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Live updates | Gaza's death toll mounts as negotiators cite progress on a cease-fire deal

AP |
Feb 14, 2024 10:50 AM IST

Live updates | Gaza's death toll mounts as negotiators cite progress on a cease-fire deal

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.

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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.

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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

— Family of Palestinian-American detained by Israel seeks her release

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:

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military has released a video of what it claims is Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar walking through tunnels underneath Gaza's second-largest city with his family.

The Israeli military says the video was taken under Khan Younis days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel.

In the video, a man identified as Sinwar is seen from the back, with his wife and three children walking ahead of him. He is wearing sandals and carrying a bag. His daughter clutches a doll as the family, led by what the army claims is Sinwar’s brother, makes their way through the tunnels.

The face of the man identified as Sinwar is not visible and the claims could not be independently verified.

The army also released video of a tunnel compound where it claimed Sinwar was recently hiding with his family. The compound had a bathroom and kitchen with stockpiles of food, including bags marked with logos of the U.N. agency that delivers most aid to people in Gaza. Israel has long accused UNRWA of tolerating or collaborating with Hamas — a charge the agency denies.

Another room had a safe with plastic storage bags filled with shekels and dollars.

The army did not provide information to support its claim that Sinwar had spent time in that tunnel compound.

Sinwar is Hamas’ top leader inside the Palestinian territory. Israeli officials have vowed to kill him and crush the militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Tuesday evening that the army was combing through intelligence files seized during operations in the tunnels. He said the army had multiple videos of Sinwar.

“While the people of Gaza are suffering above ground, Sinwar is hiding in tunnels and the ground underneath them, running like the coward that he is,” said Hagari.

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. humanitarian chief is warning that Israeli military operations in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah “could lead to a slaughter.”

Martin Griffiths said Tuesday more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled to Rafah seeking safety from Israeli attacks and are “staring death in the face,” with “little to eat, hardly any access to medical care, nowhere to sleep, nowhere safe to go.”

Gaza’s residents, he said, are the victim of an Israeli assault “that is unparalleled in its intensity, brutality and scope.”

Griffiths reiterated U.N. demands for an end to the war that Israel launched after Hamas’ surprise attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked his military to prepare plans to evacuate Rafah so it can pursue Hamas fighters in the city.

The Hamas attacks in Israel killed about 1,200 people and led to the taking of about 250 hostages. More than 28,000 people, mostly women and children, have been killed across Gaza in the Israeli offensive, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health, he said.

Griffiths said in a statement that he has been warning for weeks that the U.N. humanitarian response is “in tatters” and now he is sounding “the alarm” again.

“Military operations in Rafah could lead to a slaughter in Gaza,” he said. “They could also leave an already fragile humanitarian operation at death’s door.”

JERUSALEM — Israel’s top general says the army will not allow residents of northern Gaza to return to their homes until the area is completely cleared of militants.

At a press conference Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said that although many of the estimated 15,000 Hamas militants originally in northern Gaza had been killed or wounded, rocket launches and attacks against Israeli troops are still occurring there.

He says residents “will return there when it is safe to return and there are no more terror activities.”

Northern Gaza was the first target of Israel’s ground invasion in late October, after weeks of heavy airstrikes and artillery shelling. Most of the more than 1 million people living there fled in the opening weeks of the war, which has flattened entire neighborhoods. Israel is now threatening to expand its operation to the southern city of Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s population is sheltering.

Halevi says the army is weighing different options to evacuate Rafah, though no final decisions have been made. He says the army has learned how to evacuate civilians during previous operations and would apply those lessons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the military to prepare a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah. He has suggested civilians could go to areas that have been cleared elsewhere in Gaza.

Humanitarian groups say nowhere in Gaza is safe and that a ground operation in Rafah would be catastrophic.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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