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70 Killed Waiting for Gaza Aid         02/29 06:13

   

   RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) -- A strike early Thursday on a crowd of Palestinians 
waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City killed at least 70 people, bringing 
the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to more than 30,000, 
health officials said.

   Gaza City and the surrounding areas in the enclave's north were the first 
targets of Israel's air, sea and ground offensive, launched in response to 
Hamas' Oct. 7 attack. The area has suffered widespread devastation and has been 
largely isolated during the conflict. Trucks carrying food reached northern 
Gaza this week, the first major aid delivery to the area in a month, officials 
said Wednesday.

   Aid groups say it has become nearly impossible to deliver humanitarian 
assistance in most of Gaza because of the difficulty of coordinating with the 
Israeli military, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order, with 
crowds of desperate people overwhelming aid convoys. The U.N. says a quarter of 
Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinians face starvation; around 80% have fled their 
homes.

   In the wake of Thursday's strike, medics found "dozens or hundreds" lying on 
the ground, according to Fares Afana, the head of the ambulance service at 
Kamal Adwan Hospital. He said there were not enough ambulances to collect all 
the dead and wounded and that some were being brought to hospitals in donkey 
carts.

   The Al Jazeera network showed footage of several dead and wounded people 
being brought to another nearby hospital, Shifa, after the strike on a main 
road running along the Mediterranean coast.

   In addition to the dozens killed, another 280 people were wounded in 
Thursday's strike, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said.

   The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports about the strike.

   Separately, the Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war 
has climbed to 30,035, with another 70,457 wounded. It does not differentiate 
between civilians and combatants in its figures but says women and children 
make up around two-thirds of those killed.

   The ministry, which is part of the Hamas-run government in Gaza, maintains 
detailed records of casualties. Its counts from previous wars have largely 
matched those of the U.N., independent experts and even Israel's own tallies.

   The Hamas attack into southern Israel that ignited the war killed 1,200 
people, mostly civilians, and the militants seized around 250 hostages. Hamas 
and other militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of 
about 30 more, after releasing most of the other captives during a November 
cease-fire.

   The increasing alarm over hunger across Gaza has fueled international calls 
for another cease-fire, and the U.S., Egypt and Qatar are working to secure a 
deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in fighting and the release of some 
of the hostages.

   Mediators hope to reach an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan 
starts around March 10. But so far, Israel and Hamas have remained far apart in 
public on their demands.

   Meanwhile, U.N. officials have warned of further mass casualties if Israel 
follows through on vows to attack the southernmost city of Rafah, where more 
than half of Gaza's population of 2.3 million has taken refuge. They also say a 
Rafah offensive could decimate what remains of aid operations.

   Several hundred thousand Palestinians are believed to remain in northern 
Gaza despite Israeli orders to evacuate the area in October, and many have been 
reduced to eating animal fodder to survive. The U.N. says one in 6 children 
under 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting.

   COGAT, the Israeli military body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs, 
said around 50 aid trucks entered nothern Gaza this week. It was unclear who 
delivered the aid. Some countries have meanwhile resorted to airdrops in recent 
days.

   The World Food Program said earlier this month that it was pausing 
deliveries to the north because of the growing chaos, after desperate 
Palestinians emptied a convoy while it was en route.

   Since launching its assault on Gaza following Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, Israel 
has barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies except for a 
trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel's 
Kerem Shalom crossing. Despite international calls to allow in more aid, the 
number of supply trucks is far less than the 500 that came in daily before the 
war.

   COGAT said Wednesday that Israel does not impose limits on the amount of aid 
entering. Israel has blamed U.N. agencies for the bottleneck, saying hundreds 
of trucks are waiting on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom for aid workers 
to collect them.

   U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Wednesday countered by saying large 
trucks entering Gaza have to be unloaded and reloaded onto smaller ones, but 
there aren't enough of them and there's a lack of security to distribute aid in 
Gaza.

   Hamas-run police in Gaza stopped protecting convoys after Israeli strikes on 
them near the crossing.

 
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