Mourners gather in grief around the grave of Staff sergeant...

Mourners gather in grief around the grave of Staff sergeant Simon Shlomov during his funeral in Rishon Lezion, Israel, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Shlomov, 20, was killed during Israel's ground operation in the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army has been battling Palestinian militants in the war ignited by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack into Israel. Credit: AP/Ariel Schalit

Israeli strikes have killed at least 71 people in southern and central Gaza in about 24 hours, the territory's health officials said Thursday.

Meanwhile, tensions are rising in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where three gunmen opened fire Thursday morning on a road near a checkpoint, killing one Israeli and wounding at least five, police said. Two of the attackers were killed. A third was found later and detained.

European diplomats are stepping up calls for a cease-fire, as alarm grows over the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The war began when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage. About a fourth of some 130 captives still being held are believed to be dead. Israel has laid waste to much of the Palestinian territory in response. Gaza’s Health Ministry estimates more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Currently:

— Mideast cease-fire efforts gain steam as a U.S. envoy visits. Mediators report ‘encouraging’ signs.

— Denmark records its highest number of antisemitic incidents since WWII, part of a grim European trend.

A Palestinian walks through the rubble of the Khatab family...

A Palestinian walks through the rubble of the Khatab family building after an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: AP/Adel Hana

— A Houthi rebel attack sets a cargo ship ablaze and forces Israel to intercept another attack near Eilat.

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

Here's the latest:

PALESTINIANS WILL UP THEIR EFFORTS TO BECOME A FULL UNITED NATIONS MEMBER

Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the...

Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at a hospital morgue in Rafah, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. Credit: AP/Fatima Shbair

UNITED NATIONS – Palestinian U.N. ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters Thursday that “we will begin the process of marching to the Security Council for the admission of the state of Palestine," and denounced Wednesday’s vote in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, which saw 99 of its 120 members reject any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

In November 2012, the 193-member U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for a resolution upgrading the Palestinians’ status at the United Nations from an observer to a non-member observer state — a sharp rebuke for Israel and the United States, which opposed the move. The United States, Israel’s most important ally, has veto power in the 15-member council.

In 2022 and 2023, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas appealed to world leaders for full U.N. membership at their annual meetings at the General Assembly.

British Foreign Minister David Cameron said earlier in February that his country could officially recognize a Palestinian state after a cease-fire in Gaza. French President Emmanuel Macron said that recognizing a Palestinian state is not a “taboo” for France.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects Palestinian statehood, and there have been no substantive negotiations on a two-state solution since 2009. A move by some of Israel’s key allies to recognize a Palestinian state could put pressure on Israel to resume negotiations.

HEAD OF MEDICAL CHARITY SAYS ISRAEL IS ‘BLATANTLY’ DISREGARDING CIVILIAN LIVES IN GAZA

UNITED NATIONS — The head of the aid organization Doctors Without Borders is accusing Israeli forces of “blatantly” disregarding civilian lives and collectively punishing Palestinians for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks — and accused the United States of blocking the U.N. Security Council from demanding an immediate cease-fire.

Christopher Lockyear, secretary general of the aid group also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, told a Security Council meeting Thursday that for 138 days the organization has seen the humanitarian crisis escalate and “the systematic obliteration of a health system we have supported for decades.”

He pointed to patients with catastrophic injuries unable to get treatment, surgeons running out of gauze to stop patients’ bleeding, not enough medication, and women giving birth in plastic tents and public buildings.

“Medical teams have added a new acronym to their vocabulary: WCNSF — wounded child, no surviving family,” he said.

Lockyear called it appalling that the U.S. has vetoed three Security Council resolutions demanding a cease-fire, and he strongly criticized its proposed new resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire when “practicable.” The people of Gaza need a ceasefire now, and “anything short of this is gross negligence,” he said.

INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF UNRWA WILL FOCUS ON WHETHER AID AGENCY DID ENOUGH TO STAY NEUTRAL

UNITED NATIONS — The head of an independent review of the embattled U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says its focus will be on whether it is operating with the neutrality required of all United Nations organizations.

UNRWA’s Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini requested an independent review of the agency following Israeli allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza staff participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel, which led to the current war. More than 16 countries suspended aid to UNRWA because of the allegations.

Former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said the review team started work on Feb. 13 and sent letters to Israeli and Palestinian officials several days ago requesting meetings, which she called “absolutely necessary.” She said she also plans to meet as many countries as possible, especially donor nations.

An interim report to the secretary-general is expected in late March and a final report, which will be made public, in late April, which will include recommendations.

ISRAELI STRIKES KILL AT LEAST 23 PEOPLE IN CENTRAL GAZA, HEALTH MINISTRY SAYS

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — At least 23 people were killed in Israeli strikes and their bodied taken to a hospital in central Gaza, the territory's Health Ministry said late Thursday.

These casualties raise the approximate death toll to 71 from Israeli bombing during the past 24 hours. The Health Ministry says the number could still rise. The bodies were taken to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, the ministry said.

Earlier strikes had killed at least 48 people in southern and central Gaza overnight, half of them women and children, the ministry said.

UNITED NATIONS MIDEAST ENVOY RETURNS FROM GAZA WITH AN URGENT PLEA FOR CEASE-FIRE

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Mideast envoy is calling for an urgent cease-fire in Gaza and the immediate release of hostages taken on Oct. 7, saying the situation in the embattled territory is “shocking and unsustainable” and warning that it could quickly “spiral out of control in the region.”

Tor Wennesland, who was in Gaza earlier in the week, told the U.N. Security Council via video Thursday that a possible full-scale Israeli military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety, makes a cease-fire and hostage deal even more urgent.

Wennesland said over 2 million of its 2.3 million people face “extreme food insecurity” — meaning extreme hunger — as well as increasing shortages of water, shelter and medicine along with unsanitary conditions.

Wennesland's speech to the Security Council comes just days after United States vetoed a widely supported U.N. resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. The U.S. said the resolution would interfere with negotiations on a deal to free hostages.

50 PATIENTS EVACUATED FROM BESIEGED NASSER HOSPITAL BY WORLD HEATLH ORGANIZATION

CAIRO — The World Health Organization has evacuated more than 50 patients from the besieged Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the main medical complex in the southern Gaza Strip, but at least 140 patients are still inside.

Hundreds of staff, patients and others inside the hospital have struggled under heavy fire and dwindling supplies, including food and water. The medical complex was raided by Israeli forces last week, after troops besieged the facility for nearly a week beforehand. The army said it was seeking the remains of hostages taken by Hamas.

Ayadil Saparbekov, WHO Health Emergencies Team Lead in the Palestinian territories, said his agency has so far helped evacuate 51 patients in three missions, relocating them to other medical facilities.

“We still have around 140 patients remaining in the hospital but these figures unfortunately change every hour,” he said, adding that some patients end up succumbing to their wounds while others choose to flee.

Since the conflict erupted, Israeli forces have targeted several hospitals, arguing that Hamas uses them as cover for its fighters.

ISRAEL CONFIRMS IT HAS BUILT A ROAD ACROSS THE CENTER OF GAZA

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military confirms it has built a road crossing the Gaza Strip from east to west.

It says the road, which expanded an already existing corridor, is being used “to move logistics and soldiers.”

It gave no additional details, but Israeli leaders have said that Israel intends to maintain long-term security control over Gaza after the war.

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION WARNS THAT DISEASE IN GAZA COULD KILL MORE PEOPLE THAN THE WAR ITSELF

CAIRO — The continuous outbreak of infectious diseases in the Gaza Strip may ultimately cause more deaths among Palestinians than the ongoing Israeli military operations, a senior World Health Organization warned on Thursday.

“Infectious disease is a major concern for us in Gaza,” Richard Brennan, regional emergency director at the U.N. health agency, told reporters in Cairo. “WHO estimates that if we did have severe outbreaks of diarrheal diseases and respiratory infections and so on, there could potentially be more deaths due to disease outbreak than due to trauma.”

So far, WHO has confirmed 200,000 cases of diarrheal diseases, an increase of more than 20% compared to last year, Brennan said. He also stressed is agency’s fear of a potential outbreak of dysentery as doctors are seeing more cases of bloody diarrhea.

WHO also confirmed a hepatitis A outbreak with around 8,000 cases, and another 200,000 respiratory infections, he added, blaming the situation on poor sanitation, lack of access to clean water, and overcrowding in areas where displaced civilians have fled the conflict. Some 80% of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes.

Only 13 out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are partially functioning, according to WHO. Gaza’s Health Ministry estimates more than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed.

ISRAEL'S CEASE-FIRE NEGOTIATORS ARE GETTING EXPANDED AUTHORITY IN HOSTAGE RELEASE TALKS

JERUSALEM — Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says Israel “will expand the authority” of its hostage negotiators, signaling a small sign of progress in ongoing international efforts to broker a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

Late Wednesday, Benny Gantz, who sits on Israel’s War Cabinet with Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, confirmed that new cease-fire efforts were underway and said there were small hopes for moving forward. But Gantz repeated his stance that Israel will invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah if there isn’t a hostage deal by the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

During a meeting with Brett McGurk, a senior U.S. envoy who is in the region working on cease-fire efforts, Gallant said, “We will expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators."

At the same time, he said the Israeli army is “preparing the continuation of intense ground operations.”

Israel is seeking the release of the more than 100 hostages Hamas is holding in Gaza. Hamas wants an end to the Israeli offensive, a full withdrawal of Israeli forces and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

AN ISRAELI ATTACK ON RAFAH WOULD WORSEN AN ALREADY CATASTROPHIC SITUATION, EUROPEAN MINISTERS SAY

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Several European foreign ministers expressed on Thursday their concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the suffering of the hostages and “the Israeli government’s plans for a possible ground operation in Rafah.”

In a joint statement, they said an Israeli military action in Rafah ”would worsen an already catastrophic humanitarian situation and prevent the urgently needed provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

”This requires an immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a sustainable cease-fire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the provision of humanitarian assistance," said the ministers in the statement, released by Sweden.

The foreign ministers who co-signed the document included those of 26 European countries.

YEMENI REBELS SET A SHIP ABLAZE IN GULF OF ADEN, AS ISRAEL INTERCEPTS ANOTHER HOUTHI ATTACK IN RED SEA

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A suspected missile attack by Yemen’s rebels set a ship ablaze in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday as Israel intercepted what appeared to be another Houthi attack near the port city of Eilat on the Red Sea.

The rebels have escalate their assaults over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Thursday's attack in the Gulf of Aden saw two missiles fired, according to the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center.

Ship-tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press identified the vessel ablaze as a Palau-flagged cargo ship named Islander. It had been coming from Thailand bound for Egypt and previously sent out messages saying “SYRIAN CREW ON BOARD” to potentially avoid being targeted by the Houthis.

The ship’s Liberian-listed owners could not be immediately reached for comment.

Meanwhile, sirens sounded early Thursday morning over Israel's city of Eilat, followed by videos posted online of what appeared to be an interception in the sky overhead. The Israeli military later said the interception was carried out by its Arrow missile defense system, which intercepts long-range ballistic missiles.

Israel did not identify what the fire was, nor where it came from.

UNITED NATIONS TRADE AGENCY SAYS SUEZ CANAL TRAFFIC OF CONTAINER SHIPS DROPS BY 2/3

GENEVA — A top United Nations trade body says weekly container-ship traffic through the Suez Canal has plunged by more than two-thirds from peak levels as shipping companies avoid the Red Sea over attacks on shipping by Yemen's Houthi rebels.

The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development said the traffic has declined by 67% from peak levels while overall traffic — including tanker transits and gas carriers — has fallen by 42%.

Jan Hoffmann, head of UNCTAD trade logistics, said the combined effect of the longer distances that ships travel around the Cape of Good Hope and the faster speeds at which they travel to make up lost time have caused “exponentially more” carbon emissions.

UNCTAD said it estimates that higher fuel consumption could result in as much as a 70% increase in greenhouse gas emissions for a Singapore-Rotterdam round trip, for example.

ATTACKERS OPEN FIRE ON A BUSY WEST BANK CHECKPOINT, LEAVING 1 DEAD AND AT LEAST 5 WOUNDED

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli police said one Israeli was killed and five wounded after three gunmen opened fire on cars near a checkpoint in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Thursday.

Police said the gunmen took advantage of the traffic jam during the morning rush-hour on the main highway east of Jerusalem, opening fire with automatic weapons at several cars.

Security forces on the scene, including a policeman on his way to work, killed two of the gunmen. The third fled but was soon apprehended by police and detained after being wounded. The police said the gunmen were from the Bethlehem area.

The killed Israeli was a 20-year-old man. Five others were wounded, including a pregnant woman in her 20s who was in critical but stable condition, according to health officials.

There have been a number of shooting attacks against Israeli civilians since the war began in Gaza, including a shooting and car ramming attack in a suburb north of Tel Aviv last month that killed one person and injured 12.

Israel's far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, visited the scene and called for more checkpoints and restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as more weapons for Israeli civilians.

Hamas in a statement praised the attack as a “natural response” to Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza and raids in the West Bank, and called for more attacks until they can achieve a “fully sovereign” Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

The militant group did not claim responsibility for the attack.

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