile, the U.N. food agency has suspended aid delivery from a U.S.-built pier linked to Gaza's coastline due to security concerns after the Israeli military appeared to use the area in a June 8 hostage rescue.

The World Food Program is currently reviewing the security around the beach area so that deliveries can resume “very soon,” Stropes said.

Since June 25, ships have delivered almost 7,000 metric tons (7,716 U.S. tons) of humanitarian assistance from the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus to Gaza via the pier — but only 1,000 metric tons (1,102 U.S. tons) have so far reached Palestinians. The rest is being stored on a stretch of beach by the pier, he said.

Scenes of desperate people randomly grabbing what they can off the trucks and the reported "gang-like activity” in which looting has become “more organized and systemic,” are undermining aid efforts, he added.

Still, aid donated by the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates and other European countries, continues to be shipped to Gaza from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the pier.

On Wednesday, the U.S. navy ship MV Cape Trinity was being loaded with hundreds of pallets of aid carried onboard by trucks that drive through scanners inspected by both Cypriot and Israeli customs officials. U.S. military officials said that no contraband of any sort has so far been identified among the cargo.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned on Wednesday during a visit to Athens that 96% of Gaza residents “are suffering from conditions that can’t be accepted humanitarianly,” according to a report by the food analysis agency Integrated Food Security Phase Classification.

In Cyprus, Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos acknowledged the difficulties of the maritime corridor — a complex “mega-project” from Larnaca, across the Mediterranean Sea to the pier in Gaza, untried before on this scale anywhere else.

“There is no alternative, inaction or inertia in this kind of situation is not an option,” Kombos told reporters.

U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Julie Fisher said the pier was built because of the urgency of the need to get food and medicine into Gaza.

“Last month alone, the assistance that went through this maritime corridor, we know it reached a million Palestinians in Gaza,” Fisher said after talks with Kombos. “Undoubtedly, it has challenges. We also know that it is making a difference. We know we can do more.”


Associated Press senior video producer Thedora Tongas in Athens contributed to this report.


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