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The Latest | Netanyahu vows to carry out Rafah invasion, which US says would be a mistake

Apr 9, 2024, 12:01 AM

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has escalated his pledge to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which is filled with around 1.4 million Palestinians, most of whom are displaced from other parts of the Gaza Strip.

“It will happen. There is a date,” Netanyahu said in a video statement Monday, without elaborating.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has said a ground operation into Rafah would be a mistake and has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians. Netanyahu spoke as Israeli negotiators are in Cairo discussing international efforts to broker a cease-fire deal with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Israeli troops withdrew Sunday from Khan Younis, another city in southern Gaza, ending a key phase of the war. Defense officials say they’re regrouping ahead of a push into Rafah. Palestinians who visited Khan Younis on Monday said the city is now unlivable, offering them little immediate chance to return. Many have been sheltering in Rafah.

The Palestinian death toll from the war has passed 33,200, with nearly 76,000 wounded, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

The war began Oct. 7 when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage.

Currently:

— Palestinians returning to Khan Younis find an unrecognizable city after Israeli withdrawal.

— These Palestinian mothers in Gaza gave birth Oct. 7. Their babies have known only war.

— AP Photos chronicle 6 months of devastation in Gaza war with no sign of an end.

— Israel finds the body of a hostage killed in Gaza, while talks will resume on a cease-fire.

— For families of hostages, it’s a race against time as Israel’s war reaches six-month mark.

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

Here’s the latest:

ISRAEL SHOOTS DOWN A DRONE OVER THE RED SEA

JERUSALEM — Israel shot down a drone over the Red Sea overnight in what the military described as the first deployment of its naval Iron Dome missile defense system.

The military said that a Corvette warship shot down the drone as it flew east over waters near the southern Israeli city of Eilat. The military released grainy aerial footage of the missile making contact with an aircraft.

It was not immediately clear who was directing the drone. Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been conducting near daily attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, launching drones and missiles from rebel-held areas of Yemen.

The Israeli defense system, called the “C-Dome,” is a naval version of the Iron Dome, which has been used to shoot down rockets fired from the Gaza Strip for the past decade.

ISRAEL PLANS TO BAN PRODUCTS FROM TURKEY IN A TIT-FOR-TAT MOVE

JERUSALEM — Foreign Minister Israel Katz says Israel is preparing a ban on products from Turkey after Ankara announced it was restricting exports to Israel.

Turkey said earlier Tuesday it is restricting exports of dozens of products to Israel, including aluminum, steel, construction products and chemical fertilizers. It said it would continue the measures until Israel declares a cease-fire and allows the uninterrupted flow of aid to Gaza.

Katz said in a post on the social platform X that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is sacrificing the economic interests of his citizens “for his support of Hamas.”

Relations between Turkey and Israel have been frosty for years, although trade ties between the two countries are strong.

NATO-member Turkey is among the strongest critics of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

Erdogan has repeatedly called for an immediate cease-fire and accused Israel of committing genocide in its military campaign in Gaza. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no additional comment.

MEDIATORS PRESENT NEW CEASE-FIRE PROPOSAL TO HAMAS AND ISRAEL, EGYPTIAN OFFICALS SAY

CAIRO — Egyptian officials said Tuesday that mediators have presented a new cease-fire proposal to Hamas and Israel that would include a six-week pause in fighting and a swap of 40 Hamas-held hostages for at least 700 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The proposal was presented to delegations from Hamas and Israel during the latest round of negotiations in Cairo over the weekend, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

Among the Palestinian prisoners to be freed would be dozens convicted of killing Israelis during attacks by militant groups.

The officials said Hamas would be required to provide a list of the hostages it will release, as well as a list of Palestinian prisoners whose freedom it seeks.

The proposal also includes the return of a significant number of Palestinians to northern Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the northern half of Gaza in the early stages of the war, heeding Israeli evacuation orders. The vast majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are now crammed into the southern half.

The proposal stipulates that Israel gradually dismantle checkpoints it had built on a new road that split the strip in half to prevent the return of Palestinians to the north.

Hamas has said it is reviewing the proposal.

NETANYAHU VOWS TO CARRY OUT RAFAH GROUND INVASION

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has escalated his pledge to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, declaring: “There is a date.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel must send ground forces into Rafah, saying it is Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza.

But the international community, including the U.S., opposes the operation, saying the roughly 1.4 million civilians seeking shelter there will be in danger.

Israel has insisted it has a plan to protect the civilians.

In a video statement Monday, Netanyahu said the Rafah operation is essential for victory. He said, “It will happen. There is a date,” without elaborating. He spoke as Israeli negotiators were in Cairo discussing international efforts to broker a cease-fire deal with Hamas.

ISRAELI OFFENSIVE IN KHAN YOUNIS DAMAGED MORE THAN HALF OF ALL BUILDINGS IN THE CITY, MAP EXPERTS SAY

JERUSALEM – A pair of mapping experts say Israel’s offensive in the southern Gaza City of Khan Younis appears to have left over half of the city’s buildings with damage or destruction visible from space.

As of last week, over 55% of the city’s buildings were likely damaged or destroyed, according to an analysis of Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data by Corey Scher of the CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University. They say that accounts for 45,000 buildings.

Still, the damage in Khan Younis and other parts of the Strip’s south is considerably less than in the north of Gaza, where the researchers estimate 70% of buildings were likely damaged or destroyed.

Israel’s ground and aerial bombardment campaign, begun after the Hamas attack Oct. 7, has wreaked unprecedented damage on the strip, leveling entire apartment buildings and leaving much of the territory in ruins, a moonscape from war.

Israel withdrew its last ground troops from Khan Younis on Sunday, marking the end of a key phase in its war against Hamas.

ISRAEL TO BUY 40,000 TENTS TO EVACUATE PALESTINIANS FROM RAFAH, ISRAELI OFFICIAL SAYS

JERUSALEM — An Israeli official confirms that Israel is purchasing 40,000 tents to prepare for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Israel says Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold and is vowing to send ground troops into the city. But the international community, including the U.S., opposes the offensive, saying it would endanger Palestinian civilians.

More than 1 million Palestinians, over half of Gaza’s population, have fled to Rafah after being displaced by fighting elsewhere in the territory.

Israel has said it has a plan to evacuate civilians ahead of its offensive, and Israel’s Defense Ministry on Monday published a tender seeking a supplier of tents.

The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said the tents were part of the Rafah preparations.

___

Associated Press writer Josef Federman contributed.

ISRAELI ARMY SAYS A PALESTINIAN WOMAN WAS SHOT DEAD ATTEMPTING TO STAB A SOLDIER IN WEST BANK

JERUSALEM — The Israeli army said its forces shot dead a Palestinian women in the northern West Bank on Monday, after she attempted to stab a soldier at a checkpoint.

The army said the incident took place at the Tayasir checkpoint near the northern West Bank town of Tubas.

In a statement, the Palestinian Health Ministry identified the deceased as a young woman but did not state her name or age.

At least 460 Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank have been killed by Israeli fire since the Israel-Hamas war erupted six months ago, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Many have been shot dead in armed clashes, some while attempting to stab Israeli forces, and others for throwing stones at troops.

The Associated Press has reported on several cases where Palestinians have been shot dead for posing no apparent threat to nearby troops.

Knife attacks by Palestinian women are rare.

POPE FRANCIS MEETS WITH FAMILIES OF HOSTAGES

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis met Monday with relatives of hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7, marking the six-month anniversary of the attack in southern Israel with an hourlong audience.

The Vatican released photos of the encounter, showing the relatives of the several of the hostages sitting in a semicircle in front of Francis in his private library in the Apostolic Palace. Each one held a poster with a photo and the name of their loved one.

It was the second time Francis has met with relatives of the hostages. On Nov. 22, he met with a delegation of Israelis, and then separately a delegation of Palestinians whose relatives had been harmed during the long Mideast conflict.

Francis has called for the immediate release of the hostages and a cease-fire in Gaza, and for humanitarian aid to urgently reach desperate Palestinians.

GAZA HEALTH MINISTRY REPORTS 32 PEOPLE KILLED IN LAST 24 HOURS

CAIRO — The Health Ministry in Gaza on Monday said the bodies of 32 people killed in Israel’s bombardment have been brought to hospitals in the beleaguered territory in the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 47 wounded people, it said.

The fresh fatalities brought the death toll in the strip to 33,207 since the war began on Oct. 7, it said.

The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, but said two thirds of the dead are children and women. The Israeli military says it has killed 12,000 militants, without providing evidence.

The ministry said 75,933 people have been wounded.

The ministry said many casualties remain under the rubble and first responders have been unable to retrieve them amid the relentless bombing.

PAKISTAN AND SAUDI ARABIA CALL ON ISRAEL TO HALT ITS MILITARY OPERATIONS IN GAZA

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have called on Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza and seek a peaceful solution to the conflict in line with UN resolutions.

The two countries made the demands in a joint statement on Monday after a meeting between Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Mecca.

The two sides called for international efforts “to halt Israeli military operations in Gaza, mitigate humanitarian impact and underscored the imperative for the international community to pressure Israel to cease hostilities, adhere to international law, and facilitate unhindered humanitarian aid access to Gaza,” according to the statement.

They also discussed the need for a peace process in accordance with UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative “aimed at finding a just and comprehensive solution, for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

ISRAELI MILITARY SAYS IT KILLED A HEZBOLLAH COMMANDER IN LEBANON

BEIRUT — Israel’s military says it has killed a commander of Hezbollah’s secretive Radwan Force in southern Lebanon.

Ali Ahmad Hussein is one of the most senior militants killed since Israel and Hezbollah began exchanging fire at the start of the war in Gaza. His killing comes as regional tensions soar after an apparent Israeli attack last week on Iran’s consulate in Syria, threatening to spark a wider conflagration.

The Israeli military said two other Hezbollah militants were also killed in the strike early Monday.

Hezbollah announced the death of Ali Ahmad Hussein but did not give any details on the circumstances or his role within the group, in line with how they announce the deaths of their members.

The Israeli military said he was killed in an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese village of Sultaniyeh. It said in a statement that Hussein was responsible for carrying out attacks on northern Israel.

Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops have clashed along the tense Lebanon-Israel border since Oct. 8. Hezbollah says it would stop firing rockets once a cease-fire is reached in the Gaza Strip that would end the Israel-Hamas war.

Israeli officials have been demanding that the Radwan Force withdraw from the border area in order to allow tens of thousands of displaced Israelis to return home.

AUSTRALIA APPOINTS EX-DEFENSE CHIEF TO LOOK INTO ISRAELI STRIKE THAT KILLED 7 AID WORKERS

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia has appointed retired national defense chief Mark Binskin to look into how Israel Defense Forces came to kill seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, including Australian Zomi Frankcom, in Gaza last week.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Monday he expected Israel would fully cooperate with Binskin as Australia’s special adviser on Israel’s response to the missile strikes on three aid vehicles.

“We would expect that someone of Mr. Binskin’s stature, frankly, will be given every cooperation from the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli government,” Albanese told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“We don’t find the explanations to be satisfactory to this point,” Albanese added.

The seven aid workers’ deaths had “shaken the world,” Albanese said, adding it is “unacceptable” that almost 200 aid workers have died since the conflict began in October last year.

Binskin, who served as Australian Defense Force chief from 2014 to 2018, will advise the government on the “sufficiency and appropriateness of steps taken by the Israeli government” in response to the fatal attack, which the Israeli military has described as a tragic error, a government statement said.

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The Latest | Netanyahu vows to carry out Rafah invasion, which US says would be a mistake