More than half a million people flee fighting in Rafah and northern Gaza, UN says
Posted: May 14, 2024 - 10:34am

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.

Around 450,000 Palestinians were driven out of Rafah in Gaza's south over the past week, the United Nations’ 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 are also battling Hamas militants in northern Gaza, where the army had launched major operations earlier in the war. The army's evacuation orders issued Saturday have displaced around 100,000 people so far, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Monday.

Palestinian officials say Israeli strikes in central Gaza killed at least 12 people overnight and into Tuesday.

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

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.


— 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.

— Palestinian band escapes horrors of war, but its members’ futures remain uncertain.

Here's the latest:


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.


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.


JERUSALEM — The U.N. 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 that 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.


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.


Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed.


JERUSALEM — Human Rights Watch says Israeli forces have carried out at least eight strikes on aid workers and their convoys, killing at least 15 people, including two children, since the start of the war in Gaza.

The New York-based rights group said in a report Tuesday that in each case the aid groups had provided their coordinates to Israeli authorities to ensure their safety. It says no advance warning was given before the strikes, which also wounded at least 16 people.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says over 250 aid workers have been killed since the start of the war, mostly Palestinian employees of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the main provider in the territory.

The Israeli military says it is investigating after a member of a U.N. security team was killed while driving in the southern city of Rafah on Monday. The military said the shooting occurred in an “active combat zone” and that it had not been informed of the vehicle’s route.

The U.N. said one of its international staff was killed and another wounded on Monday when their clearly-marked U.N. vehicle was fired upon. It did not say who was responsible or provide the nationalities of the staffers.

Human Rights Watch says the eight incidents it documented “reveal fundamental flaws with the so-called deconfliction system, meant to protect aid workers and allow them to safely deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance in Gaza.”

Belkis Wille, associate crisis, conflict, and arms director at Human Rights Watch, said “Israel’s allies need to recognize that these attacks that have killed aid workers have happened over and over again, and they need to stop.”

Israel came under heavy criticism last month after launching a series of strikes that killed seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef Jose Andres.

Israel acknowledged its forces had made a mistake in that case. It later said it had dismissed two officers and reprimanded three more for mishandling critical information and violating the army’s rules of engagement.

Aid organizations say their ability to deliver life-saving assistance to Gaza’s 2.3 million people has been hampered by Israeli restrictions, ongoing fighting and the difficulty of coordinating movements with the Israeli military. The U.N. says severe hunger is widespread in Gaza and that the northern part of the territory is experiencing “full-blown famine.”

Human Rights Watch says Israel did not respond to a request for information on the strikes sent on May 1. The military did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.


JERUSALEM — Palestinian officials say Israeli strikes in central Gaza killed at least 12 people overnight and into Tuesday.

The Civil Defense says its first responders recovered eight bodies from a three-story house that was flattened in the built-up Nuseirat refugee camp. Four of the dead, including two men in their 60s and two women, were brought to a nearby hospital.

Another strike hit a caravan used by the Hamas-run police in a school-turned shelter in Nuseirat, killing at least four police officers.

The nearby Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital recorded the deaths.

Israel has repeatedly targeted Gaza’s police force as part of its campaign to dismantle the group’s military and governing abilities. The police in turn have largely vanished from the streets, contributing to a breakdown in law and order that has hindered humanitarian aid operations.

Gaza’s Health Ministry says a total of 82 people killed in Israeli strikes have been brought to hospitals in Gaza in the last 24 hours, as well as 234 wounded people.

It says a total of 35,173 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, which was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. The ministry does not differentiate between fighters and civilians in its tallies.

The Israeli military says it has killed over 13,000 militants, without providing evidence.


WASHINGTON — White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that the U.S. administration has expressed concerns to Israeli officials about becoming “mired in a counterinsurgency campaign that never ends” as Israel's War Cabinet remains focused on carrying out a major operation the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The comments from a top adviser to President Joe Biden came a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned that Israel could be left “holding the bag” on an enduring insurgency in post-war Gaza.

“Look, we have painful experience in counterinsurgency campaigns fighting terrorists in urban environments, in populated areas,” said Sullivan, referring to long U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “And we know that it is not as simple as executing a military operation and calling it a day.”

Sullivan added that, “One of the risks of engaging in any kind of counterinsurgency campaign is the ability of the terrorist group to attract more recruits and more followers as time goes on.”

Sullivan said he spoke to his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts on Sunday about redoubling diplomatic efforts on a hostage-for-truce negotiations, and that U.S. officials would have further conversations with the Israelis in the coming days about how Israel can refine its plan to go after Hamas militants in Rafah while lessening the risk to Palestinian civilians.

He also pushed back against growing criticism from around the globe — as well as American critics of Israel’s prosecution of the war — who say Israeli forces are committing a genocide against the Palestinians.

Egypt, a key U.S. ally, said it would join South Africa's case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, which accuses Israel of violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention.

“I can’t say that it’s helpful to the discussions between Egypt and Israel to try to sort through assistance and access issues,” Sullivan said of the move announced Sunday by Cairo, which along with Qatar is a mediator in the cease-fire talks.

The top United Nations court has concluded there is a “plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza — a charge Israel strongly denies.