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Israel accused of opening fire on Gaza civilians waiting for food as Hamas says war death toll over 30,000 people

Tel Aviv — Witnesses and medics said Israeli forces opened fire Thursday on thousands of Palestinians who had gathered in an open area of Gaza City hoping to receive food and other desperately needed humanitarian aid. Hamas, which controlled the Gaza Strip for almost two decades before it sparked the current war with its Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, said Israeli forces "targeted a gathering of thousands of citizens while they were waiting to receive food aid." 

Gaza's Hamas-run Ministry of Health said at least 104 people were killed and more than 750 others wounded.   

The Israel Defense Forces said the casualties were the result of "a violent gathering of Gazan residents" around aid trucks, during which it said dozens of people were "injured as a result of being crushed and trampled." 

An IDF official said later that after the chaos, at a nearby crossing point between north and south Gaza, Israeli forces first fired warning shots and then opened fire on civilians who rushed toward aid trucks and an IDF tank with forces helping to secure the aid convoy. The official said IDF forces had "fired at those who posed a threat," and stressed that the incident remained under review.

Palestinians receive medical care at Kamal Edwan Hospital in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, Feb. 29, 2024, after Israeli soldiers allegedly opened fire at Gaza residents who rushed toward trucks loaded with humanitarian aid. AFP via Getty

The head of one hospital in the decimated Palestinian territory said at least 10 bodies were brought in from the scene, along with dozens of wounded.

"We don't know how many there are in other hospitals," the Reuters news agency quoted the Kamal Adwan hospital's manager Hussam Abu Safieyah as saying.

At Gaza City's biggest hospital, Al Shifa, which was already barely functioning, doctors were struggling to cope with large numbers of wounded coming through the door. 

"We mourn the loss of innocent life and recognize the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where innocent Palestinians are just trying to feed their families," a White House National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement Thursday, according to the Reuters news agency. "This underscores the importance of expanding and sustaining the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, including through a potential temporary cease-fire."  

The IDF released black and white video from a drone showing the chaotic scenes below as thousands of people clambered around the convoy of aid trucks on Thursday. 

An image taken from drone video released by the Israel Defense Forces shows what the IDF said was a huge crowd of Palestinians rushing a convoy of aid trucks as it arrived at a distribution point near Gaza City, Feb. 29, 2024, which the military said resulted in dozens of people being killed by trampling. IDF handout

Avi Hyman, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, was quoted by the French news agency AFP as saying the aid convoy was "overwhelmed by people trying to loot and drivers ploughed into the crowd of people, ultimately killing tens of people."

Gaza City, where Hamas had its headquarters, was an early focus of the IDF's offensive against the group. Much of the fighting and bombardment has shifted further south, however, ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, right on Gaza's southern border with Egypt.

Israel has been warned by the U.S. not to launch that incursion without a credible plan to evacuate the roughly 1.5 million Palestinians who've poured into Rafah from across Gaza since the war began. But with fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants continuing and Israel still hammering locations across Gaza with missiles and artillery, the death toll has climbed steadily.

Families destroyed as Gaza death toll reportedly tops 30,000

According to the enclave's Hamas-run Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties, as of Thursday at least 30,035 people have been killed in Gaza since the war started, and more than 70,400 others injured.

In the central city of Dier El Balah, an Israeli attack on a crowded building very nearly killed an entire extended family earlier this week — 36 people in all — according to survivors who spoke with CBS News.

Rajaa Hamad, at right, stands next to the hospital bed of her nephew, Mohammad Hamad, 9, who was the only member of his immediate family to escape from the wreckage of their home after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza, Feb. 28, 2024. CBS News

Mohammad Hamad, 9, was the only member of his immediate family to escape from the wreckage of their home. He keeps telling his aunt, who also survived the strike, that all he wants is to see his mother's face again.

Rajaa Hamad told CBS News that her nephew "had seen horror in that half an hour. He said it [debris] was raining down on him and he was under the rubble and was in pain, but he wanted to live, because his mother asked him to one day become a doctor."

She said the young boy was "tired mentally, and he asks for his mother every day… the Israelis took his family away from him, the entire family."

Mohammad Hamad, 9, cries in a hospital bed in Deir al-Balah, northern Gaza, Feb. 28, 2024, after being the only member of his immediate family to survive an Israeli strike that hit their home several miles further north in Neseirat. CBS News

Hamad said her nephew had two uncles living outside of Gaza who want to help look after him, but she feared there was no way for her to get him out of the territory.

U.S. considering humanitarian airdrops in Gaza

Amid the unrelenting violence and increasing scenes of starvation, negotiations in Qatar between Israel and Hamas over a new cease-fire and hostage release agreement continue, but there has been no breakthrough despite mounting pressure from the Biden administration for a deal.

"We have to do everything in our power," Meerav Ben Ari, an Israeli opposition politician, told CBS News. "Everything."

Ben Ari said the next week or so would be crucial in the talks. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts on March 10, and she said if a deal isn't in place before then, it could inflame tensions not only in Israel, Gaza and the occupied West Bank, but across the Middle East.

Asked Thursday whether he thought the shooting incident in Gaza would complicate the ongoing negotiations for a cease-fire, President Biden told reporters in Washington: "I know it will."

Israel signals hostage deal with Hamas not imminent 08:07

Humanitarian conditions across Gaza, but particularly in central and southern parts of the enclave where hundreds of thousands of people have sought shelter, have been deteriorating steadily, with aid organizations accusing Israel of constraining the delivery of aid materials.

Shortages of food, medicines and other essentials have grown so dire that Jordan unilaterally carried out airdrops of humanitarian aid packages earlier this week, sending packages parachuting down just off Gaza's Mediterranean coast for desperate people to wade or row out to collect.

A Canadian government minister said Wednesday that Canada was also working to coordinate aid airdrops in Gaza as soon as possible, and on Thursday, a U.S. official confirmed that the Pentagon was actively planning airdrops of aid packages, which would use GPS-guided parachutes, though no decision had been made on when they might commence. 

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