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US makes its first Gaza aid airdrop amid fears of humanitarian disaster

file photo: displaced palestinian children wait to receive free food at a tent camp, amid food shortages, in rafah
Displaced Palestinian children wait to receive free food at a tent camp, amid food shortages, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

The United States military carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid into Gaza on Saturday, U.S. officials said, and aid agencies warned of a growing humanitarian disaster in the Palestinian enclave as Israel pressed on with its offensive.

Three C-130 planes delivered more than 35,000 meals into a territory where the United Nations says one quarter of the population is one step from famine, and Palestinians posted videos on social media showing boxes of aid being dropped.

The White House has said the airdrops will be a sustained effort, and that Israel is supportive of the operation.

With doubts surrounding the resumption of ceasefire talks in Egypt on Sunday, the health ministry in the Gaza Strip said at least 11 Palestinians were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit a tent in Rafah, where people are seeking sanctuary from Israel’s military offensive.

The Gaza health ministry said another 50 people were wounded in the strike next to a hospital in the Tel Al-Sultan area of Rafah. One of the dead was a medic at the hospital. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“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 the Israeli offensive which has laid waste to much of Gaza, killing more than 30,000 people, according to the enclave’s Hamas-run health authorities.

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

U.S. President Joe Biden has said he hopes a ceasefire will be in place by the time of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on March 10. Speaking to reporters on Friday, he said: “We’re not there yet.”

International pressure for a ceasefire has grown, with the United Nations warning that a quarter of the population of 2.3 million people are one step away from famine in the territory blockaded by Israel.

Three people searching for food in farmland in the northern Gaza Strip area of Beit Hanoun 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 Ministry of Health.

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 Doctor Imad Dardonah.

Plans for the U.S. airdrop were announced by Biden on Friday, a day after the deaths of Palestinians queuing for aid drew renewed attention to the humanitarian catastrophe.

Health authorities in Gaza said 115 people were killed in Thursday’s incident, attributing the deaths to Israeli fire and calling it a massacre.

Israel disputed those figures and said most victims were trampled or run over.

CEASEFIRE TALKS

Israel and Hamas have been negotiating via mediators including Egypt and Qatar.

Two Egyptian security sources said Israeli and Hamas delegations were expected to arrive 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 Gaza truce, as well as hostage and prisoner releases, adding that the completion of the deal still requires an agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Gaza and a return of its residents.

However, Israel’s Ynet news, citing an unnamed senior official, reported that Israel would not be sending a delegation to the Cairo talks until it received a full list of hostages held in Gaza who were alive.

According to the report, the central issue being worked on was how many hostages would be released from Gaza, and in turn how many Palestinians would be freed by Israel in exchange for each of them.

“Until clear answers are given, a delegation would not be leaving to Cairo,” Ynet cited the official as saying.

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.

During the war, Israel has also stepped up raids in the occupied West Bank, where U.N. records show that at least 358 people have been killed since Oct. 7.

The official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported on Saturday that Israeli forces shot a 16-year-old in the head near the hub city of Ramallah, killing him.

The Israeli military said its forces were conducting “routine activity” in the town of Kafr Ni’ma near Ramallah when dozens of people began hurling rocks and explosives at its forces, who responded with live fire, hitting one person.

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