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More than 100 killed amid Israeli gunfire and panic at Gaza food lines, Palestinian officials and witnesses say

More than 100 people were killed amid devastating scenes in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops opened fire Thursday, triggering panic as hungry Palestinian civilians were gathering around food aid trucks, Palestinian officials and eyewitnesses said.

People had swarmed around newly arrived aid trucks in western Gaza City in the hope of getting food, when Israeli forces started shooting, according to witnesses. Many of the victims died when they were run over by trucks in the ensuing panic, according to one account.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said 112 people were killed and more than 760 injured in the incident, one of the deadliest since the war in Gaza began. CNN is unable to independently confirm the figures and the Israeli military has given a different account of the circumstances.

In a briefing on Thursday, an Israeli military spokesperson said he couldn’t confirm the death toll. “I don’t have any figures,” he said, adding that “it was a limited response.”

The tragedy comes as the death toll in the Gaza war surpasses 30,000, with more than a half a million people in the enclave on the brink of famine, according to United Nations agencies, and as negotiations between Israel and Hamas reach a potentially pivotal moment.

The incident unfolded early on Thursday when a group of trucks carrying desperately needed aid arrived at Haroun Al Rasheed Street in western Gaza City, in the Sheikh Ajleen neighbourhood.

A local journalist in Gaza, Khader Al Za’anoun, who was at the scene and witnessed the incident, said large crowds had gathered waiting for food to be distributed from aid trucks. But he said that the chaos and confusion that led to people being hit by the trucks only started once Israeli forces opened fire.

Israel confirmed its forces fired on people, saying crowds had threatened their troops, but disputed the account given by the ministry.

In an initial account, Israel said Gaza residents surrounded the aid trucks and looted the supplies. “During the incident, dozens of Gazans were injured as a result of pushing and trampling,” the Israel Defense Forces told CNN.

An Israeli military spokesperson later said in a briefing that there were two separate incidents involving aid trucks.

First, he said trucks went to the north and were swarmed by crowds, with trucks running over people. Subsequently, he said, a group of Palestinians approached Israeli forces, who then opened fire on the Palestinians.

“The truckloads went into the north, then there was the stampede, and then afterwards, there was the event against our forces. That’s how things transpired this morning,” the spokesman said.

Palestinians mourn near a body at Kamal Edwan Hospital in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza, on February 29, after Israeli soldiers allegedly opened fire at Gaza residents who rushed towards trucks loaded with aid. - AFP/Getty Images
Palestinians mourn near a body at Kamal Edwan Hospital in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza, on February 29, after Israeli soldiers allegedly opened fire at Gaza residents who rushed towards trucks loaded with aid. - AFP/Getty Images

At a press conference Thursday, the IDF spokesperson Daniel Hargari denied there was an IDF strike on the aid convoy. However, he said Israeli tanks had fired warning shots to “cautiously” disperse a crowd after seeing that people were being trampled, sharing a short video, which appeared to show a tank driving parallel to the crowd, several meters away.

He insisted that the tanks were there “to secure the humanitarian corridor” so the aid convoy could reach its destination.

The death toll and number of injured is expected to increase as many bodies and people are still out on the street, with ambulances struggling to reach those in need because rubble is blocking the way, the spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent, Ahmad Abu Al Foul, told CNN.

It wasn’t immediately clear which country or countries had sent the aid trucks, though the UNRWA commissioner-general said no UN agency was involved in the aid distribution. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told CNN the trucks were private vehicles carrying international aid supplied by governments, but did not specify which governments.

Aid deliveries have dwindled since Israel launched its ground offensive in Gaza, leaving many in the already impoverished enclave on the brink of starvation. Drone footage taken by the IDF showed thousands of Palestinians gathering around the aid trucks in northern Gaza.

Injured Palestinians receive medical treatment in Al-Shifa Hospital on February 29, 2024. - Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu/Getty Images
Injured Palestinians receive medical treatment in Al-Shifa Hospital on February 29, 2024. - Dawoud Abo Alkas/Anadolu/Getty Images

The US State Department said Thursday that the US was pressing Israel for answers as they conduct an investigation. “Far too many innocent Palestinians have been killed over the course of this conflict, not just today, but over the past nearly five months,” said State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller at a press briefing.

Meanwhile, there are fears – acknowledged by US President Joe Biden – that the killings on Thursday will complicate hostage and truce talks.

“Negotiations are not an open process,” senior Hamas member Ezzat Al-Risheq said in a statement published by Hamas on Telegram. “We will not allow for the pathway of the negotiations…[to become] a cover for the enemy’s continued crimes against our people in the Gaza Strip.”

International outcry

Various members of the international community have condemned the incident, described by the Palestinian United Nations Ambassador as “an outrageous massacre.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said “desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the besieged north where the United Nations has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week,” according to his spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric.

Colombia announced it would suspend the purchase of weapons from Israel after the bloody incident, with Colombian President Gustavo Petro posting, “This is called genocide and is reminiscent of the Holocaust even if the world powers do not like to recognize it.”

Saudi Arabia also condemned the incident, calling on the international community “to take a firm stance by obliging Israel to respect international humanitarian law,” while the UAE called for “an independent and transparent investigation.”

Oxfam said the deaths will “only exacerbate an already critical humanitarian crisis.”

“I mean it’s absolutely appalling. These acts of violence against civilians that are desperate. And it’s clear from the aerial footage that these civilians are desperate,” Bushra Khalidi, Oxfam’s policy lead for the Occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, told CNN.

The incident comes as the death toll for those killed in Gaza since the October 7 attacks passed 30,000. Gaza’s health ministry does not distinguish between civilians and fighters but has said in recent updates that around 70% of the casualties are women and children.

The conflict in Gaza began when Hamas launched surprise cross-border attacks into Israel, killing at least 1,200 people and taking more than 250 others hostage.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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