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US military planes drop thousands of meals to Gaza during a humanitarian relief operation

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military C-130 cargo planes dropped palletized food over Gaza on Saturday, three U.S. officials said, two days after more than 100 Palestinians who had flown to pick up supplies from an aid convoy were killed in a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.

Three Air Forces Central planes dropped 66 bundles containing about 38,000 meals in Gaza at 8:30 a.m. EST, according to two of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a public announcement.

The airdrop is expected to be the first of many announced by President Joe Biden on Friday. The aid will be coordinated with Jordan, which has also carried out airdrops to deliver food to Gaza.

At least 115 Palestinians were killed and hundreds of others injured in Thursday’s attack as they struggled for help, the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said. Israel says many of the dead were trampled in chaotic crowds over food aid, and that its forces fired warning shots after the crowd advanced on them in a threatening manner.

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White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Friday that the airdrops were planned to safely deliver emergency humanitarian assistance to people on the ground. The United States believes the air drops will help address the dire situation in Gaza, but they are not a substitute for trucks, which can carry much more aid more effectively, although Thursday’s events also highlighted the risks of ground transport.

Kirby said the air drops have an advantage over trucks because planes can move relief supplies to a specific location very quickly. But in terms of volume, the airdrops will “complement, not replace, moving things on the ground.”

The C-130 is a widely used cargo aircraft to deliver aid to remote places due to its ability to land in austere environments and cargo capacity.

A C-130 can carry as much as 42,000 pounds of cargo, and the crew knows how to stretch the cargo, which can sometimes even include vehicles, onto huge pallets and drop it safely out the back of the plane.

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Air Force loadmasters secure the bundles to mesh pallets rigged in the back of a C-130 for release, and then crews release them with a parachute when the aircraft reaches its intended delivery zone.

The Air Force’s C-130 has been used in recent years for humanitarian air drops to Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti and other locations and the airframe is used in an annual multinational “Operation Christmas Drop” in which pallets of toys, supplies, non-perishable food – and fish supplies to remote locations in the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau.

Since the start of the war on October 7, Israel has banned access to food, water, medicine and other supplies, except for a trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt through the Rafah crossing and the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel.

According to the United Nations, a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are at risk of famine. Aid officials have said airdrops are not an efficient way to distribute aid and are a last resort.

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