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Biden approves military air drops of aid into Gaza

It comes after at least 115 Palestinians were killed and over 750 others were injured when Israeli troops opened fire on a crowd seeking food aid.
Biden approves military air drops of aid into Gaza
Posted at 3:01 PM, Mar 01, 2024

President Joe Biden said Friday that the U.S. will begin air-dropping humanitarian assistance into Gaza, a day after dozens of Palestinians were killed during a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.

The president announced the move after at least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured, according to Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry, on Thursday when witnesses said nearby Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.

Biden said the air drops will begin in the "coming days."

Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a stampede linked to the chaos and that its troops fired at some in the crowd who they believed moved toward them in a threatening way. President Biden made the announcement while hosting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House.

SEE MORE: Desperate need for food aid growing in Gaza

President Biden had been hosting Premier Meloni for talks at the White House as the Democratic U.S. leader struggles to persuade House Republicans to pass legislation that would replenish aid to Ukraine and as both leaders face political headwinds at home.

President Biden sought to assure European leaders that the U.S. remains behind Ukraine even as he's been unable to win passage of a supplemental foreign aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine in addition to $35 billion for Israel and Taiwan. The legislation has passed the Senate, but Republican Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to put it up for a vote in the House.

Ahead of Meloni's visit, White House officials said they don't have good answers for allies about finding an end to the impasse with House Republicans and reopening the American spigot of aid to Kyiv that's badly needed as Ukraine tries to fend off Russia's invasion.

"It's obviously having a demonstrable impact not just on our national security but the security of allies and partners around the world," White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said.

President Biden, along with top Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, strongly urged Johnson during a White House meeting this week to take up the foreign aid package, but Johnson responded by saying that Congress "must take care of America's needs first."

Friday's meeting is the second between President Biden and Meloni in about seven months. Both leaders are grappling with war in the Middle East and Europe and looking to shore up their public standing.

President Biden has begun ramping up for an all-but-certain rematch in November against former President Donald Trump, the likely GOP nominee. Biden's bid for a second term is complicated by the electorate's concern about his age, 81, frustration among some Democrats over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war and mixed feelings about the state of the American economy.

Polls show that Meloni's right-wing Brothers of Italy Party, which swept into power in 2022, still enjoys the most support in Italy, but it has seen a noticeable decline over the last year. Her bloc faced a setback this week when the candidate she campaigned for was defeated in regional elections on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.

Meloni's popularity will be further tested with four more regional elections in 2024 and nationwide elections for Italy's representatives to the European parliament set for June.

"Meloni and Biden both for different reasons seem to be in difficulty, so this meeting can show the public opinion that there’s a solid relationship with allies that are considered important," said Gianluca Pastori, an analyst at the ISPI think tank in Milan.

Meloni traveled to Kyiv last week to host a Group of Seven leaders meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the second anniversary of Russia's invasion. Leaders of Belgium, Canada and the EU Commission joined Meloni in Kyiv, and President Biden and other leaders joined by video. Italy assumed its one-year presidency of the G7 in January.

During her recent visit to Kyiv, Meloni reaffirmed Italian support for Ukraine and signed a security cooperation agreement for military and technical assistance through the end of the year. Italy is also committed to helping Ukraine reconstruct historical monuments.

There was trepidation in the Biden administration when Meloni rose to power as the head of Italy's first far-right-led government since the end of World War II. But the two have found common ground over the cause of Ukraine, and President Biden heaped praise on Meloni and Italy for its efforts to back Kyiv when she visited Washington in July.

The leaders' agenda also was expected to cover efforts by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar to broker an extended cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Italy's priorities for a G7 presidency, migrant flows into Italy from North Africa, and their countries' China policies.

President Biden said earlier this week that he was optimistic that a cease-fire deal could be reached by early next week. But he acknowledged that a prospective deal may have been set back after Israeli troops on Thursday fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off an aid convoy in Gaza City. More than 100 people were killed.

Meloni reacted with "dismay and concern" to the incident.

"It is urgent for Israel to ascertain the dynamics of the events and who is responsible," said Meloni, who called for intensified negotiations to reach a cease-fire and for the release of hostages.

Meloni is to travel to Canada to meet on Saturday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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