The Latest | Gaza death toll surges over 30,000 as a strike kills and wounds scores waiting for aid
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More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the Israel-Hamas war nearly five months ago, health officials in the territory said as a strike on a crowd of people waiting for aid in Gaza City killed and wounded scores on Thursday.

At least 70 people were killed as Palestinians lined up for humanitarian assistance, said Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra. Another 280 people were wounded, he said. The war has driven 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes, and U.N. officials say a quarter of the population is starving.

After the strike, Gaza’s Health Ministry said the Palestinian death toll from the war in the territory climbed to 30,035, with another 70,457 wounded. The ministry does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

Israel’s air, sea and ground offensive launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack has caused widespread devastation in Gaza City, largely isolating it from the rest of the territory for months, with little aid entering.

The war has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and sparked global concern over the situation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety from Israel’s daily bombardments.

The war began after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 others hostage.

Currently:

— Food aid reaches north Gaza for first time in weeks, and Israeli hostages’ families push for release.

— U.S. sanctions Iranian deputy commander, Houthi member and ships that transport Iranian oil.

— Qatar’s emir to discuss Gaza and hostages with Macron during a state visit to France.

— Biden implores Congress to avoid a government shutdown, send urgent aid to Ukraine and Israel.

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

Here’s the latest:

WHO OFFICIAL DECRIES GAZA DEATH TOLL, SAYS THESE ARE HUMAN LIVES, NOT “MERE STATISTICS”

CAIRO — A regional director of the World Health Organization decried on Thursday the latest surge in the Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip and urged world leaders to join him in a push for a permanent cease-fire.

Hanan Balkhy, who is WHO’s head for the Eastern Mediterranean, said “concrete steps” toward peace are desperately needed.

“The 30 thousand are not mere statistics, they are human lives,” Balkhy wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “As a doctor and humanitarian, I will keep advocating for the right of all people to life and health. I call on all leaders to join.”

The WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had previously described Gaza as “a death zone” and called repeatedly for a cessation of hostilities.

Last week, WHO warned at a regional news conference in Cairo that poor sanitation, the lack of access to clean water, and the over-crowdedness of settlements where displaced Gazans have relocated, could lead to further infectious disease outbreaks and ultimately more deaths in the battered territory.

PALESTINIAN DIPLOMAT AT THE U.N. IN GENEVA DENOUNCES LATEST STRIKE IN GAZA

GENEVA — The Palestinian ambassador at the United Nations in Geneva denounced Thursday’s apparent Israeli strike that killed at least 70 people waiting for aid in Gaza City.

“Are these human shields? Are these Hamas combatants,” asked Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi, addressing his Israeli counterpart Meirav Eilon Shahar.

Khraishi spoke as the U.N. human rights chief was presenting a report from his office about the Gaza situation to the Human Rights Council. ,

“Hundreds of Palestinian citizens, civilians … who were waiting for trucks loaded with humanitarian aid, and they were bombed by the occupying power,” said Khraishi. “I would say to you: Let us put an end to the massacre.”

Khraishi represents the Palestinian Authority that runs pockets of the occupied West Bank but not the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas. He reiterated that the authority had condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that triggered the latest Israel-Hamas war.

Volker Türk, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, warned of the risk of famine in north Gaza, where aid groups have largely been denied access in recent weeks, and railed against the “carnage” in Gaza and the attacks in Israel that preceded them.

Eilon Shahar, who spoke right before Khrashi and after the U.N. rights chief, stressed that more than 1,200 people were “butchered” in the Oct. 7 attack while others were subjected to “unspeakable acts of violence” by Hamas,

She also criticized Türk’s comments.

“The minimal reference to these horrific acts in your statement today is an affront to the victims and supports those who seek to remove these crimes from the narrative altogether,” she said.

Dozens of diplomats were taking part in Thursday’s council debate, which was focusing on recent developments in Palestinian areas.

AUSTRIA’S TOP DIPLOMAT ON MIDEAST TOUR APPEALS FOR A PAUSE IN FIGHTING AHEAD OF RAMADAN

BEIRUT — Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group against escalating the conflict along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border and expressed hope for a pause in the fighting in Gaza in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in March.

The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, said Alexander Schallenberg, speaking after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut. He came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli occupied West Bank.

Overnight, Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese villages along the southern border killed two people and wounded 14 others in the village of Kafra, state-run National News Agency reported.

Since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, after Palestinian militants stormed parts of southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 250 hostage, Hezbollah started attacking Israeli posts, drawing return fire from Israel in daily exchanges.

More than 210 Hezbollah fighters and nearly 40 civilians have been killed since then on the Lebanese side. In Israel, nine soldiers and nine civilians have been killed in Hezbollah attacks since Oct. 7.

European and American officials have tried to ease the tensions in visits to Beirut, to avoid a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah, which has said it won’t discuss any deals before the war in Gaza ends.

“Everybody is asked not to escalate and it always takes two sides,” Schallenberg said.

RELATIVES OF HOSTAGES MARCH TO DEMAND FREEDOM FOR LOVED ONES

TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli families of hostages held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip and their supporters are launching a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free.

The march comes as negotiations are underway in Qatar to bring about a deal between Hamas and Israel that would lead to a cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages. President Joe Biden has said such a deal was at hand but officials from Israel and Hamas have expressed skepticism about it.

Negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar have been working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting.

During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

Hostages freed in a late-November deal, some of whom still have relatives held in Gaza, joined the march on Wednesday. It will end near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this week.

In its Oct. 7 attack, Hamas abducted roughly 250 people, according to Israeli authorities, including men, women, children and older adults. Roughly 100 were freed about 50 days into their captivity. Some 130 hostages remain and Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.

The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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