Home » U.S.: Israel agrees to Gaza cease-fire plan; Hamas must decide

U.S.: Israel agrees to Gaza cease-fire plan; Hamas must decide

by Marko Florentino
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Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza cease-fire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior U.S. administration official said Saturday, a day before talks to reach an agreement were to resume in Egypt.

International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a pact to pause the fighting before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10. A deal would also probably allow aid to reach hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians in northern Gaza who aid officials say are under threat of famine.

The Israelis “have more or less accepted” the proposal, which includes the six-week cease-fire as well as the release by Hamas of hostages considered vulnerable, which include the sick, the wounded, the elderly and women, said the U.S. official.

“Right now, the ball is in the court of Hamas and we are continuing to push this as hard as we possibly can,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House to brief reporters.

Officials from Israel and from Hamas did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A senior Egyptian official said mediators Egypt and Qatar are expected to receive a response from Hamas during the Cairo talks scheduled to start Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not publicly authorized to discuss the talks.

Criticism is increasing over the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians struggling to survive in northern Gaza, which has borne the brunt of the conflict that began when the Hamas militant group launched an attack into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing around 250 hostages.

United States military planes began the first airdrops of thousands of meals into Gaza, and the militaries of Jordan and Egypt said they also conducted airdrops. Aid groups say airdrops should be only a last resort and instead urge the opening of other crossings into Gaza and the removal of obstacles at the few that are open.

The European Union’s diplomatic service said many of the hundreds of Palestinians killed or wounded Thursday in the chaos surrounding an aid convoy were hit by Israeli army fire. The service urged an international investigation.

The European External Action Service said responsibility for the crisis lay with “restrictions imposed by the Israeli army and obstructions by violent extremist[s] to the supply of humanitarian aid.”

Gaza’s Health Ministry raised the death toll from Thursday’s violence to 118 after two more bodies were recovered Saturday. It said the wounded remained at 760.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Israel organized Thursday’s convoy, “and claims that we attacked the convoy intentionally and that we harmed people intentionally are baseless.”

Residents in northern Gaza say they have taken to searching piles of rubble and garbage for anything to feed their children, who barely eat one meal a day. Many families have begun mixing animal and bird food with grain to bake bread. International aid officials say they have encountered catastrophic hunger.

“We’re dying from starvation,” said Soad Abu Hussein, a widow and mother of five children who has taken shelter in a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

At least 10 children have starved to death, according to hospital records in Gaza, the World Health Organization said.

Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,320. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures, but says women and children make up about two-thirds of those killed.

In Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where more than half of the besieged territory’s people now seek refuge, an Israeli airstrike Saturday hit tents outside the Emirati hospital, killing 11 people and wounding about 50, including health workers, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Israel’s military said it was targeting Islamic Jihad militants.

Israel’s air, sea and ground assaults have reduced much of densely populated northern Gaza to rubble. The military told Palestinians to move south, but as many as 300,000 people are believed to have remained in the north.

Roughly 1 in 6 children younger than 2 in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting, “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world,” said Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program. “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”

That has caused such desperation that people have overwhelmed trucks delivering food aid to the region and grabbed what they can, Skau said, forcing the food program to suspend aid deliveries to the north.

In the violence Thursday, hundreds of people rushed about 30 trucks bringing a predawn delivery of aid to the north. Palestinians said nearby Israeli troops shot into the crowds. Israel said they fired warning shots toward the crowd and insisted many of the dead were trampled.

Doctors at hospitals in Gaza and a U.N. team that visited a hospital there said large numbers of the wounded had been shot.

Ahmed Abdel Karim, who was being treated at Kamal Adwan Hospital for gunshot wounds to his feet, said he had spent two days waiting for aid trucks to arrive.

“Everyone attacked and advanced on these trucks,” he said. “Because of the large number, I could not get flour.”

Radwan Abdel-Hai, a father of four young children, heard a rumor late Wednesday that an aid convoy was on its way. He and five others took a donkey cart to meet it and found a “sea of people” waiting.

As people reached the trucks, “tanks started firing at us,” he said. “As I ran back, I heard tank shells and gunfire. I heard people screaming. I saw people falling to the ground, some motionless.”

Abdel-Hai took shelter in a nearby building along with others. When the shooting stopped, many were dead on the ground, he said. “We rushed to help evacuate the wounded. Many were shot in their back,” he said.

Abu Hussein, the widow, said more than 5,000 people — mostly women and children — living in the Jabaliya school have not received aid for more than four weeks. Adults eat one meal or less to save food for the children, she said.

A group of people went to the shore to try to fish, but three were killed and two were wounded by gunfire from Israeli ships, she said. “They just wanted to get something for their children.”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mansour Hamed, a 32-year-old former aid worker living with more than 50 relatives in a Gaza City house, said people are resorting to desperate measures. Some are eating tree leaves and animal food. Some sift through the rubble and abandoned houses for old food. It has become normal to find a child coming out of the rubble with a rotten piece of bread, he said.

“They are desperate. They want anything to stay alive.”

Acknowledging the difficulty of getting aid in and the extreme need for food, President Biden said Friday that the U.S. will look for other ways to get shipments in, “including possibly a marine corridor.”

Also Saturday, Israel said three soldiers were killed and 14 injured Friday when they inadvertently triggered explosives in a booby-trapped building outside Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

Shurafa reported from Rafah, Magdy from Cairo.



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