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U.N. documents more than two dozen attacks on Gaza civilians waiting for aid since January

KEREM SHALOM, ISRAEL – MARCH 14: An Israeli soldier addresses members of the media during an observation for the press at the Keres Shalom crossing on the humanitarian aid entering the Gaza Strip on March 14, 2024 in Keres Shalom, Israel. The IDF has said they are trying to flood Gaza with humanitarian aid in response to international pressure over the growing problem of hunger there. More than 30,000 people have died in Gaza as a result of the war, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The Israeli government says that between 100 and 130 hostages remain captive in Gaza, after being kidnapped by Hamas militants in a surprise Oct. 7 attack that left around 1,200 dead in Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)  (Amir Levy)
By Raja Abdulrahim New York Times

The United Nations human rights office has documented more than two dozen attacks on Gaza Strip civilians waiting for desperately needed aid since January, with hunger spreading as a result of Israel’s near complete siege, preventing most food and water from entering the tiny enclave.

The office has not blamed any side for the spate of attacks as people wait for aid.

In a number of U.N. reports and statements, the office has documented at least 26 such attacks since mid-January.

They include Thursday night’s attack on hundreds of Palestinians who were waiting at the Kuwait traffic circle in Gaza City for an expected convoy of aid trucks. Gaza health officials accused Israeli forces of carrying out a “targeted” attack on the crowd that killed 20, and three witnesses described shelling at the scene.

The Israeli military blamed Palestinian gunmen for the bloodshed and said that it was continuing to review the episode. It said an “intensive preliminary review” had found that no “tank fire, airstrike or gunfire was carried out toward the Gazan civilians at the aid convoy,” although it did not say whether its forces had opened fire.

It was at least the 10th such incident this month in which people have been shot and killed or injured while waiting for aid at either the Kuwait or Nabulsi traffic circles, according to the United Nations. They are the two main southern entrances to Gaza City, where the few humanitarian aid trucks entering north Gaza arrive from the south.

In the deadliest incident, more than 100 Palestinians were killed and many more injured when Israeli forces opened fire around a convoy in Gaza City in late February. Witnesses said Israeli forces opened fire toward Palestinians who surged forward toward aid trucks.

The Israeli military said its forces had opened fire “when a mob moved in a manner which endangered them.”

It has said that most people died in a stampede and that some were run over by trucks.

Aid agencies, including from the United Nations, have said that rather than help facilitate humanitarian assistance, Israel has blocked aid from either coming into Gaza or going to the north, where the hunger situation has become dire.

“Israel’s choices of methods and means of warfare have caused a humanitarian catastrophe,” the United Nations office said in a report this month. “Such choices included the imposition of a siege on Gaza, other restrictions on humanitarian assistance and the distribution of commercial goods, vast destruction of civilian infrastructure, including roads vital for accessing the population, and restrictions on the movement between the north and south of Gaza.”

Israel, which imposed a siege after the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack, has said throughout the war that it is committed to allowing as much aid into Gaza as possible. It has blamed delays on U.N. staffing and logistics.

In a statement Friday, the United Nations human rights office called on Israel to ensure that food and medical care are provided to meet Gaza’s needs. Aid agencies have said that in addition to the Israeli restrictions on relief convoys, looting by hungry Palestinians and growing lawlessness have made it difficult, if not impossible, to distribute aid.

If Israel cannot provide aid, it “has the obligation to facilitate humanitarian relief activities, including by ensuring the conditions of safety required for such activities,” the human rights office said.

In February, one-fourth of the U.N. aid missions planned were facilitated by Israeli authorities, the U.N.’s office of humanitarian coordination said.

U.N. officials and other relief groups have warned that Gaza is nearing famine as a result of inadequate food delivery. At least 27 people, including 23 children, have died of malnutrition, dehydration and lack of baby formula, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.