Live updates | Deadly strikes across Gaza as Israel makes plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has ordered the military to draw up plans to evacuate civilians from the southern city of Rafah, ahead of an expected Israeli invasion into areas near the border with Egypt

Israeli airstrikes hit the central Gaza Strip and the southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt overnight into Friday, killing nearly two dozen people including women and children, witnesses and hospital officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he has ordered the military to draw up plans to evacuate the population of Rafah before an expected Israeli invasion of the city.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has been driven by Israel’s military offensive toward the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the tiny Palestinian territory, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing U.N.-run shelters.

The developments came hours after U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday that he considers Israel's conduct in the war to be "over the top." On Friday, the White House said "nothing has changed" as it relates to U.S. policy on the Israel-Hamas war.

The Palestinian death toll from the war has surpassed 27,840 people, the Health Ministry in Gaza said. 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. Hamas is still holding more than 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead.

Currently:

— Israel and Hamas are far apart on a Gaza cease-fire and hostage deal. What are the sticking points?

— The families of a few Israeli hostages don't want a deal to bring them home. They want Hamas crushed.

— U.S. conducts new airstrikes targeting Yemen's Houthi rebels.

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

Here's the latest:

SPEAKER OF ISRAEL'S PARLIAMENT CANCELS MEETING WITH U.N. CHIEF FOR CRITICIZING ISRAEL'S MILITARY OPERATIONS

UNITED NATIONS — The speaker of Israel’s parliament canceled a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for again calling for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and criticizing Israel for targeting Hamas when it uses “human shields.”

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana tweeted the cancelation Friday on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying there are “lost causes and red lines — I will not whitewash Guterres.”

At a press conference Thursday, the U.N. chief condemned “the horrific attacks of Hamas” on Oct. 7.

But he said he can’t understand how, if Israel says it’s just fighting Hamas, not the Palestinian people, its military operation in Gaza has reportedly killed around 28,000 people, displaced 75% of the population, and destroyed entire neighborhoods. “I think that there is something wrong in the way the military operations have been conducted,” Guterres said.

An Israeli journalist responded saying it’s not easy to fight Hamas when it’s operating in the civilian population, including in schools and hospitals.

Guterres replied saying he has condemned the use of human shields as a violation of international humanitarian law – “but the same international humanitarian law is clear that even when there are human shields, there is an obligation to protect civilians.”

Guterres also called for a halt to violations of international law, which include protecting civilians, by both Israel and Hamas. And he reiterated calls for an immediate ceasefire and release of all hostages taken captive on Oct. 7.

Speaker Ohana said in his tweet that he had intended during his meeting Friday with Guterres “to try to convince, and also to give him a book that we prepared in the Knesset, documented with the photos of Oct. 7.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, asked his reaction to the canceled meeting, said: “It’s difficult to say you want to convince someone when you’re not going to meet with them.”

U.N. CHIEF SAYS PALESTINIAN CIVILIANS IN RAFAH SHOULD NOT BE FORCED TO MOVE

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations chief is worried about the fate of civilians in Rafah, stressing that the more than 1 million Palestinians who were pushed to the southern Gaza city to escape the Israeli offensive should not be forced to move against their will.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made clear at a press conference Thursday that civilians need to be protected, and “we’re not going to force anyone to go anywhere.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas’ ceasefire terms on Wednesday and vowed to expand the offensive to Rafah. And on Friday he ordered the military to prepare an evacuation plan for Rafah ahead of an expected ground invasion.

When the U.N. chief was asked Thursday if there was a contingency plan for civilians in Rafah to go somewhere else and whether he would push for opening the border to Egypt, Guterres replied: “I think that we should push to avoid the tragedy instead of pushing for things to facilitate the tragedy.” He reiterated his call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

Dujarric said the U.N. humanitarian office reports that the unprecedented density of Rafah’s population makes it nearly impossible to protect civilians in the event of ground attacks.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs known as OCHA reports that congestion in Rafah has blocked normal routes, with tents set up by families on any available flat, clean surface, the spokesman said.

OCHA says municipal authorities report that in the last three months Rafah has produced the equivalent of a year’s worth of garbage, and the scarcity of food, clean water, and health services has led to an outbreak of preventable diseases, Dujarric said.

HOSTAGE WHO DIED IN HAMAS CAPTIVITY POSSIBLY KILLED IN AIRSTRIKE, ISRAELI MILITARY SAYS

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says a hostage who died in Hamas captivity might have been killed by an Israeli airstrike.

Announcing the results of an initial investigation, the army said Friday “it is possible” that Yossi Sharabi, 53, was killed when a building collapsed from the force of an airstrike on a nearby target. But the report, delivered to Sharabi’s family, also said he could have been killed by Hamas militants.

The military says the airstrike hit a “legitimate target and was approved according to procedure.” It gave no further details.

Sharabi was among 250 people kidnapped by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack.

Sharabi was held with two other hostages, Noa Argamani, 26, and Itay Svirsky, 38. The three were seen in a video released by Hamas last month. In the video, made under duress, Argamani says her two fellow hostages had been killed in Israeli airstrikes. The video then showed what appeared to be the bodies of the two men.

Israel later pronounced Sharabi and Svirsky dead, without giving a cause of death.

The fate of the hostages has captured the Israeli public’s attention, and their families have said time is running out to save them. The relatives have expressed concern about the conditions of captivity, as well as fears that Israel’s heavy bombing could endanger them.

Israel has already pronounced the deaths of over 30 people kidnapped by Hamas, including three people who were mistakenly shot by Israeli troops after escaping captivity.

Over 100 hostages remain in the besieged enclave after 121 were exchanged in a November ceasefire.

WHITE HOUSE SAYS ‘NOTHING HAS CHANGED’ IN U.S. POLICY ON THE ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR

WASHINGTON — The White House said “nothing has changed” as it relates to U.S. policy on the Israel-Hamas war one day after President Joe Biden said that Israel’s military response in Gaza was “over the top.”

“His position hasn’t changed, I don’t think his messaging has changed,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

She stressed that Biden has consistently supported Israel’s goal to defeat Hamas.

“At the same time, while we have said that, we have been also very clear, the president has been very clear that they must do so by ensuring that their operations are targeted and conducted in a way that we are protecting innocent civilians,” Jean-Pierre added.

17-YEAR-OLD KILLED BY ISRAELI SOLDIERS IN WEST BANK, PALESTINIAN HEALTH OFFICIALS SAY

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian health officials say a 17-year-old boy has been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in the central West Bank.

The boy, whom health officials identified as Moaz Shamsa, was shot in the chest in the village of Beita, just south of the city of Nablus, the officials said.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shooting was the latest in the volatile territory, where Palestinian officials say 387 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants in Gaza staged their shock attack on southern Israel.

After the attack, Israel clamped down on the cities and towns of the West Bank in what it says is a campaign against militants. It has staged near-nightly raids that arrest dozens of Palestinians and often result in deadly shootings.

EGYPT'S PRESIDENT PUSHES BACK AGAINST BIDEN CLAIMS ABOUT OPENING GAZA BORDER

CAIRO — Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi denied he initially opposed allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing until U.S. President Joe Biden convinced him otherwise.

“From the first moment, Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing from its side without any restrictions or conditions and has mobilized massive humanitarian aid and relief,” the Egyptian leader said in an official statement Friday.

A day earlier, Biden took credit for convincing el-Sissi — whom he mistakenly called the president of Mexico — to open the Rafah crossing for aid. "I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate," Biden said at a news conference.

At the start of the war, Israel banned entry of food, water, fuel and other supplies into Gaza, vowing to let nothing in until Hamas released hostages it took on Oct. 7. Israel forced the closure of the Rafah crossing by bombarding the Palestinian side repeatedly. It took heavy U.S. pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before Israel agreed to allow a small number of trucks into Gaza from Egypt.

Egypt at the time repeatedly said it wanted to open the crossing to let aid enter. Its reluctance was more focused on allowing a limited number of people out of Gaza onto its soil – fearing a mass influx of refugees.

International relief agencies have constantly pled for more aid to be allowed in, complaining that that aid delivery is hobbled by the opening of too few border crossings, a slow vetting process for trucks and goods going into Gaza, and continuing fighting throughout the territory.

In his statement, el-Sissi held Israel responsible for the delay in allowing aid in, pointing to the airstrikes on the crossing. When the strikes stopped, he said, Egypt repaired the crossing to allow humanitarian aid deliveries.

ISRAEL'S TARGETED KILLINGS IN WEST BANK HOSPITAL MAY HAVE BEEN A WAR CRIME, INDEPENDENT U.N. EXPERTS WARN

GENEVA — An operation by Israeli security forces who dressed as medics and women to enter a West Bank hospital and killed three Palestinians inside last month may amount to a war crime and violations of international law, independent U.N. human rights experts said Friday.

Security camera footage showed about a dozen undercover forces wearing Muslim headscarves, hospital scrubs or white doctor’s coats as they entered Ibn Sina Hospital in Jenin on Jan. 29. One carried a rifle in one arm and a folded wheelchair in the other.

Israel’s military said forces killed Mohammed Jalamneh, who it said was planning an imminent attack, and brothers Basel and Mohammed Ghazawi, who were allegedly hiding inside the hospital and were involved in attacks.

“In occupied territory under Israeli control, outside active hostilities, at most Israeli forces may have been entitled to arrest or detain them. They could only use force if strictly necessary to prevent an imminent threat to life or serious injury,” the experts said. “Instead, Israel chose to murder them, in flagrant violation of their right to life.”

Under international humanitarian law, they said, “killing a defenseless injured patient who is being treated in a hospital amounts to a war crime.”

Dozens of independent experts work with the United Nations under a mandate from the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, but do not represent the world body. The five experts who spoke out Friday focus on issues like terrorism, the right to health and arbitrary execution.

The experts called on Israel to investigate the episode in view to prosecuting those responsible and said they would urge the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to launch a probe if Israel does not carry out a “prompt investigation” of the killings.

NETANYAHU ORDERS MILITARY TO PREPARE EVACUATION PLAN FOR RAFAH'S POPULATION

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has ordered the military to prepare a plan to evacuate the population of Rafah before an expected Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza town.

Netanyahu made the announcement Friday following international criticism of Israel’s plan to invade the crowded town on Egypt’s border.

Israel says Rafah is the last remaining Hamas stronghold and it needs to send in troops to complete its war plan against the Islamic militant group. But an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians have crammed into the town after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Netanyahu said that a “massive operation” is needed in Rafah. He said he asked security officials to present a “double plan” that would include the evacuation of civilians and a military operation to “collapse” remaining Hamas militant units.

RED CROSS CHIEF CALLS FOR MORE AID TO GAZA

CAIRO — The president of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Friday the humanitarian situation in Gaza is the worst she's ever seen and said more aid needs to be deployed to the territory.

Kate Forbes this week completed her first official visit to Gaza since taking over the post in December.

“In my 43 years of working in the humanitarian sector, this is the biggest humanitarian crisis I’ve seen,” she told the Associated Press in Cairo on Friday. “I saw people needing food, water, sanitation issues. ... We need to get humanitarian aid in.”

Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the militant group's Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has prompted unprecedented destruction in the tiny coastal enclave and triggered a humanitarian catastrophe that has displaced most of Gaza's 2.3 million population and pushed more than a quarter into starvation, according to the U.N.

Forbes said that more entry points need to be opened into Gaza to give aid workers more access and that more trucks need to be allowed in.

“We need to be able to get a greater number of items in than are currently being permitted,” she said. “We’re prepared as an international federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to gear up to give more aid as soon as possible.”

Last month, the chiefs of three U.N. agencies, including the World Food Program, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, said Gaza urgently needed more aid or its population would suffer widespread famine and disease.

ISRAELI FORCES STORM AL-HAMAL HOSPITAL IN KHAN YOUNIS, PALESTINIAN HUMANITARIAN GROUP SAYS

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Israeli forces have stormed the Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis in Gaza, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Friday.

The hospital is home to a few dozen people displaced by the conflict as well as the patients and medical staff. Khan Younis has been the center of the Israeli ground offensive in the past weeks.

Earlier this week, the PRCS said that 8,000 displaced people were evacuated from its headquarters in Khan Younis and Al-Amal Hospital. It said only 40 displaced people and around 80 patients and 100 staff members remain in the medical center.

The Red Crescent gave no further details about Friday’s raid.

Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar and the commander of the group’s military wing, Mohammed Deif, both grew up in the Khan Younis refugee camp. Israel says the city is a Hamas stronghold.

Hospitals in the Gaza Strip have been hard hit by the war. Israel has repeatedly surrounded and raided Gaza hospitals, saying that Hamas uses the facilities as cover for militant operations.

The raids have forced many hospitals to close and displaced thousands of patients and people who had been seeking shelter. With humanitarian aid trickling into Gaza, the territory’s health care system is suffering from shortages of many medicines.

The few hospitals that remain in operation, including Al-Amal, have been overwhelmed with patients and displaced people seeking refuge.

UNICEF SAYS ESCALATION IN RAFAH WOULD PUT THOUSANDS MORE CHILDREN AT RISK

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — The U.N. children’s agency called on all parties to refrain from military escalation in Rafah, at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, warning that there are more than 600,000 children in the area, some of whom have been displaced more than once since the war began four months ago.

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said in a statement late Thursday that military escalation in Rafah would mark “another devastating turn in a war” that has killed over 27,000 people according to health officials in Gaza.

She said it could leave thousands more dead through violence or lack of essential services, and further disrupt humanitarian assistance.

“We need Gaza’s last remaining hospitals, shelters, markets and water systems to stay functional,” Russell said. “Without them, hunger and disease will skyrocket, taking more child lives.”

More than half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people have fled to Rafah, heeding Israeli evacuation orders ahead of the military’s expanding ground offensive. Evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of the besieged, tiny enclave.

Russell appealed to all parties to the conflict to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law, which includes taking the utmost care to spare civilians and civilian infrastructure.

ISRAELI STRIKES KILL AT LEAST 22 IN CENTRAL GAZA AND RAFAH

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — At least 22 people, including children and women, were killed in four Israeli airstrikes overnight into Friday in the central area of the Gaza Strip and in the southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt, witnesses and hospital officials said.

The strikes hit a residential building in Rafah, killing eight people, and a kindergarten-turned-shelter for the displaced in the central town of Zuwaida, killed five. The dead and wounded were taken to nearby hospitals, where bodies were seen by journalists from The Associated Press. A strike killed nine people in Deir al-Balah.

More than half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people have fled to Rafah, heeding Israeli evacuation orders ahead of the military’s expanding ground offensive. Evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of the tiny besieged enclave.

Even in areas of refuge, such as Rafah, Israel routinely launches air strikes against what it says are Hamas targets. It holds the militant group responsible for civilian casualties because it operates from civilian areas. President Joe Biden said Thursday that he considers Israel’s conduct of the war to be “over the top.”

Israeli ground forces are still focussing on the city of Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly warned this week that Rafah would be next, creating panic among hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

Netanyahu's words have also alarmed Egypt which has said that any ground operation in the Rafah area or mass displacement across the border would undermine its 40-year-old peace treaty with Israel. The mostly sealed Gaza-Egypt border is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid.

Israel's 4-month-old air and ground offensive, ignited by a deadly Hamas attack on Oct. 7, has killed over 27,000 Palestinians, driven most people from their homes and pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation.

BIDEN CALLS ISRAEL'S RESPONSE ‘OVER THE TOP’

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday called Israel’s military response in Gaza “over the top" and said he continues to work “tirelessly” to press Israel and Hamas to agree on an extended pause in fighting.

“I am of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,” Biden told reporters in exchange on Thursday evening after delivering remarks on a special counsel report on his handling of classified documents.

Biden added that he continues to push for an extended pause in fighting in Gaza to facilitate the release of the dozens of remaining hostages that were captured during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Hamas, however, has demanded that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and end the war as part of a hostage deal. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to agree to those terms.

But Biden said he still is hopeful a deal can be worked out that might open a path to ending the war.

“I am pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage cease-fire,” Biden said. “I’ve been working tirelessly on this deal. How can I say this without revealing … to lead to a sustained pause in the fighting in, and the actions taking place, in the Gaza Strip.”

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