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Dozens killed waiting for aid in Gaza, overall death toll passes 30,000

GAZA health authorities said more than 100 Palestinians had been shot dead by Israeli forces as they waited for aid delivery, but Israel challenged the death toll and said many of the victims had been run over by aid trucks.

At least 112 people were killed and more than 280 wounded in the incident near Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said, as the death toll in nearly five months of war passed 30,000.

Medics said they could not cope with the volume and severity of the injuries. Dozens were taken to Al-Shifa hospital, which is only partially operational after Israeli raids.

The loss of civilian lives was the biggest in weeks. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said it was an “ugly massacre conducted by the Israeli occupation army on people who waited for aid trucks at the Nabulsi roundabout”.

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Israel disputed the account provided by health officials in Hamas-run Gaza, which has been bombarded by Israeli forces for months in a war that began after the Palestinian militant group’s deadly rampage in southern Israel on October 7.

An Israeli military official said two separate incidents had occurred as the convoy of trucks passed into northern Gaza from the south along the main coastal road.

In the first, he said aid trucks were surrounded by hundreds of people and, in the confusion, dozens were injured or killed, by being trampled or run over.

As the trucks left, he said, some of those who had rushed the convoy approached Israeli forces including a tank, which then opened fire.

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“The soldiers fired warning shots in the air and then fired towards those who posed a threat and did not move away,” he told journalists. “This is what we understand. We’re continuing to review the circumstances.”

He said he did not believe the death toll provided by the Palestinian authorities but provided no Israeli estimate, saying: “It was a limited response.”

BIDEN SAYS INCIDENT WILL COMPLICATE TRUCE TALKS

Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, said the comments showed Israel “had pre-plotted intentions to carry out the new crime and massacre”, and that the death toll could rise.

Hamas, which has run the Gaza strip since 2007, said the incident could jeopardise talks in Qatar aimed at securing a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages it is holding.

U.S. President Joe Biden was asked if he thought the incident would complicate the talks, and said: “I know it will.”

Diplomats said the U.N. Security Council would meet behind closed doors to discuss developments in Gaza.

One video shared on social media, whose location Reuters was able to verify, showed trucks loaded with many dead bodies as well as wounded people.

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Another, which Reuters could not verify, showed bloodstained people being carried in a truck, bodies wrapped in shrouds and doctors treating injured patients on the hospital floor.

“We don’t want aid like this. We don’t want aid and bullets together. There are many martyrs,” a man said in one of the videos.

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A White House National Security Council spokesperson said: “We mourn the loss of innocent life and recognise the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where innocent Palestinians are just trying to feed their families.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a congressional hearing that more than 25,000 women and children had been killed by Israel in Gaza since October 7 and that it could and should do more to protect civilians.

In a post on X, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said he was “appalled”, adding: “Even after close to five months of brutal hostilities, Gaza still has the ability to shock us.”

PALESTINIAN DEATH TOLL TOPS 30,000

The Palestinian health authorities said 30,035 Palestinians were now confirmed killed and more than 70,000 wounded in Israel’s offensive, launched after the Oct. 7 attack in which Israel said Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people and abducted 253.

Much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble and the majority of its 2.3 million population displaced from their homes at least once.

Aid deliveries to northern Gaza have been rare and chaotic, passing through more active military zones to an area where the U.N. says many people are starving, with videos showing desperate crowds surging around supply trucks.

U.N. and other relief agencies have complained that Israel has blocked or restricted their attempts to get aid to the area.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the U.N. Palestinian aid agency UNRWA, told reporters in Jerusalem that the supply of aid into Gaza as a whole had halved since January.

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Gaza’s uniformed municipal police were refusing to accompany aid convoys because several had been killed by Israeli strikes.

“The more you decrease the supply into Gaza, the more you will fuel the distress and despair,” Lazzarini said.

Israel has denied restricting humanitarian aid and has blamed the U.N. for failures to deliver supplies.

On Wednesday, Israel said a convoy of 31 trucks had moved to northern Gaza on Tuesday night and that the U.N. was responsible for distribution. The U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA said no U.N. agency was involved in that aid convoy.

The conflict in Gaza has also ratcheted up tension with Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

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Two men were killed there when a gunman opened fire at a gas station and was “neutralised” by security forces, the Israeli military said.

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By NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI

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