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U.S. says Israel has agreed to the framework for a Gaza ceasefire. Hamas now must decide

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Rafah, Gaza Strip -

Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior U.S. administration official said Saturday, a day before talks to reach an agreement were to resume in Egypt.

International mediators have been working for weeks to broker a deal to pause the fighting before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins around March 10. A deal would also likely allow aid to reach hundreds of thousands of desperate Palestinians in northern Gaza who aid officials worry are under threat of famine.

The Israelis “have more or less accepted” the proposal, which includes the six-week cease-fire as well as the release by Hamas of hostages considered vulnerable, which includes the sick, the wounded, the elderly and women, said the official.

“Right now, the ball is in the court of Hamas and we are continuing to push this as hard as we possibly can,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House to brief reporters.

Officials from Israel and from Hamas did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A senior Egyptian official said mediators Egypt and Qatar are expected to receive a response from Hamas during the Cairo talks scheduled to start Sunday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not publicly authorized to discuss the sensitive talks.

There is increasing criticism over the hundreds of thousands struggling to survive in northern Gaza, which has borne the brunt of the conflict that began when the Hamas militant group attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing around 250 hostages.

U.S. military planes began the first airdrops of thousands of meals into Gaza, and the militaries of Jordan and Egypt said they also conducted airdrops.

The European Union’s diplomatic service said Saturday that many of the dozens of Palestinians killed or wounded in the chaos surrounding an aid convoy were hit by Israeli army fire and urged an international investigation.

The European External Action Service said responsibility for the crisis lay with “restrictions imposed by the Israeli army and obstructions by violent extremist(s) to the supply of humanitarian aid.”

Residents in northern Gaza say they are searching rubble and garbage for anything to feed their children, who barely eat one meal a day. Many families have begun mixing animal and bird food with grain to bake bread. International aid officials say they have encountered catastrophic hunger.

“We’re dying from starvation,” said Soad Abu Hussein, a widow and mother of five children who shelters in a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

At least 10 children have starved to death, according to hospital records in Gaza, the World Health Organization said.

Gaza's Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war has climbed to 30,320. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures, but says women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

In Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where more than half of the territory’s people now seek refuge, an Israeli airstrike on Saturday struck tents outside the Emirati hospital, killing 11 people and wounding about 50, including health workers, the Health Ministry said.

Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive has reduced much of densely populated northern Gaza to rubble. The military told Palestinians to move south, but as many as 300,000 people are believed to have remained north.

Roughly one in six children under two in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting, “the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world,” Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program, said this week. “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”

People have overwhelmed trucks delivering food aid and grabbed what they can, Skau said, forcing the WFP to suspend deliveries to the north.

In the violence Thursday, hundreds of people rushed about 30 trucks bringing a predawn delivery to the north. Palestinians said nearby Israeli troops shot into the crowds. Israel said they fired warning shots toward the crowd and insisted many of the dead were trampled. Doctors at hospitals in Gaza and a UN team that visited a hospital said large numbers of the wounded had been shot.

The Health Ministry said two more bodies were recovered Saturday from the scene, raising the death toll to 118. It said the number of wounded remained at 760.

Ahmed Abdel Karim, being treated for gunshot wounds in his feet, said he had spent two days waiting for aid trucks to arrive.

“Everyone attacked and advanced on these trucks. Because of the large number, I could not get flour,” he said. He was shot by Israeli troops, he said.

Radwan Abdel-Hai, a father of four young children, heard a rumor late Wednesday that an aid convoy was on its way. He and five others took a donkey cart to meet it and found a “sea of people” waiting.

As people reached the trucks, “tanks started firing at us,” he said. “As I ran back, I heard tank shells and gunfire. I heard people screaming. I saw people falling to the ground, some motionless.”

Abdel-Hai took shelter in a nearby building. When the shooting stopped, many dead people were on the ground, he said. “Many were shot in their back,” he said.

Abu Hussein, the widow, said more than 5,000 people — mostly women and children — living with her in the Jabaliya school have not received aid for more than four weeks. Adults eat one meal or less to save food for the children, she said.

A group of people went to the shore to try to fish, but three were killed and two were wounded by gunfire from Israeli ships, she said. “They just wanted to get something for their children.”

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mansour Hamed, a 32-year-old former aid worker living with more than 50 relatives in a Gaza City house, said some are eating tree leaves and animal food. It has become normal to find a child emerging from the rubble with a rotten piece of bread, he said.

“They are desperate. They want anything to stay alive.”

Acknowledging the difficulty of getting aid in and the extreme need for food, U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. would look for other ways “including possibly a marine corridor.”

Jordan's military said its own airdrops on Saturday targeted sites in northern Gaza and the drops it coordinated with the U.S. occurred in the south.

But the EU statement, echoing humanitarian groups, said airdrops “should be the solution of last resort as their impact is minimal.” It called for the opening of further ground crossings into Gaza and the removal of obstacles from the rare ones open.

Israel and Hamas held a one week cease-fire in late November. The seven-day truce brought about the release of about 100 hostages — mostly women, children and foreign nationals — in exchange for about 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, as well as a brief halt in the fighting

Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Tara Copp in Washington contributed to this report.

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