The Latest | As conditions worsen for Palestinians in Gaza, pressure grows for a deal and more aid

Israeli soldiers move on the top of a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border as seen from southern Israel, Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israeli soldiers move on the top of a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border as seen from southern Israel, Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Nearly five months of Israel’s war in Gaza has reduced much of the Palestinian territory to ruins and created a worsening humanitarian catastrophe. with many, especially in the devastated northern region, scrambling for food to survive while pressure grows internationally for Israel and Hamas to reach a deal.

“We must get more aid into Gaza,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday. “There’s no excuse. None.”

Israel’s near-total blockade of Gaza and the ongoing fighting have made it nearly impossible to deliver supplies in most of Gaza, aid groups say. The U.N. has warned a quarter of Gaza’s population faces starvation.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker an agreement in which Hamas would release up to 40 hostages in return for a six-week cease-fire, the release of some Palestinian prisoners and an major influx of aid to the isolated territory. But the talks have so far failed to achieve a breakthrough.

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 in November in exchange for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. The overall Palestinian death toll is more than 30,700, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. It does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its figures, but says women and children make up around two-thirds of the total casualties. It says over 72,000 people have been wounded.

Currently:

— The hostage crisis poses a dilemma for Israel and offers a path to victory for Hamas.

— Biden’s allies are increasing pressure on the White House to act to ease Gaza suffering.

— A Mideast Starbucks franchisee is firing 2,000 workers after being targeted in an Israel-Hamas war boycott.

— A U.S. destroyer shoots down a missile and drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

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

Here’s the latest:

PALESTINIAN FACTIONS AND JORDAN DECRY ISRAEL’S PLAN FOR EXPANSION OF WEST BANK SETTLEMENTS

JERUSALEM — The Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Jordan have all strongly condemned Israel’s approval of 3,500 new housing units in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the news a “slap in the face” to nations who “called for an end to settlement activities.”

The plans drew U.S. condemnation when first announced, but did not yield an immediate American response Wednesday.

“The international community, especially the American administration, is facing a real test to stop this Israeli aggression, and to turn words into actions, by implementing the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law, which considers all settlements illegal,” said Nabil Abu Rudeinah.

The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule over parts of the West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson for Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the new settlement expansion was “aimed at changing the existing historical and legal situation in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Hamas said the move was “nothing but a message of defiance and recklessness from the Zionist government headed by war criminals.”

The plans, which were announced by Israel’s far-right finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, received approval Wednesday from the Higher Planning Council, the Israeli body which authorizes West Bank construction.

The decision advances plans for housing units in two settlements, Maale Adumim and Kedar, to a public comment phase. The other plan in the settlement of Efrat now advances to final approval stage.

2 KILLED IN YEMEN HOUTHI MISSILE ATTACK ON SHIP, U.S. OFFICIALS SAY

WASHINGTON — A missile attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a ship in the Gulf of Aden killed two of its crew Wednesday.

That’s according to two U.S. officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as they did not have authorization to speak publicly about the killings on board the True Confidence.

The officials said the Barbados-flagged vessel was no longer under the command of the crew and that they had abandoned it. A U.S. warship and the Indian navy were on the scene, trying to assist in rescue efforts.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels later claimed the attack on the vessel and insisted their assaults would continue as long as Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip continues.

The Houthis have launched attacks since November, and the U.S. began an airstrike campaign in January that so far hasn’t halted the rebels’ attacks.

It was unclear why the Houthis targeted the True Confidence. However, the vessel had previously been owned by Oaktree Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based fund that finances vessels on installments. Oaktree declined to comment.

A LIKELY YEMEN HOUTHI ATTACK HITS A SHIP, CAUSING THE FIRST ‘FATALITIES’ IN THE ASSAULTS ON SHIPPING

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A suspected attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a commercial ship in the Gulf of Aden caused “fatalities” and forced the crew to abandon the vessel on Wednesday, authorities said, the first fatal attack in a campaign of assaults by the group over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The attack came as a U.S. destroyer separately shot down drones and a missile launched by the Houthis and as the Indian navy released images of it fighting a fire aboard a container ship earlier targeted by the rebels.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over the Israel-Hamas war. The Houthis didn’t immediately claim the attack, although it typically takes several hours for them to acknowledge an assault.

The extent of the damage to the Liberian-flagged ship remained unclear, but the crew fled the ship and deployed lifeboats — signaling a serious incident, said a U.S. defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Two other U.S. officials, also speaking on condition of anonymity as they didn’t have authorization to speak publicly, acknowledged the attack caused “fatalities,” without elaborating.

The attack Wednesday in the Gulf of Aden targeted a Barbados-flagged bulk carrier called True Confidence, which earlier had been hailed over radio by individuals claiming to be the Yemeni military, officials said. The Houthis have been hailing ships over the radio in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since launching their attacks, with analysts suspecting the rebels want to seize the vessels.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center described the True Confidence as reportedly being hit in the attack and sustaining damage. The UKMTO on Wednesday night acknowledged the ship had been abandoned by its crew and was no longer under command.

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Associated Press writer Tara Copp contributed.

ISRAEL TO BUILD MORE SETTLEMENT HOMES IN THE WEST BANK

JERUSALEM – Israel’s government moved forward Wednesday with plans to build 3,500 new homes in settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a proposal that has drawn frustration from the United States.

Israel’s firebrand Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the plan had received approval from the Higher Planning Council, which authorizes West Bank construction.

“We continue to build the country!” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The enemies try to hurt and weaken us, but we will continue to build.”

The decision concerns 300 new homes in the Kedar settlement and 2,350 in Maale Adumim. Both plans still have to go through a public comment phase before construction can begin. It also advances to the final approval stage a previously approved plan to build nearly 700 homes in Efrat.

Smotrich announced the plan after a Palestinian shooting attack near the Maale Adumim settlement in February killed one Israeli. At the time, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “disappointed” to hear of the Israeli announcement.

The plan’s approval brings the number of settlement housing units approved in the West Bank since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government took office to 15,775, according to Israeli watchdog group Peace Now. That’s the highest number over a 15-month period since the group began keeping count.

INTEREST GROWS IN CYPRIOT PLAN FOR SEABORNE AID CORRIDOR TO GAZA

NICOSIA, Cyprus – A government spokesman says European Union Commission Chief Ursula von der Leyen will visit Cyprus to inspect installations at the port of Larnaca, from where it’s hoped ships loaded with humanitarian aid will soon depart for Gaza.

Spokesman Constantinos Letymbiotis told reporters Wednesday that that Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides will join Von der Leyen on her inspection of the port on Friday.

Letymbiotis said interest over the Cypriot initiative to ship a steady stream of aid in large quantities to the Palestinian enclave some 240 miles (386 kilometers) away has gained traction, both within the EU and among other countries.

EU spokesman Eric Mamer said Wednesday the bloc is hopeful that the corridor’s opening “will take place very soon.”

EU Commission spokesman Balazs Ujvari said the maritime corridor could augment the bloc’s efforts to deliver more aid to Palestinians in Gaza. Another possibility is to organize airdrops, but this would be a last resort and cannot replace ground access to the enclave “which remains absolutely essential.”

Ujvari said the EU has so far carried out around 40 flights to deliver aid to Gaza, primarily through Egypt.

PALESTINIAN DEATH TOLL TOPS 30,700 IN THE LATEST COUNT FROM GAZA’S HEALTH MINISTRY

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s Health Ministry says the Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war has climbed to 30,717. It said Wednesday that 86 bodies were brought to local hospitals in the last 24 hours, in addition to 113 wounded people.

The ministry is part of the Hamas-run government and maintains detailed casualty records. Its figures from previous wars have largely matched those of the United Nations, independent experts and even Israeli counts.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tallies, but says women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed. It says the real toll is higher as there are bodies buried in the rubble from Israeli airstrikes and in areas that paramedics cannot access. It says over 72,000 people have been wounded in the war.

Israel says it has killed over 10,000 Hamas fighters, without providing evidence.

The war began after Hamas launched a surprise attack into Israel on Oct. 7, in which Palestinian militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostage. Israel’s offensive has driven some 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes and pushed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to the brink of starvation.

ISRAELI ALLIES’ PATIENCE IS RUNNING THIN, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY SAYS

LONDON — British Foreign Secretary David Cameron says he will warn a member of Israel’s War Cabinet that allies’ patience is running thin over the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Cameron is due to meet Wednesday with Benny Gantz, who is stopping in London on the way back from a trip to Washington. Cameron told members of Parliament’s House of Lords on Tuesday that people in Gaza “are dying of hunger” and Israel must let in more humanitarian aid.

“We’ve had a whole set of things we’ve asked the Israelis to do, but I have to report to the House that the amount of aid they got in in February was about half what they got in January,” he said. “So patience needs to run very thin and a whole series of warnings need to be given, starting I hope with a meeting I have with minister Gantz when he visits the U.K.”

Gantz, a rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is visiting Washington and London without the Israeli prime minister’s approval.

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