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Palestinians say more than 100 people were killed in the chaos of an aid delivery


Sometimes a single image gets across the scale of devastation in Gaza, like one of them that you see from overhead, showing whole neighborhoods destroyed as Israel responds to last October's Hamas attack.


Sometimes, though, a single incident gets across the desperation of those still alive. One came yesterday, when hungry people rushed to trucks distributing food in two locations. Palestinians say more than a hundred people were killed. They say Israeli troops opened fire on the crowd. Israelis contend their troops fired weapons to defend themselves, and many of those killed were trampled or run over.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf is trying to figure out what is known. Hi there, Jane.


INSKEEP: How, if at all, can you verify what happened here?

ARRAF: It's really difficult. It's just hard to get reliable information from Gaza. And one of the reasons for that is Israel bans foreign journalists from there. Unless you're with the Israeli military, for instance, it's impossible to get in and report what's happening on the ground. We did speak with one of the survivors, Ahmed Al-Salem, who's in hospital in Gaza City. He said he was waiting for an aid truck in the hope of getting some food for his three children when he was shot in the leg and then the hand.

AHMED AL-SALEM: (Through interpreter) I was left lying on the ground for two hours because there were so many injured. Then after two hours, there came a cart with a horse, and it was then that he took me.

ARRAF: You can see from satellite images, or possibly drone images, released by the Israeli military, people completely overwhelming trucks. There's so little food reaching Gaza. It just speaks to the desperation of people who have no other way of feeding their children. It's also worth noting, Steve, that the Israeli military said the trucks were operated by private contractors as part of an aid operation that it has been overseeing. U.N. agencies, which would normally deliver aid, say Israel is imposing severe obstacles to access.

INSKEEP: And I want to understand those obstacles a little better because you have people around the world, including in the United States, who contend that they would like humanitarian aid to be reaching Gaza. Why isn't that happening?

ARRAF: Well, according to aid officials, there are a few reasons. One is we have to remember, Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. And for the past 16 years, it's been under siege, with access controlled by Israel and, to some extent, Egypt. Israeli airstrikes over the course of the war, five months of it, have damaged or destroyed most of Gaza's infrastructure.

But really the main reason is restrictions by Israel on aid crossing into Gaza. Before the war, 500 trucks a day entered with food and basic supplies, and that's down to as low as a couple of dozen now some days. Those main U.N. agencies which would normally take the lead are unable to do that now, due to security and political factors.

INSKEEP: What are some aid routes that are working?

ARRAF: Well, yesterday I went with the Jordanian military on one of their airdrops over northern Gaza. Jordan has taken the lead on airdropping aid, with participation from some other countries. Those drops require a lot of coordination, including from the Israelis. And yesterday was the first time in many weeks that aid was dropped into northern Gaza. Having said that, they're generally considered a last resort because of the expense, the logistics and the fact that they can't carry as much as trucks. Save the Children aid group's CEO, Janti Soeripto, says Israel needs to open the other existing land crossings to allow in aid.

JANTI SOERIPTO: We get the intent of people, and we welcome that authentic attempt to get more aid into Gaza. The fastest, most effective, most efficient way to do it is to open up more crossings.

ARRAF: In the meantime, though, aid officials say even more children are at risk of starving to death.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jane Arraf. Thanks so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.