Thursday, July 25, 2024

Jordanian Air Force drops aid on besieged Gaza; The United States considers the same thing


KING ABDULLAH II AIR BASE, Jordan — From above, northern Gaza may appear to be the skeletal remains of an ancient, forgotten city, with broken pieces of its bomb-ravaged buildings scattered like a handful of chipped teeth.

But the area, which for weeks has borne the brunt of the fighting in Israel's military campaign against Hamas, is far from deserted. Aid workers say its people are facing famine and are demanding relief. Jordanian Air Force pilots dropped 33 tons of medical supplies, food and other necessities into Gaza on Thursday, vital support for those it reaches, but nowhere near enough to meet widespread needs in the blockaded enclave that is home to more than 2 million people.

Not even the truckloads of aid that are entering the Strip at a decreasing rate – which in itself carries risks. More than 100 people were killed in Gaza City on Thursday and 700 others were injured after a crowd gathered on a humanitarian aid convoy, health officials said. Palestinian officials and witnesses blamed the Israeli shooting; Israeli officials blamed the stampede.

“I think airdrops are a last resort, a very expensive way to provide assistance,” Philippe Lazzarini, head of the main UN agency for Palestinian affairs, told reporters Thursday in East Jerusalem. “I do not think that airdropping food supplies into the Gaza Strip should be the solution today. The real answer is: Open the crossings and bring convoys and medical aid into the Gaza Strip.”

Jordan has been airdropping humanitarian aid boxes, attached to GPS-guided parachutes provided by the United States and Britain, onto the hospitals it runs in Gaza since early November.

But this week it began a new operation: airdropping small boxes of food, diapers, sanitary products and other items along the Strip's Mediterranean coast.

Each C-130 Hercules can carry 16 such boxes, each about a quarter the size of parcels destined for hospitals, to maximize access to civilians. The boxes are wrapped in protective plastic and equipped with canopies and shock-absorbing bases.

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Some of them carry posters drawn by Jordanian school children. One showed a Palestinian flag with hearts surmounted, the legend “Hashem and Salma we love you,” and a Quranic phrase — “And He said, ‘We will strengthen your arm with your brother’” — written in childlike script.

Each parcel contained dozens of boxes of food rations, including maqluba, the quintessential Palestinian dish layered with rice, meat, eggplant, potatoes and cauliflower.

“The amount of aid received [Gaza] A spokesman for the Jordanian Armed Forces said: “It is not enough, whether by air or by truck.” He added: “So any possible method that allows us to bring in aid, we resort to to meet humanitarian needs.”

Officials refused to discuss the cost of the flights or how to coordinate them with Israel.

In the first hour after takeoff from King Abdullah II Air Base in Jordan, the C-130 was busy with activity. The crew members – all men – connect and detach boxes, test oxygen tanks, and check and recheck parachute straps.

The plane flies west, passing over Tel Aviv to the Mediterranean Sea, where it turns south. When Gaza appears on the horizon, silence falls. Six crew members gather around a small window and stare at the devastation below.

The same number of Palestinians live in Jordan and Gaza. Most Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations hold Jordanian passports. For Jordanians, the Palestinian issue is complex and emotionally charged.

An hour into the flight, the crew dons oxygen masks, the plane's rear cargo door opens and the boxes slide out. The man on the open slope looks down, spins around and gives two thumbs up. Six thumbs up will go up in response.

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He starts to come back but suddenly stops. He stares at the bar, the hospital, and the broken homes surrounding it. He takes his phone out of his pocket and takes pictures.

The plane carrying Washington Post journalists released its cargo over a Jordanian field hospital in the north, where workers were waiting. A spokesman for the armed forces later said that strong winds swept a container into Israel.

Finally the men sat up with exhaustion on their faces. They pass around crisp apples and water bottles. Someone tries to hide the vapor from his vape pen. He says he has not been home for 20 days. He sleeps at the base to participate in these drops daily.

He stares at the now closed back door. He says heavily: May God relieve them of this.

The volume of aid entering Gaza fell this month after Israeli air strikes targeted Palestinian police officers guarding convoys, forcing them to retreat and leaving truck drivers to fend for themselves against militant attacks and increasingly desperate residents.

The Norwegian Refugee Council says Gaza is suffering from a “humanitarian catastrophe.” The United Nations has warned, in increasingly urgent reports, that famine is “almost inevitable.” Alexandra Sayeh, head of humanitarian policy and advocacy at Save the Children International, told Al Jazeera English on Thursday that the world was witnessing “the mass killing of children in slow motion.”

As pressure increased on the international community to act, Western and Arab countries joined Jordan. Some send parcels. Others have their own planes. This week, aircraft from France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates joined the operation along the coast; For the two Arab countries, it seems that it was the first trip of its kind. Jordanian planes also transported aid provided by the United States and Britain.

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A US official said the United States was considering airdrops and deploying a hospital ship or aid ship, “among other options as we work to try to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.” He spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the discussions.

When a State Department spokesperson was asked Thursday if the United States was considering airdrops, he said: “We are continuing to try to improve the distribution system and working through that with the government of Israel and the United Nations and trying to find a way to resolve this issue.” “What we have now is to provide security for aid convoys.”

But Matt Miller, a UN spokesman, said: “The real solution here is to reach an agreement that would significantly increase the flow of aid.”

A spokesman for the Jordanian Armed Forces said that the demand for aid in Gaza is several times greater than the drops entering the Strip. He said help from other countries is crucial even to meet the enclave's needs.

The C-130's next destination is along the coast, where unobstructed sight lines from buildings allow civilians to see the cargo landing with their naked eyes.

Al Jazeera broadcast videos this week Families gathered by the water to watchThe children screamed with joy when they saw the umbrellas dancing above them.

When some packages arrived at sea this week, Gazans boarded boats to retrieve them.

In one clip, people circle around each other, their faces turned toward the sky as they track a falling object.

Then contraction. It was just a piece of cardboard.

Miriam Berger in Jerusalem, Louisa Lovelock and Hajar Harb in London, and John Hudson and Karen de Jong in Washington contributed to this report.



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