US to Airdrop Humanitarian Aid into Gaza amid Israel-Hamas War

joe Biden-package for Gaza

New Delhi: US President Joe Biden announced on Friday that the US will start airdropping humanitarian assistance into Gaza, where Palestinians are suffering from the dual effects of war and famine. The decision came after a deadly incident on Thursday, when Israeli forces reportedly fired at Palestinians who were trying to access aid in northern Gaza, killing at least 115 and injuring more than 750. The US and Jordan will coordinate the airdrops, which are expected to begin in the coming days.

The Need for Aid

Gaza, a densely populated coastal enclave controlled by the Islamist militant group Hamas, has been under a blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2007, which restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the territory. The blockade has severely affected the economy, infrastructure, health, and education of the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza.

The situation has worsened since May 2023, when a new round of hostilities erupted between Israel and Hamas, following weeks of tensions over Jerusalem. The 11-day war, which ended with a fragile ceasefire, left more than 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, and caused widespread damage to buildings, roads, power lines, and water networks. According to the UN, more than 70,000 Palestinians were displaced and 800,000 lacked regular access to clean water.

The war also exacerbated the food insecurity in Gaza, where more than half of the population already lived below the poverty line and depended on humanitarian assistance. According to the World Food Programme, more than 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza are in need of emergency food assistance, and the number is expected to rise due to the impact of the war and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Plan for Airdrops

The US, which is the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, has pledged to provide $360 million in assistance to Gaza and the West Bank this year. However, delivering aid to Gaza has been challenging due to the blockade and the security situation.

The US has been urging Israel to ease the restrictions on the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and to open a third crossing into the territory, but Friday’s violence showed the difficulties of doing so. Israel claims that it only allows the entry of essential goods and monitors the crossings to prevent the smuggling of weapons and materials that could be used by Hamas for military purposes.

To overcome these obstacles, Biden decided to order airdrops of aid into Gaza, in coordination with Jordan, which has been conducting similar operations in recent months. The first deliveries are expected to be pallets of food – military rations known as MREs – with other assistance potentially to follow. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that there will be several aid drops, but did not give a precise timetable.

Kirby also said that the US will try to ensure that the aid does not fall into Hamas’ hands and that it reaches the people who need it most. He said that the Pentagon planners will identify drop locations that balance the proximity and the safety of the recipients and that the US will also work on how the airdropped aid will be collected and distributed on the ground.

Kirby acknowledged that the airdrops are “a supplement to, not a replacement for moving things in by ground”, and that they have limitations in terms of volume and complexity. He said that the airdrops have an advantage over trucks in that planes can move aid to a specific location very quickly, but that the biggest risk is making sure nobody gets hurt on the ground.

The Hope for Ceasefire

The airdrops are also part of a broader diplomatic effort by the US and its allies to broker a new temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, that would allow for more sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance and a possible resumption of peace talks.

The US and its partners have proposed a deal that would include the release of more hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, the freeing of some Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and an up-to-six-week pause in the fighting. The deal, however, faces many challenges, as both sides have different demands and conditions, and as the trust and communication between them are low.

Biden also said on Friday that the US was working with its allies on establishing a “maritime corridor” to assist Gazans from the sea, which could bypass the land crossings and the blockade. He said that the US was in contact with Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey, which influence Hamas, to facilitate the initiative.

joe Biden

Biden expressed his concern over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and his hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. He said that the loss of life was “heartbreaking”, and that the people were “so desperate”. He also reaffirmed his support for a two-state solution, which would create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, as the only way to ensure the security and dignity of both peoples.