The United States dropped pallets of food aid into the Gaza Strip on Saturday, expanding America’s direct role in addressing a growing humanitarian crisis and underscoring a widening gap between Washington and Israel over its handling of its war against Hamas.

The operation by U.S. C-130 cargo planes parachuted in packages containing 38,000 meals above Gaza, where hunger and disease are intensifying as Israel’s military campaign against Hamas militants approaches its sixth month. Millions of people have been displaced.

Images released by U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the operation, showed packages stacked on pallets onto military planes. One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide additional details, said the aid consisted of pork-free meals ready to eat, destined for the largely Muslim population of Gaza. Jordanian cargo planes also dropped aid alongside the U.S. aircraft.

U.S. officials said they were planning additional airdrops into Gaza and exploring new ways to get desperately needed assistance into the Hamas-controlled enclave, including by sea.

“The truth is … that the aid flowing into Gaza is nowhere near enough and nowhere near fast enough,” a senior administration official told reporters after the airdrop took place.

The operation, while welcomed by Gazans, took place amid mounting friction between the Biden administration and its closest Middle Eastern ally, as U.S. officials press Israel to help alleviate dire conditions by permitting the entry of additional aid convoys and caution Israel’s military against moving ahead with an offensive into the southern city of Rafah, where more than a million people are now trapped.

Aid groups have warned of a lethal surge in malnutrition, especially among children, across the Strip, where people have been forced to eat weeds and animal feed in the absence of accessible food supplies. Various organizations have also criticized aerial aid delivery saying it cannot provide meaningful relief and are pushing the Biden administration instead to use its leverage over Israel to secure a lasting end to the war.

Gaza’s desperate hunger: Families struggle to fend off starvation

The operation came days after more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded when a crowd descended on an aid convoy. Palestinian officials blamed the deaths on Israeli gunfire, while Israeli officials said there had been a stampede. U.S. officials said plans for the airdrop were already underway when that episode occurred.

Officials said they did not coordinate the latest distribution of aid with Hamas or other groups on the ground. They said they had been monitoring the aftermath of the release, and had observed civilians approaching the aid, which was packaged into 66 bundles on three U.S. aircraft.

On March 2, the U.S. military carried out its first airdrop of aid into Gaza. (Video: Reuters)

The fact that such an aerial operation, which can deliver far less aid than ground convoys can, was needed is a reflection of the challenges humanitarian organizations have faced in getting food, medicine and other vital supplies to Gaza’s 2.2 million people since Israel began its operation against Hamas after the group killed around 1,200 people in its Oct. 7 attack into Israel.

The number of aid trucks getting into Gaza has decreased sharply in recent weeks following Israeli airstrikes on police that had been guarding assistance convoys. The increasing scarcity is just one dimension of the hardships civilians face in a conflict that Palestinian officials say has already killed 30,000 people, most of them women and children.

On March 2, hundreds of people scrambled to retrieve bags of flour from an aid truck in Gaza. (Video: Reuters)

While aid groups assess that at least 500 trucks of aid are needed each day to meet Gazans’ basic needs, the United Nations has said that dozens or fewer have secured entry daily in recent weeks. That has coincided with recent decisions by the United States and other countries to suspend funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency or UNRWA, some of whose employees Israeli officials accused of taking part in the Oct. 7 attack.

While the United States says it has been the largest provider of aid in response to the Gaza crisis, it has up to now typically provided aid via the United Nations and humanitarian organizations.

A top U.N. official earlier this week described airdrops — which Jordan began conducting on an expanded scale this week — as a “last-resort, extraordinarily expensive” way to get aid into Gaza.

Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for Israel’s military, described Saturday’s joint U.S.-Jordanian operation as “an effort that makes our fighting in Gaza possible.”

Chaotic aid delivery turns deadly as Israeli, Gazan officials trade blame

While U.S. officials did not blame Israel for the insufficient amount of aid going into Gaza on Saturday, White House officials have privately voiced increasing frustration over what they say is Israel’s role in holding up aid deliveries. They have said that far-right cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government — including National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — have found ways to make aid operations more challenging.

According to a second U.S. official who spoke to reporters, a chief problem was not getting aid trucks into Gaza but rather distributing assistance within the Strip, primarily because convoys, without police escorts, were now a target for criminal gangs. Officials also blamed Hamas for weaving military targets into Gaza’s landscape and society.

(Video: Sinai Foundation for Human Rights)

Officials said the Biden administration is now looking into possibilities for making additional deliveries via sea, potentially via the United Nations or the private sector. But they noted that only by securing the opening of additional land crossings would there be enough aid to prevent famine.

“None of these maritime corridor or airdrops are an alternative to the fundamental need to move assistance through as many land crossings as possible,” the second official said. “That’s the most efficient way to get aid in at scale.”

A third U.S. official said that while the airdrop had succeeded as a stopgap measure, securing a cease-fire remained essential.

Ongoing negotiations between Hamas and Israel, with the United States, Qatar and Egypt as coordinators and go-betweens, are currently awaiting Hamas’s response to what the official said was “a deal on the table … that Israel has more or less accepted” for a cease-fire enabling the release of Hamas-held hostages in Gaza.

The proposal calls for a six-week pause in fighting. During that time, sick, wounded, female and elderly hostages, about half of around 100 hostages still inside Gaza, would be released. There would also be a “significant surge” in aid delivery via truck convoys on the ground, the official said. The goal, the official said, is to begin the cease-fire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10.

“The Israelis have basically signed on to the elements of the arrangement, but right now the ball is in the court of Hamas,” the official said. The terms Israel has agreed to, and how Hamas demands for the simultaneous release of a large number of Palestinians in Israeli jails and relocation of Israeli troops away from urban areas have been addressed, remained unclear.

The United States and its negotiating partners, Qatar and Egypt, have also envisioned a second cease-fire phase that would lead to the release of remaining hostages, including Israeli soldiers, and a lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas has said a second phase should include full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Israel has rejected that demand and said it plans to return to military operations once the first phase is over. The Netanyahu government has also rejected what U.S. officials describe as the long-term plan for a two-state solution.

Those negotiations will probably be a focus at a meeting Monday between Vice President Harris and Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz at the White House. The meeting is part of broader administration efforts to speak with a range of Israeli officials and plan for the “day after” the war, according to a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an encounter that has not been publicly announced.

Harris will also stress the need to drastically increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza and emphasize that the United States is prepared to ramp up efforts to get aid in, the official said, and will press Gantz on civilian casualties.

The vice president will also “express her concern over the safety of the as many as 1.5 million people in Rafah,” the official said.

Qatar’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who has played a central role in the hostage negotiations, is also expected Monday in Washington.

The expanded U.S. aid effort comes as the Biden administration confronts heightened insecurity across the Middle East, including a campaign of attacks on commercial and naval vessels by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The country’s internationally-recognized government, which is locked in a prolonged civil war with the Houthis, said that a British-owned commercial ship, the MV Rubymar, had sunk in the Red Sea after being damaged in a Houthi attack last month, and warned it could lead to an “environmental disaster.”

The Feb. 18 attack caused an 18-mile oil slick and forced the crew to abandon the ship, which was carrying 41,000 tons of fertilizer, according to U.S. officials. It is thought to be the first time a vessel has been completely wrecked by a Houthi strike, after the Iranian-backed group began targeting ships in the Red Sea in what it called a protest against Israel’s campaign in Gaza.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations confirmed in an update Saturday that the vessel had sunk, with only a small part of the bow of the ship remaining above the water.

The ship’s owner, Blue Fleet Group, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It had previously told U.K. media it was hoping the ship could be towed to a nearby port.

In an update Friday, private intelligence firm Ambrey said it had received “multiple reports of a further incident” involving the ship, adding that a “number of Yemenis were reportedly hurt” Thursday. It gave no further details, but a satellite image taken by Maxar Technologies on Friday showed new blast damage on the ship, according to the Associated Press.

The United States, along with Britain, has conducted strikes on Houthi targets in an attempt to halt the attacks.

Itay Stern in Tel Aviv; Victoria Bisset and Helier Cheung in London; and Mohamad el Chamaa in Beirut contributed to this report.





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