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U.S. official says "there's a deal on the table" for a proposed cease-fire, hostage release deal with Hamas

U.S. begins airdropping aid into Gaza
U.S. begins airdropping aid into Gaza 02:09

Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza cease-fire 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.

A U.S. official told CBS News that "there's a deal on the table" for a six-week cease-fire that would see Hamas release hostages considered vulnerable, which includes the sick, the wounded, the elderly and women. 

"It's essential that we see a cease-fire in Gaza and the path to a ceasefire, right now literally at this hour, is straightforward. ... There's a framework deal. The Israelis have more or less accepted it. And there will be a six week ceasefire in Gaza starting today. If Hamas agrees to release," the official said.

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.

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.

Israel and Hamas held a one week cease-fire in late November. The 7-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. 

The talks come amid increasing criticism over the desperation of 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.

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

Roughly one in six children under 2 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.

"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 115 Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded on Thursday as they scrambled for aid, the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said. 

Witnesses and medics said Israeli forces opened fire. Israel says many of the dead were trampled in a chaotic crush for food aid, and that its troops had fired warning shots after the crowd moved toward them in a threatening way. The European Union's diplomatic service said Saturday that many of the dozens of Palestinians killed or wounded in the chaos were hit by Israeli army fire and urged an international investigation.

On Friday, President Biden announced that U.S. military forces would begin airdropping food into Gaza. The first drop, conducted with the Jordanian military, took place on Saturday morning. The militaries of Jordan and Egypt said that they have also conducted airdrops. 

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.

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