Mission to drop aid into Gaza expands rapidly with help from Canada, UAE, UK and Bahrain

Canada says it could support efforts by Jordan and France

Members of the Jordanian Armed Forces drop aid parcels along the Gaza coast, in co-operation with Egypt, Qatar and France. Reuters
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The US could be moving closer to dropping aid into the besieged Gaza Strip, where the UN says about 600,000 Palestinians face starvation amid Israeli delays in approving aid convoys.

An American mission could join a Jordan-led initiative that has expanded rapidly this week, to include France, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Canada also said it would soon join the air bridge operation.

A Jordanian military official was quoted by state TV as saying that the kingdom’s army, in co-operation with Bahrain and Oman, executed two drops of aid into Gaza on Thursday.

The official did not give details. It was the first time that the two countries participated in the operations from Jordan. The UK's Ministry of Defence also said the Royal Air Force was “providing 582 cargo parachutes to assist the Jordanian-led effort” while the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said Bahrain had also requested parachutes.

The UAE Ministry of Defence also announced the launch of operation “Birds of Goodness” dropping 36 tonnes of humanitarian relief, with planes from the UAE and Egypt on the northern Gaza Strip, state news agency Wam reported on Thursday.

The aircraft used GPS-guided parachutes to deliver the aid, a common approach in the crisis so far, where there are few large “drop zones”, safe enough for civilians to collect the supplies.

Aid deliveries collapse

Israel has been accused by the UN of holding up convoys of aid lorries with laborious inspection processes on the border with Egypt, leading to famine-like conditions in the enclave.

That, in turn, has led to insecure conditions for what little aid does get through, including looting. North Gaza has been particularly hard hit, furthest from the main aid crossing at Rafah on the Egyptian border, and largely cut off from near constant fighting.

New avenues for aid are being considered and on Thursday, US political outlet Axios reported that President Joe Biden’s administration was looking into the prospect of the US joining aid air-drop operations, but no public statements have been made.

Canadian International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen said on Wednesday that the country was urgently looking at an air-drop plan, coordinating it “with like-minded countries”.

A growing number of countries are now considering what was seen by many as a last resort due to the expense and complexity of air operations, as well as the more urgent option of pressuring Israel to speed up aid approvals.

Jordan began operations in November, sending aid by GPS-guided parachutes to a hospital it runs in central Gaza. Since then, Jordan has flown 16 air-drop missions and, earlier this week, Jordanian aircraft were joined by a plane from France for an air drop, while other countries in the region, including Egypt, have assisted operations.

Israel, which controls the airspace above Gaza, says it is also playing a role, although the extent of this is unclear as heavy Israeli air strikes continue.

Jessica Moussan, the International Committee of the Red Cross spokeswoman in the Middle East, told The National that any initiative that brings in much-needed relief is welcomed.

Pressure is mounting on the ground for faster distribution of aid, even as many experts caution that air drops are not an efficient way of dispersing aid.

“The logistics involved in airdrops extend beyond the drop itself, it includes secure identification of drop-off locations, and the co-ordination of collection, storage, and distribution on the ground,” Ms Moussan said.

Ms Moussan said these “operations need clear arrangements and co-operation of many different stakeholders to ensure aid is delivered safely and effectively.”

Careful planning and execution are needed during air drops, making them the most expensive way of delivering relief to civilians, Ms Moussan said.

The ICRC believes that it's impossible to get all the much-needed aid through the Rafah border crossing in the south, as it is not designed for commercial use, she said.

Air bridge efficiency challenge

In February, for example, one convoy of 11 lorries carried 240 tonnes of aid into Gaza, a feat that would take a C-130 Hercules aircraft – operated by about 60 of the world's air forces – about 13 flights.

Unlike a lorry, a Hercules which can carry about 12-18 tonnes of cargo for air drops depending on the variant, costs about $10,000 an hour to operate.

But pressure is mounting on the ground. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Tuesday that aid groups faced “overwhelming obstacles just to get a bare minimum of supplies into Gaza”.

One in six children under the age of two in northern Gaza suffers from acute malnutrition and practically all the 2.3 million people in the Palestinian enclave rely on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive, it added.

Updated: February 29, 2024, 2:50 PM