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The Latest | ‘Carry your son and run’: Gaza families describe fleeing Rafah under Israeli fire

Palestinian medics treat a wounded girl in an Israeli bombardment of Nuseirat refugee camp, at the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, late Thursday, June 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)
Original Publication Date June 28, 2024 - 9:56 AM

Displaced Palestinian families in Gaza's south have fled what they said was intensifying Israeli fire in northern areas of Rafah to seek shelter elsewhere, describing a chaotic night as the sounds of fighting drew closer and prompted the difficult decision to evacuate.

“Just carry your son and run, we don’t have anything with us,” said one man, Mohammad al-Hadad. Some who fled overnight were able to return Friday, throwing their belongings atop vehicles or wagons pulled by donkeys and setting off.

“We do not know where we can go,” said a woman, Ghada Qudeh. “Since yesterday, we have not found food or drink." She said her family fled after Israeli forces fired missiles at a house where they were sheltering Thursday.

The Israeli military said its forces were continuing to operate in Rafah but did not immediately comment on specific strikes. The military said one soldier had been killed during combat overnight in Rafah.

The people fleeing Rafah are some of the last holdouts in a city that was once filled with displaced Palestinians. However, Israel's ground invasion since early May has driven nearly everyone who sought shelter there to leave. The United Nations estimates 1.3 million people have been displaced out of Rafah — more than half of Gaza’s entire population — and only 65,000 remain.

International criticism is growing over the nearly nine-month Israel-Hamas war as Palestinians face severe and widespread hunger. The war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and basic goods to Gaza, and people there are now totally dependent on aid. The top United Nations court has concluded there is a “plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza — a charge Israel strongly denies.

Israel launched the war after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.

Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 37,700 people in Gaza, according to the territory's Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Currently:

— US shifts an assault ship to the Mediterranean to deter an escalation of the Israel-Lebanon conflict

— Iran votes in a snap poll for a new president. Here’s what’s at stake

— As LGBTQ+ Pride’s crescendo approaches, tensions over war in Gaza expose rifts

— Dutch rights groups go back to court seeking to limit export of fighter jet parts to Israel

— Israel lets 19 kids who are sick or wounded leave Gaza. It's the first medical evacuation in nearly 2 months

— Survivors of Israel music festival massacre unite to build a healing community

— Ultra-Orthodox Jews block highway to protest Israel’s new mandatory military service ruling

— Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s the latest:

A new Israeli offensive in Gaza City intensifies, forcing Palestinians to flee

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinians in northern Gaza said intense bombardments have forced many people to flee the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City on Friday, as the Israeli military confirmed it had launched a new offensive into areas that were heavily bombed and largely emptied early in the war.

Residents described fierce battles in Shijaiyah for a second day in row, driving people to seek safety in western parts of Gaza City.

“It’s like the first weeks of the invasion,” said one man, Mahmoud al-Masry, who left his home Thursday with his parents and four siblings.

Israel's military said Friday troops had been active in the Shijaiyah area, both above and below ground, and warplanes bombed dozens of locations that it said were being used by militants, including United Nations-run schools and facilities.

A Hamas statement Friday reported intense close-quarters combat in Shijaiyah.

There was no immediate word from Gaza’s Health Ministry, which tracks casualties from the conflict.

The fighting comes after Israel issued new evacuation orders Thursday for Shijaiyah and other neighborhoods. In October, Israel had instructed residents to evacuate all of northern Gaza, including the territory’s largest city. Hundreds of thousands of people have remained in the north, even as Israeli troops have surrounded and largely isolated it.

Israel says rockets and drones launched from Lebanon, and military strikes Hezbollah targets in response

JERUSALEM — Israel’s military said Friday that about 25 rockets were launched from Lebanon toward northern Israel, damaging a building and setting fires as tensions between Israel and the militant group Hezbollah threaten to spiral into a full-blown war.

Israeli artillery bombarded the sources of the rocket fire, and the military said Israeli warplanes also struck what it described as Hezbollah infrastructure in the area of Jabal Safi, north of the city of Nabatieh.

Israel’s air defense system also failed to intercept three drones from Lebanon that flew into Israeli airspace, the military said. Firefighters were dispatched in the north to try to extinguish the blazes.

The cross-border fire came as Israel’s defense minister told troops on the northern border that he still sought a diplomatic agreement to calm tensions along the border but that the military was prepared to fight.

“We are not looking for war but we are ready for it,” Yoav Gallant said. He said that if Hezbollah “chooses to go to war, we will know what to do.”

Also Friday, Jordan’s foreign ministry told its citizens to avoid traveling to Lebanon. The U.S. has brought an assault ship, the USS Wasp, into the eastern Mediterranean Sea this week to try to keep fighting between Israel and Hezbollah from escalating.

Hezbollah and Israel have exchanged near-daily cross-border fire since the war against Hamas in Gaza began in early October. The fighting has been gradually intensifying in recent weeks. Hezbollah says its attacks aim to pressure Israel to halt the war in Gaza. Hezbollah says it won’t agree to a cease-fire on the Israel-Lebanon border before there’s one in Gaza.

The Israeli army said last week that it has “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon, although any decision would come from the country’s political leaders.

New sanctions by the European Union target people and companies over alleged help to Palestinian militant groups

BRUSSELS — The Council of the European Union on Friday announced new war-related sanctions against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, targeting three companies and six people who allegedly help finance or enable the militant groups.

The penalties are the Council's latest response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas against Israel. The sanctions would freeze the targets' assets and prohibit giving them funds or economic resources, either directly or indirectly. It also bans them from traveling to the EU.

The sanctions targeted three firms who the Council said are owned and controlled by a Sudan-based businessman, Abdelbasit Hamza Elhassan Mohamed Khair, and which are used to “facilitate Hamas financial streams.” The Council said he has been subject to EU restrictive measures since January.

The Council said the individual people listed for sanctions include four men involved with providing financial support or facilitating the transfer of funds for either Hamas or PIJ, as well as a senior official in Lebanon for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and a member of Hamas' political wing who helps with attacks in the West Bank.

The Council of the European Union, formed of ministers from all 27 member countries, said that it has so far sanctioned 12 people and three entities under a framework of restrictive measures it adopted in January to go after Hamas and PIJ.

US will remove Gaza aid pier due to weather and may not put it back, officials say

WASHINGTON — The pier built by the U.S. military to bring aid to Gaza is being removed due to weather to protect it, and the U.S. is considering not re-installing it unless aid begins flowing out into the population again, several U.S. officials said Friday.

While the military has helped deliver desperately needed food through the pier, the vast majority of it is still sitting in the adjacent storage yard because of the difficulty that agencies have had moving it to areas in Gaza where it is most needed, and that storage area is almost full.

The pier has brought in more than 19 million pounds of food to Gaza but has faced multiple setbacks. Rough seas damaged the pier just days into its initial operations, but the bigger challenge has been that humanitarian convoys have stopped carrying the aid from the pier’s storage area further into Gaza, to get it into civilians’ hands, because they have come under attack.

The U.S. officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military movements.

The U.N., which has the widest reach in delivering aid to starving Palestinians, on June 9 paused distributing food and other emergency supplies in Gaza that arrived through the pier. It came after the Israeli military used an area near the pier to fly out hostages after a rescue that killed more than 270 Palestinians, prompting a U.N. security review over concerns that aid workers’ safety and neutrality may have compromised.

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Associated Press writers Tara Copp and Lolita C. Baldor contributed.

Israel approves five new West Bank settlements in response to several European nations recognizing a Palestinian state

JERUSALEM — Israel granted legal approval to five settlements in the occupied West Bank overnight in what the country’s firebrand finance minister described as a response to the recognition of Palestinian statehood by several European nations.

“We announced a month ago that for any country that unilaterally recognizes a Palestinian state, we will establish a settlement in Judea and Samaria in its name. Five countries made this mistake, we have now established five settlements,” said Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

The statement from Smotrich’s office said that Israel’s security cabinet made the decision to legalize the settlements of Evyatar, Sde Ephraim, Givat Assaf, Chaletz and Adorim. All began as outposts, small farms built illegally by ultranationalist Jewish settlers — some on private Palestinian land. Outposts have proliferated under Israel’s current far-right government.

Peace Now, an anti-settlement watchdog group, said the newly approved settlements are inhabited by one to a few dozen families each.

Norway, Spain, Ireland, Slovenia, and Armenia all recognized a Palestinian state during the Israel-Hamas war.

Israeli media reported that the security cabinet also approved a number of measures sanctioning the Palestinian Authority, which governs semi-autonomous zones in the West Bank.

Hamas denounced the move as the realization of “extremist plans by Smotrich to dominate the West Bank.”

Jordan’s foreign ministry said the cabinet’s decision “flagrantly violates international law.”

Settlement critics describe a wink-and-nod policy toward outposts traced back to efforts by successive governments to deflect international pressure. At least one that was legalized overnight — Eviatar — was evacuated by the Israeli government in 2021 but reinhabited by hard-line ultranationalist Jewish settlers last year.

Most of the international community considers all Israeli settlements — home to some 700,000 people in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem — as a violation of international law.

Sweden to pay millions of dollars to support UN agency for Palestinian refugees

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Sweden on Friday said it was paying 100 million kronor ($9.4 million) in “core support” to the United Nations agency that aids Palestinian refugees, saying it was “made in response to the urgent humanitarian situation in Gaza and in light of the new measures UNWRA has taken to strengthen internal supervision and control.”

Israeli had alleged that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 workers in Gaza participated in the surprise Oct. 7 Hamas attack into southern Israel. The allegations led to the suspension of contributions to UNRWA by dozen countries, including the United States. In April, an independent review of UNWRA’s neutrality found that Israeli authorities never expressed concern about anyone on the staff lists Israel has received annually since 2011.

The Swedish government has allocated a total of 400 million kronor ($38 million) to UNRWA for 2024. On March 9, Stockholm decided to make a first disbursement of 200 million kronor ($19 million) following UNRWA’s written assurances to Sweden regarding increased transparency and stricter procedures. Friday’s decision by Sweden was the second disbursement, the government said in a statement.

More Palestinians evacuate Rafah under Israeli fire as troops advance, residents say

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — More displaced Palestinians have fled parts of Rafah in southern Gaza on Friday after intensifying Israeli military operations came close to where they were sheltering. It was the latest evacuation in an area that has weathered an Israeli invasion since early May, forcing nearly all Palestinians there to leave.

On Friday, Palestinians who had tried to remain in the city's north packed their belongings into vehicles or wagons pulled by donkeys and set off in the direction of Khan Younis. They said that they evacuated overnight under Israeli gunfire, and were returning to grab their belongings before fleeing the city for good.

“We went out under bullets and gunfire at night. Our children were dispersed. We do not know where they are. Where should we go?” asked Imad Asfour, a displaced Palestinian from east of Khan Younis.

Ghada Qudeh, a Palestinian who took shelter in Rafah after fleeing the southern city of Khan Younis, said Israeli forces had fired missiles at a house where she and her family were sheltering Thursday.

“We do not know where we can go,” she said “Since yesterday, we have not found food or drink. We only want a solution.”

Mohammad al-Hadad, another displaced Palestinian, wondered where to go. Palestinians say Israel’s declared safe zone, Muwasi, is a crowded tent camp with very limited access to bathrooms and hospitals.

“Just carry your son and run, we don’t have anything with us,” he said. “From al-Muwasi to Khan Younis to Rafah, where do we go?”

The initial Israeli operation into Rafah sent 1.3 million Palestinians fleeing, according to United Nations estimates. Israel says it needs to operate there to defeat Hamas’s remaining fighters in the area.

Funeral held for 7 people killed by Israeli airstrikes overnight in southern Gaza, as families describe fleeing over the bodies of dead and wounded

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Hospital officials in Gaza said Friday they received the bodies of seven people a day earlier, who their relatives said were killed by Israeli airstrikes.

A funeral was held Friday after the bodies were taken to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis overnight, officials from the hospital said.

Family members at the funeral said Israeli strikes the seven people in an area between the southern cities of Rafah and Khan Younis. Witnesses to the strikes, also at the funeral, said they were in such a rush to flee that they had to walk over the bodies of dead and wounded.

The Israeli military said that forces operated in the Rafah area overnight, leading to the death of one soldier, but did not specify what the military activity entailed or confirm striking the area.

Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 37,700 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.

5 missiles land near ship in the Red Sea in likely the latest attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels

WASHINGTON — A ship traveling through the Red Sea came under repeated missile fire Friday in a likely attack launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, authorities said, the latest targeting the crucial maritime route.

Five missiles landed near the vessel as it traveled off the coast of the rebel-held port city of Hodeida in Yemen, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center said.

The missiles landed near the vessel, but caused no damage, the UKTMO added.

The Houthis did not immediately claim the attack. However, it can take them hours or even days before they acknowledge an assault.

The rebels have targeted more than 60 vessels by firing missiles and drones in their campaign that has killed a total of four sailors. They seized one vessel and sank two since November. A U.S.-led airstrike campaign has targeted the Houthis since January, with a series of strikes on May 30 killing at least 16 people and wounding 42 others, the rebels say.

The Houthis maintain that their attacks target ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain. However, many of the ships attacked have little or no connection to the Israel-Hamas war — including some bound for Iran.

US shifts assault ship to the Mediterranean to deter risk of Israel-Lebanon conflict escalating

WASHINGTON — The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp entered the eastern Mediterranean Sea this week as the U.S. positions warships to try to keep fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon from escalating into a wider war in the Middle East.

While the Wasp has the capability to assist in the evacuation of civilians if full-scale war breaks out between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanon border, that’s not the primary reason it was rotated in, a U.S. official said. “It’s about deterrence,” the official said.

A second U.S. official said the rotation is similar to how the U.S. sent the USS Bataan assault ship into the waters around Israel shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on the country, with the vessel remaining for months in the eastern Mediterranean to help provide options and try to contain the conflict. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operational details.

It comes as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group and Israel have exchanged near-daily cross-border strikes since the Oct. 7 attacks that launched the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which have been escalating gradually.

The Israeli army said last week that it has “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon, although any decision would come from the country’s political leaders.

Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that any Israeli military offensive into Lebanon would risk an Iranian response in defense of Hezbollah, triggering a broader war that could put American forces in the region in danger.

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Associated Press writer Tara Copp contributed.

Dutch rights groups go back to court seeking to limit export of fighter jet parts to Israel

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Human rights groups returned to a Dutch court Friday seeking stricter enforcement of a court order to halt Dutch exports to Israel of parts for F-35 fighter jets used in the Gaza war, saying that the parts likely still wind up in Israel via the United States.

An appeals court ordered the Dutch government in February to halt the export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel, citing a clear risk of violations of international law if they are used in strikes on Gaza. The government has appealed that ruling, but says it is abiding by the order pending the outcome by halting direct exports to Israel.

However, lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told a judge at a summary hearing at The Hague District Court that Dutch F-35 parts are still being delivered to other countries, notably staunch Israeli ally the United States and urged the judge to ensure those deliveries also do not wind up in Israel.

She added that if the court decides the government is not abiding by the earlier ban it should be ordered to pay a penalty of 50,000 euros ($53,500) each day until it complies.

Reimer Veldhuis, a lawyer representing the Dutch state, told the court the Netherlands is abiding by the earlier order and cautioned that seeking to prevent more exports of F-35 parts to nations other than Israel could put at risk supplies to militaries around the world who operate the advanced fighter jets at a time of soaring international tensions.

Rolien Sasse, of the Dutch rights group PAX, told the court it should order the Netherlands to take proactive measures to prevent parts made in the Netherlands being installed in Israeli fighter jets. PAX launched the summary proceedings along with Oxfam Novib and The Rights Forum.

Election is underway in Iran to replace president killed in a helicopter crash

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iranians voted Friday in a snap election to replace the late hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, with the race’s sole reformist candidate vowing to seek “friendly relations” with the West in an effort to energize supporters in a vote beset by apathy.

Voters face a choice between hard-line candidates and the little-known reformist Masoud Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon. As has been the case since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women and those calling for radical change have been barred from running, while the vote itself will have no oversight from internationally recognized monitors.

The voting comes as wider tensions have gripped the Middle East over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. In April, Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israel over the war in Gaza, while militia groups that Tehran arms in the region — such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels — are engaged in the fighting and have escalated their attacks.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to enrich uranium at near weapons-grade levels and maintains a stockpile large enough to build — should it choose to do so — several nuclear weapons.

Survivors of Israel music festival massacre unite to build a healing community

TEL AVIV, Israel — In the months since Hamas’ surprise attack sent them scattering across fields or hiding in desert brush, survivors of a massacre at a trance festival in Israel have come together as a community to heal.

On Thursday, some 30,000 people attended the Tribe of Nova’s first mass gathering since the Oct. 7 attack.

The Nova Healing Concert is just one part of a robust network of therapy and support that the survivors have built for themselves in the chaotic months since the attack, as Israeli authorities struggle to provide services to devastated communities.

“We understood that people needed to be together, and we’re a community that takes care of itself,” said Omri Sasa, one of the founders of the Tribe of Nova, which organized the festival last October. “I’m in trauma, and I wanted to be with people who also went through this.”

The gathering Thursday was to raise money to support the volunteer network and to call for the release of the remaining hostages. To appeal to a broader audience, it featured electronic music and mainstream artists as well as the Nova mainstay, trance.

“We need a lot of money, and the only way we know how to raise money is through events,” Sasa said.

Nova provided a separate area at the Nova Healing Concert for survivors and family members of victims, and two hostages who were released during a ceasefire in November addressed the crowd. A chorus of mothers who lost their children performed.

US-built pier in Gaza will be removed again due to weather, US officials say

WASHINGTON — The U.S.-built military pier off the coast of the Gaza Strip could be pulled up again as soon as Friday due to expected rough sea conditions, two U.S. officials said.

The pier will be pulled as the U.S. is looking at alternative ways to get aid into Gaza, including potentially using an existing Israeli pier in nearby Ashdod as an alternative route, one of the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military planning.

This would be the third time weather has disrupted pier operations. The floating pier was anchored back on Gaza’s shoreline on June 19 after heavy seas and high winds led the military to disconnect it from the beach. In May, similar conditions forced a two-week pause in operations after the pier broke apart and four U.S. Army vessels ran aground, injuring three service members, one critically.

The Pentagon has said previously it was likely going to have to be shut down the pier by the end of the summer due to weather conditions.

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Associated Press writer Tara Copp contributed.

Canada sanctions four Israelis accused of ‘extremist settler violence’ in West Bank

OTTAWA, Ontario — Canada’s foreign minister is imposing sanctions on four Israelis she accuses of “extremist settler violence” in the occupied West Bank.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says she was in the region recently and heard from Palestinian families who have been forced to leave their homes and farming lands as a direct result of violence and threats by extremist settlers.

The sanctions announced Thursday apply to four men who Canada’s government accuses of “violent and destabilizing actions against Palestinian civilians and their property in the West Bank.”

All four were listed by the U.S. and U.K. earlier this year.

They include David Chai Chasdai, whom the U.S. State Department has accused of leading a rampage in which multiple vehicles and buildings were set on fire and one civilian was killed.

Yinon Levi has regularly led settlers to assault Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, Washington says, setting their fields on fire and threatening more violence if they don’t leave.

Moshe Sharvit “repeatedly harassed, threatened, and attacked Palestinian civilians and Israeli human rights defenders,” according to the State Department, including making 100 Palestinians flee after ordering them to leave.

Zvi Bar Yosef was accused by Washington of “repeated violence against Palestinians” and blocking access to their lands.

Joly says Canada is sending a clear message that acts of extremist settler violence are unacceptable and that perpetrators of such violence will face consequences.

Some 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli military rule for over a half-century. Around 500,000 Israelis reside in hundreds of settlements and outposts, which are segregated and tightly guarded communities.

The army says it tries to protect all residents, but critics say that soldiers often turn a blind eye to settler violence.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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