Biden Approves Humanitarian Air Drops Into Gaza After Israelis Opened Fire Near Aid Convoy

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden said Friday that the U.S. will begin air-dropping humanitarian assistance into Gaza, a day after more than 100 Palestinians were killed during a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.

The president announced the move after at least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, on Thursday when witnesses said Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.

Biden said the air drops will begin soon and that the United States was looking into additional ways to facilitate getting badly needed aid into the war-battered territory to ease the suffering of Palestinians.

“In the coming days we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who are providing airdrops of additional food and supplies” and will “seek to open up other avenues in, including possibly a marine corridor,” Biden said.

The president twice referred to airdrops to help Ukraine, but White House officials clarified that he was referring to Gaza.

Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a stampede linked to the chaos and that its troops fired at some in the crowd who they believed moved toward them in a threatening way.

Biden made the announcement while hosting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White house.

“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough,” Biden said. “Now, it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line. We won’t stand by until we get more aid in there. We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several.”

Biden in his visit with Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Friday also sought to assure European leaders that the U.S. remains behind Ukraine even as he’s been unable to win passage of a supplemental foreign aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine in addition to $35 billion for Israel and Taiwan. The legislation has passed the Senate, but Republican Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to put it up for a vote in the House.

Ahead of Meloni’s visit, White House officials said they don’t have good answers for allies about finding an end to the impasse with House Republicans and reopening the American spigot of aid to Kyiv that’s badly needed as Ukraine tries to fend off Russia’s invasion.

“It’s obviously having a demonstrable impact not just on our national security but the security of allies and partners around the world,” White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said.

Biden, along with top Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, strongly urged Johnson during a White House meeting this week to take up the foreign aid package, but Johnson responded by saying that Congress “must take care of America’s needs first.”

Friday’s meeting is the second between Biden and Meloni in about seven months. Both leaders are grappling with war in the Middle East and Europe and looking to shore up their public standing.

Meloni traveled to Kyiv last week to host a Group of Seven leaders meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion. Leaders of Belgium, Canada and the EU Commission joined Meloni in Kyiv, and Biden and other leaders joined by video. Italy assumed its one-year presidency of the G7 in January.

During her recent visit to Kyiv, Meloni reaffirmed Italian support for Ukraine and signed a security cooperation agreement for military and technical assistance through the end of the year. Italy is also committed to helping Ukraine reconstruct historical monuments.

There was trepidation in the Biden administration when Meloni rose to power as the head of Italy’s first far-right-led government since the end of World War II. But the two have found common ground over the cause of Ukraine, and Biden heaped praise on Meloni and Italy for its efforts to back Kyiv when she visited Washington in July.

The leaders’ agenda also was expected to cover efforts by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar to broker an extended cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Italy’s priorities for a G7 presidency, migrant flows into Italy from North Africa, and their countries’ China policies.

Biden said earlier this week that he was optimistic that a cease-fire deal could be reached by early next week. But he acknowledged that a prospective deal may have been set back after Israeli troops on Thursday fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off the aid convoy.

With Meloni by his side, Biden on Friday expressed cautious optimism that a deal can still be struck.

“We’ve been working and hopefully we’ll know shortly”

Meloni is to travel to Canada to meet on Saturday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Barry reported from Milan. AP writer Seung Min Kim aboard Air Force One contributed reporting.

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