US and allies reach for last resort to get aid to Gazans

Humanitarian aid, destined for an airdrop over Gaza, is loaded aboard a Belgian Air Force Airbus A400M Atlas, at Belgian military airport in Melsbroek, Belgium March 4, 2024. (Photo: Reuters)
Humanitarian aid, destined for an airdrop over Gaza, is loaded aboard a Belgian Air Force Airbus A400M Atlas, at Belgian military airport in Melsbroek, Belgium March 4, 2024. (Photo: Reuters)


The US and its allies are ramping up airdrops of aid into Gaza, a stopgap measure reflecting the impasse foreign powers face in addressing a humanitarian crisis and ending the Israel-Hamas war.

The U.S. and its Middle East allies are ramping up airdrops of food aid into Gaza, a stopgap measure reflecting the impasse foreign powers face in addressing a humanitarian crisis and ending the Israel-Hamas war.

The airdrops, in which military transport planes drop packages of food and other aid into the isolated enclave after coordinating with Israel, come as negotiators race to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that would free Israeli hostages and allow a surge of aid into the war-torn strip. Israel has imposed a deadline of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the coming days for Hamas to release hostages or face an attack on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than a million displaced Gazans have sought shelter from the fighting.

The U.S. dropped 38,000 military-style ready-made meals into Gaza on Saturday. Egypt and Jordan have also airdropped food and other aid into the strip. The United Nations and humanitarian groups say they welcome any aid, as truck deliveries become too dangerous, but say the airdrops are simply not enough to solve the growing hunger crisis in the strip.

The U.S. airdrops represent a fraction of the essential goods needed by Gaza’s population. In the early weeks of the war, the U.N.’s World Food Program expanded its operation in Gaza to feed 1.1 million people, roughly half the strip’s population.

“Third states are trying to find technical solutions, rather than political ones," said Bushra Khalidi, a policy lead at the antipoverty charity Oxfam. “We need to move beyond the temporary aid solutions. And we need to work towards ending the systematic deprivation strategies of starvation and collective punishment that are just a daily reality for Palestinians."

Israel denies any attempt to collectively punish the people of Gaza and says it is working to facilitate aid deliveries. The Israeli military’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, which oversees civilian issues in the West Bank and Gaza, said 277 trucks carrying humanitarian aid were inspected and entered Gaza on Sunday.

“Our war is against Hamas, not against the people of Gaza. That is why we are facilitating aid," said Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari on Sunday.

Humanitarian officials say airdrops are expensive, logistically complex, and small compared with truck convoys. The U.N. has organized airdrops in past crises from Syria to South Sudan, but the logistical challenges involved make them an option of last resort, according to the WFP. Aid officials also said that airdrops cannot deliver vaccines and other specialized supplies that need to be temperature controlled.

“Airdrops should not replace or distract from the importance of increasing the aid delivered directly to people in need through land routes, which remains the only way to deliver supplies at scale.," said Jonathan Crickx, a spokesman for Unicef, the United Nations’ children agency, in the Palestinian territories.

U.S. officials say they are also exploring opening a sea route to bring aid to Gaza via the Mediterranean.

Aid agencies say it has become increasingly difficult to deliver food and supplies to people in Gaza in recent months due to Israeli bombardments, lengthy checks and restrictions on aid trucks imposed by Israel at border crossings, Israeli military checks inside Gaza, fighting with Palestinian militants, spotty communications and a lack of fuel for vehicles.

Looting, lawlessness and the increasing desperation of people living in Gaza have made delivering aid even more difficult. The Israeli military operation largely destroyed the Hamas-led government in northern Gaza, leaving in its place a power vacuum in which there is little civil order and hundreds of thousands of increasingly desperate people.

The deepening crisis in Gaza was brought into stark relief by an incident last week in which Gaza authorities say more than 100 Palestinians were killed after throngs of people surged toward an Israeli-organized aid convoy in Gaza City’s Mediterranean coastal road. Israel said that its forces opened fire during the incident at several individuals who had threateningly approached a group of soldiers, and has estimated its military killed fewer than 10 people. It said dozens of others were killed in the crush of people, which unfolded after Palestinians scrambled to grab bags of flour from the trucks in the convoy.

Hamas fighters spilled into Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 Israelis, the majority of them civilians, according to Israeli officials. Israel then launched a campaign aimed at destroying Hamas in the Palestinian enclave and imposed what it said was a total siege of Gaza on Oct. 9, with Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant vowing, “No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly."

Israel’s blockade followed years of increasing restrictions on Gazans’ entry and exit by both Israel and Egypt that left the enclave largely isolated from the outside world. The siege imposed in October all but ground Gaza’s economy to a halt. Israel began allowing trucks carrying essential goods including food and medicine into Gaza soon after the war began, but the flow wasn’t enough to meet the population’s needs. In the last week of October, the highest number of trucks to enter in one day was 59, compared with a daily average of 500 before the war, according to the U.N. The flow of aid increased during a weeklong cease-fire in November.

The U.N. and other aid agencies in recent months ramped up efforts to feed and help Palestinian civilians in Gaza, where more than 30,000 people have been killed since the war began, the majority women and children, according to Gaza health officials, whose numbers don’t distinguish between militants and civilians.

The U.N. and humanitarian agencies have said that a cease-fire in Gaza is the only viable way to fully restore aid deliveries throughout the strip. Israel and Hamas are engaged in indirect talks brokered by the U.S., Egypt, and Qatar to reach a truce deal that would also free Israeli hostages that Hamas seized during the Oct. 7 attack. The deaths at the aid convoy on Feb. 29 setback the talks, according to U.S. officials.

The airdrops come at a critical moment in the crisis in Gaza where some residents say they have been eating animal feed to survive. The WFP warned in late February that half a million Palestinians in the enclave are at risk of famine. Gaza has the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world, the organization’s Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau said in remarks to the U.N. Security Council in New York last week.

The hunger crisis is taking an acute toll on children, U.N. officials say. One in every six Gazan children under the age of two is “acutely malnourished," Skau said.

Up to 15 children have died from dehydration and malnutrition in recent days at Kamal Adwan Hospital, Gaza’s health ministry said Sunday.

“These tragic and horrific deaths are man-made, predictable and entirely preventable," said Adele Khodr, Unicef’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

On Feb. 5, a U.N. truck convoy carrying food to northern Gaza, waiting near an Israeli checkpoint in the coastal area of Deir al-Balah, was hit by Israeli naval gunfire, according to U.N. officials. After that, the U.N. and other aid groups suspended food deliveries to the north. The Israeli military said that it was targeting “Hamas terrorist infrastructure" and that it was investigating the incident.

The WFP, one of the two main U.N. agencies responsible for distributing food in the enclave, tried to resume food deliveries to the north on Feb. 18. On that day, its trucks were assaulted by desperate crowds soon after they entered northern Gaza and came under fire, leading the agency to again suspend its missions to the north.

Stephen Kalin and Margherita Stancati contributed to this article.

Write to Jared Malsin at

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