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The Latest | Israeli strikes in Rafah kill at least 5 as ship comes under attack in the Gulf of Aden

Apr 25, 2024, 12:29 AM | Updated: 12:34 pm

Palestinian hospital officials said Israeli airstrikes on the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip killed at least five people.

More than half of the territory’s population of 2.3 million have sought refuge in Rafah, where Israel has conducted near-daily raids as it prepares for an offensive in the city. The Israeli military has massed dozens of tanks and armored vehicles in the area in what appears to be preparations for an invasion of Rafah.

In central Gaza, four people were killed in Israeli tank shelling.

A ship traveling in the Gulf of Aden came under attack Thursday, officials said, the latest assault likely carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels over the Israel-Hamas war.

Meanwhile, a top Hamas political official told The Associated Press that the Islamic militant group is willing to agree to a truce of five years or more with Israel.

The Israel-Hamas war was sparked by the unprecedented Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel in which 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 has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, around two-thirds of them children and women.

Currently:

— Ship comes under attack off coast of Yemen as Houthi rebel campaign appears to gain new speed

— Satellite photos show new port construction in Gaza Strip for US-led aid operation

— Some campuses call in police to break up pro-Palestinian demonstrations, while others wait it out

— Chef José Andrés says aid workers killed by Israeli airstrikes represented the ‘best of humanity’

— UN report says 282 million people faced acute hunger in 2023, with the worst famine in Gaza

— EU military officer says a frigate has destroyed a drone launched from Yemen’s Houthi-held areas

— Hamas official says group would lay down its weapons if a two-state solution is implemented

Here is the latest:

ISRAEL MASSES MILITARY VEHICLES ALONG GAZA BORDER

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military has massed dozens of tanks and armored vehicles along its border with the southern Gaza Strip in what appears to be preparations for an invasion of the border city of Rafah.

An Associated Press journalist saw the movement of the vehicles on Thursday near Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing, which is next to Rafah.

Israeli leaders say Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza after more than six months of war. Despite widespread international opposition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to invade the city, located along the Egyptian border, as part of his plan to destroy Hamas in response to the group’s Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel.

Some 1.4 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza’s population, have crammed into Rafah, most of whom fled fighting elsewhere in the territory. The international community, including the U.S., fears an Israeli operation will endanger civilians.

Israel says it is preparing a plan to evacuate civilians before carrying out any operation in Rafah.

UK ISSUES NEW SANCTIONS ON IRAN

LONDON – The U.K. on Thursday imposed a new round of sanctions on Iran over its unprecedented attack on Israel on April 13.

The sanctions are meant to hold Iran accountable for its attack and to deter further such activity. It’s the second set of sanctions the U.K. has imposed since the attack.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s office issued a statement saying the sanctions target Iran’s drone and missile industries. The new sanctions are on two people and four companies that are involved in Iran’s drone production, the statement said. They were announced in coordination with the U.S. and Canada.

The U.K. has also announced a plan to expand trade sanctions by introducing new bans on the export of components used in drone and missile production to Iran.

BIDEN AND OTHERS CALL ON HAMAS TO RELEASE HOSTAGES

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders issued a joint statement Thursday calling for Hamas to release hostages held in Gaza, the latest attempt at public pressure to advance negotiations over a potential cease-fire with Israel.

The statement was issued by Biden and the leaders of 17 other countries, all of which have citizens who are missing or were taken hostage during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas. The other countries are Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.

Here is the statement:

“We call for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for over 200 days. They include our own citizens. The fate of the hostages and the civilian population in Gaza, who are protected under international law, is of international concern.

“We emphasize that the deal on the table to release the hostages would bring an immediate and prolonged cease-fire in Gaza, that would facilitate a surge of additional necessary humanitarian assistance to be delivered throughout Gaza, and lead to the credible end of hostilities. Gazans would be able to return to their homes and their lands with preparations beforehand to ensure shelter and humanitarian provisions.

“We strongly support the ongoing mediation efforts in order to bring our people home. We reiterate our call on Hamas to release the hostages, and let us end this crisis so that collectively we can focus our efforts on bringing peace and stability to the region.”

GIRL WHO WAS ORPHANED IN HAMAS ATTACK PLAYS IN OVAL OFFICE

WASHINGTON — Abigail Edan, the 4-year-old girl who was orphaned and kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, played in the Oval Office during a meeting with President Joe Biden.

The president, before leaving Thursday on a two-day trip to New York, recalled Wednesday’s tender visit to reporters, saying “it went really well.” He said Abigail did a lot of playing around on the swing set on the White House lawn, as well as in the Oval Office.

Biden said he received a note from her family, recounting that as Abigail was riding home, she said: “You know, I love Joe Biden.”

A U.S. official who earlier Thursday described the meeting said Abigail also crawled through a small door at the bottom of the president’s desk, a spot that was made famous decades ago in a photo of John F. Kennedy and his son.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting, said Biden met for about an hour with members of Abigail’s family who have been taking care of her.

Abigail has joint American and Israeli citizenship. She was held by Hamas for nearly seven weeks before being released. Her visit came as the United States increases pressure on Hamas to accept a deal that would free more hostages and implement a cease-fire in Gaza.

— Associated Press journalist Christopher Megerian contributed.

PIER FOR US-LED PROJECT TO BRING AID TO GAZA COMES UNDER FIRE

JERUSALEM — An under-construction pier for a U.S.-led project to bring aid into the Gaza Strip came under fire Wednesday, forcing U.N. officials to take shelter there, Israeli and U.N. officials said.

No militant group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault, which the Israelis described as a mortar shell attack.

Authorities said that no one was wounded.

The attack marks a shaky start to the construction of the pier, a project that the U.S. is spearheading to surge humanitarian aid into Gaza. A Hamas official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the militant group will resist any foreign military presence involved with the port project.

EU MILITARY OFFICER SAYS FRIGATE DESTROYED DRONE LAUNCHED FROM HOUTHI-HELD AREAS

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A top European Union military officer said that a frigate that’s part of an EU military mission in the Red Sea to protect merchant shipping destroyed a drone launched from an area in Yemen controlled by Houthi rebels on Thursday morning.

Austrian Gen. Robert Brieger, who is chair of the EU’s military committee, said that it would be crucial for the bloc to “conserve resources” over the long haul because the threat posed by Houthi attacks “will not disappear” due to its connection to the Israel-Hamas war.

“The task given to the military is simply to protect merchant ships and to show the public that the European Union is not willing to accept a terrorist organization will interrupt the freedom of movement at sea,” Brieger said.

Brieger said that he’s asking EU members to provide the necessary resources to the EU mission dubbed Aspides — Greek for “shields.”

He said that it’s the first time that the EU has launched a naval operation in a hostile environment that’s twice the size of the 27-nation bloc, calling it a “litmus test” that the bloc will pass successfully.

US COLLEGES TURN TO POLICE TO QUELL PRO-PALESTINIAN PROTESTS

AUSTIN, Texas — With graduations looming, student protesters doubled down early Thursday on their discontent over the Israel-Hamas war on campuses across the United States as universities, including ones in California and Texas, have become quick to call in the police to end the demonstrations and make arrests.

While grappling with growing protests from coast to coast, schools have the added pressure of May commencement ceremonies. At Columbia University in New York, students defiantly erected an encampment where many are set to graduate in front of families in just a few weeks.

Columbia continued to negotiate with students after several failed attempts — and more than 100 arrests — to clear the encampment, but several universities ousted demonstrators Wednesday, swiftly turning to law enforcement when protests bubbled up on their campuses.

Police peacefully arrested student protesters at the University of Southern California, hours after officers at the University of Texas at Austin aggressively detained dozens in the latest clashes between law enforcement and those protesting the Israel-Hamas war on campuses nationwide.

SHIP COMES UNDER ATTACK IN THE GULF OF ADEN

JERUSALEM — A ship traveling in the Gulf of Aden has come under attack, the latest assault likely carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels over Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The attack comes after the U.S. military said early Thursday an allied warship shot down a Houthi missile targeting a vessel the day before near the same area.

The Houthis claimed that Wednesday assault, which comes after a period of relatively few rebel attacks on shipping in the region over Israel’s ongoing war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In Thursday’s attack, a ship was targeted just over 25 kilometers southwest of Aden. That’s according to the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center.

GAZA HEALTH MINISTRY REPORTS 43 DEAD IN THE LAST DAY

BEIRUT — The Gaza Health Ministry says the bodies of 43 people killed in Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals over the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 64 wounded people.

The ministry’s latest report, issued Thursday, brings the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,305. It says another 77,293 have been wounded.

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

The Israeli military says it has killed some 13,000 militants, without providing evidence. The war began when Hamas attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and dragging some 250 hostages back to Gaza.

ISRAELI STRIKES ON RAFAH KILL AT LEAST 5

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Palestinian hospital officials say Israeli airstrikes on the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip have killed at least five people.

Among those killed in the strikes overnight and into Thursday were two children, identified in hospital records as Sham Najjar, 6, and Jamal Nabahan, 8.

In central Gaza, four people were killed in Israeli tank shelling, and their bodies were brought to a hospital. Family members told The Associated Press they were killed as they tried to move to northern Gaza, where Israel’s military is preventing people from returning to their homes.

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 from fighting elsewhere. 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 United States.

The Israel-Hamas war was ignited by the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, in which some 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, and another 250 abducted.

The war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The ministry doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count but has said that around two-thirds of those killed were women and children.

The war has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities and left a swath of destruction. Around 80% of the territory’s population have fled to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.

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The Latest | Israeli strikes in Rafah kill at least 5 as ship comes under attack in the Gulf of Aden