The United States on Saturday carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid into Gaza, even as Israel continues to block access to the besieged territory.

The US Central Command conducted a combined operation with the Royal Jordanian Air Force and dropped over 38,000 meals along the coastline of Gaza, allowing for civilian access to critical aid.

“The DoD [Department of Defence] humanitarian airdrops contribute to ongoing US government efforts to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza,” the US Central Command said in a social media post. “We are conducting planning for potential follow-on airborne aid delivery missions.”

It added: “These airdrops are part of a sustained effort to get more aid into Gaza, including by expanding the flow of aid through land corridors and routes.”

However, the US move has been criticised as mere public relations antics, reported Al Jazeera.

“The airdrops are symbolic and designed in ways to appease the domestic base,” former USAID director to the West Bank Dave Harden told Al Jazeera. “Really what needs to happen is more crossings [opening] and more trucks going in every day.”

Scott Paul who heads non-governmental organisation Oxfam’s US government advocacy work said that Washington should instead shut its supply of weapons to Israel.

The US aid supply came after the toll in Israel’s war on Gaza crossed the 30,000 mark as Israeli troops fired at a crowd of Palestinians collecting aid in Gaza on Thursday. At least 118 people were killed, Reuters reported.

The Israeli government said that many had died due to a stampede. Troops fired only when they felt “endangered”, it added. Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that his country’s forces “acted excellently against a Gazan mob that tried to harm them”, reported Middle East Eye.

Israel to investigate aid convoy attack

The Israeli military on Saturday said that it will investigate the deaths of Palestinians who had queued for aid in Gaza City on February 29, reported Reuters.

“We are investigating this incident, we have all the documentation that we need in order to carry out an exhaustive, truthful investigation into the facts of this incident and we will present our findings,” Israeli army spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told media persons in Tel Aviv.

However, Hagari said that the Israeli military was running a “humanitarian operation” and dismissed the allegations that the Army deliberately attacked the convoy.

This came a day after the US national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Friday that his country has asked Israel to investigate the incident.

“They are looking into what occurred, so as to avoid tragedies like this from happening again,” Kirby said. He told reporters that the US has trusted Israel to complete its own investigation, adding that Washington does not have enough information to verify its account of what happened.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that a quarter of the population of Gaza, nearly 5,76,000 people, is a step away from famine. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees said on Friday that in February, an average of 97 trucks of humanitarian aid were able to enter Gaza each day, compared with about 150 a day in January.

While deliveries through the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza have nearly halted, Israeli protestors have blocked deliveries to the Palestinian territory through Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing, reported Reuters.

At least ten children have reportedly died of malnutrition and dehydration so far, while many more are on the brink, said Catherine Russell, the executive director of United Nations International Children's Emergency, on Saturday.

“One in six children under the age of two in north Gaza are acutely malnourished,” Russell wrote in a social media post. “Severe malnutrition can be deadly or leave young children with permanent cognitive and physical damage. For children in Gaza, every minute counts in safely accessing nutrition, water, medical care & protection from bullets & bombs. This requires a humanitarian ceasefire now.”

The war, which started after the Palestinian militant group Hamas’ incursion into southern Israel on October 7, has continued for nearly five months. Hamas had killed 1,200 people in the attack and taken more than 200 persons hostage. Some of the hostages were released in November as part of a brief ceasefire agreement in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel and humanitarian aid.