Jordanian air force drops aid in besieged Gaza The US.JPGw1440

Jordanian air force drops aid in besieged Gaza; The US is looking at the same thing

KING ABDULLAH II AIR BASE, Jordan – From above, the northern Gaza Strip could be the skeletal remains of a forgotten ancient city, its broken buildings scattered like handfuls of broken teeth.

But the area that has borne the brunt of fighting in Israel's military operation against Hamas for weeks is far from deserted. People are at risk of starvation, helpers say, and are crying out for help. Jordanian air force pilots dropped 33 tons of medical supplies, food and other essential supplies over Gaza on Thursday – vital support for those reaching them but nowhere near enough to meet widespread needs in the besieged enclave of more than 2 million people cover up.

Just like the truckloads of relief supplies that are arriving more and more slowly into the strip – and which bring their own dangers with them. More than 100 people were killed and 700 injured in Gaza City on Thursday, health officials there said, after a crowd approached a convoy carrying humanitarian aid. Palestinian officials and witnesses blamed Israeli gunfire; Israeli officials blamed a stampede.

“I think the airdrop is a last resort and an extraordinarily expensive way to deliver aid,” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the main U.N. agency for Palestinian affairs, told reporters in East Jerusalem on Thursday. “I don’t think airdropping food into Gaza should be the solution today. The real answer is: open the border crossings and bring convoys and medical aid into Gaza.”

Jordan has been airdropping boxes of humanitarian aid, attached with GPS-controlled parachutes from the United States and Britain, to the hospitals it runs in Gaza since early November.

But this week a new operation began: dropping smaller boxes of food, diapers, toiletries and other items along the Strip's Mediterranean coast.

Each C-130 Hercules can carry 16 such boxes, each about a quarter the size of the packages en route to hospitals, to maximize reach for civilians. The boxes are wrapped in protective film and equipped with parachutes and shock-absorbing floors.

Some carry posters drawn by Jordanian schoolchildren. One showed a Palestinian flag with hearts, the words “Hashem + Salma loves you” and a Quranic phrase – “And he said: We will strengthen your arm through your brother” – written in a childish script.

Each package contained a dozen boxes of food rations, including maqloubeh, the typical Palestinian dish of layered rice, meat, eggplant, potatoes and cauliflower.

“The level of aid that is achieved [Gaza] is not enough, neither by plane nor by truck,” said a spokesman for the Jordanian Armed Forces. “So we are resorting to every possible method that allows us to provide assistance to meet humanitarian needs.”

Officials declined to discuss how much the flights cost or how they will be coordinated with Israel.

In the first hour after takeoff from King Abdullah II Air Base in Jordan, there is a lot of activity on the C-130. The crew members – all men – fasten and unfasten boxes, test oxygen tanks, check and re-check parachute straps.

The plane flies west, past Tel Aviv to the Mediterranean, where it turns south. As Gaza comes into view, there is silence. A half-dozen crew members crowd around a small window, staring at the destruction below.

Roughly the same number of Palestinians live in Jordan and Gaza. Most Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations hold Jordanian passports. For Jordanians, the Palestinian cause is complicated and emotionally charged.

An hour into the flight, crew members put on oxygen masks, the plane's rear cargo door opens and the boxes slide out. The man at the open ramp looks down, turns around and gives both thumbs up. Half a dozen thumbs go up in response.

He starts to turn around, but suddenly stops. He looks out over the Strip, the hospital and the destroyed houses that surround it. He takes his cell phone out of his pocket and takes photos.

The plane, carrying two Washington Post journalists, dropped its cargo over a Jordanian field hospital in the north, where workers were waiting. The armed forces spokesman later said that strong winds had blown a container into Israel.

The men finally sit down, exhaustion on their faces. They pass around crisp apples and bottles of water. One of them tries to hide the vapor from his vape pen. He says he hasn't been home for 20 days. He sleeps at the base to take part in these drops daily.

He stares at the now closed back door. “May God deliver you from this,” he says heavily.

The amount of aid entering the Gaza Strip collapsed this month after Israeli airstrikes targeted Palestinian police officers guarding convoys, forcing them to retreat and leaving truck drivers to fend for themselves under attacks from militants and an increasingly desperate population to withstand.

Gaza is experiencing a “humanitarian apocalypse,” says the Norwegian Refugee Council. A famine is “almost inevitable,” the United Nations warns in increasingly urgent reports. The world is witnessing “the mass killing of children in slow motion,” Alexandra Saieh, head of humanitarian policy and advocacy at Save the Children International, told Al Jazeera English on Thursday.

As pressure on the international community to act increases, Western and Arab countries have joined Jordan. Some send packages; others, their own aircraft. Aircraft from France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates took part in the operation along the coast this week; It was apparently the first such trip for the two Arab countries. Jordanian aircraft also carried aid from the United States and Britain.

The United States is considering airdrops and the deployment of a hospital or aid ship, a U.S. official said, “among other options as we seek to increase humanitarian aid flows into Gaza.” He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the discussions to describe.

A State Department spokesman, asked Thursday whether the United States was considering airdrops, said: “We continue to seek to improve the distribution system, working with the government of Israel and the United Nations to try to achieve a… Finding a way to solve this problem is what we have right now with providing security for aid convoys.”

But the “real solution,” said spokesman Matt Miller, is “an agreement that would dramatically increase the flow of aid.”

The need for aid in Gaza is many times greater than the trickle coming into the Strip, the Jordanian Armed Forces spokesman said. Help from other countries is crucial, he said, to even meet the enclave's needs.

The C-130's next target is on the coast, where the line of sight, unobstructed by buildings, allows civilians to see the cargo drop with the naked eye.

Al Jazeera aired videos this week showing families gathered by the water to watch and children screaming with joy as they saw the parachutes dancing above them.

When some packages ended up at sea this week, Gazans boarded boats to pick them up.

In one clip, people circle around each other, faces skyward, as they follow a falling object.

Then deflation. It was just a piece of cardboard.

Miriam Berger in Jerusalem, Louisa Loveluck and Hajar Harb in London, and John Hudson and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.