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Saudis, UAE Join Condemnation of Israel After Gaza Deaths

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined a growing wave of condemnation of Israel after dozens of Palestinians were killed and injured on Thursday in an outbreak of violence in Gaza.

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Israel’s army opened fire near a convoy of trucks trying to take food to northern Gaza. But it denied shooting at people, saying most of the victims were trampled or hit as the vehicles sought to escape the early-morning chaos when crowds converged on them.

Saudi Arabia, a country with which Israel wants to establish diplomatic relations, accused “occupation forces” of “targeting unarmed civilians.”

The UAE made similar comments and warned of “a catastrophic and dangerous humanitarian situation” in the Palestinian territory, which has been devastated by Israel’s war against Hamas.

Israel said it would review the incident, while the US pledged to monitor that investigation and press the Israeli government for answers.

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The European Union, which is increasingly aligned with Arab states in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, said there must be an independent investigation that would hold those responsible for the deaths accountable.

“Shocked and repulsed by yesterday’s killing of innocent civilians in Gaza,” European Council President Charles Michel wrote on X on Friday.

While the facts around Thursday’s incident remain in dispute, US President Joe Biden said it would probably set back talks on a cease-fire and release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas. Earlier this week, Biden said he hoped a truce would begin as soon as on Monday, though he backtracked on Thursday and said an agreement would probably take longer.

Talks led by the US, Qatar and Egypt are underway for a pause in the conflict that would allow more aid to be delivered to Gaza, as well as for the release of hostages and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

The flare-up comes as the war nears the end of its fifth month. Israel is seeking to destroy Hamas, an Iran-backed Islamist group considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, after its militants invaded the country on Oct. 7. They killed about 1,200 people and kidnapped 250.

Israel’s counterattack has killed more than 30,000, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

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The bombardment of the enclave — home to about 2.3 million people before the conflict began — has left hundreds of thousands with limited or no access to food and health care.

On Friday, the EU announced it was allocating an additional 68 million euros ($74 million) to support Palestinians through the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and that it was proceeding with a payment of 50 million euros to the UN Relief and Works Agency. It said it was satisfied with the steps taken by UNRWA following Israeli allegations that some of its staff were involved in the Oct. 7 assault.

Saudi Arabia’s comments underscore the growing tensions between the kingdom and Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler — had said before October they were close to reaching a normalization deal. That’s something Israel believes would be of huge benefit to it geopolitically, given Saudi Arabia’s status as the biggest economy in the Middle East and guardian of Islam’s holiest sites.

Yet the war stymied the talks and, while both sides indicate a deal’s still possible, the Saudis want Israel to take firm steps toward accepting an eventual independent Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli government and public worry a Palestinian state would pose a security threat.

Houthi Criticism

The kingdom is working with a number of Arab states on a Palestinian statehood plan and is also discussing the issue with the US.

Israel’s been widely criticized in the Arab world for Thursday’s deaths. The Houthis, who have attacked ships in the Red Sea since November under the pretext of solidarity with Palestinians, on Friday cited “the Israeli enemy’s crimes.”

The group, based in Yemen and also backed by Iran, has said it will continue assaulting vessels in the vital waterway until Israel stops fighting in Gaza. Its leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, warned the US and UK that its fighters were preparing “surprises.”

The Associated Press reported that doctors and other witnesses saw numerous gunshot wounds among the dead and injured on Thursday.

One witness, Mohammed al-Shouli, said thousands of people had gathered to wait for the trucks, which started passing an Israeli checkpoint at around 4 a.m.

“The first truck arrived and stopped 300 meters away from the checkpoint,” he said. “People swarmed the truck and thousands proceeded further to other trucks, looking for flour.”

He said 20 trucks entered, the first seven of them carrying water and canned food, and five others with flour.

“People went further south toward the flour trucks and got closer to the tanks and the shooting started,” he said. “Trucks were invisible because thousands of people climbed over them.”

The episode — shootings, stumbling, chaos, and running away with aid — lasted for about half an hour before all trucks were emptied, he said.

‘Warning Shots’

A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said tanks were deployed to secure the corridor for the trucks and troops fired “a few warning shots” to disperse a “mob.”

“When the hundreds became thousands and things got out of hand, the tank commander decided to retreat to avoid harm to the thousands of Gazans that were there,” Hagari said. “No IDF strike was conducted toward the aid convoy.”

One Israeli military officer said some Gazans seeking aid approached the forces in a threatening manner, and some responded with live fire.

Northern Gaza, where the events occurred, is in a particularly dire state, with hungry people searching for animal feed to turn into flour. Aid enters Gaza from the south and Israel has been insisting that those seeking help should travel in that direction.

Nonetheless, several hundred thousand Palestinians have stayed in the north and Israel has started to allow trucks to travel there. But the delivery of the aid has been fraught with looting.

(Updates with EU comment and aid payments to Palestinians.)

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