The Latest | Israeli strikes kill at least 67 Palestinians in Gaza as Ramadan begins

Israeli border police officers stand guard as Palestinians walk by in Jerusalem's Old City on the first day of Ramadan, Monday, March 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israeli border police officers stand guard as Palestinians walk by in Jerusalem’s Old City on the first day of Ramadan, Monday, March 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

With no end to the war sight, Palestinians in Gaza began fasting Monday for the holy month of Ramadan as hunger worsens across the strip and pressure is raised on Israel over the growing humanitarian crisis.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt had hoped to broker a cease-fire ahead of the normally joyous month of dawn-to-dusk fasting that would include the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, and the entry of much more humanitarian aid. But the cease-fire talks stalled last week.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the bodies of 67 people killed by Israeli strikes were brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours, bringing the Palestinian death toll to more than 31,112 since the war began. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but says that women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

The war began when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Hamas is still believed to still be holding around 100 captives and the remains of others.

Five months of war have forced around 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people from their homes and pushed hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine.

Currently:

— Ramadan begins in Gaza with hunger worsening and no end to the war in sight

— Muslims welcome Ramadan with a mix of joy and deep concern

— Houthi attack causes a blast near a container ship in the Red Sea

— ‘The Zone of Interest’ director condemns war in Gaza as he accepts Oscar

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

Here’s the latest:

U.N. ENVOY SAYS ABUSE OF HOSTAGES DOESN’T LEGITIMIZE FURTHER HOSTILITIES

UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. envoy warned Israel that her finding of “clear and convincing information” that some hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack were subjected to sexual violence “does not in any way legitimize further hostilities.”

“In fact, it creates a moral imperative for a humanitarian cease-fire to end the unspeakable suffering imposed on Palestinian civilians in Gaza and bring about the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” Pramila Patten told the U.N. Security Council on Monday where Israel’s foreign minister sat listening.

“Continuation of hostilities can, in no way, protect them,” she said of the hostages. “It can only expose them to further risk of violence, including sexual violence.”

Patten, the U.N. envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict, spoke at a council meeting sought by Israel and called by the United States, United Kingdom and France to focus on her recent report.

Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz said he came to the council “to protest as loud as I can against the crimes against humanity” committed by Hamas in order to deter and scare Israeli society.

He strongly criticized the Security Council’s failure in over 40 meetings since Oct. 7 to condemn Hamas’ actions, saying the U.N.’s most powerful body should declare the extremist group a terrorist organization and pressure it to immediately release the hostages.

ISRAEL AIRSTRIKES HIT DEEP INSIDE LEBANON, WOUNDING 6, HEZBOLLAH SAYS

BEIRUT — Israeli airstrikes late Monday near Lebanon’s northeastern city of Baalbek wounded at least six people, a Hezbollah official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the locations of the airstrikes, the deepest in Lebanon since Feb. 26, have not yet been specified.

In late February, Israeli airstrikes near the historic city of Baalbek killed two Hezbollah members.

State-run National News Agency said one of the strikes hit a building in the village of Ansar just south of Baalbek. It gave no word on casualties.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV reported at least two airstrikes one striking a building on the outskirts of the village of Taraya and another near Baalbek on the outskirts of Ansar.

Israel’s military and Hezbollah fighters have been trading fire since the Israel-Hamas was began on Oct. 7. More than 220 Hezbollah fighters and nearly 40 civilians were killed on the Lebanese side, while in Israel, nine soldiers and 10 civilians were left dead in the attacks.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides of the border.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue contributed.

ISRAEL SETS AGE LIMITS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO PRAY AT AL-AQSA MOSQUE

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government said Monday that younger children and older adults will be the only West Bank Palestinians permitted to enter a major Jerusalem holy site for the important first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this week.

Militant groups have called on Palestinians to come to Al-Aqsa Mosque, which has often been a flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian violence, to confront Israel over the war in Gaza.

When Ramadan began Sunday night, COGAT, the Israeli defense body in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank, had yet to announce restrictions on prayers at Al Aqsa.

The rules announced Monday would limit West Bank Palestinians’ access to the compound for Friday’s prayers to men over 55, women over 50 and children under 10, COGAT chief Ghassan Elian said in a post on Facebook. All Palestinians from the West Bank will also need a permit, he added, without elaborating.

Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank have been unable to visit Jerusalem under Israeli government restrictions put in place immediately after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Last Ramadan, there was no age restriction on women from the territory entering Jerusalem.

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.

GERMAN LEADER CALLS FOR LONGER CEASE-FIRE AND MORE AID FOR GAZA

BERLIN – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is calling for a new and longer humanitarian cease-fire and says that more humanitarian aid must reach Gaza.

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.

“More humanitarian aid must reach Gaza and that is our clear call to Israel, which has every right to defend itself against Hamas,” Scholz said Monday at a news conference with Malaysia’s prime minister.

He added that “we don’t think a ground offensive on Rafah is right.”

The German leader said that “an important step now would be a cease-fire that lasts longer, ideally during Ramadan already.”

The United States, Qatar and Egypt had hoped to broker a cease-fire ahead of Ramadan that would include the release of dozens of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, and the entry of a large amount of humanitarian aid, but the talks have stalled.

U.N. CHIEF CALLS ON ISRAEL AND HAMAS TO ‘SILENCE THE GUNS’

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations chief is urging Israel and Hamas to honor the spirit of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by “silencing the guns” and to show compassion by releasing all hostages seized by the militant group during its attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that Monday marks the start of Ramadan when “Muslims around the world celebrate and spread the values of peace, reconciliation and solidarity.”

Yet, in Gaza, “the killing, bombing and bloodshed continue,” he said, with civilian killings and destruction in the territory “at a level that is unprecedented” in his more than seven years as secretary-general.

He warned that Israel’s threatened assault on the southern city of Rafah where over a million Palestinians have sought safety “could plummet the people of Gaza into an even deeper circle of hell.”

Guterres said life-saving humanitarian assistance is only entering Gaza “in trickles,” and in the Ramadan spirit he also called for the removal of all obstacles so food and other aid can be delivered with speed and on a massive scale.

“The eyes of the world are watching. The eyes of history are watching. We cannot look away,” said the U.N. chief, who has been calling for a humanitarian cease-fire for months. “We must act to avoid more preventable deaths. … Desperate civilians need action – immediate action.”

HUNDREDS ATTEND RAMADAN PRAYERS AT AL-AQSA MOSQUE

JERUSALEM — Hundreds of Palestinians attended prayers at a major Jerusalem holy site on the first day of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The congregation at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on midday Monday was far smaller than in previous years. At some entrances, Israeli forces could be seen turning some worshippers away, citing unspecified security concerns. At one entrance, however, worshippers could be seen filing through without being stopped.

The compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is built on a hilltop that is the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the two Jewish temples in antiquity.

The site has long been a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions have soared in recent years as Israel has allowed increasing numbers of Jews to visit the compound. That has stoked Palestinian fears that Israel intends to take over or partition it.

Israel’s government, which includes prominent religious ultranationalists, denies having any such plans. Israeli authorities have said they will allow normal access to Muslim worshippers this year, even as war raging in Gaza threatens to spill over across the region.

Hamas has called on Palestinians to confront Israeli forces during Ramadan, the holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting.

ISRAELI ARMY CENSURES A TOP COMMANDER FOR GAZA BOMBING

TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli military says it has censured a top commander over the bombing of a university in Gaza.

The military says Brig. Gen. Barak Hiram, the commander of the 99th Division, was rebuked for the January blast, which according to Al-Israa University destroyed buildings for graduate studies and bachelor’s colleges at its main campus outside Gaza City.

The military said Monday that an inquiry showed Hamas was using the buildings and their surroundings for military purposes but that Hiram did not receive proper approval to carry out the blast.

The university said at the time of the demolition that Israeli forces had occupied the campus for over two months and had used it as a base of operations.

Hiram’s censure, which amounts to a notch in his personal file in the military, is a rare case of Israel reprimanding its forces for their conduct during the war in Gaza.

Hiram was also criticized when he ordered a tank to fire at a house where militants were holding hostages during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. The fire may have killed some of the hostages, according to their families. The military said commanders had to make difficult decisions in a complex battlefield that day, and that it would investigate the incident.

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