The Latest | Efforts ramp up to deliver aid to Gaza as US and Europe focus on a sea corridor

Palestinians look at destruction after an Israeli airstrike on a residential building of the Ganan family in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, March 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Palestinians look at destruction after an Israeli airstrike on a residential building of the Ganan family in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, March 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Efforts ramped up Friday to deliver more desperately needed aid to war-ravaged Gaza, with the United States and Europe focusing on opening a sea route, underscoring the West’s growing frustration with Israel’s conduct in the war.

A top European Union official said a charity ship will head to Gaza as a pilot operation for a new humanitarian sea corridor. Hours earlier, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. military will set up a temporary pier on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast. Congress last week approved the U.S. military airdropping aid into Gaza.

On Friday, five people in Gaza were killed and several others injured when airdrops malfunctioned and hit people and landed on homes, Palestinian officials said.

The aid efforts come as Hamas said Thursday that negotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza and the release of more Israeli hostages will resume next week, dimming hopes that mediators could broker a truce before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin at sundown Sunday.

After more than five months of war, much of Gaza is in ruins. Aid groups say Israel’s near-total blockade of Gaza and the fighting have made it nearly impossible to deliver aid in most of Gaza. Many of the estimated 300,000 people still living in northern Gaza have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas-led militants stormed across the border on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting around 250. Over 100 hostages were released during a temporary cease-fire in November in exchange for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The number of Palestinians killed has climbed above 30,800. That’s according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures but says women and children make up around two-thirds of all casualties.

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— Leading NGOs slam Israel’s halt in visa renewals for aid workers in Gaza and West Bank.

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— Biden orders U.S. military to set up temporary aid port for Gaza.

— Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s the latest:

U.N. RIGHTS OFFICE SAYS ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS IN PALESTINIAN AREAS AMOUNT TO A ‘WAR CRIME’

GENEVA — The U.N. human rights office says the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem amount to a war crime.

Over 700,000 Israelis now live in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for a future state.

The creation and expansion of settlements amount to the transfer by Israel of its own population into territories that it occupies, “which amounts to a war crime under international law,” U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk’s office said in a statement.

Türk presented the report to the Human Rights Council on Friday. It covers the one-year period from Nov. 1, 2022, to Oct. 31, 2023, when it says roughly 24,300 housing units in existing settlements in the West Bank were “advanced” — the highest number in a year since monitoring began in 2017.

Expanded settlement activity and an upsurge in violence in the West Bank in recent months have been largely overshadowed by war and displacement of Palestinians in Gaza. The international community, along with the Palestinians, considers settlement construction illegal or illegitimate and an obstacle to peace.

Israel’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, which regularly accuses Türk’s office of overlooking violence by Palestinian extremists against Israelis, said Friday’s report “totally ignored” what it said was the deaths of 36 Israelis and injuries of nearly 300 others in attacks due to “Palestinian terrorism” last year.

ISRAEL SAYS PALESTINIANS FROM THE WEST BANK CAN VISIT JERUSALEM HOLY SITE DURING RAMADAN

JERUSALEM — Israel reiterated on Friday that it will allow Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to visit and pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound during the holy month of Ramadan.

Palestinians from the territory have been unable to visit Jerusalem following travel restrictions put in place by the Israeli government immediately after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Friday’s news was confirmed by COGAT, the Israeli military body in charge of Palestinian civilian affairs. Shani Sasson, COGAT’s spokesperson, gave no details on what restrictions would remain in place.

Ramadan is expected to start Sunday evening but that depends on the sighting of the crescent moon.

In 2023, over 289,000 Palestinians from the West Bank visited Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers, according to Israeli authorities. The Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. Jews consider the compound the most sacred site in Judaism, the Biblical Temple Mount.

Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the same number of people as last year would be allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque compound for prayers during the first week of Ramadan and that this will be evaluated “on a week-to-week basis” throughout the holy month.

BIDEN’S REMARKS ON HOT MIC SHOW US PRESIDENT’S INCREASING FRUSTRATION WITH NETANYAHU OVER AID FOR GAZA

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said in an exchange with a Democratic lawmaker and members of his Cabinet that he has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that they will need to have a “come to Jesus meeting.”

The comments by Biden captured on a hot mic as he spoke with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., on the floor of the House chamber following his Thursday night State of the Union address.

In the exchange, Bennet congratulates Biden on his speech and urges the president to keep pressing Netanyahu on humanitarian concerns in Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg were also part of the brief conversation.

Biden then responds, “I told him, Bibi, and don’t repeat this, but you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting.”

An aide to the president standing nearby then speaks quietly into the president’s ear, appearing to alert the president that microphones remain on as he worked the room.

“I’m on a hot mic here,” Biden says after being alerted. “Good. That’s good.”

Biden has become increasingly public about his frustration with the Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to open more land crossings for critically needed aid to make its way into Gaza.

The president announced in his speech on Thursday that the U.S. military would help establish temporary pier to help boost the amount of aid getting into the territory. Last week, the U.S. military began air dropping aid into Gaza.

BRITAIN’S TOP DIPLOMAT SAYS SEA CORRDOR TO GAZA COULD TAKE MONTHS TO SET UP

LONDON — British Foreign Secretary David Cameron has welcomed the U.S.-led maritime corridor for Gaza aid, but says the plan “will take months to stand up” in its entirety.

He called for Gaza-bound aid to be let in immediately into the Israeli port of Ashdod, further to the north of the Gaza Strip.

“Ships could go today from Cyprus to Ashdod with aid,” Cameron told the BBC.

Britain says it will help the U.S. build a temporary port on the Gaza coast and has already sent maritime surveyors.

Cameron said “Britain will play a part in the pre-screening” of aid in Cyprus, and “we can play a part if necessary in the provision of the aid and its delivery.”

ISRAELI PROBE SAYS TROOPS SHOT AT SOME PEOPLE AROUND A GAZA AID CONVOY LAST WEEK WHO WERE ADVANCING TOWARD THEM

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military on Friday said a review of the bloodshed surrounding an aid convoy last week that killed 118 Palestinians in northern Gaza showed that Israeli forces shot at some people in the crowd who were advancing toward them.

Israeli officials had initially said only that their troops had fired warning shots toward the crowd.

A large number of people met a pre-dawn convoy of trucks carrying aid to the war-wracked region on Feb. 29 and began scrambling to grab the food. Witnesses said Israeli forces opened fire on them.

The military said on Friday that about 12,000 people had gathered around the trucks as they were traveling toward distribution centers and began grabbing the food aid off them.

The military review of the incident showed the troops did not fire on the convoy itself, “but did fire at a number of suspects who approached the nearby forces and posed a threat to them,” the military said.

The military said many of the casualties were caused by a stampede over the food and people being run over by the aid trucks.

The United Nations said last week that a U.N. team that visited Shifa Hospital in Gaza City reported that there were “a large number of gunshot wounds” among the more than 200 people being treated for injuries there last week.

The director of Al-Awda Hospital said 80% of the 176 wounded brought there had gunshot wounds. The European Union urged an international investigation into the killings.

The violence surrounding the convoy brought in sharp relief the desperate need to get aid into the largely isolated region of northern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people remain despite widespread devastation from the war between Israel and Hamas.

In the wake of the ill-fated convoy, the United States has begun airdrops of food to the region and announced plans to build a pier to bring in aid by sea.

ISRAELI STRIKES ACROSS GAZA KILL 78 PEOPLE IN PAST 24 HOURS, GAZA’S HEALTH MINISTRY SAYS

DEIR Al-BALAH, Gaza Strip — The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said Friday that 78 people were killed and 104 were wounded over the past 24 hours in Israeli strikes on different areas across the territory.

The latest figures raise the total Gaza death toll to 30,878 since the Israel-Hamas war started five months ago, according to the ministry. The overall number of wounded rose to 72,402. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count, but said 72% were women and children.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known by the acronym UNRWA, said that about 9,000 women have been killed in Gaza over the past five months.

Israel launched its air, sea and ground offensive in Gaza in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 others.

UNRWA said in a post on X that on International Women’s Day, “the women in Gaza continue to endure the consequences of this brutal war.” Many of those killed are mothers who leave families behind, the agency said.

The agency said some of the women are giving birth without basic medical assistance. It said many lack menstrual hygiene products and privacy in exceptionally unsanitary living conditions.

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