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Gaza ceasefire talks to resume today

 Women react after the destruction of their house in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. [AFP]

Negotiations are to resume in Cairo today Sunday for a cease-fire and hostage release in Gaza with mediators from Egypt and Qatar expecting to receive a response from Hamas on the latest proposed framework, reports say.

Israel has more or less accepted the framework, 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.

"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.

Agence France-Presse reported Sunday morning that a senior Hamas official had said a cease-fire might be possible within 24 to 48 hours if Israel accepts Hamas damands.

"If Israel agrees to Hamas demands, which include the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza and increasing humanitarian aid, that would pave the way for a [truce] agreement within the next 24 to 48 hours," AFP quoted the official as saying.

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 five-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."

Biden and other world leaders are under pressure to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the Palestinians. Five months of war and severely reduced aid deliveries have left an estimated one-fourth of Gaza’s population near famine.

The conflict began on October 7, 2023, when Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages. Israel responded with an air and land assault on Gaza, killing more than 30,000, according to the local health ministry. Nearly three-quarters of Gaza's 2.3 million population is displaced.

Residents reported tanks and shelling on Sunday around Khan Younis. In Rafah, authorities said 25 people were killed in two Israeli strikes.

Harris, Gantz to meet

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 White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

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

Airdropped meals over Gaza

The U.S. military airdropped food and aid over Gaza on 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.

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.

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.

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.

The Israel Defense Forces said Sunday it had concluded an initial review of the incident "where Gazan civilians were trampled to death and injured as they charged to the aid convoy."

IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a statement carried on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Israel had been involved in facilitating the aid convoy, but said the majority of Palestinians"were killed or injured as a result of the stampede," although he said that after looters approached Israeli forces, "the soldiers responded toward several individuals."

He also said the IDF has launched a further examination, to be handled by an "independent, professional and expert body."

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.

Some information was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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