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US makes its first Gaza aid airdrop as mediators to seek truce deal

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The United States on Saturday carried out the first of what it said would be a series of humanitarian airdrops of food into Gaza, as aid agencies warned of a growing humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave in the absence of a ceasefire deal.

The US military carries out its first aid drop over Gaza, March 2, 2024. Pictures: Reuters, Kosay Al Nemer

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Idrees Ali

CAIRO/WASHINGTON – The United States on Saturday carried out the first of what it said would be a series of humanitarian airdrops of food into Gaza, as aid agencies warned of a growing humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave in the absence of a ceasefire deal.

Three C-130 US military planes delivered more than 38,000 meals into a territory where the United Nations says at least 576,000 people are one step away from famine conditions. Palestinians posted videos on social media showing boxes of aid being dropped. Jordanian forces also participated in the operation.

The White House has said the airdrops would be a sustained effort, and that Israel supports them. Critics say airdrops are far less effective than aid deliveries by truck, and it is nearly impossible to ensure supplies do not end up with militants.

With talks in Egypt set to resume on Sunday, a senior US official said the framework for a deal on a six-week ceasefire was in place, with Israel’s agreement, and depended on the militant group Hamas agreeing to release hostages.

“The hostages have to be released,” the official told reporters. “The deal is basically there. But I don’t want to create expectations one way or the other.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris will meet Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz at the White House on Monday, a White House official told Reuters.

In Jerusalem, thousands of Israelis marched to demand the release of about 134 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Protesters, led by families of hostages seized during Hamas’ deadly rampage through southern Israel on October 7, arrived at the city at sundown.

RAFAH AIRSTRIKE

In Gaza, the health ministry said at least 11 Palestinians were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit a tent in Rafah, where people are seeking sanctuary from Israel’s offensive.

The ministry said another 50 people were wounded in the strike next to a hospital. One of the dead was a medic at the hospital. In an apparent reference to the same incident, the Israeli military said the strike was conducted against “Islamic Jihad terrorists.”

“The strike hit one tent, where people took shelter, directly, shrapnel came inside the hospital where me and friends were sitting, we survived by a miracle,” a witness told Reuters by phone from the area, declining to be identified.

The Israeli military said its forces killed eight militants in Khan Younis, around 20 militants in the central Gaza Strip and three more in Rimal, near Gaza City.

More than a million Palestinians have been seeking refuge in the Rafah area, fleeing an Israeli offensive that has laid waste to much of Gaza, killing more than 30,000 people, according to the Hamas-run enclave’s health authorities.

Israel launched the offensive in response to the October 7 attack by Hamas, in which 1,200 people were killed in Israel and another 253 abducted, according to Israeli tallies.

SEARCH FOR FOOD

US President Joe Biden has said he hopes a ceasefire will be in place by the Muslim fasting month of Ramadaan, which starts on March 10.

International pressure for a ceasefire has grown.

Three people searching for food in farmland in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday were killed by Israeli strikes, residents and medics said. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thirteen children have died at the Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza in the last three days from dehydration and malnutrition, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Doctors at the hospital said more were at risk of dying. “When a child is supposed to eat three meals a day and he only eats one, he obviously suffers from malnutrition, and all the diseases that come because of it,” said Imad Dardonah.

Biden announced plans for the US airdrop on Friday, a day after the deaths of Palestinians queuing for aid drew renewed attention to the humanitarian catastrophe.

Gaza health authorities said 118 people were killed, attributing the deaths to Israeli fire and calling it a massacre. Israel disputed those figures and said most victims were trampled or run over.

The Israeli military on Saturday promised “an exhaustive, truthful investigation” into the incident, which underscored the collapse of orderly aid deliveries into areas of Gaza occupied by Israeli forces.

CEASEFIRE TALKS

Israel and Hamas have been negotiating via mediators including Egypt and Qatar. Two Egyptian security sources said delegations from both sides were expected in Cairo on Sunday to resume indirect talks, but an Israeli report cast doubt on this.

There was no immediate comment from Israel or Hamas.

The Egyptian sources said the parties had agreed on the duration of a truce, as well as hostage and prisoner releases, adding that completion of the deal still required an agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Gaza and a return of residents.

However, Israel’s Ynet news cited an unnamed senior official as saying Israel would not send a delegation to Cairo until it received a full list of hostages who were alive.

A Palestinian official familiar with mediation efforts did not immediately confirm the Cairo talks. “When it comes to ending the war and pulling out forces out of Gaza, gaps remain unbridged,” the official said.

– REUTERS

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