Live updates | Israel strikes southern Gaza as alarm grows over looming ground invasion of Rafah

Argentina's President Javier Milei, right, and Israel's President Isaac Herzog, left, visit the ruins of a home on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, at Kibbutz Nir Oz, where Hamas killed or kidnapped a quarter of the community on Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Argentina’s President Javier Milei, right, and Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, left, visit the ruins of a home on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, at Kibbutz Nir Oz, where Hamas killed or kidnapped a quarter of the community on Oct. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Two women and five children were among at least 13 people killed as Israeli airstrikes pounded the city of Rafah on Gaza’s southern border, according to the hospital that received the corpses.

“I wish we could collect their whole bodies instead of just pieces,” said a neighbor, Mohammed Abu Habib, who witnessed the strike.

The overnight airstrikes came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a cease-fire proposal from the Palestinian militant group Hamas and said he would expand the offensive into Rafah.

The U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, left Israel on Thursday as the divide grows between the two close allies on the way forward.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has been driven by Israel’s military offensive toward the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the tiny Palestinian territory, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing U.N.-run shelters.

The Palestinian death toll from the war has surpassed 27,000 people, the Health Ministry in Gaza said. A quarter of Gaza’s residents are starving.

The war began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault into Israel, in which militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250. Hamas is still holding over 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead.

Currently:

— Israel and Hamas are far apart on a Gaza cease-fire and hostage deal. What are the sticking points?

— Blinken ends latest Mideast mission after new Israeli snub of proposed Gaza cease-fire plan

— Family says two American brothers, 18 and 20, detained in Israeli raid in Gaza

— Progressives in Congress spoke up for a cease-fire in Gaza. Now they’re breaking fundraising records

— Biden aides meet in Michigan with Arab American and Muslim leaders, aiming to mend political ties

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

Here’s the latest:

UNITED NATIONS CHIEF CALLS FOR CEASE-FIRE TO AVOID ‘TRAGEDY’ OF ISRAELI OFFENSIVE INTO RAFAH

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations chief is calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza before “a gigantic tragedy” develops in Rafah, if Israel conducts military operations in the southern city with the same intensity as elsewhere in the territory.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference Thursday that more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population were pushed into Rafah looking for safety from Israel’s military offensive.

“They have nowhere to go. They have no homes and they have no hope,” he said. “They are living in overcrowded makeshift shelters in unsanitary conditions without running water, electricity and adequate food supplies.”

Guterres condemned violations of international humanitarian law, which include protecting civilians and ensuring that their essential needs are met, by Israel. But he also condemned violations by Hamas during the militants’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people and abducted 250.

Asked if there was a contingency plan for civilians in Rafah to go somewhere else and whether he would push for opening the border to Egypt, Guterres replied: “I think that we should push to avoid the tragedy instead of pushing for things to facilitate the tragedy.”

Since the war began, Egypt has pushed back hard against calls that it take in a mass exodus of Palestinians. It fears Israel won’t allow them to return to Gaza and says it doesn’t want to abet ethnic cleansing. It also warned that militants from Gaza could enter the Sinai with those fleeing.

ISRAELI DRONE STRIKE HITS CAR IN SOUTHERN LEBANON, WOUNDING THREE, ACCORDING TO LOCAL MEDIA

Beirut — An Israeli drone strike hit a car in the city of Nabatieh in south Lebanon on Thursday, wounding three people, Lebanese state media reported.

The site is relatively far from the conflict area on the border, where Hezbollah and Israeli forces have clashed almost daily for the past four months.

The Lebanese state-run National News Agency reported that an initial missile fired at the car missed, and two people got out before a second missile hit the vehicle. The two occupants of the car and a third person who was passing by were injured and transported to area hospitals, one of them in serious condition, it said.

Israeli media reported that two Hezbollah members were killed in a strike on a car in Nabatieh, including a field commander of the militant group’s elite Radwan force in the Khiam area. The Israeli military did not publicly comment on the strike.

A Hezbollah spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment, and the group has not published a death announcement, as it usually does when one of its members is killed.

Hezbollah later announced that in response to the attack in Nabatieh, it had fired dozens of Katyusha rockets at the headquarters command of an Israeli infantry unit at the Ein Zeitim base. It was not immediately clear if there were casualties.

About 230 people have been killed in Lebanon during four months of near-daily clashes between Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group and Israeli forces on the border — most of them fighters with Hezbollah and allied groups but also including more than 20 civilians, among them journalists, women and children.

Outside of the border area, Israel has launched targeted strikes on some high-ranking Hezbollah and Hamas officials in Lebanon.

Fears of an expansion of the conflict has driven a flurry of shuttle diplomacy by the U.S. and European countries in an attempt to deescalate the situation

YEMEN’S HOUTHI REBELS VOW TO KEEP UP ATTACKS OVER ISRAEL’S WAR IN GAZA

CAIRO — The leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebels said his forces will keep up their monthslong campaign of attacks on vessels in the Red Sea over Israel’s war in Gaza against Hamas.

“Food, medicine and humanitarian air should reach all different parts of Gaza. If not, we will carry on our operations,” said Abdel Malek al-Houthi, a Yemeni politician who serves as the leader of the Iran-backed rebel movement, in a televised speech Thursday.

The war in Gaza has caused a humanitarian catastrophe, and northern areas remain largely cut off from humanitarian aid.

Al-Houthi said the U.S. and British militaries had launched a total of 86 air and naval strikes on Yemen this week.

However, al-Houthi said the retaliatory strikes would not achieve their intended goal of disabling the group’s abilities, and said the attacks were Washington’s attempt to save face.

“Carrying on with strikes won’t do the U.S., Britain or Israel any good,” al-Houthi said.

In recent weeks, the U.S. and the U.K., backed by other allies, have launched airstrikes targeting Houthi missile arsenals and launch sites for its attacks.

The barrage of U.S., coalition and militant attacks in the Middle East are compounding fears that Israel’s war in Gaza could escalate into a wider regional conflict.

UNITED NATIONS CALLS FOR MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT FOR KIDS AND FAMILIES IN GAZA AND ISRAEL

GENEVA — The head of a U.N.-backed panel focusing on children’s rights called Thursday for “massive psychosocial support” for kids and families in Gaza and for Israeli children who were victims of or witnessed the attacks by Palestinian militant fighters in Israel in October.

Ann Skelton, chair of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, said the 18-member panel of independent rights experts regretted that the government of Israel — which was expected to come up for a regular review by the committee last month — opted to suspend its participation. The review has now been rescheduled for September.

Speaking at a news briefing on the committee’s findings on six other countries, Skelton said the latest U.N. figures — largely based on statistics from the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza — showed more than 27,000 people have died in the Israel-Hamas war since Oct. 7, out of a total casualty count of more than 100,000. Many of those were children, she said.

“No child should grow up in fear, pain and hunger. Yet today, no child in Gaza is free from fear, pain and hunger,” she said. “In fact, they’ll be considered lucky if they can even survive this war and have the chance to grow up.”

Skelton cited the “colossal humanitarian needs” faced by more than 2 million people in Gaza. She echoed U.N. calls for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Israeli hostages held in Gaza and an immediate cease-fire, and appealed for key donors to resume funding for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, so that humanitarian aid can reach children.

BIDEN TO HOST JORDAN’S KING AT THE WHITE HOUSE NEXT WEEK

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden will host Jordan’s king at the White House next week.

The visit by King Abdullah II on Monday comes as tensions continue to rise over the Israel-Hamas war.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement Thursday that the two will discuss Gaza and “efforts to produce an enduring end to the crisis.”

She said that they’ll also discuss humanitarian assistance to the region. Queen Rania Al Abdullah will also attend.

ISRAELI MAN BELIEVED KIDNAPPED BY PALESTINIANS CONFIRMED DEAD

TEL AVIV, Israel — An Israeli man who was believed to have been kidnapped by Palestinian militants during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack has been confirmed as being dead.

Kibbutz Be’eri, the community from which Manny Goddard was abducted, said Thursday that he was likely killed during the attack and his body is being held in Gaza.

Goddard’s wife, Ayelet, was also killed on Oct. 7. The couple are survived by four children.

Hamas is believed to be holding more than 130 hostages, but around 30 are believed to be dead. More than 100 hostages were freed in November in exchange for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Gaza border, was hit particularly hard in the attack. Eleven residents are still held inside Gaza, six of whom are believed to be dead.

Hamas and other militants rampaged through several Israeli communities during the cross-border attack, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and igniting the war in Gaza, which has claimed the lives of more than 27,000 Palestinians.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt are trying to mediate a cease-fire in which the remaining hostages would be freed, but Israel and Hamas remain sharply divided on the terms of any such agreement.

ISRAEL SAYS A MISSILE ATTACK FROM LEBANON WOUNDED 3 SOLDIERS

TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli military says a missile attack from Lebanon wounded three soldiers, one of them severely.

The Israeli military says it struck infrastructure and a military compound linked to the Hezbollah militant group in retaliation for Thursday’s attack, which involved an anti-tank missile.

Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah have traded fire on a daily basis since the start of the war in Gaza. Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, says it’s pressuring Israel in support of the Palestinians.

In Israel, 18 people have been killed and more than 170 wounded in attacks from Lebanon. More than 200 people, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also more than 20 civilians, have been killed on the Lebanese side. Tens of thousands have been displaced on both sides. There are no immediate prospects for their return.

Israeli political and military leaders have warned Hezbollah that war is increasingly probable unless the militants withdraw from the border, though neither side wants to be dragged into a wider conflict.

EGYPT URGES INTERNATIONAL COMMMUNITY TO ‘SHOULDER’ RESPONSIBILITY FOR A CEASE-FIRE

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Egypt’s foreign minister says the international community must “shoulder its responsibility” to push for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and to turn up the pressure on getting larger quantities of much needed humanitarian aid to the Palestinian enclave.

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry says the international community and especially aid donor countries should also throw their full support behind UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees whose role in providing assistance and services to Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere in the region is “indispensable.”

Shoukry said after talks Thursday with Cypriot counterpart Constantinos Kombos that his country believes the UNRWA’s role “should not be tainted by any misactions of the few” that resulted in restricting support for the organization.

The U.S. and other donor nations have suspended new assistance to UNRWA pending completion of a U.N. investigation into Israeli allegations of alleged hostility toward Israel and that a dozen of its employees took part in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that ignited the war.

Replying to a question by the Associated Press, Shoukry said providing humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza prior to any cease-fire is of “fundamental importance.” But that shouldn’t detract from the necessity to enact an immediate cessation of hostilities which would help expedite delivery of larger aid quantities.

Egypt’s top diplomat said the displacement of 1.3 million Palestinians to the south of Gaza is compounding conditions of famine, lack of medical supplies and deteriorating sanitary conditions. He cited figures from the U.N. agency for children, UNICEF, which said that 17,000 children in Gaza have lost either one or both parents.

BLINKEN LEAVES THE MIDDLE EAST AFTER A 4-DAY TRIP

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken left the Middle East on Thursday with public divisions between the United States and Israel at perhaps their worst level since Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza began in October.

Wrapping up a four-nation trip — his fifth to the region since the conflict erupted — Blinken was returning to Washington after getting a virtual slap in the face from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the war would continue until Israel is completely victorious and appeared to reject outright a response from Hamas to a proposed cease-fire plan.

Relations between Israel and its main international ally, the United States, have been tense for months, but Netanyahu’s public dismissal of a plan the U.S. says has merit, at least as a starting point for further negotiation, highlighted the divide.

Yet Blinken and other U.S. officials said they remained optimistic that progress could be made on their main goals of improving humanitarian conditions for Palestinians civilians, securing the release of hostages held by Hamas, preparing for a post-conflict Gaza and preventing the war from spreading.

UN MIDEAST ENVOY SAYS ISRAELI OFFENSIVE INTO SOUTHERN GAZA WOULD BE CATASTROPHIC

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations’ top Mideast envoy is warning of “catastrophic” consequences from a looming Israeli offensive into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which would cut off the only working entry point for humanitarian aid.

Tor Wennesland told a U.N. news conference that intense discussions are taking place between Israel and Egypt on what can be done along the Philadelphia Corridor, a tiny buffer zone on Gaza’s border with Egypt. The corridor is demilitarized under under the terms of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that Hamas continues to smuggle weapons under the border – a claim Egypt vehemently denies – and that the war cannot end “until we close this breach,” referring to the corridor.

Wennesland said he sees no way of getting out of this dispute than having the two parties sitting and talking, adding that he is certain this issue was on the agenda of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent visit to Cairo and current talks in Israel.

The U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process said any agreement on a lasting ceasefire in Gaza “will be incredibly difficult to set up” because of the details and arrangements that need to be worked out.

Wennesland said he will be talking to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Security Council permanent members in New York and then go to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials on “how we can chart a way out of this crisis” and overcome the serious impediments to an agreement.

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