At least 20 people were killed as they waited for aid in Gaza as a new ceasefire deal was under discussion

At least 20 people were killed and more than 150 wounded late Thursday, according to Palestinian officials and witnesses in Gaza. The Israeli army strongly denied responsibility for the killings in a statement on Friday.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Palestinian gunmen opened fire on the crowd and some civilians were run over by aid trucks.

“A thorough preliminary review conducted overnight by the IDF found that the IDF did not open fire on the aid convoy,” the statement said.

Three people interviewed by The Washington Post who said they went to meet the trucks Thursday night said they saw an Israeli helicopter and drones firing indiscriminately at Palestinians who had gathered for help. Two witnesses said they also saw armed Palestinian police officers, but they were some distance from the convoy, and one said officers fired their weapons into the air to control the crowd.

Humanitarian officials say the killings come as Gaza continues to recover from a hunger crisis that is largely man-made and due in large part to Israel's withholding of aid. Severe shortages and the withdrawal of officers led to desperate struggles around aid convoys and scenes of chaos unaccustomed to the Gazans.

With limited supplies of food, medicine and other necessities entering Gaza via land routes, the United States and other countries have resorted to air and sea deliveries of small quantities of supplies.

Israel has refused to limit aid to Gaza. The UN and other aid officials say without a ceasefire, the enclave's population could face mass starvation.

Israel's war cabinet met on Friday to evaluate Hamas' new cease-fire proposal. Later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement that the militant group's demands were “still unreasonable” but said Israel would send a delegation to broker Qatar to broker ceasefire talks to discuss Israel's position.

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Shortly before midnight on Friday, Gaza's health ministry said dozens of people were killed or injured in an Israeli attack on civilians waiting for food at the Kuwaiti roundabout in northern Gaza, where people rushed to intercept aid supplies. The report said 11 bodies were found at Al-Shifa Hospital and 100 people were injured. The Ministry of Health later said at least 20 people had been killed.

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for the Civil Defense in Gaza, said in an interview late Thursday that thousands of people gathered near the roundabout were forced to “take cover” after being fired upon by Israeli helicopters and drones. and artillery fire. An artillery shell fell on a destroyed house where people were sheltering, he said.

The IDF said in a statement that it helped “pass through” 31 trucks carrying humanitarian aid for residents of northern Gaza. About an hour before they arrived at the humanitarian crossing, armed Palestinians opened fire while Gazan civilians were waiting, the statement said.

“Palestinian gunmen continued to fire as the Gazan crowd began looting the trucks,” the statement said. It added that there was no Israeli “tank attack, airstrikes or gunfire” directed at Gazan civilians during the aid convoy, calling the reports that Israel was responsible for the deaths part of a “smear campaign” by Hamas.

Police in Gaza stopped providing aid to the territory last month after several attacks targeting Israeli forces. According to the United Nations, last month, police in Gaza said they would not provide aid after an increase in Israeli attacks targeting the force. Police withdrawal fueled lawlessness surrounding aid distribution.

One of the witnesses, Abdul Hakeem Jawwad, left his house in Beit Lahiya town around 7pm after evening prayers. About an hour later, he was north of the Kuwait roundabout when he first heard what he described as artillery and gunfire. He said he then saw the helicopter and quadcopter being pelted with “projectiles and bullets”.

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Jawwat said the firing started before the trucks arrived. Sometimes it stopped, and when a truck sped through the crowd, people jumped and shouted to grab flour or other supplies. He said the firing would then resume, estimating there were seven trucks.

“Trucks ran over people too,” he said. “I am one of those people. A truck ran over my leg.

Jawwat said he visited the Kuwait Roundabout several times to buy flour, though he always came up empty-handed like on Thursday.

Confusion in the delivery of aid has become routine, he said. In the dark, people are determined to get food and try to survive, he said.

For the first time at the roundabout, Jawwad said he saw groups of men armed with automatic weapons. He said they were about 350 feet away from the roundabout and at times “shot into the air” to calm the crowd, adding that he did not see Palestinians shooting at other Palestinians.

Another witness, Mohammed Samir Bassel, 49, of Gaza City's Zaytown neighborhood, told the Post by phone that he saw police parked less than a mile away. Starting at 8 p.m., Israeli helicopters and drones fired at the crowd periodically, he said.

One of Jawwad's friends, Mohammad Safi (29), also went to Kuwait Roundabout in search of flour. When the crowd first arrived, Israeli troops fired “sound and smoke bombs.” “Then they started shooting.”

“The victims were brought out,” he said.

The accounts could not be independently confirmed. Late Friday, the IDF released redacted footage of what it said were “Palestinian gunmen firing among Gazan civilians.”

The Post could not immediately verify the location of the footage or the events the IDF has said.

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The United States on Friday reviewed Hamas's offer to release new hostages, as Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that serious work was underway to reach an agreement to impose a ceasefire in the war that began five months ago.

“There is a counter-proposal put forward by Hamas,” Blinken told reporters in Vienna after a day of meetings with United Nations policymakers and Austrian leaders. “I obviously can't get into the details.”

He added that the U.S. is “actively working to bridge the remaining gaps and reach an agreement with Israel, Qatar, and Egypt.” “Conversations are happening right now as we speak here, and I'm sure they will continue in the coming days.”

Basem Naim, a Hamas official, told The Post that he could not confirm the exact details of the proposal, but said the group was aiming for a comprehensive deal rather than a partial end to the fighting. “A full deal or no deal,” he said.

Reuters, It said it had reviewed the proposal, in exchange for 700 to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including women, children and the elderly, as well as sick Israeli hostages, 100 of whom were serving life sentences. According to Israeli government figures, about 99 living hostages are being held captive in Gaza.

In response to news that a potential deal was approaching, some families of Israeli hostages rallied outside a government building in Tel Aviv on Friday and said they would press the war cabinet to accept the deal.

“It is time for the members of the Defense Cabinet and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make a decision to save our loved ones,” they said in a statement on Friday.

“An entire nation is counting on them to make the right choice — to return our brothers and sisters.”

Michael Birnbaum, Hajar Harb, Itay Stern and Adela Suliman contributed to this report.

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