The Latest | US-built pier in Gaza unloads aid again after weather setback, official says

The U.S. military says a floating pier it built in Gaza has been reattached to the shore and is unloading humanitarian aid again

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The U.S.-built pier in Gaza was unloading humanitarian aid again Thursday after being removed for a second time last week because of rough seas, the U.S. military said. The floating pier was anchored back on Gaza's shoreline Wednesday after facing a number of setbacks.

Aid groups have sharply criticized the plan to bring aid by sea into Gaza, saying it's a distraction to take pressure off Israel to open more land border crossings that are far more productive. Palestinians face widespread hunger as the war has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and basic goods to Gaza, which is now totally dependent on aid.

The United Nations has suspended cooperation with the pier project since June 9, a day after the Israeli military used the area around the pier in a hostage rescue that killed more than 270 Palestinians. The U.S. and Israeli militaries say no part of the pier was used in the raid.

Meanwhile, Israel's pledge to guard a new aid route into southern Gaza has fallen flat, as the U.N. and international aid organizations say a breakdown in law and order has made that route unusable. The situation has largely paralyzed aid distribution to southern and central Gaza — particularly since the Rafah crossing with Egypt was closed by Israel's invasion of the city early last month.

Israel's war against Hamas, now in its ninth month, faces growing international criticism over the U.S.-backed campaign of systematic destruction in Gaza, at a huge cost in civilian lives.

Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 37,100 people, according to Gaza's Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Israel launched the war after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.

Currently:

— The fate of the latest cease-fire proposal hinges on Netanyahu and Hamas' leader in Gaza.

— Israel's pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution.

— A rare public rift appears between Israel's political and military leadership over how the war in Gaza is being conducted.

— The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group warns archenemy Israel against wider war.

Hundreds died during this year's Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia amid intense heat, officials say.

Follow AP's coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here's the latest:

Israel’s pledge to guard an aid route into Gaza falls flat as lawlessness blocks distribution

JERUSALEM — A breakdown in law and order n southern Gaza has made a new route to deliver aid unusable, according to the United Nations and international humanitarian organizations, just days after Israel declared the safe corridor.

With thousands of truckloads of aid piled up, groups of armed men are regularly blocking convoys, holding drivers at gunpoint and rifling through their cargo, according to a U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media on the issue.

The lawlessness is a major obstacle to aid distribution for southern and central Gaza. In those areas, an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians displaced from Rafah — more than half of Gaza’s entire population — are now sheltering in tent camps and cramped apartments without adequate food, water, or medical supplies.

Israel announced Sunday it would observe daily pauses in combat along a route stretching from Kerem Shalom, the strip’s only operational aid crossing in the south, to the nearby city of Khan Younis.

The head of the U.N.’s World Food Program said Thursday that the pause has made “no difference at all” in aid distribution efforts. “We haven’t been able to get in,” said Cindy McCain in an interview with Al-Monitor. “We’ve had to reroute some of our trucks. They’ve been looted. As you know, we’ve been shot at and we’ve been rocketed.”

The Israeli military body in charge of coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, COGAT, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The U.N. official familiar with the aid effort said that there's been no sign of Israeli activity along the route. The U.N. tried to send a convoy of 60 trucks down the road Tuesday to pick up aid at Kerem Shalom. But 35 of the trucks were intercepted by armed men, the official said.

In recent days, the groups have moved closer to the crossing and set up roadblocks to halt trucks loaded with supplies, the U.N. official said. They have searched the pallets for smuggled cigarettes, a rare luxury in a territory where a single smoke can go for $25.

The U.N. official said that 25 trucks of flour used the route Tuesday. Some private commercial trucks also got through — many of which used armed security to deter groups seeking to seize their cargo. An AP reporter stationed along the road Monday saw at least eight trucks pass by, armed security guards riding on top.

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AP writer Julia Frankel contributed.

US military says 1.4 million pounds of aid unloaded since Gaza pier reopened

WASHINGTON — More than 656 metric tons, or 1.4 million pounds, of aid were delivered through the U.S. military-built pier in Gaza on Thursday in the hours after it resumed operations, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said.

The pier was re-anchored to the beach in Gaza and started operating Wednesday after the military temporarily removed it due to weather, Ryder said. Aid groups have decried the pier as a distraction that took pressure off Israel to open more land border crossings, which are far more productive.

Since the pier opened on May 17, more than 4,100 tons, or 9.1 million pounds, of food and aid have been delivered by sea and unloaded in Gaza. However, much of the aid has lingered in the storage area right by the pier, so although it was provided to Gaza, delivery trucks have not driven it into the people who need it most.

Ryder directed questions about aid distribution to the United Nation’s World Food Program.

The U.N. has suspended cooperation with the U.S.-led pier project since June 9, a day after the Israeli military used the area around the pier in a hostage rescue that killed more than 270 Palestinians.

The U.S. and Israeli militaries say no part of the pier was used in the raid. The U.N. is concerned that any such use — or even a perception of it by fighters and ordinary people in Gaza — makes their continued role in the project untenable.

At issue are the safety of humanitarian workers, and humanitarian groups’ principles of neutrality, the U.N. says.

Hamas says it plans a legal response to ICC prosecutor's request for arrest warrants for its leaders

CAIRO — Hamas says it is planning a legal response against the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor’s request for arrest warrants against its top leaders.

Calling the war crimes accusations against three of its top leaders — Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mohammed Deif — “baseless,” Hamas said it would argue that Palestinians have “the right, indeed the duty, to resist occupation by all means available, including armed resistance.”

Hamas is already considered an international terrorist group by Israel and its Western allies, so it was unclear what the impact of its legal brief would be. Both Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza. Haniyeh, the supreme leader of the Islamic militant group, is based in Qatar and frequently travels across the region. Qatar is not a member of the ICC.

The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, said in May he was seeking the arrests of the three Hamas leaders, saying they bore responsibility for the attack on Israel Oct. 7, when the militants killed around 1,200 people and took some 250 hostage.

Khan accused them of eight war crimes, among them rape, torture, taking hostages, and extermination. Khan said the same day he was seeking arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

In its statement Thursday, Hamas cast Khan as biased in Israel’s favor. It said the prosecutor had “erred in considering that the state of conflict began on October 7,” asserting that the conflict began in 1948 with Israel’s establishment.

During the war surrounding Israel’s independence, some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced their homes, an event the Palestinians refer as the “Nakba,” Arabic for catastrophe.

A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Israel's Netanyahu bemoans ‘personal attacks’ after White House responds to his claims about weapons delays

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described White House statements regarding his claims that the U.S. is holding up weapons deliveries for Israel as “personal attacks,” but said he would endure these attacks provided Israel gets the munitions.

Earlier Thursday, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. is “perplexed” by Netanyahu’s claims earlier this week that the U.S. was holding up the delivery of weapons and creating bottlenecks. Kirby said those claims were incorrect.

Netanyahu, in a statement released by his office, said, “I am ready to suffer personal attacks as long as Israel receives from the United States the ammunition that it needs in the war for its existence.”

Netanyahu has been facing growing domestic political problems, and analysts have said his comments Tuesday on weapons delivery delays were likely aimed to shore up support among his right-wing base in Israel and the country's supporters in the U.S., and didn't appear to indicate actual shortages of weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the only pause in weapons deliveries was related to certain heavy bombs since May.

U.S. President Joe Biden delayed sending the 2,000-pound bombs over concerns about Israel's killing of civilians in Gaza. Yet the administration has gone to lengths to avoid any suggestion that Israeli forces have crossed a red line in the deepening operation in the southern city of Rafah, which would trigger a more sweeping ban on arms transfers.

UN is still reviewing whether it can safely take part in aid operation at US-built pier

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations says it is still assessing whether it's safe for staff to participate in delivering humanitarian aid from the U.S.-built pier on Gaza's coast, which means no aid is being transported from the beach to U.N. warehouses.

There is currently no timeline for completing the assessment, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Thursday. If the U.N. Department of Safety and Security decides the U.N. can resume operations, “then the World Food Program stands ready to do so based on its core principles.”

These core principles — U.N. neutrality and independence in humanitarian activities — were called into question during Israel’s June 8 hostage rescue, which killed more than 270 Palestinians. An Israeli helicopter touched down near the U.S.-built pier and helped whisk away the hostages and an injured Israeli commando, according to the U.S. and Israeli militaries. Both forces deny the pier was used, saying the helicopter landed an unspecified distance south of the causeway.

The U.N. also hasn’t been able to deliver aid using a new route in southern Gaza the Israeli military said it would secure during “tactical pauses,” Haq said.

Fighting may have decreased on the route from the Kerem Shalom crossing to Gaza’s main north-south Salah al-Din road, he said, but there are other impediments and “the lack of public order and safety is a major obstacle and requires concerted efforts and concrete measures to find a solution.”

“We’ve made clear that it’s the responsibility of Israel, the occupying power, to ensure that assistance can reach those who need it the most and to create an enabling environment,” Haq said.

He said the U.N. is is in discussions with Israeli authorities including COGAT, the Israeli military body that oversees aid distribution in Gaza, to provide assurances so people don’t panic and think an aid delivery is a one-time event and rush to convoys trying to take food and other items.

“Many households report having only one meal every day, with some having one meal every two or three days, relying mostly on bread, food sharing with other families and rationing stocks,” he said.

Access to water is “critically low” and people line up for hours to collect it and are forced to rely on seawater for domestic use, Haq said. Communicable illnesses are spreading, sewage is overflowing, there is a proliferation of insects and vermin, and a near total lack of hygiene items.

From June 1-18 there were 61 coordinated U.N. humanitarian missions to northern Gaza, he said. Of those, 28 were facilitated by Israeli authorities, eight were denied access, 16 were impeded, and nine were canceled for logistical, operational or security reasons.

In southern Gaza, he said, the U.N. humanitarian office led assessments at sites for displaced Palestinians from June 7-14 and found people living in overcrowded tents in need of repair that don’t offer any protection from extreme heat.

Biden administration is still ‘perplexed’ by Israel's Netanyahu saying US is withholding weapons

WASHINGTON — White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday the U.S. remains “perplexed” by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims this week that the U.S. was holding up weapons for Israel and creating bottlenecks.

Kirby called the prime minister’s comments “disappointing, especially given that no other country is doing more to help Israel defend itself against the threat by Hamas and, quite frankly, other threats that they’re facing in the region.”

“It was vexing and disappointing to us, as much as it was incorrect. So, difficult to know exactly what was on his mind there,” Kirby told reporters.

Netanyahu's video message Tuesday comes as he faces growing domestic political problems. Analysts say it likely aimed to shore up support among his right-wing base in Israel as well as the country's supporters in the U.S., and doesn't appear to indicate on-the-ground shortages of weapons.

The Biden administration has provided crucial military and diplomatic support for Israel throughout the war against Hamas.

President Joe Biden has delayed delivering certain heavy bombs since May over concerns about Israel's killing of civilians in Gaza. Yet the administration has gone to lengths to avoid any suggestion that Israeli forces have crossed a red line in the deepening operation in the southern city of Rafah, which would trigger a more sweeping ban on arms transfers.

Israel doesn't want to let the Red Cross inspect detention centers accused of brutal treatment against Palestinians from Gaza

JERUSALEM – Israel remains opposed to allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross access to detention facilities accused of harshly treating Palestinians from Gaza and is working on creating an internal inspection system, state lawyers said Wednesday.

The Red Cross had access to Israeli detention facilities holding Palestinians until Oct. 7, when Israel sealed them off from external observation. Since then, testimonies have mounted from released Palestinians of brutal treatment at the detention centers, where they are held incommunicado and without trial.

The government lawyers wrote that Israeli lawmakers are examining a proposal to form an internal body that would visit the detention facilities, hear prisoners’ complaints and communicate the information to Israeli authorities.

The body is “expected to fulfill the purpose that the Red Cross has fulfilled until now,” the lawyers wrote. They were responding to a coalition of rights groups asking Israel’s highest court to grant the Red Cross access to the detention facilities.

In response, the main rights group petitioning the court said internal Israeli examiners could not substitute for international observers.

“Mounting testimonies reveal Israel has turned its detention facilities into a black hole for Palestinian prisoners enduring appalling conditions,” said the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, adding that the government was “investing a far-fetched mechanism in order to replace the accepted arrangement by the world.”

Since the Hamas attack Oct. 7, Israel has taken at least 4,000 Palestinians from Gaza into custody in Israel, interrogating them for potential ties to the militant group. Over 1,500 have been released, according to state figures.

Hamas has rejected Red Cross appeals to visit some 120 hostages it is believed to be holding. Israel has already pronounced 43 of the hostages dead.

US defense official confirms Gaza pier is bringing aid ashore

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military-built pier in Gaza was unloading humanitarian aid again Thursday after being removed for a second time last week because of rough seas, a U.S. defense official said. The pier was reattached to Gaza’s shoreline on Wednesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. military operations.

The pier, which cost the U.S. at least $230 million, was meant to deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza via the U.N.'s World Food Program. It has faced a number of setbacks, operating for only about a week before getting blown apart by high winds in May. The U.S. military detached the floating causeway and moved it to an Israeli port last week so it wouldn't break apart again.

Aid groups have decried the pier as a distraction that took pressure off Israel to open more border crossings, which are far more productive at bringing aid into Gaza. Israel's war against Hamas has caused widespread devastation and made domestic food production nearly impossible, leaving Gaza totally dependent on aid groups for food, medicine and basic goods. Palestinians are facing widespread hunger.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has suspended its cooperation with the U.S.-led pier project since June 9. U.N. officials say they want to evaluate whether the Israeli military used the area around the pier in a June 8 hostage rescue that killed more than 270 Palestinians, and whether any such use — or even a perception of it by fighters and ordinary people in Gaza — makes their continued role in the project untenable.

The U.S. and Israeli militaries say no part of the pier was used in the raid.

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AP writers Lolita C. Baldor and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.

Pier for delivering vital aid to Gaza is functioning again, Cyprus says

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ Foreign Ministry said Thursday the U.S. military-built pier in Gaza is up and running again after being detached for a second time last week because of rough seas.

Cyprus plays a key role in the pier because a security and inspection station it built screens the international aid destined for Gaza. There was no immediate confirmation from the U.S.

Theodoris Gotsis, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, said the pier and the causeway in Gaza were both functioning. He said over the past 40 days, Cyprus has screened and loaded onto boats some 10,000 tons of aid for Gaza.

The U.S. military detached the causeway last week to prevent it from breaking apart again, as it did late last month when it was hit by bad weather.

The pier, used to deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, has faced a number of setbacks since it was erected. It was operational for only about a week when it was blown apart by high winds in May and then removed again earlier this month.

The U.N.’s World Food Program, one of the main aid agencies to make use of the pier, had paused its distribution of aid coming from it earlier this month over security concerns. WFP could not immediately be reached for comment on whether it was resuming distribution.

EU warns against threats against Cyprus from Hezbollah

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A spokesman for the European Union’s executive arm says any threat against Cyprus is a threat against the bloc’s 26 other member nations.

Peter Stano made the remark Thursday in response to a question regarding Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s threat that Cyprus could be implicated in a wider conflict if the island nation allows Israel to use its ports and airports to target Lebanon.

Stano said the EU fully supports Cyprus and that the trade bloc is in contact with “a number of partners in the region," including Lebanon and Hezbollah, in order to de-escalate tension.

Cyprus has enjoyed increasingly tight relations with Israel in recent years, spawned by the discovery of undersea natural gas deposits in waters between the two neighbors. Cyprus has hosted joint Israeli-Cypriot military exercises, but has not ben involved in any military operations.

Cyprus government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis repeated that any suggestion that Cyprus – either through its infrastructure or territory - would be involved in any military operation in Lebanon is “totally groundless.”

Letymbiotis reiterated that the island nation “is not part of the problem” but “part of the solution” thanks to its regional diplomatic footprint.

Hezbollah says Israeli strikes kill 3 fighters in Lebanon

The Hezbollah militant group said at least three of its fighters were killed in Israeli strikes on Wednesday.

Lebanese state media reported multiple Israeli strikes along the border and in an area north of the coastal city of Tyre, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the frontier. The Israeli military said two Hezbollah launches damaged several vehicles in northern Israel.

The fighting came as Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, returned to Israel after meeting with officials in Lebanon on Tuesday. There has been no word on whether he has made progress in his efforts to avoid a devastating regional war.

Kamel Mohanna, the head of the Amel Association, an NGO providing health services in Lebanon, said the group’s primary health center in the town of Khiam was hit and damaged by Israeli shelling.

Hezbollah began attacking Israel almost immediately after the Israel-Hamas war erupted on Oct. 7. There have been near daily exchanges of fire, though most of the strikes are confined to an area within a few mostly confined to the area around the border.

But the fighting has escalated in recent weeks, raising fears that the clashes could boil over into a full-blown war. Israel’s army announced late Tuesday that it has “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon.

Israeli strikes already have killed more than 400 people in Lebanon, most of them Hezbollah fighters,

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