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U.S. military airdrops food aid over Gaza as hunger intensifies

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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 released 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.

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.

Images released by U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the operation, showed packages of ready-to-eat meals stacked on pallets onto U.S. C-130 cargo planes. One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide additional details, said the aid consisted of pork-free meals destined for the largely Muslim population of Gaza. Jordanian cargo planes also dropped aid alongside the U.S. aircraft.

“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, occurs amid mounting friction between the Biden administration and its closest Middle Eastern ally over the war, as U.S. officials press Israel to help alleviate dire conditions by opening additional land crossings to aid convoys and caution Israel’s military against moving ahead with an offensive into the southern city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of people are now trapped.

The operation came several days after more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more wounded after a crowd descended on an air convoy. Local officials blame the bloodshed 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 occurred.

Officials said they did not coordinate the distribution of the aid with Hamas or other groups on the ground. They said they had been monitoring the aftermath of the drops and had observed civilians approaching the pallets, packaged into 66 total bundles that were dropped in areas where U.S. officials believed Gazans are sheltering.

The need for the aerial operation, which can deliver more limited aid quantities than trucking supplies in by land, at greater cost, is a reflection of the challenges aid groups have faced in getting food, medicine, and other vital supplies to Gaza’s 2.2 million people amid Israel’s operation against Hamas, which killed more than 1,000 people in its Oct. 7 attacks into Israel.

The number of aid trucks getting into Gaza has decreased sharply in recent weeks after Israel’s military targeted police that had been guarding the convoys. The scant availability of assistance compounds the risks in a conflict that Palestinian officials say has already killed 30,000 people, most of them women and children.

While aid groups say at least 500 trucks are needed per 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 steps to restrict funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency UNWRA, some of whose employees Israeli officials said took part in the Oct. 7 attacks.

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, said the joint U.S.-Jordanian operation was “an effort that makes our fighting in Gaza possible.”

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 Israel’s role in the situation. 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 deliveries 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, primarily because, without police escorts, the convoys were now a target for criminal gangs. They also blamed Hamas for creating conditions that were challenging for aid delivery and for weaving military targets into Gaza’s landscape and society.

Officials said they are looking into various possibilities for making additional aid deliveries via sea, potentially via commercial ships. 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.”

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

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