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U.S. sends more weapons to Israel amid growing calls for cease-fire

The MK84 bombs “can destroy entire blocks,” a senior Biden administration official said.
Smoke rises inside the Gaza Strip
Smoke rises inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, on March 17.Ariel Schalit / AP file

The U.S. is sending a fresh round of bombs to Israel, two senior administration officials told NBC News, undermining the Biden administration’s public expressions of frustration at Israel’s conduct in the war and its own efforts at brokering a cease-fire.

The bombs are part of a weapons package that was approved for Israel years ago, but is only being fulfilled now — and includes more than 1,800 Mark 84 (MK84) 2,000-pound bombs and approximately 500 Mark 82 (MK82) 500-pound bombs, the officials said.

The delivery of the weapons package was first reported by The Washington Post.

The Mark 84 and 82 are dumb bombs that can be converted into precision-guided ones with the help of a guidance kit, which the U.S. has provided in the past.

Even with precision guidance, these bombs likely lead to civilian deaths, and it’s believed that Israel has used them in its campaign in Gaza.

“These are the bombs that can destroy entire blocks,” one senior administration official said of the MK84 bombs.

The delivery comes as U.S. officials said Israel has provided Washington with assurances that it is using American-supplied weapons within the laws of war.

Israel receives $3.8 billion in annual military assistance from the U.S., but there is growing criticism of Washington’s continued supply of weapons to Israel six months into the war amid international scrutiny of Israel’s military tactics in Gaza and a mounting civilian death toll.

Cease-fire negotiations are expected to resume between Israel and Hamas on Sunday in Egypt’s capital, Cairo, according to the country’s Al-Qahera television. However, a Hamas official told NBC News on Sunday the group will not attend. The Israeli prime minister’s office confirmed to NBC News the talks would resume “next week.” Any new deal would likely result in a lengthy pause in fighting in exchange for the release of some of the estimated 140 hostages still in Hamas captivity. Ongoing efforts by mediators have stalled, and there has been little indication since the last truce in November that the two sides have moved closer to a deal.

Last week, the United Nations Security Council passed a symbolic resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas after the U.S. abstained from the vote, drawing anger from Israel. It came after the U.S. vetoed several past resolutions calling for the end of hostilities.

While the Biden administration’s public frustration with how the Israeli government is handling the war appears to be growing, U.S. efforts to achieve a cease-fire will be overshadowed by the revelation that it continues to send Israel powerful bombs known to cause serious harm to the civilians.

In the nearly six months of fighting since the Oct. 7 attacks, more than 32,000 people have been killed in Gaza, with thousands more trapped under the rubble and presumed dead, according to Palestinian officials.

The fighting has destroyed hospitals, schools and other civilian infrastructure, displacing the vast majority of the enclave’s more than 2 million people. But Israel has maintained that there is no turning back until all of Hamas has been destroyed, and it has continued its military offensive in defiance of increasingly sharp demands for a cease-fire from global leaders and international organizations amid declining support for Israel’s war around the world.

Last week, the U.N. special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories determined that the hostilities have already reached the level of genocide.

The Israel Defense Forces said Sunday it was continuing with “precise operational activity” in the area of Gaza’s main hospital, which it says is being used as a Hamas hub. The Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City has been under an Israeli army raid for nearly two weeks, raising questions about the fate of civilians sheltering at the site. The IDF said Saturday it eliminated four senior Hamas operatives at the hospital.

Officials in Gaza said Saturday that the Al-Shifa operation has claimed 400 lives so far. NBC News was not able to verify this number and has reached out to the IDF for comment. The raid is also delaying a new mission to the hospital from the World Health Organization, its chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Saturday, noting three prior missions had been denied.

“100 patients and 50 health workers are reportedly still inside the nonfunctional facility, with hostilities around it,” Tedros said on X. “We are extremely worried about their condition and safety.”

Gaza’s authorities said more than 1,000 homes in the vicinity of Al-Shifa have been targeted.

The Ajour family’s home behind the hospital was one of them, illustrating the civilian toll and calling into question the IDF’s claim that its attacks are targeted. The home was hit last week, killing seven. A small child was the only survivor, with more children feared to be buried in the rubble. Civil defense workers told NBC News they could not look for those trapped inside because there is no coordination with the Red Cross and the fighting in the area is too dangerous.

Hamas authorities in Gaza also accused Israel on Sunday of bombing the tents with displaced people and journalists inside the walls of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the Deir al-Balah area of central Gaza, resulting in deaths and injuries. The IDF said its aircraft struck an “operational Islamic Jihad command center” that operated from the courtyard of the hospital. NBC News geolocated footage showing the aftermath of the hit on the hospital courtyard, including medical personnel helping the wounded and at least one injured person lying on the ground, but is unable to independently confirm the conflicting accounts of the attack.

The hostilities continue to keep aid from reaching those in need inside Gaza. While trucks with desperately needed food continue to trickle in slowly at land crossings controlled by Israel, a second convoy of three ships and a barge with 400 tons of food and other supplies set sail from Cyprus this weekend. World Central Kitchen, the charity behind the operation, said there was enough food in the latest shipment to prepare more than 1 million meals. The organization’s first ship carrying the aid reached Gaza two weeks ago in the first such maritime delivery since the conflict broke out. 

Palestinian health officials reported earlier this month that 27 children have died due to malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza, but the true death toll from starvation is likely to be significantly higher, the United Nations has warned, and it is set to rise. A report released by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification earlier this month said famine was imminent in northern Gaza and the famine threshold for acute food insecurity has already been far exceeded.