GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: World leaders on Friday called for an investigation and a ceasefire nearly five months into the Gaza war, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.
Israeli troops opened fire as Palestinian civilians scrambled for food aid during a chaotic incident Thursday which the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said killed more than 100 people in Gaza City.
The deaths came after a World Food Programme official had warned: “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”
The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of Gazans surrounded the convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over.
An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat.”
Gaza’s health ministry called it a “massacre” and said 112 people were killed and more than 750 others wounded.
The fatalities helped push the total number of Palestinian war dead in Gaza to 30,228 mostly women and children, according to the ministry’s latest toll.
Overnight Thursday-Friday 83 people were killed in strikes, the ministry said.
The war began on October 7 with an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.
Israel’s military says 242 soldiers have died in Gaza since ground operations began in late October.
“The Israeli army must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on social media platform X.
Her French counterpart Stephane Sejourne said: “there will have to be an independent probe to determine what happened,” and Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani urged Israel “to protect the people in Gaza and to rigorously ascertain facts and responsibilities.”
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, also writing on X, said “every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency.”
The head of Libya’s Presidential Council, Mohamed el-Manfi, appealed for “an urgent investigation” by the United Nations Security Council into the “unprecedented crime.”
US President Joe Biden — whose country provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel — said Washington was checking “two competing versions” of the incident.
Aerial footage of the incident made clear “just how desperate the situation on the ground is,” a US State Department spokesman said. Washington was pushing Israel to allow in more aid, he said.
The Gaza City aid incident came with talks progressing toward a ceasefire, but would now complicate those efforts, Biden said.
The White House later said it had asked Israel to probe the “tremendously alarming” deaths. Deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton said the event “needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
Qatar’s foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest terms the heinous massacre committed by the Israeli occupation” and called for “urgent international action” to halt the fighting in Gaza.
Further afield, in South America, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced the suspension of arms purchases from Israel after the “genocide” in Gaza City.
While the situation is particularly acute in Gaza’s north, Gazans are struggling for food, water and medical care throughout the territory including in far-south Rafah where around 1.4 million people have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.
Israel is threatening to send in troops against Hamas fighters in Rafah.
Information conflicted on what exactly unfolded in Gaza City.
A witness, declining to be named for safety reasons, said the violence began when thousands of people rushed toward aid trucks, leading soldiers to open fire when “people came too close” to tanks.
Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the military had fired “a few warning shots” to try to disperse a “mob” that had “ambushed” the aid trucks.
“Thousands of Gazans” swarmed the trucks, “violently pushing and even trampling other Gazans to death, looting the humanitarian supplies,” he said.
When the crowd got too big, he said the convoy tried to retreat and “the unfortunate incident resulted in dozens of Gazans killed and injured.”
Aerial images released by the Israeli army showed what it said were scores of people surrounding aid trucks in the city.
Ali Awad Ashqir, who said he had gone to get some food for his starving family, told AFP he had been waiting for two hours when trucks began to arrive.
“The moment they arrived, the occupation army fired artillery shells and guns,” he said.
Hagari denied Israeli forces carried out any shelling or strikes at the time.
Looting of aid trucks has previously occurred in northern Gaza, where residents have taken to eating animal fodder and even leaves to stave off starvation.
The chief of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said no UN agency had been involved in Thursday’s aid delivery, and called the incident “another day from hell.”
Among its war aims, Israel says it is fighting to bring home 130 hostages captured by militants on October 7 who remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure over the captives.
On Friday relatives and supporters of the hostages rallied outside the US embassy branch in Tel Aviv in a call for help to secure their release.
At another protest in the city on Thursday night, Alon Lee Green, 36, said things were at a crossroads.
“It’s either we are going into an eternal war that will never stop,” he said, “or we’re going to a diplomatic agreement, an Israeli-Palestinian peace.”