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Gaza truce efforts revived as aid unloaded

Updated: 2024-03-18 09:46

Children wait while holding empty pots for meals provided by a charity organization during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Saturday. SAID KHATIB/AFP

DOHA/JERUSALEM — Efforts toward a truce in the Gaza conflict appeared to rekindle on Saturday after a new proposal from Hamas that also called for more aid into Gaza, where the first food shipment by sea reached shore.

Israel said it would send a delegation to Qatar for a new round of talks on a possible deal. It also advanced plans for a military operation in Rafah, where most of Gaza's population has sought refuge from more than five months of fighting and deprivation.

The US charity World Central Kitchen said its team had finished unloading almost 200 metric tons of food, the first shipment to arrive on a new maritime aid corridor from Cyprus. "All cargo was offloaded and is being readied for distribution in Gaza," it said.

The Cypriot government said that a second aid ship, the Jennifer, would depart soon, although World Central Kitchen later said bad weather made it hard to predict when the vessel, carrying 240 tons of food, would set sail.

"Maritime weather reports show bad weather from Sunday until the end of next week, so the exact timing of the sailing for either boat to return to Gaza is not available at this time," the charity said.

The United Nations has reported particular difficulty in accessing north Gaza to distribute food and other aid.

Residents say they have resorted to eating wild plants and animal fodder, and some have stormed the few aid trucks that have made it through.

"Doctors are reporting that they no longer see normal-sized babies," Dominic Allen of the United Nations Population Fund said after visiting the area.

Many governments have begun daily aid airdrops over Gaza. But air and sea missions are no alternative to land deliveries, UN agencies say. Humanitarian agencies have cited Israeli restrictions as among the obstacles they face.

The health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said at least 63 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours.

36 dead in strike

Earlier on Saturday, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra reported 36 deaths from a strike on a house sheltering displaced people in Nuseirat, central Gaza.

The Israeli military said it had targeted two "terror operatives" in Nuseirat.

In negotiations aimed at securing a truce and hostage release deal, Hamas has put forward a new proposal for a six-week cease-fire and the exchange of about 42 Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, an official from the Islamist group told Agence France-Presse.

The Hamas attack resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Israel's retaliatory campaign against Hamas has killed at least 31,645 people in Gaza, according to the health ministry.

Until Friday, Hamas had insisted no further hostages would be exchanged without a permanent cease-fire and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Now the militants are saying that, during a six-week truce, Israeli forces would need to pull out of "all cities and populated areas" in Gaza, according to a Hamas official.

The White House said on Friday it was "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects for a new truce but stressed that negotiations were far from over.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli troops would pursue a planned ground offensive in Rafah despite international pressure.

The conflict and security cabinets were to meet on Sunday to decide on the negotiators' mandate, his office added. Israel did not attend earlier negotiations in Cairo that failed to secure a truce for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which began last Monday.

The United States, which provides Israel with billions of dollars in military assistance, has grown increasingly critical of Netanyahu over his handling of the conflict.

Agencies via Xinhua

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