'Everyone is hungry': Desperate Gazans fight for food after airdrop deaths

This picture taken from Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip shows parachutes of humanitarian aid dropping over the besieged Palestinian territory (JACK GUEZ)
This picture taken from Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip shows parachutes of humanitarian aid dropping over the besieged Palestinian territory (JACK GUEZ)

Gazans waited again Tuesday in their hundreds for food to fall from the sky at beaches in the famine-stalked north, a day after nearly 20 died trying to get to parachutes carrying aid.

Twelve of them drowned trying to wade into the sea to get aid packages that went astray, according to the Hamas government and the Swiss-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

They were "young men and children", witnesses told AFP. "They didn't know how to swim. They went and did not return."

"Everyone is hungry, so there's chaos to get food," said Ahmed Al-Rifi, a mechanic from nearby Gaza City, much of which has been reduced to ruins by months of Israeli bombardment.

"Every day people get hurt or even killed fighting to get basic items like flour, canned food, water, lentils and beans," he added.

Six of those who died amid the dunes and rubble on Monday were killed in stampedes, the government and Euro-Med said.

"The situation is deeply humiliating," said taxi driver Uday Nasser.

"We are risking our lives just to receive aid. What should be a humanitarian effort has turned into fights and beatings.

"The strong take from the weaker ones. Sometimes they use knives or even shoot."

Even those who manage to get food risk being robbed on the way home, said Nasser.

But such is the hunger in northern Gaza, which the United Nations warned is on the brink of a "man-made famine", that every day people are prepared to take the risk.

- 'Real danger' -

"We hear the plane's noise and wait for aid to be dropped with parachutes. We see people gazing at the sky, so we know the plane is coming," said Nasser, 27, who used to live in the Jabalia refugee camp before being forced to flee his home.

"When we reach the drop zone, a large crowd gathers, leading to fights, chaos and injuries. Some people fall to the ground in the stampede."

The aid crates, which weigh around a tonne, can be dangerous in themselves.

Five people were killed and 10 injured by an airdrop earlier this month when parachutes malfunctioned, a Gaza medic said.

Several nations have been airdropping aid into northern Gaza, where land deliveries have effectively been blocked, including France, Jordan, the Emirates and Germany.

Despite the latest deaths, the United States insisted Tuesday that it would continue the airdrops even as Hamas pleaded for them to stop, saying they were a "real danger to the lives of hungry citizens".

Instead it demanded that Israel allow more aid trucks to enter the war-torn territory.

Only around 150 lorries a day carrying aid are now getting into Gaza compared with at least 500 before the war, according to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The UN children's fund, UNICEF, said vastly more aid must be rushed into Gaza by road, rather than air or sea, to avert "this imminent famine".

Back on the beach, Al-Rifi, 32, whose workshop was destroyed by Israeli army bulldozers, is in despair.

"By God, getting food is hard for us. We risk our lives (waiting for deliveries) on Salah al-Din Road or at the Kuwait roundabout, or when trying to collect supplies dropped from planes," he said.

"Neither planes nor trucks provide us with our basic needs. We want UNRWA to come and distribute aid respectfully to every family in Gaza."

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