May 24, 2024

Brighton Journal

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The British Royal Air Force participates in the largest airdrop of aid to Gaza

The British Royal Air Force participates in the largest airdrop of aid to Gaza
  • Written by James Landale
  • Diplomatic correspondent in Gaza

Video explanation,

Watch: 14 planes from nine countries dropped 10 tons of aid

And it's all over in seconds. The plane slows, raises its nose, and 12 perfectly packed pallets of humanitarian aid slide out of the open ramp at the back.

One minute ago, there were 10 tons of food and water, and the next they were gently parachuting in the southwest breeze, landing on the northern shores of Gaza.

It seems simple and straightforward. However, delivering aid by air is not easy at all. This is far from controversial.

This was the largest coalition airdrop of the war: 14 aircraft from nine countries delivering aid. The delivery volume was timed to mark the end of Ramadan.

At a military air base east of Amman, the Jordanian capital, we watched aircrew from the UK, US, Netherlands, Germany, Egypt, Indonesia, UAE and France being briefed on developments by their Jordanian counterparts. They need to know who is doing what and where, as the airspace over Gaza is small.

Each country has its own drop zone and its own way of delivering aid. The whole process is organized by the Jordanians but everything has to be signed by the Israelis. If the Israeli army says no, the planes don't take off.

The Turks were planning to join the coalition today, but were intercepted at the last minute.

Aid is stacked in vast open barns: piles of flour, sugar, rice, beans, pulses, oil and water. The UK has its own corner where British servicemen and women – both from the RAF and from the Royal Logistics Corps' 47 Air Dispatch Squadron – carefully pack their pallets.

Everything is carefully weighed – each package cannot be too light or too heavy. Everything is deliberately packed to avoid damage caused by collision. Cords and straps are precisely measured and in place. A few gifts were carefully wrapped. The whole thing sits atop a thick sheet of plywood.

Comment on the photo,

The RAF uses one of its largest transport aircraft, the A400M

Forklift trucks load pallets onto the A400M, one of the RAF's largest transport aircraft – the successor to the less frequently found Hercules C130. Each container slides along a rolling track on the plane's surface. Frequent checks are made to ensure they will not jam.

We took off and after 40 minutes we reached the landing zone. Here is the next complication.

The RAF usually drops aid at an altitude of up to 400 feet, but the Israelis stipulated that they do so at a distance of at least 2,000 feet. This means that the umbrellas have a long time to be blown off course by the wind. That is why some airdrops in recent weeks have landed at sea.

The pilots warned us during our flight that they would drop the containers over the sea, but the southwesterly breeze would bring them back to shore. And this is exactly what happens. The job is done and we go home.

So none of this is easy. The possibility of error is high. It is also not a good way to provide aid.

The RAF flight was carrying about 10 tons of aid. This is less than a single truck can carry across the border on land. So, there is huge effort and expense, but its impact is marginal.

The British Army knows this. But Squadron Leader Lucy Pleyle, the detachment commander in Amman, said the cumulative effect was starting to show, with about 1,500 tons of aid delivered in the past month.

“This is an ongoing effort,” she said. “We have been here for three weeks, and we are constantly delivering aid.

“The people of Gaza are very grateful for the efforts we will make. We will continue to deliver and deliver, until we can give them no more.”

Some international relief groups say these flights are for show, to provide the illusion that some countries are contributing to humanitarian efforts. They say the airdrops are a symbol of the failure to deliver aid by other means, which distracts from those efforts. They argue, rightly, that airdrops simply will not meet needs on the ground.

There is no way to organize distribution on the ground. Some Gazans were crushed during the stampede on the platforms. Others drowned while trying to catch those landing in the sea. Some were even injured when containers fell onto buildings.

But the aircrews here in Jordan insist they are making a difference, that they are filling a gap – at least in the absence of enough aid arriving by land or sea.

Warrant Officer Adrian Debs said: “It's not much – but it's the effort that counts, as with every little help. I'm very proud and happy to be involved in this type of mission.”

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