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The Latest | Blinken says Israel hasn’t told US of any specific date for Rafah ground invasion – Metro US

The Latest | Blinken says Israel hasn’t told US of any specific date for Rafah ground invasion

APTOPIX Israel Palestinians
Israeli soldiers move on the top of a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said Israel has not apprised the U.S. of any specific date for the start of a major offensive into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, but added that American and Israeli officials remained in contact to try to ensure that “any kind of major military operation doesn’t do real harm to civilians.”

Blinken spoke a day after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed that a date has been set to invade Rafah. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, says a ground operation into Rafah would be a mistake and has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians.

Rafah is filled with around 1.4 million Palestinians, most of whom are displaced from other parts of the Gaza Strip. Israel’s war against the militant group Hamas has pushed Gaza into a humanitarian crisis, leaving more than 1 million people on the brink of starvation.

International efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas are taking place in Cairo this week.

Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza over the past six months have killed at least 33,360 Palestinians and wounded 74,993, Gaza’s Health Ministry said Tuesday. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

The war began Oct. 7 when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage.

Currently:

Austin tells Congress Israel is taking steps to boost aid to Gaza as lawmakers question US support

— Turkey and Israel announce trade barriers on each other as relations deteriorate over Gaza

At U.N. court, Germany rejects allegations that it’s facilitating acts of genocide in Gaza

A Moroccan activist was sentenced to 5 years for criticizing the country’s ties to Israel

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

Here’s the latest:

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — An Israeli airstrike hit a home in central Gaza on Tuesday evening, killing at least 11 people, including seven women and children, hospital officials said.

After the strike hit in the town of Zawaida, Associated Press footage showed one man carrying the limp body of a little girl and laying her with the bodies of other dead children on the floor at the main hospital in nearby Deir al-Balah. Hospital officials said the dead included five children and two women.

The strike came as the Israeli military withdrew its forces from the southern city of Khan Younis this week, ending a monthslong ground assault that left large parts of the city in ruins. Still, airstrikes have continued in the past days, including in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where Israel says it plans to launch its next ground assault.

WASHINGTON — Several family members of hostages held by Hamas met with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House on Tuesday and urged for a deal that would release their loved ones and implement a temporary cease-fire in Gaza.

“The only hope for peace is through the release of all the hostages now,” said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, the father of American hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen. On a potential hostage agreement, Dekel-Chen stressed that the world is waiting for “Hamas to get to yes.”

Rachel Goldberg, the mother of American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, called the meeting with Harris “very productive.” She expressed gratitude to the White House and lawmakers for their support, but added: “We need results. We need our people home.”

“You can believe as we do that it is horrible that innocent civilians in Gaza are suffering,” Goldberg said. “And at the same time, you can also know that it is horrible and against international law for hostages to be held against their will.”

During the meeting, Harris emphasized that she and President Joe Biden “have no higher priority than reuniting the hostages with their loved ones,” according to a White House readout, as she gave an update on the administration’s efforts on a hostage deal.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress Tuesday that pressure on Israel to improve humanitarian aid to Gaza appears to be working, but he said more must be done and it remains to be seen if the improvement will continue.

“It clearly had an effect. We have seen changes in behavior, and we have seen more humanitarian assistance being pushed into Gaza,” Austin said in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “Hopefully that trend will continue.”

Austin’s comments came during a session that was interrupted several times by protesters shouting at him to stop sending weapons to Israel. “Stop the genocide,” they said, as they lifted their hands, stained in red, in the air. A number of senators also decried the civilian casualties, saying the administration needs to do more to press Israel to protect the population in Gaza.

In response, Austin said he spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, on Monday and that he repeated U.S. insistence that Israel must move civilians out of the battlespace in Gaza and properly care for them.

Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. CQ Brown Jr. were testifying on Capitol Hill about the Pentagon’s $850 billion budget for 2025.

WASHIGNTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said Israel has not apprised the U.S. of any specific date for the start of a major offensive into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, but added that American and Israeli officials remained in contact to try to ensure that “any kind of major military operation doesn’t do real harm to civilians.”

Blinken spoke a day after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed that a date has been set to invade Rafah. The city is filled with around 1.4 million Palestinians, most of whom are displaced from other parts of the Gaza Strip. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has said a ground operation into Rafah would be a mistake and has demanded to see a credible plan to protect civilians.

Washington has also been applying pressure on Israel to improve humanitarian aid to Gaza, where half the population is starving and on the brink of famine due to Israel’s tight restrictions on allowing aid trucks through.

“We’re looking at a number of critical things that need to happen in the coming days,” Blinken said, referring to recent Israeli announcements on the opening of new aid routes into Gaza and more active efforts to avoid casualties to both civilians and humanitarian relief workers. “But what matters is results and sustained results and this is what we will be looking at very carefully in the days ahead.”

That includes getting assistance in and distributed to all of the territory “not just in the south, or in central Gaza. It has to get to the north as well,” he said.

PARIS — France’s foreign minister says his country is using “all levels of influence,” including threats of sanctions, to force Israel to open crossings with Gaza for vital humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians.

France was the first country to propose European Union sanctions against violent Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank, Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said in an interview Tuesday with French broadcasters RFI and FRANCE 24.

He added: “We have multiple ways to utilize our influence, obviously, we can provide more sanctions … to let humanitarian aid convoys cross checkpoints” and reach people in Gaza.

Sejourne did not elaborate on what kind of sanctions he was referring to. It is highly unlikely that France would impose any eventual sanctions without broader EU support, and the EU has been divided over policy toward Israel.

JERUSALEM — Israel shot down a drone over the Red Sea overnight in what the military described as the first deployment of its naval Iron Dome missile defense system.

The military said that a Corvette warship shot down the drone as it flew east over waters near the southern Israeli city of Eilat. The military released grainy aerial footage of the missile making contact with an aircraft.

It was not immediately clear who was directing the drone. Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been conducting near daily attacks on commercial and military ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, launching drones and missiles from rebel-held areas of Yemen.

The Israeli defense system, called the “C-Dome,” is a naval version of the Iron Dome, which has been used to shoot down rockets fired from the Gaza Strip for the past decade.

JERUSALEM — Foreign Minister Israel Katz says Israel is preparing a ban on products from Turkey after Ankara announced it was restricting exports to Israel.

Turkey said earlier Tuesday it is restricting exports of dozens of products to Israel, including aluminum, steel, construction products and chemical fertilizers. It said it would continue the measures until Israel declares a cease-fire and allows the uninterrupted flow of aid to Gaza.

Katz said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is sacrificing the economic interests of his citizens “for his support of Hamas.”

Relations between Turkey and Israel have been frosty for years, although trade ties between the two countries are strong.

NATO-member Turkey is among the strongest critics of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

Erdogan has repeatedly called for an immediate cease-fire and accused Israel of committing genocide in its military campaign in Gaza. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no additional comment.

CAIRO — Egyptian officials said Tuesday that mediators have presented a new cease-fire proposal to Hamas and Israel that would include a six-week pause in fighting and a swap of 40 Hamas-held hostages for at least 700 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The proposal was presented to delegations from Hamas and Israel during the latest round of negotiations in Cairo over the weekend, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

Among the Palestinian prisoners to be freed would be dozens convicted of killing Israelis during attacks by militant groups.

The officials said Hamas would be required to provide a list of the hostages it will release, as well as a list of Palestinian prisoners whose freedom it seeks.

The proposal also includes the return of a significant number of Palestinians to northern Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the northern half of Gaza in the early stages of the war, heeding Israeli evacuation orders. The vast majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are now crammed into the southern half.

The proposal stipulates that Israel gradually dismantle checkpoints it had built on a new road that split the strip in half to prevent the return of Palestinians to the north.

Hamas has said it is reviewing the proposal.


Associated Press writer Samy Magdy contributed.