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Israel ‘signed on’ to Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal

A US official said it is now up to Hamas to agree the proposal.

Israel Palestinians

Israel has essentially endorsed the framework of a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior US administration official said.

The Israelis “have more or less accepted” the proposal, which includes a six-week ceasefire in Gaza as well as the release by Hamas of hostages considered to be vulnerable, including the sick, the wounded, the elderly and women, the official said.

“The Israelis have basically signed on to the elements of the arrangement,” they added. “Right now, the ball is in the court of Hamas and we are continuing to push this as hard as we possibly can.”

Gaza wreckage
The Palestinian death toll has passed 30,000, health officials said (AP)

The moves came as the European Union’s diplomatic service said many of the Palestinians killed or wounded as they tried to get bags of flour from an aid convoy in Gaza City were hit by Israeli army fire.

The European External Action Service urged an international investigation, as outrage rises over the desperation of hundreds of thousands struggling to survive in northern Gaza after nearly five months of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

At least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured in Gaza City on Thursday, according to health officials, when witnesses said nearby Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.

The EU arm said: “The responsibility for this incident lays on the restrictions imposed by the Israeli army and obstructions by violent extremist(s) to the supply of humanitarian aid.”

Residents in northern Gaza say they have taken to searching piles of rubble and refuse 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.

Northern Gaza has borne the brunt of the conflict that began when the Hamas militant group launched an attack into southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing around 250 hostages.

Gaza’s health ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,320. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures, but says women and children make up around 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 air strike on Saturday struck tents outside the Emirati hospital, killing 11 people and injuring about 50, including health workers, Gaza’s health ministry said.

Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive, 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.

Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), said this week that roughly one child in six children under the age of two in the north suffers from acute malnutrition and wasting, “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world”.

And he warned: “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, Mr Skau said, forcing the WFP to suspend aid deliveries to the north.

“The breakdown in civil order, driven by sheer desperation, is preventing the safe distribution of aid – and we have a duty to protect our staff,” he added.

In the violence on 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 UN team that visited a hospital there said large numbers of the wounded had been shot.

US officials say American military C-130 cargo planes have airdropped food and aid in pallets over Gaza.

The move comes after US President Joe Biden said on Friday that America will soon begin airdropping assistance to Gaza and will look for other ways to get shipments in, “including possibly a marine corridor”.

When asked if he thought Israel would fully investigate Thursday’s incident, he answered simply: “Yes.”

But the EU statement, echoing humanitarian groups including the International Rescue Committee and Medical Aid for Palestinians, said air drops “should be the solution of last resort as their impact is minimal and not devoid of risks to civilians” and called for the opening of further ground crossings into Gaza and the removal of obstacles from the rare ones that are already open.

Aid workers hoped a possible ceasefire would allow them to get food to hungry people across Gaza. A senior Egyptian official said talks on a truce would resume on Sunday in Cairo.

International mediators hope to reach agreement on a six-week pause in fighting, and an exchange of some Israeli hostages for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10.

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