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The Latest | Half a Million People Flee Fighting in Gaza, UN Says, as Israel Marks Independence Day
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By Associated Press
Published 2 weeks ago on
May 14, 2024

The ongoing conflict in Gaza has displaced over half a million Palestinians, according to the UN. The situation continues to escalate, with food shortages and increasing violence. (AP File)

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More than half a million Palestinians have been displaced in recent days by escalating Israeli military operations in southern and northern Gaza, the United Nations says.

Israelis celebrated Independence Day on Tuesday with barbecues in parks across the country, although the normally raucous parties were smaller and quieter this year because of the war in Gaza. Fireworks were cancelled across the country, and many cities scaled down their street parties.

No food has entered the two main border crossings in southern Gaza for the past week. Some 1.1 million Palestinians face catastrophic levels of hunger — on the brink of starvation — according to the United Nations. A “full-blown famine” is taking place in the north.

Around 450,000 Palestinians have been driven out of Rafah in Gaza’s south over the past week, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said Tuesday. There were roughly 1.3 million people sheltering in Rafah before Israel began pushing into the city, which Israel says is the last Hamas stronghold.

Israeli Forces and Hamas Militants

Israeli forces are also battling Hamas militants in northern Gaza, where the army had launched major operations earlier in the war. Army evacuation orders issued Saturday have displaced around 100,000 people so far, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Monday.

Seven months of Israeli bombardment and ground operations in Gaza have killed more than 35,000 people, most of them women and children, according to local health officials.

The war began Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting about 250 others. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Current Situation

  • Palestinians mark 76 years of dispossession as a potentially even larger catastrophe unfolds in Gaza.
  • Misery deepens in Gaza’s Rafah as Israeli troops press operation.
  • With the shock of Oct. 7 still raw, sadness and anger grip Israel on its Memorial Day.
  • Pro-Palestinian protests dwindle on U.S. campuses, as some college graduations are marked by defiant acts.
  • Blinken delivers some of the U.S.’s strongest public criticism yet of Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza.

Israel’s Far Right Seeks Reoccupation of Gaza

SDEROT, Israel — Thousands of people marched in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on Tuesday calling for the country to reoccupy Gaza once the war is over.

Far right Israelis are calling for the reestablishment of settlements in Gaza, saying they’re needed to protect the country. Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza in 2005, uprooting some 9,000 settlers in a move that bitterly divided Israel.

“We want to tell everybody in Israel and everybody in the world that Gaza is very very important to us and it has to be again in Israeli hands. Because if it won’t be in Israeli hands we won’t finish the things that we started doing in this war,” said Smadar Dei, one of the marchers.

Sderot, which is a few kilometers from Gaza, was one of the first towns impacted when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, and the war is still very much felt in the area.

On Tuesday, which is Israel’s independence day, supporters snaked through the city, waving Israeli flags, dancing and singing Hebrew songs against the backdrop of outgoing Israeli shelling into Gaza followed by plumes of smoke.

Rockets were also fired into Sderot from Gaza on Tuesday as people ducked for cover. Associated Press reporters saw what appeared to be the interception of rockets in the sky.

Supporters of reoccupying Gaza said the only way to secure Israel is by expanding Jewish settlements across the territory.

“Instead of this smoke we want to see Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip,” said Daniella Weiss, one of the organizers who’s known as the godmother of the settler movement.

“No more smoke or bombs, no more shelling on Sderot,” she said.

U.N. Says Its Convoy Was Attacked Despite Being Clearly Marked and Announced in Advance

GENEVA — The United Nations said Tuesday that a U.N. convoy that was attacked in Gaza a day earlier, killing an Indian staff member and injuring another staffer, was clearly marked and its planned movements had been announced in advance to Israeli authorities.

The Israeli military said previously that it was investigating the incident, which occurred near Rafah in southern Gaza, and that an initial inquiry showed the vehicle was struck in an “active combat zone” and that Israeli Defense Forces “had not been made aware of the route of the vehicle.”

Rolando Gomez, a U.N. spokesman in Geneva, told a regular briefing that the U.N. informs Israeli authorities of the movement of all its convoys in Gaza.

“This is a standard operating procedure. That was the case yesterday morning,” Gomez said.

The U.N. says the incident marked the first time that a U.N. international staff member has been killed since Israel launched a military offensive in Gaza after the deadly Oct. 7 attacks in Israel led by the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the main provider of aid in Gaza, says at least 188 of its employees have been killed since the start of the war.

Gomez said the death of the security staffer — whom he identified as an Indian national — was “a sheer illustration that there is really nowhere safe in Gaza at the moment,” and that the convoy was on its way to the European Hospital in Rafah.

Nearly 450,000 People Have Fled from Rafah, U.N. Says

JERUSALEM — The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees says nearly 450,000 people have fled from Gaza’s southern city of Rafah since Israel launched an incursion there last week.

In a post on the social platform X on Tuesday, UNRWA said “people face constant exhaustion, hunger and fear. Nowhere is safe. An immediate #ceasefire is the only hope.”

The U.N. said Monday that another 100,000 people have been displaced in northern Gaza. Israel has ordered new evacuations in the north as it battles a resurgent Hamas in areas that were heavily bombed and cleared by ground troops earlier in the war.

That would mean nearly a quarter of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been displaced in just the last week, more than seven months into the Israel-Hamas war.

The fighting in Rafah has made the two main border crossings into southern Gaza largely inaccessible, while newly opened crossings in the north only allow in a trickle of aid.

Humanitarian organizations say they are struggling to provide dwindling supplies of food, tents and blankets to the large numbers of newly displaced.

Israel has portrayed Rafah as Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza and has said it must operate there in order to defeat the group and return scores of hostages captured in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.

Before the incursion began last week, Rafah was housing some 1.3 million Palestinians, most of whom had fled fighting elsewhere.

Qatar Prime Minister Pledges to Keep Mediating Between Israel and Hamas and Says ‘A Cease-Fire Is Required Now’

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Qatar’s prime minister said Tuesday that Doha would continue in its work as a mediator between Israel and Hamas amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip and that “a cease-fire is required now.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who also serves as Qatar’s foreign minister, acknowledged that there had been a “reassessment” over its role as a mediator in recent weeks after facing widespread criticism by Israeli media outlets and politicians there. However, he said Qatar would continue in its work, though he noted that the country “didn’t want to be used or abused as a mediator.”

“We need to stop the killing,” Sheikh Mohammed said. “We need to stop (the) atrocities that’s happening and, of course, negotiate a deal for the hostages.”

However, he added: “It’s at the hands of the parties at the end of the day.” He described the Israeli side as having “no clarity” over how to stop the war as it continued to squeeze in around Rafah, the city in the southern part of the Gaza Strip where many have fled amid the 7-month war there.

Sheikh Mohammed’s remarks also suggested Hamas would continue to be based out of Doha. The militant group has had a political office there since 2012. Both Qatar and Egypt have served as mediators in negotiations over the war, which saw one cease-fire in November that saw Israeli hostages released in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

Sheikh Mohammed spoke at the Qatar Economic Forum, put on by the Bloomberg news agency.

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