Live updates | Israel expands offensive in central Gaza as Netanyahu aide meets with US officials – Metro US

Live updates | Israel expands offensive in central Gaza as Netanyahu aide meets with US officials

Israel Palestinians
Bulldozer carries the bodies of Palestinians killed in the north of the Gaza Strip and turned over by the Israeli military during a mass funeral in Rafah, Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

The Israeli military says it has expanded its ground offensive in the Gaza Strip to the densely populated urban refugee camps in the central part of the territory.

With international pressure for a cease-fire building, top U.S. officials were meeting with Israel’s minister for strategic affairs Tuesday at the White House in Washington.

Residents reported shelling and airstrikes shaking the Nuseirat, Maghazi and Bureij camps. The built-up towns hold Palestinians whose families fled or were driven from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s independence.

The camps are now crowded with Palestinians who fled northern Gaza in the early stages of Israel’s ground offensive.

“We have expanded the fighting to an area known as the central camps,” Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told a news conference.

More than 20,900 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children, have been killed since the start of the war, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants among the dead.

About 1,200 people were killed after Hamas raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, with around 240 people taken hostage. Israel says it aims to free the more than 100 hostages who remain in captivity in Gaza.


Lose a limb or risk death? Growing numbers among Gaza’s thousands of war-wounded face hard decisions

— An Israeli airstrike in Syria kills a high-ranking Iranian general

— Americans beg for help getting family out of Gaza. ‘I just want to see my mother again,’ a son says

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

Here’s what’s happening in the war:

JERUSALEM — Supporters of a local Palestinian activist in the West Bank say he has been arrested by Israel on suspicions of incitement.

They say Munther Amira, a social worker and community activist in the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem, was arrested on Dec. 18 by Israeli troops.

Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli activist assisting Amira, says Munther was questioned about Facebook posts, but denied allegations against him. He said it was unclear which posts drew attention from Israeli authorities.

Amira’s lawyer, Riham Nasra, said the military is now trying to place Amira under administrative detention – a status under which suspects can be held without charge for months at a time. She accused Israel of trying to stifle criticism of the Gaza war.

“Munther is a renowned activist, and Israel is grasping at the opportunity to remove him from the stage,” Nasra said.

Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Rights groups say that Israel has arrested scores of Palestinians, including Israeli citizens, in a crackdown on free speech and political activity since the war erupted on Oct. 7.

The Israeli rights group HaMoked says Israel was holding 2,873 Palestinians in administrative detention as of Dec. 1, an increase of 800 from the previous month.

UNITED NATIONS – Sigrid Kaag, the Netherlands’ former deputy prime minister and a Mideast expert, has been appointed as the U.N. coordinator to expedite humanitarian aid deliveries to desperate civilians in Gaza in need of food, water and medicine.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the appointment of Kaag on Tuesday following the Security Council’s adoption of a resolution on Friday requesting him to appoint a Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza.

“In this role, she will facilitate, coordinate, monitor, and verify humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza,” the U.N. chief said. “She will also establish a United Nations mechanism to accelerate humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza through states which are not party to the conflict.”

Guterres said Kaag “brings a wealth of experience in political. Humanitarian and development affairs as well as in diplomacy” to her new job, which she is expected to begin on Jan. 8.

Kaag, who speaks fluent Arabic, started working for the United Nations in 1994 in Sudan and has worked for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, as regional director for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, assistant director of the U.N. Development Program, head of the mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and U.N. special envoy for Lebanon.

JERUSALEM — Israel is warning its citizens in India to take precautions after a blast outside the Israeli embassy in New Delhi that Israel says may have been an attack.

Israel warned its citizens to avoid being identifiable as Israelis, avoid busy places where Israelis are known to congregate and not make public their travel plans as security precautions.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said earlier Tuesday that a blast went off outside the embassy. No one was wounded. Israel’s National Security Council said the blast may have been an attack.

Tensions across the Arab and Muslim world have soared since the start of Israel’s war against Hamas in early October. Israeli targets in India have in the past come under attack.

WASHINGTON — A top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the White House Tuesday for talks with President Joe Biden’s top diplomat and national security adviser on Gaza, as Israel appears poised to expand its offensive there.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s Minister for Strategic Affairs, was meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.

Watson said the talks would cover matters related to the war including efforts to free hostages held by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza. Dermer’s trip comes as the U.S. presses ally Israel to wrap up the deadliest phase of its offensive in Gaza.

JERUSALEM — Palestinian health officials say a truck carrying some 80 bodies of Palestinians killed in fighting has entered into the Gaza Strip through an Israeli crossing.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli authorities about the bodies, under what circumstances they died, who the deceased were and why the bodies came in through Israel.

Marwen al-Hams, a Palestinian health official in Gaza, said Tuesday some of the bodies on the truck were whole, some came in pieces and many had decomposed.

Health workers in plastic robes removed the bodies, which were covered in blue plastic sealed with zip ties, from the truck. The bodies were then brought by a bulldozer for burial in a mass grave.

The Israeli military spokesman said at a news conference he was not aware of the bodies.

JERUSALEM — Israel says it will no longer grant automatic visas to U.N. employees, accusing the United Nations of being “complicit partners” in Hamas’ tactics.

The move ratchets up tensions between the United Nations and Israel, which has long claimed the world body directs unfair and disproportionate criticism at it.

Government spokesman Eylon Levy said Tuesday that Israel would consider visa requests from U.N. employees on a case by case basis rather than automatically.

Levy accused the U.N. of covering up for Hamas, saying it failed to condemn Hamas for allegedly operating out of hospitals and purportedly stealing aid destined for civilians in Gaza. Hamas denies both charges.

JERUSALEM — Authorities in Israel say an anti-tank missile from Lebanon hit a structure on the grounds of a church in northern Israel.

Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman and adviser to churches in the Holy Land, said the Greek Catholic church itself was not struck but a nearby shed was. He said an 87-year-old man was wounded. His exact condition was unknown but his injury was not life-threatening, Abunassar said.

The military said the incident occurred in Ikrit, a village in northern Israel that was depopulated of its Palestinian residents in the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948. The former residents and their descendants return to worship at the church, especially at Christmas. But Abunassar said the church and its grounds were mostly empty because of the security situation. The man wounded was keeping watch over the church.

The incident is part of a flare-up of violence along Israel’s northern border with the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah that was sparked when the war against Hamas in Gaza began in October.