Gaza Ceasefire negotiations resume first drop in American aid

Gaza: Ceasefire negotiations resume, first drop in American aid

Negotiations will continue in Cairo on Sunday over a possible ceasefire during Ramadan in Gaza, where the first American airdrops of humanitarian aid to the starving civilian population began.

In the Egyptian capital, a Hamas delegation must give an “official response” to a proposal drawn up at the end of January by the mediating countries – Qatar, USA, Egypt – and Israeli negotiators, according to a source close to the Palestinian Islamist movement.

The proposal calls for a six-week pause in fighting and the release of 42 hostages held in Gaza in a “first phase” in exchange for Palestinians detained by Israel.

The Israelis have “more or less accepted” the plan and “the ball is in Hamas's court,” a senior American official in Washington assured Saturday.

Israel has not confirmed this information. On Friday, US President Joe Biden reiterated his “hope” for a ceasefire by Ramadan, the holy month of Muslim fasting, which will begin on March 10 or 11 this year.

According to the latest report from the Hamas Ministry of Health, the Hamas-provoked war has claimed 30,320 lives in the Gaza Strip in almost five months, most of them civilians.

It also caused a humanitarian disaster there. According to the UN, 2.2 million of the 2.4 million population are at risk of “almost inevitable” famine, according to Jens Laerke, spokesman for OCHA, the United Nations' coordinating body for humanitarian affairs.

Hamas' health ministry reported that 13 children had died in recent days from “malnutrition and dehydration.”

66 American “packages”

Given the difficulties in transporting humanitarian aid by road in the area sealed off by Israel, several countries have recently dropped parachute loads there, notably Jordan with France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and Egypt in cooperation with the United Arab Emirates.

The United States also conducted an initial airdrop operation on Saturday with three military aircraft, parachuting in 66 “packages” containing more than 38,000 meals, in a joint operation with Jordan, according to an American military official.

The war was sparked by an unprecedented attack on October 7 in southern Israel by Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza, where the movement seized power in 2007.

That attack claimed at least 1,160 lives, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data.

In addition, around 250 people have been kidnapped and Israel says 130 hostages are still being held in the Gaza Strip, 31 of whom are believed to have died. A ceasefire in late November allowed for the release of 105 hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, which it, like the United States and the European Union, considers a terrorist organization.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the imminent launch of a major operation in Rafah (south) to defeat the Islamist movement in its “last bastion”.

That prospect worries the international community because the city is home to nearly 1.5 million Palestinians, the vast majority displaced people stuck at the closed border with Egypt.

“Unfounded” allegations

The UN Security Council on Saturday expressed “grave concern” about food insecurity in Gaza and called for the unhindered delivery of “large-scale” humanitarian assistance.

Overland cargoes arrive from Egypt in very limited quantities, mainly via Rafah, subject to the consent of Israel, which has imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2007.

Their transportation, especially in the north of the territory, is dangerous due to fighting, Israeli bombings, debris blocking roads and sometimes looting.

Tragedy struck during the distribution of aid in Gaza City on Thursday when several hundred people rushed onto humanitarian aid trucks.

Hamas claims the Israeli army opened fire on the hungry crowd. Israel spoke of “limited shooting” by soldiers who felt “threatened” but assured that most of the victims were killed in a stampede and others were bulldozed by trucks.

According to Hamas, the tragedy left 118 dead and 760 injured.

A U.N. team said it found “a large number” of gunshot wounds at a hospital in the city where many victims had been admitted.

“To say that we attacked the convoy and deliberately hit people is unfounded,” Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Saturday.

The international community has called for an investigation and an immediate ceasefire.

“Everyone is hungry”

Aid deliveries or possible deliveries by sea, another option being considered by the United States, “cannot replace the necessary importation of aid through as many land routes as possible,” a senior American official stressed.

The World Food Program (WFP) reported on Saturday that there is an “urgent need to improve access to food to reach all people” in food need.

Washington will “insist Israel on making it easier for more trucks to enter the country,” said Joe Biden.

“We received two bags of flour from the aid shipment that arrived on the day of the massacre in Gaza on Thursday,” says Hicham Abou Eïd, a 28-year-old resident of the Zeitoun district: “That is not enough.” Everyone is hungry. Help is rare and inadequate.”

Benjamin Netanyahu is also under pressure from relatives of the hostages to reach an agreement with Hamas for their release. On Saturday, thousands of protesters in Jerusalem ended a four-day march that began near the Gaza border.

“We want them to go home, we want them to be alive,” Reut Diamant, a protester, told AFP. “We don’t want to wait any longer.”