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The Latest | Israel must open more land crossings for Gaza aid, UN court says

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In a legally binding order, the top United Nations court says Israel must open more land crossings into Gaza for food, water, fuel and other supplies.

The International Court of Justice issued two new so-called provisional measures Thursday in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of acts of genocide in its war in Gaza — charges Israel strongly denies.

The U.N. has reported that 100% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are at severe levels of food insecurity.

Aid deliveries have been impeded by Israeli military restrictions, ongoing hostilities and the breakdown of public order, according to the U.N. and international aid groups.

And in the West Bank, Israeli authorities say an attacker wounded three people Thursday after opening fire at several vehicles on a main route in the territory. The military says it’s still searching for the shooter.

Tensions in the West Bank have surged since the start of the war in Gaza, which has killed more than 32,000 people and wounded 74,000, according to the Gaza’s Health Ministry. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Some 1,200 people were killed in Israel and another 250 people abducted when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, triggering the war in Gaza.

Currently:

— Doctors visiting a Gaza hospital are stunned by the war’s toll on Palestinian children.

— Talks resume on bringing Israeli officials to the U.S. to discuss Gaza operation, the White House says.

— Israeli strikes in Lebanon kill 16, militant rockets kill 1 Israeli as cross-border violence soars.

— U.S sanctions online media site Gaza Now and its founder for allegedly supporting Hamas.

— Israelis who fled towns near Gaza border must weigh whether to return.

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

Here’s the latest:

ISRAELI STRIKE IN RAFAH KILLS AT LEAST 12 PEOPLE, INCLUDING WOMEN AND KIDS

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — An Israeli airstrike killed at least 12 people when it slammed into a residential building late Thursday in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which is overflowing with displaced civilians, according to health officials.

Two children and four women were among the dead pulled from the rubble, said Dr. Saleh al-Hams, the head of the nursing department at the European Hospital.

Eight of the bodies, including two mangled and unidentifiable corpses, were transferred to the European Hospital. The rest of the remains were taken to Abu Yousef al-Najjar Hospital, according to hospital records. After almost six months of war, about a dozen of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are only partially functioning.

Israel has promised to launch a ground invasion of Rafah, saying the city on the border with Egypt is the last remaining Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces have continued to bombard areas where they told civilians to take shelter — including Rafah.

Over half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge in Rafah, many in makeshift tent camps, United Nations shelters and crowded apartments. The U.S. says it shares Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas but a major assault on the city would be a mistake.

U.S. HAS NOT GIVEN ISRAEL ALL THE W
EAPONS IT WANTS FOR GAZA WAR, TOP U.S. GENERAL SAYS

WASHINGTON — The top U.S. general says the Biden administration has not given Israel all of the weapons it has requested as the war against Hamas in Gaza grinds on.

Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Thursday that he makes recommendations, but not the final decision, on what military aid will be provided.

U.S. officials have been under pressure to use the ongoing delivery of weapons as leverage to get Israel to increase humanitarian support in Gaza and to provide greater protection for civilians, particularly as Israel looks to go after Hamas battalions and leadership in the southern city of Rafah.

Asked if the U.S. has held back some weapons to press Israel to expand humanitarian aid, Brown said, “some of that is because they’ve asked for stuff that we either don’t have the capacity, right, or not willing to provide right now in particular. But it is a constant dialogue with them.”

Speaking at a forum sponsored by George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security, Brown said the U.S. does make such decisions based on how it could impact America’s military readiness, especially when it involved sending weapons from Pentagon stockpiles.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, declined to provide details on which systems the U.S. has so far opted not to send.

ISRAEL’S SUPREME COURT SAYS ULTRA-ORTHODOX MEN WHO WONT JOIN ARMY WILL LOSE FUNDING TO THEIR RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that the government can no longer fund religious seminaries for ultra-Orthodox men of enlistment age.

The dramatic ruling Thursday capped off a week of tense negotiations over mandatory military service for religious Jewish men. In its decision, the court said that funding for religious students between the ages of 18 and 26 will be cut off on April 1.

Under longstanding agreements, Israel has granted ultra-Orthodox men exemptions from military service that is otherwise compulsory for most Jewish males. The exemptions, along with stipends for the religious students, have generated widespread anger, especially with the country at war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The ultra-Orthodox say that integrating into the army will threaten their generations-old way of life and that their dedication to upholding the Jewish commandments protects Israel as much as a strong army.

Among Israel’s Jewish majority, mandatory military service is largely seen as a melting pot and rite of passage, and the army says it is suffering a manpower shortage because of the nearly six-month war in Gaza.

The ruling will affect approximately a third of the 180,000 yeshiva students who receive subsidies from the government for full-time learning, according to Israel’s Channel 12.

The Supreme Court also has ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to present a new proposal to increase ultra-Orthodox enlistment by the end of March. Netanyahu, whose coalition relies heavily on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties, on Thursday asked the court for a 30-day extension.

Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s top political rival and a centrist member of the war cabinet, praised the court’s decision, saying it recognized “the need for everyone in our society to take part in the right to serve the country.”

SYRIAN ARMY SAYS ISRAELI STRIKE NEAR DAMASCUS WOUNDS 2 CIVILIANS

DAMASCUS, Syria – The Syrian army says an Israeli airstrike Thursday on a suburb of the capital Damascus wounded two civilians and caused material damage.

Syrian state media quoted an unnamed military official as saying that the strike hit a residential building without saying in which suburb the attack occurred.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the strike hit the southern Damascus suburb of Sayida Zeinab where Iran-backed fighters have presence. It had no immediate word on casualties.

There was no immediate statement from Israeli officials on the strikes. Israel frequently launches strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria but rarely acknowledges them.

The strikes have escalated over the past five months against the backdrop of the war in Gaza and ongoing clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border.

U.N. TOP COURT ORDERS ISRAEL TO OPEN MORE GAZA LAND CROSSINGS FOR AID

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The top United Nations court on Thursday ordered Israel to take measures including opening more land crossings to allow food, water, fuel and other supplies into Gaza to tackle crippling shortages in the war-ravaged enclave.

The International Court of Justice issued two new so-called provisional measures in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of acts of genocide in its military campaign launched after the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas. Israel strongly denies it is committing genocide and says its military campaign is self defense.

Thursday’s order came after South Africa sought more provisional measures, including a cease-fire, citing starvation in Gaza. Israel urged the court not to issue new orders.

In its legally binding order, the court told Israel to take “all necessary and effective measures to ensure, without delay, in full co-operation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” including food, water, fuel and medical supplies.

It also ordered Israel to immediately ensure “that its military does not commit acts which constitute a violation of any of the rights of the Palestinians in Gaza as a protected group under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, including by preventing, through any action, the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.”

The court told Israel to report back in a month on its implementation of the orders.

NETANYAHU SEEKS 30-DAY EXTENSION TO CRAFT A LAW ADDRESSING MILITARY DRAFT FOR ULTRA-OTHODOX MEN

TEL AVIV, Israel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is seeking a 30-day extension to craft a law to deal with the mandatory enlistment for ultra-Orthodox men, after weeks of negotiations in his cabinet were unsuccessful.

Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to present legislation aimed at increasing recruitment among the religious community by the end of March. Netanyahu asked for the extension on Thursday afternoon.

Broad exemptions from mandatory military service for ultra-Orthodox men have reopened a deep divide in the country and rattled the government coalition. Netanyahu’s fellow War Cabinet members are staunchly opposed to his proposed new conscription law.

In a letter to the Supreme Court, Netanyahu said that additional time is needed “because it has been proven in the past that enlistment without an agreed-upon arrangement actually has the opposite effect.”

Most Jewish men are required to serve nearly three years followed by years of reserve duty. Jewish women serve two mandatory years. But the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox, who make up roughly 13% of Israeli society, have traditionally received exemptions if they are studying full-time in religious seminaries.

The exemptions — and the government stipends many seminary students receive through age 26 — have infuriated the wider general public, especially while the country is embroiled in a war against Hamas militants in Gaza.

The Supreme Court has ruled the current system discriminatory and given the government until the end of March to present a bill and until June 30 to pass it.

WHITE HOUSE SAYS IT’S TOO SOON TO TELL IF NEW PALESTINIAN CABINET WILL DELIVER SOUGHT-AFTER REFORM

WASHINGTON — White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Thursday it was too early to make any broad assessments of the new Palestinian Authority Cabinet and whether it would deliver on the “credible and far-reaching reforms” that the Biden administration has called for.

“We’ve long talked about a revitalized Palestinian Authority and how important that’s going to be to eventually delivering results for the Palestinian people and to help establish the conditions for stability both in the West Bank and in Gaza,” Kirby said.

“This is about meeting the aspirations of the Palestinian people. We believe that a reformed and revitalized PA can do that,” he said.

Israel has rejected U.S. calls for a reformed PA to administer postwar Gaza ahead of eventual Palestinian statehood.

President Mahmoud Abbas, who has led the PA for nearly two decades, announced the new government in a presidential decree on Thursday. None of the incoming ministers is a well-known figure.

Abbas tapped longtime adviser Mohammad Mustafa to be prime minister earlier this month. Mustafa is a politically independent U.S.-educated economist. He has vowed to form a technocratic government and create an independent trust fund to help rebuild Gaza.

U.N. PEACEKEEPERS DECRY ESCALATING VIOLENCE ON LEBANON-ISRAEL BORDER

BEIRUT — The U.N. peacekeeping force deployed in southern Lebanon along the border with Israel is calling for ending the escalation a day after exchanges of fire killed 17 people.

The force known as UNIFIL said Thursday it is very concerned over the surge of cross-border violence between the Israeli military and Lebanese militant groups including Hezbollah.

On Wednesday, a series of Israeli airstrikes in southern Lebanon killed 16 people and a barrage of rockets fired by Hezbollah killed one Israeli man, making it the deadliest day in more than five months of fighting along the border.

UNIFIL said the escalation has caused a high number of civilian deaths adding that it is imperative that “this escalation cease immediately.”

“We urge all sides to put down their weapons and begin the process toward a sustainable political and diplomatic solution,” UNIFIL said. It added that the peacekeeping force remains ready to support that process in any way it can.

The fighting along the border started a day after the attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas into southern Israel on Oct. 7. The violence has displaced tens of thousands in both countries, caused widespread damage in towns and villages and killed civilians, including journalists.

Nine civilians and 11 soldiers have died in Israel, and more than 240 Hezbollah fighters and about 50 civilians have been killed in Lebanon.

ABBAS ANNOUNCES NEW CABINET FOR PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Authority has announced the formation of a new Cabinet as it faces international pressure to reform.

President Mahmoud Abbas, who has led the PA for nearly two decades and remains in overall control, announced the new government in a presidential decree on Thursday. None of the incoming ministers is a well-known figure.

Abbas tapped Mohammad Mustafa, a longtime adviser, to be prime minister earlier this month. Mustafa, a politically independent U.S.-educated economist, had vowed to form a technocratic government and create an independent trust fund to help rebuild Gaza. Mustafa will also serve as foreign minister.

Interior Minister Ziad Hab al-Rih is a member of Abbas’ secular Fatah movement and held the same portfolio in the previous government. The Interior Ministry oversees the security forces. At least five of the incoming 23 ministers are from Gaza, but it was not immediately clear if they are still in the territory.

The PA administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Its forces were driven from Gaza when Hamas seized power in 2007, and it has no power there.

The United States has called for a revitalized PA to administer postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood.

Israel has rejected that idea, saying it will maintain open-ended security control over Gaza and partner with Palestinians who are not affiliated with the PA or Hamas. It’s unclear who in Gaza would be willing to take on such a role.

Hamas has rejected the formation of the new government as illegitimate, calling instead for all Palestinian factions, including Fatah, to form a power-sharing government ahead of national elections.

ATTACKER WOUNDS 3 AFTER OPENING FIRE IN WEST BANK

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli authorities say an attacker wounded three people after opening fire at several vehicles on a main route in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military says the attacker fled the scene following Thursday’s shooting and that forces were conducting searches. Magen David Adom of the Israeli rescue service said the injuries were moderate or light and that a 13-year-old was among the wounded.

Tensions in the West Bank have surged since the start of the war in Gaza and Israeli forces have engaged in near-nightly raids in the territory to clamp down on militancy. There has been a spike in shooting attacks by Palestinians during that time.

Since the start of the war, Israel has arrested roughly 3,600 Palestinians in the West Bank, the military says.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says at least 454 Palestinians have been killed and about 4,700 wounded in the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Oct. 7.

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.

By The Associated Press

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