U.S. Makes First Airdrop of Aid Into Gaza

The airdrops, which some aid experts criticized as insubstantial and largely symbolic, contribute “to ongoing U.S. government efforts to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza,” the statement said. “We are conducting planning for potential follow-on airborne aid delivery missions.”

One of the U.S. officials briefing reporters on the operation on Saturday said that 66 pallets had been dropped over Gaza. The official said that drop sites had been chosen in relatively safe areas where people are sheltering and in need. The U.S. did not coordinate its operation with Hamas or any other group on the ground, the official said.

The drop is intended to be the first of a sustained campaign, the official said, adding that the United States is also exploring other avenues of bringing more aid into Gaza, including by sea. The official and others at the briefing spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations and diplomatic efforts.

The drops came a day after President Biden said the United States would find new ways to get aid to Palestinians in desperate need because of Israel’s five-month military campaign to destroy Hamas. It also comes two days after more than 100 Palestinians were killed as Israeli forces opened fire around a convoy of aid trucks in northern Gaza.

The disaster showed the desperation Palestinians in Gaza face and that the ground convoys Israel has allowed into the territory are not providing sufficient relief. But U.S. officials have cautioned that airdrops cannot move supplies at the scale of convoys — even big military cargo planes, like the C-130s used on Saturday, can carry only a fraction of the supplies that a truck convoy can. In addition, aid dropped on the ground is difficult to secure and distribute in an orderly way.

The top U.S. goal, the officials said in Saturday’s briefing, is to negotiate a pause in fighting that would allow far more truck traffic to enter. The United States is still working to achieve a limited cease-fire that would allow for the release of dozens of the most “vulnerable” Israeli hostages in Gaza and the entry of more aid convoys into the territory. Israel has agreed to a plan that would include a six-week cease-fire. The United States and other countries, including Egypt and Qatar, are trying to persuade Hamas to accept the deal, another U.S. official said Saturday.

It was not clear when the next airdrop might be, as poor weather was forecast for Gaza on Sunday.

As hunger and illness grow in Gaza, U.S. officials have pressured Israel to allow more aid convoys into the territory, with limited success. But a third U.S. official briefing reporters on Saturday said that the shortage of supplies has been compounded by lawlessness within Gaza, which has made effective distribution difficult. Criminal gangs are plundering aid and selling it for exorbitant prices. Flooding Gaza with supplies will lower prices and reduce the incentive for theft, the official said.

Some humanitarian aid experts were critical of the U.S. effort as far too little to make a real difference. Dave Harden, a former Gaza director at the U.S. Agency for International Development, wrote on social media that “there will be no meaningful humanitarian impact in Gaza” from the drops.

Without security in the drop zone and coordination with relief workers on the ground, he said, “assume that the strongest — not the most vulnerable and needy — will take and control the food.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.