Middle East Crisis: Gaza Authorities Say Accident Involving Airdropped Aid Kills 5

The authorities in Gaza said at least five Palestinians were killed and several others were wounded on Friday after packages of humanitarian aid that had been airdropped fell on them in Gaza City.

The report, put out by the government media office and the Palestinian civil defense force, could not be immediately verified by independent sources, but if confirmed, the deaths would underscore the dangers and difficulties of relying on airdrops to get food to people facing severe hunger in northern Gaza after five months of war.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, said the United States had carried out an airdrop on Friday, but he said all the bundles of aid that had been dropped — enough for about 11,000 meals — had landed safely.

A video, circulating on social media and purporting to depict the incident, shows a plane releasing parachutes carrying aid packages over northern Gaza. In the clip, whose date and location were verified by The New York Times, it appears that one parachute failed to open, while multiple packages that were not attached to parachutes plummeted to the ground. In the clip, filmed near Al-Shati Camp, people can be seen running in different directions.

The government media office said in a statement that the packages fell “on the heads” of some people “as a result of landing incorrectly.” The office added that it had previously warned that a similar incident could occur during airdrops and “pose a death threat to the lives” of civilians in Gaza. Noting that some of the aid had landed in the sea or close to the Israeli border, the statement said that airdrop operations were “ineffective and not the best way to deliver aid.”

It remained unclear what country had dropped the aid packages. Besides the United States, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France have done airdrops in recent weeks in an effort to stave off a greater humanitarian disaster in Gaza. U.N. officials say the threat of famine is looming over the besieged coastal strip, where aid had been trickling in by truck through two border crossings.

U.N. officials, aid groups and experts on humanitarian crises have said the airdrops are insufficient and largely symbolic, given the dire needs of the two million Gazans still trapped in a war zone. They have urged Israel to open up more border crossings and to speed up inspections of the aid shipments.

Airdrops can only deliver a fraction of the food a convoy of trucks can haul, and it is difficult if not impossible to control who takes possession of the goods once they reach the ground, these experts have said.

But dangers posed by failed parachutes and falling pallets of food, water and other aid are also a major risk in airdrop operations.

James McGoldrick, a senior U.N. relief official in Israel, said the fatal accident on Friday gave additional weight to the argument that Israel should open more overland crossings.

“Let the stuff just flow, it’s a very simple solution,” he said in a telephone interview. “You don’t have to have airdrops like the one which killed five people this morning in the north.”

Saleh Eid, a 60-year-old translator, said in a telephone interview on Friday that he had previously seen packages airdropped in north Gaza fall “very fast” when their parachutes failed to open, creating a risk to people’s lives.

Mr. Eid, who lives in the city of Jabaliya just north of Gaza City, said that many of these packages have fallen into the sea. Others have dropped into open areas near the border with Israel, and people have risked being shot by Israeli forces to retrieve them, he said.

Mr. Eid said that much of the airdropped food ends up being sold on the black market rather than being distributed to the most hungry.

On Sunday, he said, he bought three bags of food at a market that had been airdropped by the United States. He gave the food to his wife, who is nursing their 2-week-old baby, in the hope that she could eat well enough to produce milk.

Each of the bags, he said, cost him 30 shekels, or about $8 dollars, and contained a small meal and some biscuits, jam, peanut butter, a bar of chocolate, a juice box, instant coffee and gum.

Arijeta Lajka contributed reporting.