Amid Food Shortages, People in Gaza Are Ambushing Aid Convoys

Amid widespread food shortages and a breakdown in civil order, groups of desperate civilians in Gaza are regularly attempting to ambush aid convoys, according to two Western officials who were recently in the enclave and images of one such ambush reviewed by The New York Times.

In the images, several dozen young men, some of them carrying clubs, attempt to block the passage of a convoy of trucks as they drive along a major highway in southern Gaza after entering the territory from Egypt. The trucks are briefly forced off the road as the drivers swerve to avoid hitting the men. Some of the assailants throw stones at the trucks’ windshields, seemingly to try to stop them.

The images, with time stamps indicating they were taken in recent days, were reviewed by a reporter for The Times.

Such attacks have become common since Israel’s invasion last year as desperate civilians face starvation in pockets of the enclave, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid complicating their work in Gaza. In one recent attack, assailants threw an ax at a driver’s cabin, attempting to break into it, while in another the attackers hurled a cement block, according to one of the officials.

Israel blames much of the theft on Hamas, which it accuses of siphoning off supplies for its own forces.

But the Western officials said the attacks appeared to be mostly organized by groups of Gazans who were unaffiliated with Hamas, or were the spontaneous acts of desperate civilians. Hamas officials are barely present on the ground in any part of Gaza, the officials said, and international aid organizations are no longer coordinating their movements with the group that until October controlled the entirety of the territory.

The ambushes on aid convoys are partly a result of a breakdown in law enforcement, the officials said. Gazan policemen are now refusing to protect the convoys because they fear they will be targeted by Israel because of their affiliation with the Hamas-run government, the officials said. That leaves the convoys more vulnerable, they added.

Foreign diplomats privately say that enough food is reaching the Gazan border via Egypt to prevent famine, but the problem is its distribution to areas beyond Rafah, the southern city that lines the border with Egypt.

In northern Gaza, aid groups say another major obstacle is the difficulty in coordinating safe passage with the Israeli military.

Unlike southern Gaza, the north is mostly under full Israeli control, and aid groups say Israel regularly blocks access to Gaza City and its surrounding districts.

Israel has accused the aid groups of failing to coordinate their convoys closely enough with the Israeli government, and says that not all requests for access can be granted because of continued fighting.

In one case in early February, the United Nations accused the Israeli navy of shelling an aid convoy heading up Gaza’s coastal road toward Gaza City. The Israeli military said it was looking into the claim.

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