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US sends first of three military planes with Gaza aid

WASHINGTON, United States — The United States on Tuesday sent the first of three military planes to Egypt to bring vital humanitarian aid for Gaza, promising to assist Palestinians during a truce between Hamas and US ally Israel.

The relief flights carrying food, medical supplies and winter gear are the first by the US military since the conflict began with the October 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

The flights start a day after President Joe Biden said he would use an extension of the truce to get more aid into Gaza, and as international efforts continue to further prolong the pause.

"The humanitarian needs in Gaza demand that the international community do much more. The United States is committed to this effort," Jake Sullivan, Biden's national security advisor, said in a statement. 

Sullivan said Biden would work to "rally the international community to urgently increase support" to a UN appeal for Gaza.

The first Air Force C-17 aircraft landed Tuesday in Egypt with 24.5 metric tons (54,000 pounds) of medical supplies and ready-to-eat food, the US Agency for International Development said.

The United Nations will take the aid from Egypt's North Sinai region, which borders the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, into the stricken Palestinian territory itself, US officials said.

"These UN supplies will save lives and alleviate the suffering of thousands in Gaza," Sullivan said.

Two further planeloads will arrive in the coming days, officials said.

Mediator Qatar on Monday announced a 48-hour extension of an initial four-day truce, opening the way for further releases of hostages seized by Hamas during its attack on Israel.

Eight hundred aid trucks reached southern Gaza from Egypt in the first four days of the truce, with some aid also reaching badly hit northern Gaza, the US officials said.

"The movement over the last four or five days of assistance has been so significant in volume that a backfill... is now needed and these planes are part of that backfill," a senior US official told reporters on Monday.

While Washington has deployed two aircraft carriers in the region to deter Iran and its allies, and ferried military assistance to key ally Israel, it has not previously