The Palestinian death toll from an Israeli hostage rescue operation in a key Gaza city rose to 74 on Tuesday, officials in the war-ravaged enclave said, even as the
warring sides appear to have made progress toward a deal that aims to bring about a cease-fire and free hostages held by Hamas. The raid took place early Monday in Rafah, a city on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where 1.4 million Palestinians have fled to escape fighting elsewhere
in the Israel-Hamas war. Women and children were among those killed in the airstrikes, Palestinian officials said.The overall Palestinian death toll from the war in Gaza has surpassed 28,000 people, according to
the Health Ministry in Gaza. A quarter of Gaza’s residents are starving.The war began with
Hamas’ assault into Israel on Oct. 7, in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250. Israel says about 100 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, while Hamas is holding the remains of roughly 30 others who were either killed on Oct. 7 or died in captivity. Three hostages were mistakenly killed by the army after escaping their captors in December.Currently:
— South Africa
launches an ‘urgent request’ with the top UN court over Israel’s targeting of Rafah— US Senate passes a $95.3 billion
aid package for Ukraine and Israel, but fate in the House is uncertain—
Biden says ‘key elements’ of a Gaza deal are on the table as he meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah— The Israeli military says it has
rescued 2 hostages from captivity in the Gaza Strip.— Find more of AP’s coverage at
https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.Here's the latest:
ISRAEL BLOCKS FLOUR SHIPMENT TO GAZA
JERUSALEM — Israel’s far-right finance minister has confirmed that he is blocking a massive shipment of flour to the Gaza Strip because the supplies are destined for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.
In a post Tuesday on X, formerly Twitter, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich accused UNRWA of cooperating with Hamas. He said he is working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to find an “alternative distribution mechanism that won’t reach the hands of Hamas.”
UNRWA’s director, Philippe Lazzarini, said on Friday that the convoy of food donated by Turkey has been held up by Israeli authorities in an Israeli port for weeks. The agency says the shipment includes rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar and cooking oil. It's enough to feed 1.1 million people for one month.
The holdup comes as an estimated 25% of Gaza families face catastrophic hunger.
Israel has long accused UNRWA of tolerating or collaborating with Hamas — a charge the agency denies.
Israel last month said 12 UNRWA employees participated in the deadly Oct. 7 cross-border raid that sparked the war. UNRWA immediately fired most of the employees, but the allegations prompted key donors, including the United States, to suspend funding.
UNRWA, the largest distributor of aid in Gaza, has launched reviews into its operations and the allegations against it. It has warned that it will have to halt its operations by the end of the month if funding isn’t restored.
UN CHIEF CITES ‘DEVASTATING CONSEQUENCES’ OF AN ISRAELI OFFENSIVE IN GAZA'S RAFAH
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief says public order has broken down in Gaza and an Israeli military offensive in Rafah, the southern city where some 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge, would have “devastating consequences.”
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also told reporters Tuesday that Israel has imposed restrictions that are limiting the distribution of desperately needed humanitarian aid. He said the current mechanisms for protecting humanitarian workers distributing aid in Gaza “are not effective.”
“My sincere hope is that negotiations for the release of hostages and some form of cessation of hostilities to be successful to avoid an all-out offensive over Rafah,” Guterres said.
Guterres has spent months calling for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. In recent days he has expressed fear over what could happen to the displaced Palestinians who have crowded into Rafah if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes ahead with his announced military offensive in the southern city.
The secretary-general said “the core” of the U.N. humanitarian system is located in Rafah and an Israeli offensive there “would have devastating consequences.”
MOODY'S DOWNGRADES RATINGS OF DEPOSITS AT 5 ISRAELI BANKS
JERUSALEM — Ratings agency Moody’s has downgraded the deposit ratings of five Israeli banks after it earlier downgraded the country’s sovereign credit rating and warned that the ongoing war in Gaza and a possible war with Hezbollah could negatively affect Israel’s economy.
Moody’s on Tuesday downgraded the long- and short-term deposit ratings of Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, Israel Discount Bank and First International Bank of Israel from A2 to A3, with a negative outlook. On Friday, the agency downgraded the country’s sovereign debt rating, which is used by investors to gauge the risk of investing in a country, from A1 to A2.
The A2 rating still carries relatively low risk and is well within investment grade, but it was the first time Moody’s lowered Israel’s credit rating. The country’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, dismissed the move, describing the announcement as a “political manifesto” that “did not include serious economic claims.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that Israel’s economy was strong and attributed the downgrade “to the fact that we are at war.” He vowed the rating would go up again once the war against Hamas was over.
HEZBOLLAH'S LEADER DANGLES TRUCE PROSPECT ALONG LEBANON-ISRAEL BORDER
BEIRUT — The leader of Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group indicated on Tuesday that it would halt its attacks on Israel and commit to a cease-fire in southern Lebanon after a settlement is reached in Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza.
Hassan Nasrallah, however, said the Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is also an ally of the Palestinian militant Hamas group, would continue its attacks if Israel resumes cross-border fire.
“When there is a cease-fire in Gaza, we will stop in the south,” he said.
The remark was apparently in response to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s comments saying that strikes against the militant group won’t stop even with a cease-fire in Gaza.
Nasrallah also called on residents in southern Lebanon to turn off their cellphones and cameras, warning them that they are key sources of Israeli intelligence gathering activities that are used to target Hezbollah officials and militants.
Since the Oct. 7 eruption of the Israel-Hamas war, escalation along the Lebanon-Israeli border and prospects of a full-scale war between Israel and
Lebanon’s Hezbollah has terrified people on both sides of the border. SOUTH AFRICA ASKS UN COURT TO CONSIDER WHETHER ISRAEL'S RAFAH OFFENSIVE IS A BREACH OF ITS PROVISIONAL ORDERS
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — The South African government said Tuesday it lodged an “urgent request” with the International Court of Justice to consider whether Israel’s military operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah constitute a breach of the court's provisional orders handed down in its genocide case last month.
The request asks the U.N. court to determine whether Israel’s actions in Rafah — where 1.4 million Palestinians from elsewhere in war-battered Gaza have fled to escape fighting — represents a “further imminent breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza.”
The African country is also asking the court in the Netherlands to consider further provisional measures against Israel, according to a statement released by the office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
South Africa alleges that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people in its war against Gaza's militant Hamas group.
The ICJ handed down a preliminary ruling last month in the case, issuing six orders, including asking Israel to do all it can to prevent the deaths of Palestinian civilians and the destruction of Gaza.
FRANCE SANCTIONS 28 ISRAELI SETTLERS OVER WEST BANK VIOLENCE
PARIS — The French foreign ministry said France has adopted sanctions against 28 “radical” Israeli settlers who have been involved in violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, banning them from French territory.
The measure comes as violence perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians increased in recent months, the ministry said, even as the world is focused on the Israeli-Hamas war raging in the Gaza Strip.
France “reaffirms its firm condemnation of this unacceptable violence,” it said, urging Israeli authorities “to put an end” to such acts and send perpetrators to trial.
The ministry also said France was working with its European partners to be able to adopt sanctions at the EU level. “Colonization is illegal under international law and must stop,” it added.
2 AL-JAZEERA JOURNALISTS WOUNDED IN ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE NEAR RAFAH, NETWORK SAYS
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Al Jazeera says two of its journalists have been wounded in an Israeli airstrike near Rafah in the Gaza Strip, with one having to undergo an amputation.
The pan-Arab broadcaster, funded by Qatar, reported the strike on Tuesday and identified the wounded as cameraman Ahmad Matar and reporter Ismail Abu Omar.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
The channel quoted Dr. Muhammad al-Astal at the European Hospital in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip as saying that Abu Omar had his right foot amputated after suffering severe wounds, including shrapnel to his chest and head. The channel said doctors were trying to stop the bleeding and save his left leg.
Hamas’ media office condemned what it called a “deliberate” attack by Israel’s military on the two journalists, saying it was an attempt to “intimidate and terrorize” journalists.
The Israel-Hamas war has seen at least 85 journalists and media workers killed, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The agency said the fatalities are 78 Palestinians, four Israelis and three Lebanese.
WARRING SIDES SAID TO BE MAKING PROGRESS TOWARD A CEASE-FIRE DEAL, FREEING HOSTAGES
CAIRO — A senior Egyptian official said mediators have achieved what he described as “relatively significant” progress in the negotiations between Israel and Hamas ahead of a scheduled meeting in Cairo on Tuesday of representatives from Qatar, the United States and Israel.
Israeli media reported the head of the spy agency Mossad, David Barnea, was in the Egyptian capital.
The Egyptian official said the meeting would focus on “crafting a final draft” of a six-week cease-fire deal, with guarantees that the parties would continue negotiations toward a permanent cease-fire.
A Western diplomat in the Egyptian capital also said a six-week deal was on the table but cautioned that more work is still needed to reach an agreement.
He said Tuesday's meeting would be crucial in bridging the remaining gaps to get the two sides to agree on a six-week truce and embark on talks for a final cease-fire deal.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive talks with the media.
HEALTH MINISTRY IN GAZA SAYS 133 BODIES BROUGHT TO HOSPITALS OVER THE PAST DAY
CAIRO — The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says the bodies of 133 people killed in Israeli strikes have been brought to hospitals in the war-wrecked territory over the past day.
Hospitals also received 162 wounded patients, the ministry said.
Also Tuesday, the death toll from an Israeli hostage rescue operation in the town of Rafah rose to 74, according to Dr. Marawan al-Hams, director of the local Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital. Israeli forces conducting the operation, which freed two hostages, were backed by heavy airstrikes.
The new fatalities brought the death toll in Gaza to 28,473 since the war began on Oct. 7, according to the ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count. It says more than 70% of the dead are women and minors.
More than 68,000 people have been wounded in the war, with 11,000 of them needing urgent evacuation for treatment out of Gaza, the ministry said. Many of the dead remain under the rubble of destroyed buildings and on roadsides with first responders unable to reach many areas and collect the bodies.
Israel says its forces have killed 10,000 Hamas fighters, without providing evidence. It blames Hamas for the death toll, saying it embeds in civilians areas, putting noncombatants at risk.