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Israel agrees to cease-fire framework in Gaza; Hamas to weigh in

 Humanitarian aid is dropped by the United States over Gaza City, Gaza Strip, March 2, 2024. [AP Photo]

Israel has more or less accepted a framework for a cease-fire in Gaza, including the release of hostages, a senior Biden administration official said Saturday.

"Right now, the ball is in the court of Hamas, and we are continuing to push this as hard as we possibly can," said the official, who spoke to reporters anonymously because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the talks.

The deal, if accepted as proposed, is for a six-week cease-fire and the release of hostages considered vulnerable. It would also allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Talks are to resume in Egypt on Sunday and mediators Egypt and Qatar expect to receive a response from Hamas, the official said.

"I don't want to create expectations one way or the other," the official added, according to Reuters.

Hamas has not backed away from its position that a temporary truce must be the start of a process toward ending the war altogether, according to Egyptian sources and a Hamas official.

Mediators have been working to lock in a truce before Ramadan, the Muslim-fasting month beginning March 10 or 11, hoping for an end to the almost 5-month conflict that has ravaged Hamas-ruled Gaza.

U.S. President Joe Biden has also expressed hope for a cease-fire by Ramadan but told reporters Friday, "We're not there yet."

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will meet with Israeli war Cabinet member Benny Gantz at the White House Monday, as Washington tries to secure a temporary cease-fire and an increase in humanitarian aid into Gaza.

The talks are expected to focus on Palestinian civilian casualties, securing a temporary cease-fire and the release of hostages held in Gaza as well as increasing aid into the enclave, a White House official said.

"The vice president will express her concern over the safety of as many as 1.5 million people in Rafah," the official said, adding that Israel has a "right to defend itself in the face of continued Hamas terrorist threats."

In a statement, Gantz confirmed that he would meet with Harris, as well as U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Republican and Democratic members of U.S. Congress.

Gantz, a former Israeli military chief and defense minister, is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's main political rival in opinion polls. According to Haaretz.com, an independent Israeli newspaper, a senior official close to Netanyahu reportedly said Saturday that the prime minister does not approve of Gantz's visit to Washington.

 People gather around food parcels that were airdropped from US aircraft above a beach in the Gaza Strip on March 2, 2024. [AFP]

Biden privately has been critical of Netanyahu over Israel's "indiscriminate" bombing of Gaza, according to news reports.

Meals dropped over Gaza

The United States military airdropped food and aid over Gaza Saturday — the first round of emergency humanitarian assistance authorized by Biden, U.S. officials said.

Palestinians posted videos on social media showing boxes of aid being dropped by U.S. military C-130 cargo planes. The first stage of the humanitarian operation saw more than 35,000 meals and aid airdropped on pallets into the enclave, where the United Nations reports one-quarter of the population is just one step from famine.

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

The militaries of Jordan and Egypt said they also have conducted airdrops.

Israel promises investigation

Biden gave the go-ahead for the humanitarian operation, the first of many, after at least 115 Palestinians were killed while swarming to get supplies from the aid convoys being delivered Thursday. Hundreds more were injured during the mayhem, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The Israeli military pledged Saturday it would conduct an exhaustive investigation into the cause of those deaths as international calls for an investigation have grown.

Gaza Health authorities said 118 people were killed in Thursday's incident, attributing the deaths to Israeli fire and calling it a massacre.

Israel disputed those figures, saying most victims were trampled or run over during the chaotic aid delivery.

An Israeli official also said troops had "in a limited response" later fired on crowds they felt had posed a threat.

"It was a humanitarian operation we were running and the claim that we deliberately attacked the convoy and deliberately harmed people is completely baseless," IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters in Tel Aviv adding that it was the fourth such operation in that area.

The incident also points to a collapse of orderly aid deliveries in areas of Gaza under Israeli military occupation, with no administration in place and the main United Nations agency UNRWA rendered inoperative during an inquiry into alleged links of some of its staffers with Hamas.

The latest violence pushed the Palestinian death toll in the nearly five-month war to more than 30,000, with another 71,000 injured and many more missing under the rubble, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

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