Majority killed by stampede in Gaza aid convoy catastrophe, IDF probe finds

"Our initial review has confirmed that no strike was carried out by the IDF towards the aid convoy,” the IDF published in a statement. 

 Thousands of Palestinians converge on aid trucks in the Gaza Strip, February 29, 2024 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Thousands of Palestinians converge on aid trucks in the Gaza Strip, February 29, 2024

The IDF confirmed on Sunday morning that it had completed its review and found that no drone strike had occurred during an incident last week where Palestinians were trampled to death while attempting to charge an aid convoy.

“The IDF has concluded an initial review of the unfortunate incident where Gazan civilians were trampled to death and injured as they charged to the aid convoy. Our initial review has confirmed that no strike was carried out by the IDF towards the aid convoy,” the IDF published in a statement. 

IDF Spokesperson Rear-Adm. Daniel Hagari gave a press briefing in which he confirmed that Israel had been involved in the facilitation of the aid convoy in northern Gaza on Thursday. 

The operation, aimed at ensuring that Palestinians received access to humanitarian aid, was on the fourth night of operation when the trampling incident occurred. 

Footage of the humanitarian aid airdrop to the Gaza Strip. (IDF Spokesperson's unit)

“We want humanitarian aid to reach Gazan civilians in need,” Hagari asserted. “Our war is not against the people of Gaza. Our war is against Hamas… It is Hamas that has caused immense suffering to civilians on both sides of the border.” 

Describing the incident as “unfortunate,” he reiterated that no strike was carried out on the aid convoy and that the majority of Palestinian casualties had been trampled to death by the stampede. 

Hagari also claimed that the IDF had fired warning shots in an attempt to disperse the stampede and that troops had begun retreating from the scene when looters began posing an immediate threat to the forces present. He explained that it was due to this threat that IDF soldiers were forced to respond.

“As a professional military committed to international law, we are committed to examining our operations thoroughly,” Hagari reassured. “We have opened an inquiry to examine the incident further, which will help reduce the risk of such a tragic incident from occurring again during one of our humanitarian operations.

“The incident will be examined in the Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism, an independent, professional and expert body," he said. "For the sake of transparency, we will share our updates as our examination develops, hopefully in the coming days.” 

Hagari insisted that “We will continue expanding our humanitarian efforts to the civilian population in Gaza while we fulfill our goals of freeing our hostages from Hamas and freeing Gaza from Hamas.”

The IDF spokesman concluded by listing the humanitarian efforts made by Israel in hopes of “alleviating the suffering of civilians in Gaza” during the war against Hamas, which would continue to expand with the help of international partners.

The army also confirmed that on Saturday, the US Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza.

Additionally, over the past few weeks, in cooperation and coordination with  Jordan, France, the UAE and Egypt, more than 450 packages of food and medical aid were distributed through 21 airdrops to the Gaza Strip.

Concern from international bodies

Only a day prior to the review publication, the United States blocked consideration of a United Nations Security Council resolution blaming Israel for the deaths that occurred during the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

The council expressed its “deep concern” on Saturday over last week's aid distribution disaster in Gaza in which over 100 people were reportedly killed, the Jerusalem Post reported, as they urged improved access to basic necessities in the enclave, including food.

“They [the UNSC] express grave concern over the estimation from the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) that all 2.2 million people in Gaza would face alarming levels of acute food insecurity,” the 15-member body said.

Hamas rejects IDF spokesperson's claims

Muatasem Salah, a Hamas official and member of Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry's Emergency Committee, dismissed the Israeli finding as "incorrect."

“We have over a thousand martyrs and wounded in this massacre, and most of the martyrs and injuries are caused by heavy-caliber bullets, not light weapons. These heavy-caliber bullets are from the Israeli occupation army," Salah said.

"There are many serious injuries that have resulted in amputations," he said. "Any attempt to claim that people were martyred due to overcrowding or being run over is incorrect. The wounded and martyrs are the result of being shot with heavy-caliber bullets."

Comment from UN officials

Georgios Petropoulos, head of the Gaza sub-office of the UN Co-ordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who visited Gaza's Shifa hospital on Thursday and Sunday, said he had seen "a huge, overrun emergency department" at the hospital where many of the wounded were treated.

"There were a lot of heavy injuries, there were many, many surgeries," he told Reuters. "One surgeon told me he had to do 18 surgeries just the first night."

Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.