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US to Air-Drop Humanitarian Assistance into Gaza

President Joe Biden stated on Friday that the United States will begin airdropping much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza during the current Israel-Hamas conflict.

Biden stated that the airdrops will be coordinated with Jordan, which has carried out many rounds of airdrops into Gaza in recent months, and will begin in the “coming days.” The initial supply are likely to be pallets of food, sometimes known as military rations (MREs), with more help possible. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby did not provide a specific schedule for the airdrops, but did say the initial batch would not be the last.

The Biden decision comes after at least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured on Thursday trying to access aid in northern Gaza under disputed circumstances, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry. Witnesses said Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy, while Israel has said it fired only when its troops felt threatened and that most of the civilian casualties were from trampling.

The U.S. has been pushing Israel to speed the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza and to open a third crossing into the territory, but Friday’s violence showed the challenges no matter the circumstances.

“The loss of life is heartbreaking,” Biden said Friday as he announced his decision to order airdrops. “People are so desperate.”

Asked how the U.S. would keep the supplies from falling into Hamas’ hands, Kirby told reporters that the U.S. would learn over the course of the aerial operation.

“There’s few military operations that are more complicated than humanitarian assistance airdrops,” he said. Kirby said Pentagon planners will identify drop locations aiming to balance getting the aid closest to where it’s needed without putting those on the ground in harm’s way from the drops themselves.

“The biggest risk is making sure nobody gets hurt on the ground,” Kirby said. He said the U.S. is also working through how the airdropped aid will be collected and distributed once it’s on the ground.

The U.S. believes the airdrops will help address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, but they are no replacement for trucks, which can transport far more aid more effectively — though Thursday’s events also showed the risks with ground transport. Kirby said the airdrops have an advantage over trucks in that planes can move aid to a particular location very quickly. But in terms of volume, the airdrops will be “a supplement to, not a replacement for moving things in by ground.”

The U.S. and allies have tried to broker a new temporary ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that would see the release of more hostages held by the militant group in Gaza, the freeing of some Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and an up-to-six-week pause in the fighting. If a ceasefire were secured, the U.S. hopes it would allow large quantities of aid to flow into Gaza over a sustained period of time. Biden on Friday also said the U.S. was working with allies on establishing a “maritime corridor” to provide assistance to Gazans from the sea.

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