RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — An Israeli airstrike killed 76 members of an extended family, rescue officials said Saturday, a day after the U.N. chief warned again that nowhere is safe in Gaza and that Israel's ongoing offensive is creating “massive obstacles” to the distribution of humanitarian aid.
Friday's strike on a building in Gaza City was among the deadliest of the Israel-Hamas war, now in its 12th week, said Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza's Civil Defense department. He provided a partial list of the names of those killed — 16 heads of households from the al-Mughrabi family — and said the dead included women and children.
Among the dead were Issam al-Mughrabi, a veteran employee of U.N. Development Program, his wife, and their five children.
“The loss of Issam and his family has deeply affected us all. The U.N. and civilians in Gaza are not a target,” said Achim Steiner, the head of the agency. “This war must end.”
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Israel declared war after Hamas militants stormed across the border on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostages. Israel has vowed to keep up the fight until Hamas is destroyed and removed from power in Gaza and all the hostages are freed.
More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's war to destroy Hamas and more than 53,000 have been wounded, according to health officials in Gaza, a besieged territory ruled by the Islamic militant group for the past 16 years.
Israel blames Hamas for the high civilian death toll, citing the group’s use of crowded residential areas for military purposes and its tunnels under urban areas. It has unleashed thousands of airstrikes since Oct. 7, and has largely refrained from commenting on specific attacks, including discussing the intended target.
On Friday, the U.N. Security Council adopted a watered-down resolution that calls for immediately speeding up aid deliveries to desperate civilians in Gaza.
The United States won the removal of a tougher call for an “urgent suspension of hostilities” between Israel and Hamas. It abstained in the vote, as did Russia, which wanted the stronger language. The resolution was the first on the war to make it through the council after the U.S. vetoed two earlier ones calling for humanitarian pauses and a full cease-fire.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his longstanding call for a humanitarian cease-fire. He expressed hope that Friday’s resolution may help this happen but said “much more is needed immediately” to end the ongoing “nightmare” for the people in Gaza.
He told a news conference that it's a mistake to measure the effectiveness of the humanitarian operation in Gaza by the number of trucks.
“The real problem is that the way Israel is conducting this offensive is creating massive obstacles to the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Gaza,” he said. He said the prerequisites for an effective aid operation don’t exist — security, staff that can work in safety, logistical capacity especially trucks, and the resumption of commercial activity.
Israel’s aerial and ground offensive has been one of the most devastating military campaigns in recent history, displacing nearly 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people and leveling wide swaths of the tiny coastal enclave. More than half a million people in Gaza — a quarter of the population — are starving, according to a report this week from the United Nations and other agencies.
Shielded by the Biden administration, Israel has so far resisted international pressure to scale back. The military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said late Friday that forces are widening the ground offensive “to additional areas of the strip, with a focus on the south.”
He said operations were also continuing in the northern half of Gaza, including Gaza City, the initial focus of Israel's ground offensive. The army said that it carried out airstrikes against Hamas fighters in several locations of Gaza City.
The army also said Saturday that it has transferred more than 700 alleged militants from Gaza to Israel for further questioning, including more than 200 over the past week, providing rare details on a controversial policy that involves mass roundups of Palestinian men.
Palestinians have reported such roundups in areas of northern Gaza, where ground troops are in control, saying this typically involves all teenage boys and men found in a location being searched by troops. Some of the released detainees have said they were stripped to their underwear, beaten and held for days with minimal water. The military has denied abuse allegations and said those without links to militants were quickly released.
Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas militants, including about 2,000 in the past three weeks, but has not presented any evidence to back up the claim. It says 139 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive.
In the aftermath of the U.N. resolution, it was not immediately clear how and when aid deliveries would accelerate. Currently, trucks enter through two crossings — Rafah on the border with Egypt and Kerem Shalom on the border with Israel.
As part of the approved resolution, the U.S. negotiated the removal of language that would have given the U.N. authority to inspect aid going into Gaza, something Israel says it must continue to do to ensure material does not reach Hamas.
Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, thanked the U.S. for its support and sharply criticized the U.N. for its failure to condemn Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks. The U.S. vetoed a resolution in October that would have included a condemnation because it didn’t also underline Israel’s right to self-defense.
Hamas said in a statement that the U.N. resolution should have demanded an immediate halt to Israel’s offensive, and it blamed the United States for pushing “to empty the resolution of its essence” before Friday’s Security Council vote.
Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. and British militaries bombed more than a dozen sites used by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen on Thursday, in a massive retaliatory strike using warship- and submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets, U.S. officials said. The military targets included air defense and coastal radar sites, drone and missile storage and launching locations, they said.
President Joe Biden said the strikes were meant to demonstrate that the U.S. and its allies “will not tolerate” the militant group’s ceaseless attacks on the Red Sea. And he said they only made the move after attempts at diplomatic negotiations and careful deliberation.
“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea — including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” Biden said in a statement. He noted the attacks endangered U.S. personnel, civilian mariners and jeopardized trade, and he added, “I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”
Associated Press journalists in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, heard four explosions early Friday local time. Two residents of Hodieda, Amin Ali Saleh and Hani Ahmed, said they heard five strong explosions hitting the western port area of the city, which lies on the Red Sea and is the largest port city controlled by the Houthis. Eyewitnesses who spoke with the AP also said they saw strikes in Taiz and Dhamar, cities south of Sanaa.
The strikes marked the first U.S. military response to what has been a persistent campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. And the coordinated military assault comes just a week after the White House and a host of partner nations issued a final warning to the Houthis to cease the attacks or face potential military action. The officials described the strikes on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations. Members of Congress were briefed earlier Thursday on the strike plans.
The warning appeared to have had at least some short-lived impact, as attacks stopped for several days. On Tuesday, however, the Houthi rebels fired their largest-ever barrage of drones and missiles targeting shipping in the Red Sea, with U.S. and British ships and American fighter jets responding by shooting down 18 drones, two cruise missiles and an anti-ship missile. And on Thursday, the Houthis fired an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Gulf of Aden, which was seen by a commercial ship but did not hit the ship.
In a call with reporters, senior administration and military officials said that after the Tuesday attacks, Biden convened his national security team and was presented with military options for a response. He then directed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who remains hospitalized with complications from prostate cancer surgery, to carry out the retaliatory strikes.
In a separate statement, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the Royal Air Force carried out targeted strikes against military facilities used by the Houthis. The Defense Ministry said four fighter jets based in Cyprus took part in the strikes.
Noting the militants have carried out a series of dangerous attacks on shipping, he added, “This cannot stand. He said the U.K. took “limited, necessary and proportionate action in self-defense, alongside the United States with non-operational support from the Netherlands, Canada and Bahrain against targets tied to these attacks, to degrade Houthi military capabilities and protect global shipping.”
And the governments of Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Korea joined the U.S. and U.K. in issuing a statement saying that while the aim is to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, the allies won't hesitate to defend lives and protect commerce in the critical waterway.
The rebels, who have carried out 27 attacks involving dozens of drones and missiles just since Nov. 19, had warned that any attack by American forces on its sites in Yemen will spark a fierce military response.
A high-ranking Houthi official, Ali al-Qahoum, vowed there would be retaliation. “The battle will be bigger…. and beyond the imagination and expectation of the Americans and the British," he said in a post on X.
Al-Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite news channel, described strikes hitting the Al-Dailami Air Base north of Sanaa, the airport in the port city of the Hodeida, a camp east of Saada, the airport in the city of Taiz and an airport near Hajjah.
The Houthis did not immediately offer any damage or casualty information.
A senior administration official said that while the U.S. expects the strikes will degrade the Houthi's capabilities, “we would not be surprised to see some sort of response,” although they haven't seen anything yet. Officials said the U.S. used warplanes based on the Navy aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and Air Force fighter jets, while the Tomahawk missiles were fired from Navy destroyers and a submarine.
The Houthis say their assaults are aimed at stopping Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But their targets increasingly have little or no connection to Israel and imperil a crucial trade route linking Asia and the Middle East with Europe.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution Wednesday that demanded the Houthis immediately cease the attacks and implicitly condemned their weapons supplier, Iran. It was approved by a vote of 11-0 with four abstentions — by Russia, China, Algeria and Mozambique.
Britain’s participation in the strikes underscored the Biden administration’s effort to use a broad international coalition to battle the Houthis, rather than appear to be going it alone. More than 20 nations are already participating in a U.S.-led maritime mission to increase ship protection in the Red Sea.
U.S. officials for weeks had declined to signal when international patience would run out and they would strike back at the Houthis, even as multiple commercial vessels were struck by missiles and drones, prompting companies to look at rerouting their ships.
On Wednesday, however, U.S. officials again warned of consequences.
“I’m not going to telegraph or preview anything that might happen,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters during a stop in Bahrain. He said the U.S. has made clear “that if this continues as it did yesterday, there will be consequences. And I’m going to leave it at that.”
The Biden administration’s reluctance over the past several months to retaliate reflected political sensitivities and stemmed largely from broader worries about upending the shaky truce in Yemen and triggering a wider conflict in the region. The White House wants to preserve the truce and has been wary of taking action in Yemen that could open up another war front.
The impact on international shipping and the escalating attacks, however, triggered the coalition warning, which was signed by the United States, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
Transit through the Red Sea, from the Suez Canal to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, is a crucial shipping lane for global commerce. About 12% of the world’s trade typically passes through the waterway that separates Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, including oil, natural gas, grain and everything from toys to electronics.
In response to the attacks, the U.S. created a new maritime security mission, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, to increase security in the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden, with about 22 countries participating. U.S. warships, and those from other nations, have been routinely sailing back and forth through the narrow strait to provide protection for ships and to deter attacks. The coalition has also ramped up airborne surveillance.
The decision to set up the expanded patrol operation came after three commercial vessels were struck by missiles fired by Houthis in Yemen on Dec. 3.
The Pentagon increased its military presence in the region after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in Israel to deter Iran from widening the war into a regional conflict, including by the Houthis and Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.
Associated Press writers Ahmed al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen; Jack Jeffery in London; Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Zeke Miller, Aamer Madhani and Seung Min Kim in Washington contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Friday, in the opening salvo of retaliation for the drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan last weekend.
The massive barrage of strikes hit more than 85 targets at seven locations, including command and control headquarters, intelligence centers, rockets and missiles, drone and ammunition storage sites and other facilities that were connected to the militias or the IRGC’s Quds Force, the Guard’s expeditionary unit that handles Tehran’s relationship with and arming of regional militias. And President Joe Biden made it clear in a statement that there will be more to come.
The U.S. strikes appeared to stop short of directly targeting Iran or senior leaders of the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force within its borders, as the U.S. tries to prevent the conflict from escalating even further. Iran has denied it was behind the Jordan attack.
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It was unclear what the impact will be of the strikes. Days of U.S. warnings may have sent militia members scattering into hiding. With multiple groups operating at various locations in several countries, a knockout blow is unlikely.
Though one of the main Iran-backed militias, Kataib Hezbollah, said it was suspending attacks on American troops, others have vowed to continue fighting, casting themselves as champions of the Palestinian cause while the war in Gaza shows no sign of ending.
“Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing," Biden warned, adding, “let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.” He and other top U.S. leaders had been saying for days that any American response wouldn't be just one hit but a “tiered response” over time.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the targets "were carefully selected to avoid civilian casualties and based on clear, irrefutable evidence that they were connected to attacks on U.S. personnel in the region.” He declined to detail what that evidence was.
The strikes took place over about 30 minutes, and three of the sites struck were in Iraq and four were in Syria, said Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of the Joint Staff.
U.S. Central Command said the assault involved more than 125 precision munitions, and they were delivered by numerous aircraft, including long-range B-1 bombers flown from the United States. Sims said weather was a factor as the U.S. planned the strikes in order to allow the U.S. to confirm it was hitting the right targets and avoiding civilian casualties.
It's not clear, however, whether militia members were killed.
"We know that there are militants that use these locations, IRGC as well as Iranian-aligned militia group personnel,” Sims said. “We made these strikes tonight with an idea that there there would likely be casualties associated with people inside those facilities.”
Syrian state media reported that there were casualties but did not give a number. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 18 militants were killed in the Syria strikes.
Iraqi army spokesman Yahya Rasool said in a statement that the city of al-Qaim and areas along the country’s border with Syria had been hit by U.S. airstrikes. The strikes, he said, “constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, posing a threat that will pull Iraq and the region to undesirable consequences.”
Kirby said that the U.S. alerted the Iraqi government prior to carrying out the strikes.
The assault came came just hours after Biden and top defense leaders joined grieving families to watch as the remains of the three Army Reserve soldiers were returned to the U.S. at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Just Friday morning, Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated earlier promises by Tehran to potentially retaliate for any U.S. strikes targeting its interests. We “will not start a war, but if a country, if a cruel force wants to bully us, the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a strong response,” Raisi said.
In a statement this week, Kataib Hezbollah announced “the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government." But that assertion clearly had no impact on U.S. strike plans. Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the other major Iran-backed groups, vowed Friday to continue military operations against U.S. troops.
The U.S. has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a broad coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the attack in Jordan, but hasn't narrowed it down to a specific group. Kataib Hezbollah is, however, a top suspect.
Some of the militias have been a threat to U.S. bases for years, but the groups intensified their assaults in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. The war has led to the deaths of more than 27,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and has inflamed the Middle East.
Iran-backed militia groups throughout the region have used the conflict to justify striking Israeli or U.S. interests, including threatening civilian commercial ships and U.S. warships in the Red Sea region with drones or missiles in almost daily exchanges.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said “this is a dangerous moment in the Middle East.” He said the U.S. will take all necessary actions to defend its interests and people, and warned, “At this point, it’s time to take away even more capability than we’ve taken in the past.”
As of Tuesday, Iran-backed militia groups had launched 166 attacks on U.S. military installations since Oct. 18, including 67 in Iraq, 98 in Syria and now one in Jordan, according to a U.S. military official. The last attack was Jan. 29 at al-Asad airbase in Iraq, and there were no injuries or damage.
The U.S., meanwhile, has bolstered defenses at Tower 22, the base in Jordan that was attacked by Iran-backed militants on Sunday, according to a U.S. official. While previous U.S. responses in Iraq and Syria have been more limited, the deaths of the three service members in Jordan crossed a line, the official said.
That attack, which also injured more than 40 service members — largely Army National Guard — was the first to result in U.S. combat deaths from the Iran-backed militias since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out. Tower 22 houses about 350 U.S. troops and sits near the demilitarized zone on the border between Jordan and Syria. The Iraqi border is only 6 miles (10 kilometers) away.
Also Friday, the Israeli military said its Arrow defense system intercepted a missile that approached the country from the Red Sea, raising suspicion it was launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The rebels did not immediately claim responsibility.
And a U.S. official said the military had taken additional self-defense strikes inside Yemen Friday against Houthi military targets deemed an imminent threat. Al-Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite news channel, said British and American forces conducted three strikes in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah, a Houthi stronghold.
Aamer Mahdani and Fatima Hussein contributed from Washington, D.C. Abdulrahman Zeyad and Qassim Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad, Jon Gambrell reported from Jerusalem and Ahmed al-Haj contributed from Yemen.
BAGHDAD (AP) — A U.S. drone strike blew up a car in the Iraqi capital Wednesday night, killing a high-ranking commander of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah militia who is responsible for “directly planning and participating in attacks” on American troops in the region, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
The precision blast hit a main thoroughfare in the Mashtal neighborhood in eastern Baghdad, attracting a crowd as emergency teams picked through the wreckage. It came amid roiling tensions in the region, and will likely further anger Iraqi government leaders, who U.S. officials said were not notified in advance of the strike.
Security forces closed off the heavily guarded Green Zone, where a number of diplomatic compounds are located, and there were concerns about social media postings urging protesters to storm the U.S. embassy.
There were conflicting reports on the number of those killed, with U.S. officials saying the initial assessment was one, and saying there were no civilians hurt or killed. But two officials with Iran-backed militias in Iraq said that three died, including Wissam Muhammad Sabir Al-Saadi, known as Abu Baqir Al-Saadi, the commander in charge of Kataib Hezbollah’s operations in Syria. Kataeb Hezbollah later announced his death “following the bombing of the American occupation forces” in a statement.
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Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.
In a statement, U.S. Central Command said “there are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time.” It added that the U.S. “will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces’ safety.”
The strike — which came at 9:30 p.m. local time — is certain to inflame already seething relations between Washington and Baghdad. It comes just days after the U.S. military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for a drone strike that killed three U.S. troops and injured more than 40 others at a base in Jordan in late January.
The U.S. has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a broad coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the attack in Jordan. President Joe Biden and other top leaders have repeatedly warned that the U.S. would continue to retaliate against those responsible for the Jordan attack. And officials have suggested that key militia leaders would be likely targets.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has regularly claimed strikes on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria against the backdrop of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, saying that they are in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel in its war in Gaza that has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
There have been nearly 170 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 18, but the latest drone strike in Jordan — the only one in that country so far — was the first to take American troops' lives. The U.S., in response, has struck back about a half dozen times since Oct. 27, targeting weapons storage sites, command and control centers, training facilities and other locations used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iranian-backed groups, including Kataib Hezbollah.
Wednesday's U.S. strike in Iraq's capital drew comparisons to the 2020 drone strike in Baghdad that killed Iran's Quds Force leader Gen. Qassem Soleimani, in response to attacks on U.S. bases there and an assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. That bombing also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. And it enraged Iraqi leaders, triggering demands for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country.
Kataib Hezbollah had said in a statement that it was suspending attacks on American troops to avoid “embarrassing the Iraqi government” after the strike in Jordan, but others have vowed to continue fighting.
On Sunday, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed a drone attack on a base housing U.S. troops in eastern Syria killed six fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led group allied with the United States.
The latest surge in the regional conflict came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected terms proposed by Hamas for a hostage-release agreement that would lead to a permanent cease-fire, vowing to continue the war until “absolute victory.”
Also on Wednesday, the media office of the Houthi rebels in Yemen reported two airstrikes in Ras Issa area in Salif district in Hodeida province.
Madhani and Baldor reported from Washington. Associated Press journalist Ali Jabar in Baghdad contributed to this report.
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza’s southernmost town, Rafah, is bursting at the seams. Nearly the last place spared an Israeli offensive so far, Rafah's population has more than quintupled with Palestinians streaming in to escape fighting. They pack by the dozens into apartments. Sidewalks and once-empty lots are clogged with tents full of families.
Panic and despair are rising after Israel said it intends to attack Rafah next. The estimated 1.5 million people sheltering there – more than half of Gaza’s population -- have nowhere to flee in the face of an offensive that has leveled large swaths of the urban landscape in the rest of the territory.
Some are just sick of running.
“We’re exhausted. Seriously, we’re exhausted. Israel can do whatever it wants. I’m sitting in my tent. I’ll die in my tent,” said Jihan al-Hawajri, who fled multiple times from the far north down the length of the Gaza Strip and now lives with 30 relatives in a tent.
U.N. officials warn that an attack on Rafah will be catastrophic, with more than 600,000 children there in the path of an assault. A move on the town and surrounding area also could cause the collapse of the humanitarian aid system struggling to keep Gaza’s population alive.
Israel says it must take Rafah to ensure Hamas' destruction. On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to come up with an evacuation plan after the United States said it opposes an attack on Rafah unless provisions are made for its population.
To “conduct such an operation right now with no planning and little thought in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters Thursday. “This is not something that we’d support,”
Still, Washington has continued its whole-hearted military and diplomatic support for Israel’s campaign despite Israel shrugging off its previous calls to reduce civilian casualties. In response to those calls, Israel widened its evacuation orders as its forces moved south – yet the death toll in Gaza has continued to mount. Israel says Hamas is responsible for concentrating its forces in civilian areas.
But it's unclear where civilians would evacuate. Rafah lies trapped between Egypt to the south, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Israel to its east and Israeli troops to its north. Earlier in the war, Israel declared a sliver of rural area on the coast neighboring Rafah, known as Muwasi, to be a safe zone. But in recent weeks it has bombarded the zone and sent troops to seize parts of it.
Many Palestinians in Rafah came from Gaza City and other parts of the north and want to return there. But so far Israel has shown no willingness to allow a mass movement back north, where it says its troops largely have operational control but still fight pockets of Hamas fighters.
Egypt has staunchly refused any mass exodus of Palestinians onto its soil, fearing Israel will not allow them to return. Israel is not likely to let hundreds of thousands of Palestinians take shelter on its own territory.
A large area of empty dunes between the town of Rafah and the sea is now built up with a dense tent city erected by those streaming in over the past month.
When winter rains hit, the area turns to cold mud, seeping into tents full of extended families with children. Women hang up bedding on clotheslines in the morning to keep them dry during the day, then lay them on the ground at night to sleep.
In Rafah town itself, the main squares and streets are full of tents. Other families fill classrooms at U.N. schools or crowd with relatives in apartments. Everyone is hungry and sick; colds, coughs and intestinal disorders run rampant. Even simple medicines are difficult to find, requiring an hourslong wait at the pharmacy.
The supply chain for everything from canned food and flour to diapers comes almost entirely from the trickle of aid trucks that Israel allows into Gaza for distribution by the U.N. and other humanitarian groups. Large impromptu outdoor markets packed with people fill main avenues as many sell parts of allotments they receive.
With such a limited supply, prices have skyrocketed. A chocolate bar that once went for the equivalent of 50 U.S. cents now costs $5; a single egg can cost nearly $1.
Groups of young men can sometimes be seen hanging around intersections, waiting for aid trucks to pass. They leap on the back and slash the ropes with knives to pull off bags of flour – to sell or give to their families.
U.N. officials say 90% of Gaza’s population is eating less than one meal a day, and a quarter of the population faces outright famine, mainly in the north, where Israeli restrictions have blocked many aid convoys.
Rafah is the heart of the aid campaign, with trucks entering from Egypt or from a nearby Israeli crossing for distribution across the Gaza Strip.
“Any large-scale military operation among this population can only lead to additional layers of endless tragedy,” Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the main agency leading the humanitarian effort, told The Associated Press.
Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas throughout the Gaza Strip after the group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were killed and the militants abducted some 250 hostages – over 100 of whom remain in captivity. Netanyahu said Wednesday that preparations were underway for the military to move on Rafah, though he did not say when.
“We are on the way to an absolute victory,” he said. “There is no other solution.”
The Israeli onslaught has killed nearly 28,000 Palestinians and left much of northern Gaza a devastated wasteland. For weeks, fighting has focused on central Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis, where bombardment and ground fighting has wreaked similar destruction.
In recent days, Israeli bombardment of Rafah has escalated. On Friday, strikes leveled two buildings, killing at least eight, including three children and a woman.
In the tent city, Najah Hasheasho said the wooden frame draped with plastic that her family lives in shakes every time a blast hits the area.
“We want to go back to Gaza City. That’s our home,” she said.
A neighbor in the camp, Nahed Abu Asi, said that like many, he believes Israel wants to push the population into Egypt permanently.
“We won’t go into Egypt," he said. "We’ll make our way back to Gaza City and die there — or in any place on the soil of Gaza.”
Keath reported from Cairo. Associated Press writer Julia Frankel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
The Palestinian Authority's prime minister announced his government's resignation on Monday, seen as the first step in a reform process urged by the United States as part of its latest ambitious plans to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But it will do little to address the authority's longstanding lack of legitimacy among its own people or its strained relations with Israel. Both pose major obstacles to U.S. plans calling for the PA, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to govern postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood.
That's assuming that the war in Gaza ends with the defeat of the Hamas militant group — an Israeli and U.S. goal that seems elusive nearly five months into the grueling war that has killed almost 30,000 Palestinians and pushed the territory to the brink of famine.
Here's a look at the government shakeup and what it means for the Israel-Hamas war.
WHAT IS THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY?
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The PA was created in the early 1990s through interim peace agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, then led by Yasser Arafat.
It was granted limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank and Gaza ahead of what the Palestinians hoped would be full statehood in both territories as well as east Jerusalem, lands that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
But the sides were unable to reach a final agreement through several rounds of peace talks. Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the PA in 2005, months after Arafat's death. Hamas won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections the following year, triggering an international boycott of the PA.
A power struggle between Abbas' secular Fatah party and Hamas boiled over in the summer of 2007, with Hamas seizing power in Gaza after a week of street battles. That effectively confined Abbas' authority to parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Abbas recognizes Israel, is opposed to armed struggle and is committed to a two-state solution. His security forces have cooperated with the Israeli military to crack down on Hamas and other armed groups, and his government has worked with Israel to facilitate work permits, medical travel and other civilian affairs.
WHAT DOES THE RESIGNATION MEAN?
In announcing his resignation, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said new arrangements were needed to address "the new reality in the Gaza Strip.”
Abbas accepted Shtayyeh's resignation and is expected to replace him with Mohammad Mustafa, a U.S.-educated economist who has held senior positions at the World Bank and currently leads the Palestine Investment Fund. He was deputy prime minister and economy minister from 2013-2015.
As a political independent and not a Fatah loyalist like Shtayyeh, Mustafa's appointment would likely be welcomed by the U.S., Israel and other countries.
Mustafa has no political base of his own, and the 88-year-old Abbas will still have the final say on any major policies. Still, the appointment would convey the image of a reformed, professional PA that can run Gaza, which is important for the U.S.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said it was up to the Palestinians to choose their leaders, but that the U.S. welcomes any steps to “reform and revitalize” the PA.
“We think those steps are positive. We think that they’re an important step to achieving a reunited Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”
HOW DO PALESTINIANS VIEW THE AUTHORITY?
Abbas' popularity has plummeted in recent years, with polls consistently finding that a large majority of Palestinians want him to resign. The PA's security coordination with Israel is extremely unpopular, causing many Palestinians to view it as a subcontractor of the occupation.
Both the PA and Hamas have cracked down on dissent in the territories they control, violently suppressing protests and jailing and torturing critics. Abbas' mandate expired in 2009 but he has refused to hold elections, citing Israeli restrictions.
Hamas, whose popularity has soared during this and previous rounds of violence, would likely do well in any free election.
But the most popular Palestinian leader by far is Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison after a 2004 terrorism conviction.
Hamas is demanding his release in exchange for some of the hostages it captured in the Oct. 7 attack that ignited the war, but Israel has refused.
Hamas has called for all the Palestinian factions to establish an interim government to prepare the way for elections. But Israel, the U.S. and other Western countries are likely to boycott any Palestinian body that includes the militant group, which they view as a terrorist organization.
DOES ISRAEL SUPPORT THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY?
Israel prefers the PA to Hamas. But even though they cooperate on security matters, Israel accuses the PA of inciting terrorism, and the PA accuses Israel of apartheid and genocide.
Israel's criticism largely focuses on the PA's provision of financial aid to the families of Palestinian prisoners and Palestinians killed by Israeli forces — including militants who killed Israelis. Israel says the payments incentivize terrorism. The PA portrays them as social welfare for victims of the occupation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the PA should have no role in postwar Gaza. He says Israel will maintain open-ended security control over the territory while local Palestinian leaders administer civilian affairs. Netanyahu’s government is opposed to Palestinian statehood.
The U.S. has outlined a path to a broader postwar settlement in which Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel and join other Arab states and a revitalized PA in helping to rebuild and govern Gaza — all in exchange for a credible path to an independent Palestinian state.
The reform of the PA represents a small part of that package, which has yet to win over the Israeli government.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.