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The Latest | Airstrikes and rocket fire on Lebanon-Israel border as death toll climbs

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The death toll from Israeli airstrikes across southern Lebanon has climbed to 16, including several militants and members of paramedic groups, according to Lebanese state media and the militant organizations.

And in northern Israel, one man was killed by a barrage of at least 30 rockets fired by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which said it was responding to a deadly airstrike targeting a paramedic center linked to a Sunni Muslim group.

International mediators have been scrambling to prevent an all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah amid near-daily violence, mostly confined to the area along the Lebanon-Israel border.

Hezbollah has been launching rockets toward Israel since Oct. 8, the day after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, triggering the war in Gaza. Some 1,200 people were killed in Israel and another 250 people abducted.

More than 32,000 people have been killed in Gaza and 74,000 wounded, according to the Health Ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally. The ministry says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Currently:

— Israel and Hamas dig in as pressure builds for a cease-fire in Gaza.

— With its soldiers mired in Gaza, Israel is also fighting over drafting the ultra-Orthodox.

— They fled kibbutzim after Hamas attacked. Now, many Israelis must decide whether to go back.

— Seven Lebanese and an Israeli are killed in an exchange of fire along the Lebanon-Israel border.

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

Here’s the latest:

U.N. SAYS A HOSPITAL IN SOUTHERN GAZA HAS CLOSED, LEAVING ONLY 12 LEFT

UNITED NATIONS — Two-thirds of Gaza’s 36 hospitals aren’t functioning after Al Amal Hospital in the south of the territory ceased operation amid intense military activity, U.N. humanitarian officials report.

According to the U.N. World Health Organization, Gaza now has just 12 operating hospitals – two that are “minimally functional” and 10 that are partially functional, four in the north and six in the south, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday.

More than two dozen staff, six patients and a companion and the bodies of two people killed inside Al Amal were moved Monday by the U.N. humanitarian office, the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the International Committee for the Red Cross before the hospital was closed Tuesday, Dujarric said.

Andrea De Domenico, the head of U.N. humanitarian operations in the Palestinian territories, visited the partially functioning Kamal Adwan hospital in the north last week and reported that it is receiving “about 15 malnourished children a day and is struggling to maintain services,” Dujarric said.

“The hospital’s only generator has been heavily damaged, and health workers and patients desperately need food, water and sanitation assistance,” the U.N. spokesman said.

According to the U.N. World Food Program, Dujarric said, roughly 70% of northern Gaza’s population “is facing catastrophic hunger” but efforts to deliver life-saving aid have been impeded by fighting and “access constraints” in getting food to those in need.

This month, WFP was only able to send 11 convoys to the north with food for some 74,000 people, far below the colossal needs of the population, Dujarric said.

ISRAELI AIRSTRIKES IN LEBANON KILL 9 PEOPLE INCLUDING PARAMEDICS, STATE NEWS AGENCY SAYS

BEIRUT — Israeli airstrikes killed nine people in southern Lebanon late Wednesday, including paramedics who were preparing to respond to the first strike, the state-run National News Agency said.

That raises the number of people killed by Israeli strikes Wednesday to 16, after an earlier attack hit a different paramedic center linked to a Lebanese Sunni Muslim group, killing seven of the group’s members.

And earlier Wednesday, the Shiite militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for firing a barrage of rockets into the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona and a military base, which killed one person. It said the rockets were in response to the deadly strike on the paramedics center.

The Lebanese news agency said Israel bombed the village of Teir Harfa after sunset, killing five, and a second strike killed four people as paramedics gathered near a cafe in the coastal town of Naqoura.

Hezbollah’s Islamic Health Society said two of its paramedics were killed in Teir Harfa while the Islamic Risala Scout Association, also a paramedic group, said one of its members was killed in the strike on Naqoura. Hezbollah said two of its fighters were killed, without saying where.

The Amal movement, a Shiite political and paramilitary organization, said the strike on Naquora killed one of its local commanders, identified as Ali Mahdi.

Israel’s military said it had struck a Hezbollah military compound in Teir Harfa and a “terrorist cell” in Naqoura.

Israel said the earlier strike in Hebbariye killed a member of the Sunni al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Group, and several other militants. It said the man was involved in attacks against Israel.

Hezbollah has been firing rockets into northern Israel since the day after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7. The near-daily violence has mostly been confined to the area along the Lebanon-Israel border.

Nearly 240 Hezbollah fighters and about 40 civilians have died in Lebanon. The fighting has killed nine civilians and 11 soldiers in Israel.

IN RARE SPEECH, HEAD OF HAMAS FIGHTERS IN GAZA CALLS ON MUSLIMS TO LIBERATE JERUSALEM MOSQUE

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas has released a rare recording of what it says is the shadowy head of its military wing calling on Muslims around the world to liberate Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Wednesday’s recording was a reminder of the difficulty Israel has faced in realizing its stated goal of destroying Hamas’ military capabilities.

Mohammed Deif delivered the message in a voice recording posted Wednesday on the militant group’s channel in the messaging app Telegram.

“Start marching today, now, not tomorrow, toward Palestine,” Deif says in a message aimed at Muslims globally, calling them to join “the honor of jihad and participation in the liberation of Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam, and sits on a disputed hilltop revered by Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem’s Old City.

No image of Deif appears in the recording, and it was not possible to authenticate it. It was not clear when the recording was made.

The leader of Hamas’ Qassam Brigades has not been seen in public in decades, and the last time Hamas published a voice recording of him was the day of the Oct. 7. attack that triggered the war.

Israel says Deif is one of the masterminds of the attack, and he tops Israel’s most-wanted list alongside Yehya Sinwar, the overall leader of Hamas in Gaza.

Deif is thought to be paralyzed after surviving multiple assassination attempts. Israel has released a small number of photos of what it says are Deif.

NETANYAHU SAYS CIVILIANS IN RAFAH CAN ‘JUST MOVE’ AWAY FROM AN ISRAELI GROUND INVASION

TEL AVIV, Israel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has downplayed U.S. fears of a humanitarian catastrophe if Israel launches a planned ground invasion into Gaza’s southernmost city, saying civilians would be able to flee the fighting into other parts of the war-torn territory.

Speaking Wednesday to a bipartisan U.S. Congressional delegation visiting Israel, Netanyahu said people sheltering in Rafah – now more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population – will be able to move away from the fighting.

“People just move, they move with their tents,” Netanyahu said. “People moved down (to Rafah). They can move back up.”

Israel says a ground offensive is needed to destroy thousands of Hamas fighters in Rafah. The planned incursion has raised global alarm because the city on the Gaza-Egypt border is jammed with 1.4 million Palestinians in sprawling tent camps and U.N. shelters, most of whom have fled fighting elsewhere.

The United States, Israel’s top ally, has urged Israel not to carry out the operation without a “credible” plan to evacuate civilians. Rafah is also the main entry point for desperately needed aid into Gaza, where the U.N. says 100% of the population is at severe levels of food insecurity.

Netanyahu suggested that the dispute over Rafah was just another in a series of disagreements between the allies and that he “appreciates” President Joe Biden’s support, but that Israel will act alone “if we have to.”

Israel’s military has said it plans to direct the civilians to “humanitarian islands” in central Gaza ahead of the planned offensive.

REPUBLICAN U.S. SEN. GRAHAM, ON A VISIT TO ISRAEL, CALLS FOR BIDEN TO LET ISRAEL DESTROY HAMAS IN SOUTHERN GAZA CITY OF RAFAH

TEL AVIV, Israel — Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham wants the Biden administration and Congress to allow Israel to militarily defeat all remaining Hamas fighters in the southern Gaza city of Rafah — which is overflowing with more than a million displaced civilians. Israel says there are thousands of Hamas militants in that area.

Defeating Hamas in Rafah is “non-negotiable,” Graham told reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday. “I urge the Biden administration, the Congress to make sure that Israel has the time and space to achieve victory over Hamas militarily.”

The U.S. Department of Defense wants Israel to protect civilians and secure the delivery of aid into Gaza during any military operation into Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled to escape fighting in other areas and are packed into rudimentary tent camps and U.N.-run shelters.

Israel was meant to send a delegation to Washington to discuss plans for defeating Hamas in Rafah. However, Israel cancelled the visit after the U.S. allowed the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, without linking the two.

The cancelled meeting was the strongest public clash between Israel and the U.S. since the war began.

Graham said he understood Israel’s opposition to the U.N. resolution, saying the wording created doubt. But he hoped for a “breakthrough” that would bring Israel and the U.S. “back together talking about the way forward.”

NETANYAHU SAYS U.S. VISIT WAS CANCELED AS A MESSAGE TO HAMAS

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his decision not to send a delegation to Washington for talks with the Biden administration was meant to deliver a message to Hamas that international pressure against Israel will not prompt it to end the war without concessions from the militant group.

Netanyahu’s remarks appeared to be an attempt to smooth over a clash between Israel and Washington this week following the U.S. decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution this week demanding an immediate cease-fire. Netanyahu decided in response to cancel a delegation’s visit to Washington meant to discuss Israel’s plans for an offensive in Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah.

Speaking to visiting Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida on Wednesday, Netanyahu said the cancelled visit “was a message first and foremost to Hamas: don’t bet on this pressure, it’s not going to work.”

Netanyahu said the U.S. abstention was “very, very bad,” and that it “encouraged Hamas to take a hard line and to believe that international pressure will prevent Israel” from achieving its war aims. Israel wants to destroy Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and free the hostages taken by the militant group during its Oct. 7 attack.

The U.S. abstention and Netanyahu’s decision to cancel the delegation was the strongest public dispute between the two allies since the war in Gaza began.

RAFAH AIRSTRIKE KILLS AT LEAST 4, WITH 10 MORE FEARED BURIED UNDER RUBBLE

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Palestinian health officials say an airstrike on an apartment building in the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah has killed at least four people.

An Associated Press reporter saw the bodies arrive at a local hospital. Relatives say another 10 people were still buried under the rubble.

Palestinians could be seen digging through the remains of a pancaked building early Wednesday. Mohammed Dheir, a neighbor, says there were “limbs all over the ground.”

Israel has threatened to expand its ground operation to Rafah, where some 1.4 million people – over half of Gaza’s population – have sought refuge. The military has regularly carried out airstrikes on Rafah since the start of the war.

The war began when Hamas-led militants stormed across the border on Oct. 7 and attacked several Israeli communities and army bases, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians. They abducted another 250 and dragged them back to Gaza.

In response, Israel launched one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said Wednesday that at least 32,490 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war. It does not differentiate between fighters and civilians but says women and children make up around two-third of those killed.

The Israeli military says it has killed over 13,000 fighters. It blames civilian deaths on Hamas because the militants fight in dense, residential areas, but the military rarely comments on individual strikes.

18 PEOPLE HAVE NOW DIED TRYING TO RECOVER AIRDROPPED AID, GAZA OFFICIALS SAY

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Palestinian officials say at least six people drowned earlier this week while trying to recover airdropped food aid in northern Gaza.

Mahmoud Bassel, a spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defense rescue service, says a large group of men swam out into the Mediterranean Sea on Monday to try to recover aid parcels. Six bodies were later recovered and transferred to a nearby hospital.

He said Wednesday that a total of 18 people have died while trying to recover airdropped aid in scenes of chaos and desperation.

“Sometimes it falls into the sea, sometimes on civilians, sometimes on houses, sometimes on Israeli territory beyond the border fence,” he said.

The Hamas-run government media office has also reported 18 deaths related to the aid drops. The United States and other nations have carried out several airdrops in recent weeks to try and get food to Palestinians in northern Gaza, where experts say famine is imminent.

Aid groups say the airdrops are no substitute for bringing aid in overland and have called on Israel to streamline its inspection procedures and open more crossings.

Israel’s offensive, launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, has caused widespread devastation in northern Gaza and Israeli forces have largely sealed the north off since October. Aid groups say requests to deliver aid to the north are often denied by the military or are too dangerous because of the breakdown in security across Gaza.

ISRAELI MILITARY KILLS 3 PALESTINIANS DURING AN OVERNIGHT RAID IN THE WEST BANK

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says its forces killed three Palestinian militants during an overnight raid in the West Bank.

The military said it opened fire on militants who hurled explosive devices, killing one of them. It said an airstrike killed two other militants, and that its forces destroyed a vehicle containing explosive devices after arresting two people who were inside it.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said two of those killed were 19 years old. It says another four Palestinians were wounded in the raid, which occurred overnight into Wednesday. It did not say whether any of those killed or wounded were militants or civilians.

Violence across the West Bank has spiked since the war in Gaza broke out on Oct. 7, when Palestinian militants launched an incursion on southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping around 250 others.

The raid was carried out in the Jenin refugee camp, which has seen regular clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in recent years. The dense, urban camp was built to house Palestinian refugees from what is now Israel who fled or were driven out during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has little control over Jenin.

At least 450 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli fire since the conflict broke out, according to Palestinian health officials.

HEZBOLLAH CLAIMS ROCKET ATTACK THAT KILLED 1 IN NORTHERN ISRAEL

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel Rescue Services said that one person was killed and two others lightly injured in a Hezbollah rocket attack on northern Israel. The man, 25, was killed from a fire that broke out at a factory in an industrial park in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona as a result of a direct hit.

Around 30 rockets were launched from Lebanon toward northern Israel on Wednesday morning, according to the Israeli military. Hezbollah took responsibility for the launches and said they were in response to an Israeli airstrike that killed seven members of a militant group in southern Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group began launching rockets toward Israel one day after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7. There has been near-daily violence, mostly confined to the area along the Lebanon-Israel border, and international mediators are scrambling to prevent an all-out war between Hezbollah and Israel.

The fighting has killed nine civilians and 11 soldiers in Israel. More than 200 Hezbollah fighters and about 40 civilians have died in Lebanon.

ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE KILLS 7 IN LEBANON

BEIRUT — An Israeli airstrike on a paramedic center linked to a Lebanese Sunni Muslim group in south Lebanon killed seven of its members early Wednesday.

The airstrike on the village of Hebbariye hit an office of the Islamic Emergency and Relief Corps overnight, according to the Lebanese Ambulance Association. The strike was one of the deadliest single attacks since violence erupted along the Lebanon-Israel border more than five months ago.

“This condemned crime forms a flagrant violation against humanitarian work,” the association said in a statement. It listed the names of the seven volunteers who were killed in the strike.

The militant Hezbollah group vowed to avenge the attack, saying it “will not pass without punishment.”

The Israeli military said it struck “a military building” in Hebbariye and killed a member of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, or the Islamic Group. It said the man was involved in carrying out attacks against Israel and several other militants were killed with him as well.

Since the Israel-Hamas began on Oct. 7, Hezbollah has been carrying attacks against Israel’s military posts along the border. Israel has since carried out scores of airstrikes, mostly along the borde,r but since late February they have started attacking northeast Lebanon.

By The Associated Press

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