Biden to airdrop aid to Gaza, hopes for ceasefire by Ramadan

Biden to airdrop aid to Gaza, hopes for ceasefire by Ramadan

Aid is air-dropped over Gaza, amid the ongoing the conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb 26, 2024. (Photo: Reuters)
Aid is air-dropped over Gaza, amid the ongoing the conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb 26, 2024. (Photo: Reuters)

WASHINGTON - United States President Joe Biden announced the US would begin airdropping humanitarian aid into Gaza, joining other nations in a bid to relieve increasingly dire conditions wrought by the Israel-Hamas war, and expressed hopes for a temporary pause in the fighting by Ramadan.

The decision to begin airdrops marks a shift that acknowledges current efforts to get supplies into Gaza have fallen short in addressing the humanitarian crisis and shows how much pressure the president has faced to step up US support for Palestinians. 

"We need to do more, and the United States will do more," Biden said Friday during a White House meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, adding his administration would "pull out every stop we can to get more assistance in."

Biden said the drops would begin in the “coming days.” The president said the US would also explore “the possibility of a marine corridor to deliver large amounts of humanitarian assistance” and insist that Israel opens up more land routes and facilitates more supply trucks with “no excuses.” 

"Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough,” Biden said. "Lives are on the line."

Asked when the airdrops would begin, Biden told reporters, “I’m not positive, I think very soon," as he departed for Camp David on Friday evening.

White House spokesman John Kirby said the first round of airborne deliveries will contain food, most likely ready-to-eat military rations. He said the US would work to ensure relief supplies do not fall into Hamas’s hands, but cautioned few operations are "more complicated" than airdrops.

Kirby added the US plans to make multiple drops as part of a sustained effort working with other nations, including Jordan.

US President Joe Biden on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One in Washington, DC, on Friday. (Photo: Bloomberg)

Biden's pleas for Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza took on added urgency after more than a hundred Palestinians were killed Thursday during an outbreak of violence at a food convoy. Israeli soldiers opened fire near a crowd swarming the trucks. 

Israel denied its forces shot at the people, saying most victims were trampled or hit by vehicles as they sought to escape. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other nations condemned Israel for the deaths. US officials said the fatal incident reflected the mounting desperation among Gaza residents.

"Innocent people got caught in a terrible war unable to feed their families, and you saw the response when they tried to get aid," Biden said Friday.

Asked if he trusted Israel to investigate the incident, Biden said, "yes."

Biden has said the violence would further set back talks between Israel and Hamas, facilitated by Qatar, Egypt and the US, to achieve a six-week pause in fighting to allow for the exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, as well as more aid to reach Palestinians caught in the crossfire of the deadly war.

The president had initially expressed optimism a deal could be reached by next Monday, but on Thursday said negotiations would probably drag on longer. He spoke Thursday by phone with the leaders of Qatar and Egypt about the talks. 

Asked on Friday evening if there would be a cease-fire by Ramadan, Biden said, "I'm hoping so. We're still working really hard at it. We’re not there yet.”

Dire conditions

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has worsened as the war between Israel and Hamas approaches its sixth month. A top official at the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme warned that more than half a million Gazans were at risk of famine by May if conditions there do not improve. 

Aid flowing to Gaza fell by half in February compared to January, according to the UN, which cited difficulties at border crossings into the territory, ongoing military operations, collapse of civil order and a "lack of political will."

Palestinians who were wounded in Israeli fire while waiting for aid, according to health officials, lie on beds at Al Shifa hospital, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City on Friday. (Photo: Reuters)

More than 30,000 people in Gaza have been killed since the war started, according to the territory's Hamas-run health ministry. The conflict began on Oct 7 when Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, killed 1,200 people in an attack on Israel and took more than 240 hostages. 

The violence in Gaza has put political pressure on Biden, who faces blowback from Arab and Muslim Americans, as well as young and progressive voters, over his support for Israel. In Michigan's Democratic primary on Tuesday, roughly 13% of voters cast ballots for "uncommitted" after pro-Palestinian activists urged a protest vote against Biden's support for Israel. 

Michigan, which has a large Arab and Muslim American population, is a swing state Biden won in 2020 and one that will be crucial to his re-election hopes in November.

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