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U.S. completes first airdrop in Gaza; Israel agrees to cease-fire framework

Aid organizations say that airdrops fall far short of meeting the desperate need for food and supplies in the enclave.

What we know

  • The U.S. completed its first airdrop of humanitarian aid into Gaza this morning, with three military C-130 planes dropping 66 pallets containing 38,000 meals, officials told NBC News. Aid organizations say that airdrops fall far short of meeting the desperate need for food and supplies in the enclave, where many of the 2.2 million people are facing starvation.
  • The deadly violence surrounding an aid convoy in Gaza City — in which more than 100 people were killed after Israeli forces were accused of opening fire on a crowd of Palestinians hoping to get food — has inflamed global calls for an immediate cease-fire, including from France and Germany.
  • In the wake of the outrage, U.S. officials scrambled to salvage ongoing cease-fire negotiations, with President Joe Biden saying he remains hopeful that a deal will be reached before Ramadan.
  • Israel has essentially accepted the proposed framework of a Gaza cease-fire if Hamas agrees to release sick, elderly and women hostages, according to a U.S. senior administration official Saturday. The current deal would be more complicated than the earlier cease-fires due to its length, but the six-week deal “has the potential to extend from there.”
  • Aid agencies and health workers said “a large number” of the dead and injured taken to hospitals following the violence had gunshot wounds. Yesterday, an IDF spokesman denied that soldiers had shot into the crowd, after the IDF had initially confirmed that its forces used live fire. The spokesperson blamed most of the deaths on a stampede.
  • The spike in deaths following the attack pushed the toll in Gaza past 30,300 amid surging fears of starvation in the north of the territory. More than 70,300 have been injured, and thousands more are missing and presumed dead. Israeli military officials said at least 242 soldiers have been killed since the ground invasion of Gaza began.

Thousands join Israeli hostage families in march on Jerusalem

Reuters

JERUSALEM — A march by thousands of Israelis demanding the release of hostages held in Gaza reached Jerusalem today as negotiators prepared to resume cease-fire negotiations in Cairo that would include a swap deal with Hamas.

A column of protesters, led by families of hostages seized by Palestinian militants during Hamas’ deadly rampage through southern Israel on Oct. 7, walked up the winding highway to Jerusalem, arriving at the city at sundown.

Holding up Israeli flags, yellow balloons and posters of the hostages, they concluded a four-day march that began at one of sites hit by the October attack, and were expected to be joined by more protesters at a rally outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence.

“We’re here marching in support of the families of those who are kidnapped, wishing that they will be released soon and that they will be safe. We’re praying for them in every step that we take,” said Danny Cuperman, one of the marchers.

Gaza truce talks are expected to resume in the Egyptian capital on Sunday. U.S. President Joe Biden has said he hopes a cease-fire will be in place by the time of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on March 10.

Dozens of hostages could be freed if a deal is reached.

Families And Supporters Of Hostages Conclude Four-Day Protest March
Supporters of the families of hostages participate in the United for the Release the Hostages rally in Paris Square after completing the four-day march in Jerusalem on Saturday.Alexi J. Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Pro-Palestinian protesters disrupt Jill Biden’s ‘Women for Biden-Harris’ tour

TUCSON, Ariz. — First lady Jill Biden spoke for only 14 minutes on the second leg of her “Women for Biden-Harris” tour — but that didn’t stop pro-Palestinian protesters from interrupting her remarks four separate times. 

“It’s a genocide, Jill!” yelled one of the four demonstrators in Tucson on Saturday morning as he was being forcibly escorted out of the venue by security.

The main focus of the first lady’s remarks was supposed to be on women’s issues, including abortion rights, which could be on the ballot in Arizona come November.

“Extremist Republicans led by Donald Trump are passing laws that prevent women from getting the health care they need, including IVF,” said Biden.

But within 13 seconds of beginning her remarks, the first protester piped up.

Less than two minutes later, the second followed. And within 30 seconds of the second disruption, the first lady offered an explanation for keeping her appearance there so short.

“I’m sorry to have to come and go so quickly,” said Biden.

“Wind storms in Nevada are impacting my travel,” she added just after the demonstrator was hauled out of the theater.

Read the full story here.

U.S. humanitarian aid airdrop 'absolutely incomprehensible,' says Amnesty International crisis response adviser

Katherine Itoh

The U.S. humanitarian aid airdrop into Gaza on Saturday is “absolutely incomprehensible” and “completely insufficient,” an Amnesty International adviser says.

“The decision of the United States to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza via airdrop is absolutely incomprehensible. It makes no sense whatsoever,” senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera told NBC News.

“Airdrops are only a last resort in situations where it is impossible to deliver aid either by road, by sea or by any other agreed means,” Rovera added.

The road network is excellent, and the entire length of the Gaza Strip is a coastline, according to Rovera. The problem lies in the U.S. being “unable to muster the political will” to deliver aid in a more efficient manner.

“The fact is that the United States administration has an enormous amount of leverage over Israel. The only reason why humanitarian aid isn’t getting in through the normal means is because the Israeli authorities say no,” Rovera stated.

IDF says airdropping aid makes 'fighting possible'

Katherine Itoh

Lina Dandees

Katherine Itoh and Lina Dandees

The airdropping of humanitarian aid in Gaza alleviates food shortages and “makes the fighting possible” for the Israel Defense Forces.

“Today, American and Jordanian planes dropped additional aid throughout the Strip. This is an effort that makes the fighting possible,” IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in a statement Saturday.

“Following the incident during which dozens of Palestinians were killed during the entry of aid trucks to the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday morning, we are investigating this incident,” Hagari added.

Claims of purposefully destroying the aid convoy and deliberately harming people have no foundation, according to the IDF. They said they will present findings following their investigation of the incident.

Gaza Health Ministry reports attack on tents in Rafah

Aurora AlmendralAurora Almendral is a London-based editor with NBC News Digital.

Eleven people were killed and about 50 others injured, the Gaza Health Ministry said today, following a strike on tents housing displaced people in the southern city of Rafah.

The tents were next to the gate of the Emirati Maternity Hospital, and the dead included a paramedic and a nurse, as well as children, the ministry added.

NBC News has reached out to the IDF for comment.

Israel has 'more or less accepted' framework for Gaza six-week cease-fire if Hamas agrees to release vulnerable hostages

Katherine Itoh

Ghael Fobes and Katherine Itoh

Israel has essentially accepted the proposed framework of a Gaza cease-fire if Hamas agrees to release sick, elderly and women hostages, according to a U.S. senior administration official Saturday.

"There's a framework deal. The Israelis have more or less accepted it. And there will be a six-week cease-fire in Gaza starting today if Hamas agrees to release the defined category of vulnerable hostages," the senior official said on a National Security Council call to reporters.

The current deal is more complicated than the earlier cease-fire due to its length, but the six-week deal "has the potential to extend from there."

"We think we have the deal in place and we're going to just keep pushing at it," the senior administration official added.

Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin thanks U.S. and Jordanian armed forces for 'conducting this important mission'

Katherine Itoh

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin acknowledged branches of the U.S. armed forces that participated in the airdrop of humanitarian assistance over Gaza Saturday in a statement on X.

"I want to thank @CENTCOM, @USAFCENT, @usarmycentral & the RJAF for conducting this important mission, which contributes to ongoing international and U.S. efforts to provide humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza," Austin said.

In photos: U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conduct a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza

NBC News

U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force.
U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza on Saturday.U.S. Central Command
U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force
U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza on Saturday.U.S. Central Command
U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force
U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza on Saturday.U.S. Central Command

U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza today.

U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force.
U.S. Central Command and the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a combined humanitarian assistance airdrop into Gaza on Saturday.U.S. Central Command

U.S. Central Command worked with Royal Jordanian Air Force on airdrop

Katherine Itoh

U.S. Central Command conducted a “combined humanitarian assistance airdrop” into Gaza with the Royal Jordanian Air Force to “provide essential relief to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict.”

The U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft dropped over 38,000 meals along the coastline of Gaza between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. local time, U.S. Central Command said in a statement on X.

The operation included Jordanian C-130 aircraft and army soldiers from respective countries specializing in aerial supply delivery. They built bundles and ensured the safe drop of food aid.

“The DoD humanitarian airdrops contributes to ongoing U.S. government efforts to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza. We are conducting planning for potential follow-on airborne aid delivery missions,” the U.S. Central Command stated.

UNICEF explains benefits of airdrops for aid transportation

Leila Sackur

Humanitarian aid
Humanitarian aid is airdropped over Gaza City on Friday.AFP - Getty Images

Aircraft used for food airdrops have more than triple the capacity of aid trucks, a UNICEF spokesperson told NBC News, reacting to the White House announcement that it would deliver aid to Gaza, which started on Saturday with the first airdrop.

“Flights are faster for longer distances,” according to UNICEF, and are primarily used to “meet urgent needs in emergencies or for shipments where cold chain and shelf life are important factors,” it added. Medical supplies such as vaccines, are only deliverable via air.

Most shipments are carried on regular scheduled passenger flights as belly cargo, according to the agency, although charter flights can be used in emergencies.

But the U.N.’s spokesperson for the secretary-general, Stéphane Dujarric, has said that while airdrops are an option, they are “challenging.”

Referring to problems faced in Syria in 2016, where airdrops of aid did not always land in target areas and were not received by teams on the ground, Dujarric said, “Ideally, we want to move things by road. We want more roads open, we want more entry points open.”

U.S. Air Force successfully airdrops food pallets into Gaza

+2

Mosheh Gains

Katherine Itoh

Courtney Kube, Mosheh Gains and Katherine Itoh

The U.S. Air Force Central Command completed its first airdrop of 66 food pallets, holding roughly 38,000 meals, in Gaza this morning using three C-130 aircraft, officials told NBC News.

Palestinian authorities criticize U.S. for behaving like 'a weak marginal country unable to secure the entry of aid'

Aurora AlmendralAurora Almendral is a London-based editor with NBC News Digital.

In a statement posted on X today, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates criticized the U.S. for what it characterized as an unwillingness to use its leverage with Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

"America behaves as a weak marginal country unable to secure the entry of aid to the hungry in the Gaza Strip," the statement said.

It went on to convey the ministry's "extreme surprise at the weakness" of the U.S. "towards what the Palestinian civilians are exposed to," and said the actions of the U.S. "are not befitting of a great power that is capable if it wants, to force Israel to protect the Palestinian civilians and provide for their humanitarian needs."

The statement comes after the U.S. said it will begin airdropping aid into Gaza, a stopgap measure aid agencies have criticized.

"Airdrops do not and cannot substitute for humanitarian access," the International Rescue Committee said yesterday. "That airdrops are even being considered is testament to the serious access challenges in Gaza, where over half a million people are facing famine conditions."

U.S. Central Command and Houthis exchange fire

Leila Sackur

CENTCOM, the U.S Central Command, conducted strikes against a "surface-to-air missile that was prepared to launch from Houthi controlled areas of Yemen towards the Red Sea" yesterday, saying it presented an "imminent threat" to aircraft.

It was unclear if the strikes resulted in casualties.

In response, Houthi militants launched an anti-ship ballistic missileninto the Red Sea, CENTCOM said, although no damage or casualties were reported.

New Black Muslim group wants to put pressure on Biden — but not abandon him

A new national organization called the Black Muslim Leadership Council is hoping to pressure elected officials, including President Joe Biden, to call for a permanent cease-fire in the Middle East. Details of the group were shared first with NBC News.

Salima Suswell, founder and chief executive of the Black Muslim Leadership Council, said the group will be focused both on the thousands of civilians killed in Gaza during the war between Israel and Hamas, and on domestic issues such as mobilizing voters in swing states and pushing lawmakers to lay out policies to improve the lives of Black Muslims living across the United States.

But the organization is also making clear that many of its members are focused on U.S. domestic challenges and do not support abandoning the president at a time when a movement by another group of Muslims is pushing to do just that.

Read the full story here.

Children as young as 12 injured in aid convoy violence, say U.N. workers

Leila Sackur

U.N. workers treating the hundreds of people after Israeli forces fatally shot and injured Palestinians as crowds sought aid from trucks in Gaza City said they saw amputees, people wounded by gunshots and injured children as young as 12 in hospitals.

115 people were killed and more than 700 were injured during the attack at Al-Rashid Street in Gaza City, according to the Health Ministry.

Israel says gunfire was targeted at a small group of people who presented an unspecified threat to soldiers, though its account is strongly disputed by eyewitnesses and doctors at local hospitals.

"These events cannot be allowed to go on," said a humanitarian worker in a video clip on the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) official X account. He added that more than 200 people were being treated for injuries at Al Shifa hospital alone.

The aid convoy was the first joint OCHA, World Health Organization and UNICEF mission in months, the worker said, and was bringing fuel, medicines, vaccines and malnutrition food to the north of the strip.

Cease-fire talks making progress in Cairo, will resume over weekend

Reuters

Gaza cease-fire negotiations are due to resume in Cairo on Sunday, Egyptian security sources said today.

The parties agreed on a duration of Gaza truce, hostage and prisoner releases, they said, adding that the completion of the deal still requires an agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Gaza and a return of its residents.

Death toll in Gaza surges past 30,300

Leila Sackur

The death toll in Gaza has climbed past 30,300, according to the Health Ministry, with more than 71,000 people wounded.

The death toll in the strip is an estimate, as rapidly depleting health, demographic and search and rescue resources make it difficult accurately count casualties. Another 7000 are missing and presumed dead under the rubble.

Speaking during a congressional hearing yesteday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin estimated that the death toll of women and children alone in Gaza was at “over 25,000,” as he called for a “credible plan” to protect civilians in the southern city of Rafah ahead of any Israeli ground invasion.

'Large number' of hospitalized aid seekers at Al Shifa had gunshot wounds, U.N spokesperson says

Leila Sackur

A "large number" of injured people seen by U.N. teams at Al Shifa hospital following Israel's deadly attack on people gathering for food in Gaza City were injured by gunfire, the U.N.'s spokesperson for the Secretary General, Stéphane Dujarric, said in a press briefing.

Responding to questions about the number of people killed by gunfire during the attack, Dujarric said that while U.N. teams in Gaza had not yet "examined the bodies" of the dead, teams had seen scores of people injured by gunfire in hospital.

The Israeli military has denied shooting into crowds of hungry people at Nabulsi roundabout in Gaza City on Thursday. They later said that the majority of people were killed in a crush or were run over by trucks trying to escape. It maintains that it only shot at a small group of people who threatened soldiers, though they did not specify what that threat was.

Health workers at local hospitals said most of the deceased they received appeared to have been shot. 112 people were killed and over 750 were wounded in the attack, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.

Biden announces U.S. will airdrop food aid into Gaza as famine concerns grow

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced Friday that the U.S. will drop food aid into the Gaza Strip, noting that the humanitarian aid flowing into the region for Palestinians is insufficient.

“Aid flowing into Gaza is nowhere nearly enough… lives are on the line,” Biden said as he announced the decision about the airdrops during an Oval Office meeting he was holding with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

“We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several,” he continued. “We’re going to pull out every stop we can.”

The president reiterated that the U.S. is trying to push for an immediate cease-fire between Hamas and Israel to allow more aid into Gaza, where he said “innocent people” have died.

Read the full story here.

Most Palestinians injured in aid convoy incident were shot or wounded by artillery fire, doctor says

A doctor at Al-Shifa Medical Complex in north Gaza said that most of the injured Palestinians brought in for treatment after Thursday’s deadly aid convoy incident were shot.

“Most of these injuries were the result of gunshots, injuries as a result of explosions of artillery shells and tank shells,” ER Dr. Mohamed Mahmoud Eghrab said. “Most of the injuries were in the upper part of the body, in the head, the chest, and in the abdominal area. The majority of the injuries were severe injuries. Roughly about 70% of the injuries needed surgeries.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry has accused Israel of opening fire on a crowd of people seeking food from aid trucks in Gaza City and killing over 100. The IDF has denied opening fire on those seeking aid and disputed the casualty numbers, saying most of those who died were killed in a stampede.

Eghrab said only two operation rooms are functioning at Al-Shifa, so medical staff are having to prioritize patients according to the seriousness of their condition.

“Unfortunately, due to the lack of medications, lack of oxygen, and lack of medical supplies, a large number of these patients lose their lives while waiting to undergo an operation,” Eghrab said.

The medical complex received a large number of dead and injured as a result of the incident on Al-Rashid Street. So far, over 70 people have been killed and 500 have been injured — and these are the casualties at Al-Shifa alone, Eghrab said.

Eghrab said while some of the victims were injured by trampling, most of them were shot.

“Perhaps a small number of them were due to trampling and pushing, but the trampling itself happened after the shooting occurred by the Israeli occupation forces,” Eghrab said.

Some Biden administration officials denounce White House response to ‘“Hunger Games” style massacre’

Allie Raffa

Some Biden administration officials, who are all political appointees, are expressing outrage over President Joe Biden’s handling of the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza on Thursday as they were waiting for food aid.

A handful of them provided a statement to NBC News. The staffers have all asked to remain anonymous out of concern about retaliation for speaking out against the administration’s position on the Israel-Hamas war.

“Saying there are two ‘versions of what happened’ when we have video proof of what occurred is absolutely disgusting. ... From pastors, labor unions and veterans to members of Congress, President Biden is out of touch with the reality that the majority of this country supports a permanent ceasefire,” the statement said.

“On Thursday morning we all woke up to a ‘Hunger Games’ style massacre, weaponizing starvation and over one hundred people dead and this administration’s response is that we need to clarify information? It’s baffling,” the statement continued. “President Biden has the unique power to mitigate the harms being done—not through useless backchannel conversations, but through established processes of international law and strong diplomacy.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry has accused Israel of opening fire on a crowd of people seeking aid and killing over 100. The IDF has denied opening fire on those seeking aid and disputed the casualty numbers, saying most of those who died were killed in a stampede.

The statement is the latest addition to growing calls on Biden from within his administration to demand a cease-fire and reassess his handling of Israel’s war with Hamas.

Since the war began on Oct. 7, several efforts have launched from within the government to push for the de-escalation of the conflict, including letters from hundreds of Biden’s former 2020 campaign staff, Muslim and Jewish congressional employees and more than 400 Biden administration staffers who signed an open letter in November demanding he pursue a cease-fire.

Catch up on NBC News' latest coverage of the war

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