The Latest | Israel denies Palestinian claim its forces killed 20 near Gaza aid distribution center

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip, Friday, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip, Friday, March 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

The Palestinian Health Ministry accused Israeli forces of launching an attack near an aid distribution point in war-wracked northern Gaza, killing 20 people and wounding 155. The Israeli military said Friday that Palestinian gunmen opened fire in that attack and that none of its forces fired toward the waiting crowd or the aid convoy.

Some of those in the crowd near the Kuwaiti Roundabout, the aid distribution point, were run over by the trucks, the military said. The Israeli forces were securing a convoy of 31 aid trucks when the violence erupted late Thursday, it added.

Meanwhile, an aid ship loaded with some 200 tons of food was seen approaching Gaza’s shores on Friday morning in a mission to inaugurate a sea route from Cyprus to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in the enclave, five months into the war.

The ship, operated by the Spanish aid group Open Arms, left Cyprus on Tuesday towing a barge laden with food sent by World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés.

The international community has been pushing for more aid to enter Gaza, frustrated with the growing humanitarian crisis and with Israel’s restrictions that have prevented more aid getting in by land. Australia announced early Friday it would resume funding to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians and pledged additional money to UNICEF to provide urgent services in Gaza.

A quarter of Gaza’s population is starving, the United Nations has warned, and the territory’s Health Ministry said Friday that at least 31,490 Palestinians have been killed in the war in Gaza. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in southern Israel during the Hamas-led incursion on Oct. 7 that sparked the war. Around 250 people were abducted, and Hamas is believed to still be holding about 100 hostages.

Currently:

— A proposed U.S. resolution would back global efforts for an immediate and sustained cease-fire in Gaza.

— Palestinian leader Abbas appoints his longtime adviser as prime minister in the face of calls for reform.

— A suspected attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels strikes a ship in the Red Sea.

— Top Democrat Chuck Schumer calls for new elections in Israel, saying Netanyahu is an obstacle to peace.

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

Here’s the latest:

GERMANY’S CHANCELLOR IS HEADING TO JORDAN AND ISRAEL, EXPECTED TO PRESS FOR MORE GAZA AID

BERLIN – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is making his second trip to the Middle East since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. He plans meetings with the leaders of Jordan and Israel.

Spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said Scholz will depart Saturday for Jordan, where he will meet King Abdullah II. He plans to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog in Israel on Sunday.

Germany is a staunch ally of Israel and has repeatedly expressed its solidarity with the country in its war against Hamas. But it has pressed for better aid supplies and for an eventual two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Berlin plans to have its air force participate in Jordanian-initiated airdrops of aid to Gaza. But Hebestreit stressed ON Friday that deliveries by sea or air are “at best a second-best solution” and aid should be sent to Gaza overland, as well as renewing calls for Hamas to free Israeli hostages.

SHIP CARRYING 200 TONS OF AID APPROACHES GAZA’S SHORES

WADI GAZA, Gaza Strip — A ship carrying 200 tons of aid that set off from Cyprus was approaching the shores of Gaza on Friday.

The shipment was intended to inaugurate a sea route from Cyprus to bring more assistance into Gaza to alleviate the humanitarian crisis brought by Israel’s offensive in the enclave.

On Friday morning, the boat could be seen far in the distance from the beaches of Wadi Gaza in the middle of the Gaza Strip.

Israel has been under increasing pressure to allow more aid into Gaza after five months of war between Israel and Hamas.

HAMAS PUTS FORWARD A NEW CEASE-FIRE PROPOSAL

BEIRUT — A Hamas official said Friday the militant group has put forward a new proposal for a cease-fire deal.

International mediators had hoped to broker a six-week cease-fire before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began earlier this week. But talks stalled with no agreement in sight.

The mediators had proposed a deal that called for Hamas to free dozens of hostages being held in Gaza; Israel to release Palestinian prisoners it is holding; and a major influx of aid into Gaza. Hamas has said it wants a permanent cease-fire, the return of displaced people and a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said Friday that the group put forward a new plan along similar lines as its previous demands. He declined to give details of the plan or explain how it differed from their earlier plans.

THE UNITED STATES’ PROPOSED RESOLUTION WOULD BACK GLOBAL EFFORTS FOR A SUSTAINED CEASE-FIRE IN GAZA

UNITED NATIONS — The United States circulated the final draft of a United Nations Security Council resolution late Thursday that would support international efforts to establish “an immediate and sustained cease-fire” in the Israel-Hamas war as part of a deal to release hostages taken captive during Hamas’ surprise attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

No time has been set for a vote, and the draft, obtained by The Associated Press, could still be changed.

The U.S. circulated the initial draft on Feb. 19, a day before it vetoed a widely supported Arab-backed resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in the war in the embattled Gaza Strip, saying it would interfere with negotiations on a deal to free the hostages.

The U.S. draft would demand that all parties comply with international law requiring protection of civilians and “civilian objects,” which include hospitals, schools and homes. The draft would also express the council’s “deep concern about the threat of conflict-inducted famine and epidemics presently facing the civilian population in Gaza, as well as the number of undernourished people,” and the “catastrophic” levels of hunger.

If the resolution is approved, it would for the first time condemn “the Hamas-led attacks of Oct. 7, 2023, as well as its taking and killing of hostages, murder of civilians, and sexual violence including rape,” as well as “its use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes and to hold hostages.” It would also demand that Hamas and other armed groups immediately grant humanitarian access to all remaining hostages.

ISRAEL DENIES GAZA HEALTH MINISTRY’S CLAIM THAT ISRAELI FORCES KILLED 20 NEAR AN AID DISTRIBUTION CENTER

DEIR-AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza accused Israeli forces of launching an attack near an aid distribution point in war-wracked northern Gaza, killing 20 people and wounding 155 others.

The Israeli military said in a statement that Palestinian gunmen were the ones to open fire and that none of its forces, who were securing a convoy of 31 aid trucks, fired toward the waiting crowd or the convoy. Some of those in the crowd were run over by the trucks, it said.

The violence occurred late Thursday near the Kuwaiti Roundabout, which has been a point for the distribution of aid in north Gaza over the past weeks. The health ministry said a group waiting there for aid was hit by Israeli shelling.

The Health Ministry said Friday that 149 people were killed over the past 24 hours, bringing to at least 31,490 the number of Palestinians killed in the war.

The United Nations says one-quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation, many of them in the isolated north, the largely devastated target of Israel’s initial offensive in Gaza.

Bloodshed surrounding an aid convoy on Feb. 29 killed 118 Palestinians in northern Gaza. The Israeli military said some of its forces fired at people in the crowd who were advancing toward them.

Witnesses and hospital officials said many of the casualties were from bullet wounds. The Israeli military said many of the casualties were caused by a stampede over the food and people being run over by the aid trucks.

Following the violence, the United States announced plans to build a temporary pier in Gaza to bring in food by sea and joined with other countries to airdrop food into the isolated north.

AUSTRALIA RESUMES FUNDING FOR UNRWA AND PROMISES MORE AID TO GAZA

Australia will restore funding to the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians, weeks after the agency lost hundreds of millions of dollars in support following Israeli allegations that some of its Gaza-based staff participated in the Oct. 7 attack.

The Australian government also pledged Friday to increase aid for the besieged enclave, with Foreign Minister Penny Wong expressing horror at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Australia’s move follows Sweden, the European Commission and Canada in reinstating funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, which had seen its international funding frozen while the allegations were investigated.

Speaking to reporters Friday in Adelaide, Wong also pledged an additional 4 million Australian dollars ($2.6 million) to UNICEF to provide urgent services in Gaza, and a C17 Globemaster plane will also deliver defense force parachutes to help with the U.S.-led airdropping of humanitarian supplies into the enclave, which the United Nations says is on the brink of famine.

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