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Israel broadly agrees Gaza truce, US official says, ahead of talks

Children check the damage at a bombarded makeshift shelter near the Emirati hospital in Rafah
— Gaza Strip (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Israel has "more or less accepted" a proposal for a six-week ceasefire in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, a US official said Saturday as Palestinian negotiators were expected in Cairo.

Mediators have been scrambling to lock in a truce before Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month which begins on March 10 or 11, eyeing an end to the almost five-month conflict that has ravaged Hamas-ruled Gaza.

In a sign of the dire humanitarian conditions as violence rages on, the besieged territory's health ministry reported more than a dozen child malnutrition deaths in recent days.

The US official told reporters on condition of anonymity that "there's a framework deal" for a ceasefire which "the Israelis have more or less accepted".

"It will be a six-week ceasefire in Gaza, starting today if Hamas agrees to release the defined category of vulnerable hostages... the sick, the wounded, elderly and women," the official said.

"Right now, the ball is in the camp of Hamas."

Palestinians running toward parachutes attached to food parcels, airdropped from US aircrafts on a beach in the Gaza Strip

A source close to Hamas told AFP a delegation from the group was headed from Qatar to Egypt on Saturday.

Also speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said that Hamas would deliver its "official answer" to the plan, which resulted from talks with Israeli negotiators in Paris late last month.

Israel has yet to confirm that it has accepted the truce plan.

Earlier the United States, which provides ally Israel with billions of dollars in military aid, said it began airdropping aid into war-ravaged Gaza.

The start of the US relief operation came a day after President Joe Biden announced the move and spoke of the "need to do more" to alleviate the dire humanitarian crisis.

But parachuting aid cannot replace "the fundamental need to move assistance through as many land crossings as possible", the US official said.

- 'Unjustifiable' shooting -

The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA says the lack of safe drinking water in Gaza poses a 'significant public health challenge'

Gaza has faced dwindling deliveries of relief supplies across its land borders, which aid groups blame at least in part on Israeli restrictions.

US Central Command, in a post on social media platform X, said the air operation was conducted jointly with Jordan and saw planes drop "over 38,000 meals along the coastline of Gaza allowing for civilian access to the critical aid".

Several Arab and European governments have carried out air drops over Gaza since November but Tuesday's operation was the first involving the United States.

At least 13 children have died from "malnutrition and dehydration", the Gaza health ministry said Saturday, two days after a desperate rush for aid from a convoy of trucks in Gaza City ended in the deaths of dozens of Palestinians.

The health ministry said Israeli forces shot civilians but the Israeli army insisted most died in a stampede or crush.

A United Nations team that visited Gaza City's Al-Shifa Hospital reported seeing "a large number" of gunshot wounds among Palestinians in the aftermath of the aid truck storming.

Hossam Abu Safiya, director of the city's Kamal Adwan Hospital, said all the casualties it admitted were hit by "bullets and shrapnel from occupation forces".

The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell joined calls for an "impartial international investigation" into the "tragic event" early Thursday.

The shooting "against civilians trying to access foodstuff is unjustifiable", he said.

The health ministry said 116 people were killed and more than 750 wounded in the chaotic scenes, which drew widespread international condemnation.

A Palestinian child in the living room of a building damaged during Israeli bombardment in Rafah, southern Gaza, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have tried to find refuge from the fighting

The aid convoy deaths helped push the number of Palestinian war dead in Gaza to 30,320, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The war began on October 7 with an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

Gaza militants also abducted 250 hostages, of whom 130 remain in captivity according to Israel, a figure including 31 presumed dead.

- 'Destruction is everywhere' -

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian office OCHA, said on Friday that "a famine is almost inevitable".

Laerke cited the near-total closure of commercial food imports, the "trickle of trucks" coming in with food aid, and the "massive access constraints" to moving around inside Gaza.

Humanitarian aid's path to the Gaza Strip

The International Rescue Committee said airdropping aid mostly distracts "time and effort from proven solutions to help at scale".

AFPTV images showed people running and pedalling fast on bicycles past bomb-damaged buildings on a rutted dirt road to reach aid floating down to Gaza City.

Hisham Abu Eid, 28, of Gaza City's Zeitun area, said he got two bags of flour from an aid distribution and gave one to his neighbours.

"Aid that is getting into Gaza is rare and not enough for even a small number of people. Famine is killing people," Abu Eid said.

As mediators seek a deal that may include more aid into Gaza and the release of hostages, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under increasing domestic pressure over the fate of the remaining captives.

Israelis protesters reached Jerusalem on Saturday, capping a four-day march from the Gaza border to pressure the government to secure the hostages' release.

In Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Gazans displaced by the war have sought refuge, Israeli bombardment killed at least 11 people at a makeshift camp near a hospital, the health ministry said.

The Israeli army said it had carried out a "precision strike" in the area that targeted militants from the Islamic Jihad group.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the strike was "outrageous and unspeakable".

An AFP journalist saw wounded people, including children, being rushed on stretchers to another Rafah hospital.

"Destruction is everywhere and there are many martyrs," said resident Belal Abu Jekhleh.