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The Latest | Tent compound rises in southern Gaza as Israel prepares for Rafah offensive

Apr 23, 2024, 12:04 AM

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press appear to show a new compound of tents being built near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip as the Israeli military continues to signal it plans an offensive on the city of Rafah.

Khan Younis has been targeted by repeated Israeli military operations over recent weeks. Israel has said it plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah during an anticipated offensive on the southern city, where hundreds of thousands of people have taken refuge during the war, now in its seventh month. The military said it was not involved in the tent construction.

On Monday, a failed rocket strike was launched at a base housing U.S.-led coalition forces at Rumalyn, Syria, marking the first time since Feb. 4 that Iranian-backed militias have attacked a U.S. facility in Iraq or Syria, a U.S. defense official said. No personnel were injured in the attack, and no group has claimed responsibility.

The conflict has led to regional unrest, pitting Israel and the U.S. against Iran and allied militant groups across the Middle East. Israel and Iran traded fire directly this month, raising fears of all-out regional war.

The Israel-Hamas war was sparked by the unprecedented Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel in which the militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 hostages. Israel says the militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

The war in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, around two-thirds of them children and women. It has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities and left a swath of destruction. Around 80% of the territory’s population has fled to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.

The U.S. Senate could pass a $26 billion aid package as soon as Tuesday that includes around $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, which experts say is on the brink of famine, as well as billions for Israel. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

Currently:

— Satellite photos suggest Iran air defense radar struck during apparent Israeli attack on Isfahan

— Columbia lets students attend class online amid growing campus protests over Israel’s war in Gaza

— Google fires more workers who protested its deal with Israel

Here is the latest:

HAMAS’ MILITARY WING SAYS TIME IS RUNNING OUT FOR A HOSTAGE DEAL

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — The spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing says time is running out for reaching a deal to release hostages held by the militant group.

The spokesman, known as Abu Obeida, said in a video statement carried by the Al Jazeera network on Tuesday that “the ball is in the court” of Israel, but that “time grows short and the opportunities are dwindling.”

He suggested the hostages could meet the same fate as Ron Arad. The Israeli airman is still missing after being captured by militants in Lebanon in 1986.

Hamas captured around 250 hostages during its wide-ranging assault into Israel on Oct. 7, in which militants also killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The attack triggered the war in Gaza, which has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials.

Hamas and other militants are still believed to be holding around 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others. Most of the other hostages were freed in November in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent months trying to broker another cease-fire and hostage release. Those talks have stalled, with Hamas demanding an end to the war and Israel vowing to continue its offensive until it destroys the militant group.

Abu Obeida struck a defiant tone in the video statement, saying “the enemy has not achieved anything in the last 200 days except for massacres, destruction and killing.”

IRELAND’S FOREIGN MINISTER CONDEMNS BOMBING OF GAZA

CAIRO — Ireland’s top diplomat has condemned Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing of Gaza,” saying the civilian toll of its war against Hamas is “unacceptable.”

Speaking in a joint news conference with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Micheál Martin said the killing of women and children is “unconscionable.”

He mentioned an airstrike over the weekend on Gaza’s southern city of Rafah that killed 17 children and two women from the same extended family.

“The women and children that are being killed. It’s unconscionable,” he said. “It’s very difficult for me personally as a human being to comprehend that level of barbarity, there can be no justification for it, in my view.”

The minister called for a cease-fire, the release of all hostages captured by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war, and flooding the strip with humanitarian aid.

It’s “unacceptable that hostages are taken in this manner,” he said. “And again, we have consistently condemned the taking of hostages.”

HEZBOLLAH SAYS IT TARGETED AN ISRAELI BASE IN RESPONSE TO THE KILLING OF ITS OFFICIAL

BEIRUT — The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said Tuesday afternoon it had launched an attack on an Israeli base near the city of Acre, considerably farther south than the areas it usually targets, in response to an Israeli airstrike that killed of one of its officials.

The Israeli military said in a statement earlier Tuesday that it had killed Hussein Ali Azqul in an airstrike in south Lebanon and described him as a “significant” operative in Hezbollah’s aerial defense unit. Hezbollah confirmed in a statement that Azqul had been killed.

State media and witnesses said the strike happened in the area of Adloun, between the coastal cities of Sidon and Tyre, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the border with Israel.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and allied groups have been clashing with Israeli forces along the border for more than six months against the backdrop of Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has regularly carried out targeted killings of Hezbollah and Hamas members in Lebanon, sometimes in areas far from the border.

Hezbollah said the strike it launched was “in response to the Israeli aggression on the town of Adloun” and the “assassination” of Azqul. It said the strike targeted a location about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border and was the deepest it had launched since the outbreak of the war.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it had “successfully intercepted two suspicious aerial targets off the northern coast.”

A PALESTINIAN IS FATALLY SHOT IN THE WEST BANK

JERICHO, West Bank — Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian man early Tuesday in the West Bank city of Jericho, an eyewitness and Palestinian officials said.

The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man as Shadi Jalaita, 44, and said he suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the chest.

His uncle, Shafiq Jalaita, said the man had been outside of his home watching an Israeli military raid taking place at a neighbor’s house in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Suddenly, three gunshots rang out, he said.

“The third bullet hit his chest and came out of his back,” Jalaita said.

The Israeli army has not commented on the shooting.

The Health Ministry said a child also was shot in the stomach in Jericho and was in critical condition. No further details were available.

Violence has surged in the West Bank since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7. Since then, at least 487 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the territory, the Ramallah-based Health Ministry said.

QATAR SAYS IT NEEDS TO SEE ‘SERIOUSNESS’ IN ISRAEL-HAMAS TALKS

DOHA, Qatar — Qatar is in a “reevaluation phase” when it comes to trying to mediate talks between Israel and Hamas over a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

“We need to see seriousness from everyone,” Majed al-Ansari, a spokesman for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, told a news conference Tuesday.

He also said discussions were ongoing about Hamas’ ongoing presence in Qatar.

The militant group has had a political office in Doha, Qatar, for years, but the Wall Street Journal has reported in recent days that Hamas could leave the country as the talks remain deadlocked. Hamas has denied that the group was considering leaving Qatar.

— Associated Press writer Lujain Jo contributed to this report.

UN RIGHTS CHIEF RENEWS WARNING AGAINST RAFAH OFFENSIVE

The United Nations’ human rights chief is renewing a warning against a large-scale Israeli offensive in the city of Rafah and decrying recent Israeli strikes on the city.

Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said that a large incursion into Rafah “would risk more deaths, injuries and displacement on a large scale – even further atrocity crimes, for which those responsible would be held accountable,” his office said in a statement.

Türk deplored three strikes in Rafah in recent days that reportedly killed mostly women and children. He said that “the world’s leaders stand united on the imperative of protecting the civilian population trapped in Rafah.”

Israel has carried out near-daily air raids on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has sought refuge. It has also vowed to expand its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group to the city on the border with Egypt despite calls for restraint, including from the U.S.

AN ISRAELI STRIKE KILLS A HEZBOLLAH OFFICIAL

BEIRUT — An Israeli airstrike on a car in southern Lebanon on Tuesday killed a Hezbollah official.

The Israeli military said in a statement that it had killed Hussein Ali Azqul in the strike and described him as a “significant” operative in Hezbollah’s aerial defense unit. Hezbollah confirmed in a statement that Azqul had been killed.

State media and witnesses said the strike happened in the area of Adloun, between the coastal cities of Sidon and Tyre, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the border with Israel.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and allied groups have been clashing with Israeli forces along the border for more than six months against the backdrop of Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has regularly carried out targeted killings of Hezbollah and Hamas members in Lebanon, sometimes in areas far from the border.

GAZA HEALTH MINISTRY REPORTS 32 DEAD

The Gaza Health Ministry said Tuesday the bodies of 32 people killed by Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 59 wounded, it said in its daily report.

That brings the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,183, the ministry said. Another 77,143 have been injured, it said.

The Health Ministry does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its tallies, but has said that women and children make up around two thirds of those killed.

The Israeli military says it has killed 13,000 militants, without providing evidence to back up the claim.

APPARENT ISRAELI STRIKE HITS CAR IN LEBANON, KILLING AT LEAST 1

BEIRUT — An apparent Israeli airstrike on a car in southern Lebanon killed at least one person Tuesday, officials said.

State media and witnesses said the strike happened in the area of Adloun, between the coastal cities of Sidon and Tyre, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the border with Israel.

It was not immediately clear who was killed.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and allied groups have been clashing with Israeli forces along the border for more than six months against the backdrop of Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military on Tuesday’s strike. Israel has regularly carried out targeted killings of Hezbollah and Hamas members in Lebanon, sometimes in areas far from the border.

SATELLITE IMAGES SHOW TENT COMPOUND UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN KHAN YOUNIS

JERUSALEM — Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press appear to show a new compound of tents being built near Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip as the Israeli military continues to signal it plans an offensive targeting the city of Rafah.

Images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by the AP show the tent compound starting to be fully under construction on April 16 just west of Khan Younis. Images taken Sunday show the tent compound in the time since has grown.

The Israeli military said Tuesday that it was not involved in the tent construction near Khan Younis. The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, without attributing the information, said that Egypt was constructing the tent compound ahead of a possible Rafah offensive.

The Israeli military did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about the tents. However, their construction comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened “additional painful blows” targeting Hamas over the breakdown of talks over trying to free the remaining hostages held in the Gaza Strip.

That could include the long-threatened attack on Rafah, where half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people have fled amid the war. The U.S., Israel’s main ally, has repeatedly said any military operation needs to protect civilians.

Netanyahu has said he would order to military to evacuate civilians from Rafah for the offensive, but it is not clear where they could go.

— Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed to this report.

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The Latest | Tent compound rises in southern Gaza as Israel prepares for Rafah offensive