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Israel, Hamas offer competing stories after at least 20 Palestinians die waiting for aid

At least 20 Palestinians died as they waited for humanitarian aid in Gaza City on Thursday, according to the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health, a tragic incident that set off competing accounts from Hamas and Israel over how they were killed.

The Ministry of Health said the Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces Thursday night while waiting for aid distribution. Another 155 were injured in the incident, according to the latest update from the health officials.

“What happened at the Kuwaiti roundabout points to hidden intentions of the occupation to commit a new, horrible massacre,” the Hamas-run organization wrote in a statement shared on Facebook.

In a statement shared on pro-Iranian Telegram channels, Hamas said more than 30 civilians were killed by Israeli forces, and 23 had reached hospitals.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) rejected the reports that troops opened fire on Palestinians waiting for aid.

“As the IDF assesses the incident with the thoroughness that it deserves, we urge the media to do the same and rely on credible information,” the military posted on Telegram.

Israeli spokesperson Avichay Adraee said “Palestinian gunmen opened fire near Gazan citizens an hour before a humanitarian aid convoy” approached.

“The IDF continues its investigations into what happened, while intensifying its efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the residents of the Gaza Strip,” he wrote in a tweet, “at a time when Hamas terrorists are harming the residents of Gaza and spreading their lies in order to place the blame on the State of Israel.”

The tragic deaths underscore the spiraling humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. In late February, more than 100 Palestinians also died in a scramble for aid in Gaza City. That incident, too, saw competing accounts, with Hamas and Palestinians accusing Israel of opening fire and Israeli officials blaming an aggressive crowd for trampling on one another.

The latest deaths come on top of a mounting death toll in Gaza, where more than 31,000 people have reportedly died since the war began in October.

Israel has resisted calls for a cease-fire and is pressing on to completely destroy Hamas in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people and took about another 250 hostages, approximately 100 of whom are still being held in Gaza.

The United Nations is now warning of famine in Gaza as humanitarian aid trickles in at a far slower pace than what was entering the coastal strip before the war.

The Biden administration is airdropping aid into Gaza and is planning to construct a pier off the coast to facilitate the delivery of more food and water, but that effort will take up to two months, according to the Pentagon.

The situation has led to growing concerns in the U.S., particularly among Democrats, who want to see more aid and assistance for Palestinians.

But the Biden administration and most Democrats have avoided calls for a permanent cease-fire, even as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history, criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week and called for new elections in Israel when the time is right.

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