Israel-Hamas war: Israeli strikes in Gaza kill 48

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli strikes overnight killed at least 48 people in southern and central Gaza, half of them women and children, health officials said Thursday. European foreign ministers and UN agencies called for a ceasefire, prompting alarm bells to ring the worsening humanitarian crisis and possible famine in the area.

Tensions also rose in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on morning traffic at a highway checkpoint on Thursday, killing one person and wounding five others, Israeli police said.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced Thursday that the government will “expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators.” His comments, delivered during a meeting with US Middle East envoy Brett McGurk, were a small sign of progress in ceasefire negotiations.

Benny Gantz, who sits in Israel’s war cabinet along with Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said late Wednesday that new efforts are underway to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas that would end the war in Gaza could pause and secure the release of approximately 130 people. Israeli hostages held by the militants since their October 7 attack on southern Israel. It was the first Israeli indication of new efforts since then Negotiations stalled a week ago.

But Gantz, a former military chief and defense minister, reiterated his pledge that unless Hamas agrees to release the remaining hostages, Israel will launch a ground offensive in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah. during the Islamic holy month of Ramadanwhich starts around March 10th.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents live together in Rafah, having fled fighting and bombing elsewhere in the area. Israel has said it will evacuate them before attacking. But it is not clear where they will go, with much of the rest of the small Mediterranean enclave consumed by fighting – raising fears of civilian casualties in an Israeli attack that has already killed more than 29,400 people died.

The heads of 13 U.N. agencies and five other aid groups issued a joint plea for a ceasefire late Wednesday, warning that an attack on Rafah would cause “mass casualties” and could deal “a fatal blow” to the population. humanitarian operation bringing aid to the Palestinians, which is ‘already on its knees’. Earlier this week, the World Food Program had to suspend food deliveries to northern Gaza due to increasing chaos.

“Diseases are widespread. There is a threat of famine,” they said, adding first responders face “shellings, death, restrictions on movement and a breakdown of civil order.” They called for the opening of more access points for aid to Gaza – including in the north – security guarantees for safe passage for distribution and the release of hostages.

If infectious disease outbreaks, already on the rise, become serious, they could eventually cause more deaths than the offensive, a senior World Health Organization official said. “Infectious diseases are a major concern for us in Gaza,” WHO regional emergencies director Richard Brennan said at a briefing in Cairo.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli attack on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, February 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

The foreign ministers of 26 European countries called for a pause in fighting on Thursday, leading to a longer ceasefire. They urged Israel not to take military action in Rafah “that would worsen the already catastrophic humanitarian situation.”

WEST BANK SHOOTING AND RAMADAN TENSION

The shooting took place Thursday at a checkpoint on a West Bank highway, where the gunmen opened fire on cars during the morning rush hour. An Israeli man in his 20s was killed and five others were injured, including a pregnant woman. Security forces killed two of the gunmen and arrested the third, police said.

Hamas in a statement on Thursday praised the attack in Jerusalem, saying it was a “natural response” to Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza and incursions into the West Bank, and calling for more attacks until it reaches an “agreement” with Jerusalem. fully sovereign” Palestinian state. as its capital. The militant group has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

Tensions are rising in the West Bank ahead of Ramadan, which has seen increasing clashes in the past, often over restrictions imposed on Palestinian worshipers attending the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Holy Month during the holy month. Old City of Jerusalem.

Hardline Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has called for strict restrictions on Islamic prayers this year, including restrictions on Palestinian citizens of Israel. But no final decisions have been made yet.

Emotions are likely to be even more volatile this year due to the war in Gaza and increasing violence in the West Bank.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli attack on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, February 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli attack on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Thursday, February 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Since the war began, the Israeli military has carried out near-night raids on the West Bank, arresting more than 3,200 Palestinians, including 1,350 suspected Hamas members. Nearly 400 Palestinians were killed during the operations, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Israeli settlers have stepped up attacks on Palestinians and there have been a number of militant shooting attacks on Israeli civilians.

THE BOMBING CONTINUES

A wave of seven Israeli attacks hit Rafah early Thursday, with one leveling a major mosque and destroying much of the surrounding block. Footage from the scene showed the al-Farouq mosque crashing to the ground, the concrete domes surrounding it tumbling and shattering nearby buildings.

Another attack hit a residential home in Rafah that housed the al-Shaer family, killing at least four people, including a mother and her child.

Strikes in central Gaza overnight killed 44 people, including 14 children and eight women, according to hospital officials there.

Israel’s bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza have killed more than 29,400 people and injured more than 69,000, Israel’s Health Ministry said Thursday. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count, but says about two-thirds of the dead are women and children.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, after the Oct. 7 attack in which militants from the area stormed into southern Israeli communities, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 250. During a week-long ceasefire in November, about a hundred hostages were released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Israel blames the civilian deaths on Hamas and says it operates among the population.

The United States, Israel’s main ally, has been working with mediators Egypt and Qatar to try to reach an agreement on a several-month ceasefire with the release of hostages.

But talks stalled last week Netanyahu rejected Hamas’ demands for any release of hostages: a complete end to Israel’s offensive in Gaza and the withdrawal of its forces, along with the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top militants.

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Lidman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

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

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