Live updates | Israeli strikes kill dozens in Gaza and Blinken arrives in Mideast

Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip have killed dozens of people, including two children ages 12 and 2, while the Israeli army said Monday its ground forces were fighting Hamas militants who remain in northern and central Gaza.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said Sunday that 113 bodies were brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours alone, raising the known Palestinian death toll to 27,478 people after nearly four months of war. A quarter of Gaza’s residents are now starving and 85% of the population has been driven from their homes, with hundreds of thousands crammed in makeshift tent camps.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday for his fifth visit to the region since the war in Gaza broke out on Oct. 7, when Hamas stormed into southern Israel. The assault killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and militants abducted around 250 others.

Blinken is seeking progress on a possible cease-fire deal that could free around 100 Israelis still held hostage in Gaza. He’ll also try to tamp down regional tensions ignited by the war, as a flurry of strikes and counterstrikes have raised the risk of a wider conflict.

Currently:

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US warns of further retaliation if Iran-backed militias continue their attacks

— House Republicans announce bill that provides more military aid to Israel but leaves out Ukraine

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

Here’s the latest:

ISRAEL DEFENSE MINISTER PREDICTS MONTHS OF FIGHTING IN NORTHERN GAZA AND SAYS MILITARY WILL TAKE ‘FULL REIGN’ OF TERRITORY

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s defense minister says the Israeli army will continue to operate in northern Gaza for many months and plans to press ahead with its offensive in the south until Israel has “full reign” of the entire territory.

Yoav Gallant made the announcement during a news conference Monday, threatening to complicate efforts by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other international mediators to broker a cease-fire.

After a broad ground operation into northern Gaza at the beginning of the war, Israel has reduced its troop presence in the area as it focuses on the south. But Gallant said the army continues to operate in response to precise threats.

He said the army in the north has “free reign for ground operations and they will continue in the coming months as well.” Gallant claimed that Israel has dismantled three-quarters of Hamas’ forces, and that half of the group’s fighters have either been killed or wounded. Those claims could not be independently verified.

Gallant says Israel is focusing its efforts on the southern city of Khan Younis, where it has been locked in heavy fighting for weeks, and then will continue the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where some 1.5 million displaced Palestinians have sought refuge. Egypt has said an Israeli deployment along the border would threaten the peace treaty the two countries signed over four decades ago.

Gallant described Rafah as “the last stronghold of Hamas” and said the campaign will continue until “the Israeli army will have full reign across Gaza.”

REVIEW OF U.N. AID AGENCY WILL BE LED BY FRANCE’S FORMER TOP DIPLOMAT

UNITED NATIONS — A former French foreign minister will lead a review of operations at the embattled U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, which will be conducted by three independent research organizations in Scandinavia.

Catherine Colonna’s appointment was announced Monday by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres after consultations with the head of the aid agency known as UNRWA. Guterres also named the three organizations selected to carry out the review: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden, the Chr. Michelsen Institute in Norway, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Guterres said the final report will be completed by late April and made public.

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 a dozen countries suspended aid to UNRWA because of the allegations, and Lazzarini warned that without new funding UNRWA could cease operations in late February.

UNRWA provides vital aid and services to millions of people across the Middle East, and in Gaza, it has been the main supplier of food, water and shelter to civilians during the current war.

The group conducting the review will start work on Feb. 14 with a mandate, “To identify the mechanisms and procedures that the Agency currently has in place to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations or information indicating that the principle may have been breached.”

It is also charged with determining whether or not these measures have been implemented and whether they are adequate, and to make recommendations for improving them if necessary. Its mandate says the group should take into account “the particular operational, political and security environment in which the agency works.”

The independent review will take place alongside an investigation of the Israeli allegations by the U.N.’s internal watchdog, the Office of Internal Oversight Services, ordered by Guterres.

ITALIAN NAVY SHIP RETURNS WITH 18 WOUNDED KIDS FROM GAZA

ROME — The Italian Naval ship Vulcan arrived in the northern port of La Spezia on Monday carrying 18 Palestinian children in need of medical care, including an infant born on the ship in December.

The infant’s mother was accompanying her daughter, injured in fighting in Gaza, and notified personnel of her pregnancy.

“In 24 hours, the woman delivered. Everything went really well, and it was a great experience,″ said Maita Satori, a midwife aboard the ship.

In some cases, the children sustained severe injuries and are unable to walk, but authorities said all are in stable and not life-threatening condition.

The children will be treated at hospitals in Bologna, Florence, Genoa and Rome, while family members who accompanied them will be provided a place to stay by the Sant-Egidio charity. This was the second of four planned arrivals of a total of 100 Palestinian children who will receive medical treatment in Italy.

“It was moving to see civilian people, mothers and children mostly, because they people we have taken care of are mostly children and women, to see in their eyes both the terror for what they lived but also the joy during the time the spent on board,” said Admiral Aurelio De Carolis, commander in chief of the Italian naval fleet. “Everybody made an effort not only for medical assistance but also make them feel at home and giver them hope for the future.”

FRANCE SEEKS PROOF THAT MEDICINE SHIPMENT REACHED HOSTAGES

PARIS – A French top official said Monday that France was working to get proof that medicines shipped to Gaza for dozens of hostages held by Hamas have been delivered.

The official, speaking about sensitive information on the condition of anonymity, said France was working with Qatar and other partners in the region “to get all elements of proof to know whether the medicines have been received” by the hostages.

A shipment intended for the hostages arrived in Gaza on Jan. 18 as part of a deal mediated by France and Qatar that represented the first agreement between Israel and Hamas since a weeklong cease-fire in November.

France said at the time that the deal called for providing a three-month supply of medication for 45 hostages with chronic illnesses, as well as other medicines and vitamins.

Authorities said three French nationals were believed to be among the more than 100 remaining hostages currently held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza.

A national homage to the French people who were killed or taken captive during the Hamas-led attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7 is scheduled for Wednesday at the Invalides monument in central Paris. President Emmanuel Macron is set to give a speech in the presence of relatives of the victims and hostages.

– By Sylvie Corbet in Paris

UN OFFICIAL IN GAZA ACCUSES ISRAELI NAVY OF STRIKING FOOD CONVOY

CAIRO — A United Nations official has accused Israel’s navy of striking an aid convoy carrying food destined for hard-hit northern Gaza.

The food convoy was waiting to move into northern Gaza when it was hit by Israeli naval gunfire on Monday morning, Thomas White, the Gaza director of U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, said in a post on the X platform.

White posted images showing a truck parked on the roadside with damage to its cargo. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military, which said it was looking into the report.

Juliette Touma, head of communications at the agency known as UNRWA, said no one was injured in the strike, which took place north of the area of Wadi al-Balah in central Gaza.

The U.N. says it has struggled to send aid to war-torn northern Gaza, which Israel pummeled in the first weeks of the war, because of the ongoing fighting.

Monday’s incident came after the more than a dozen countries, including the U.S., announced they would suspend funding to UNRWA over Israeli allegations that 12 of its 13,000 Gaza employees participated in the Oct. 7 attacks against Israel, which set off the war.

ISRAELI POLICE KILL A 14-YEAR-OLD IN THE WEST BANK

TEL AVIV — Israeli police say officers shot and killed a Palestinian boy who allegedly attempted to stab them in the occupied West Bank.

Police said the paramilitary border police were carrying out a routine security check in an area east of Jerusalem when a 14-year-old allegedly pulled out a knife and attempted to stab the officers. The officers opened fire, shooting the teen, and were uninjured, police said.

In security footage of the incident released by police, a person is seen approaching the officers and begins lunging at one of them and making stabbing motions. As the individual attempts to flee, the officers are seen opening fire and the suspect falls to the ground.

Police released a photo of a kitchen knife they alleged was used in the attempted stabbing. They said the teen was from east Jerusalem, but his name was not immediately known.

Critics of Israel say its security services use excessive force against Palestinian suspects, allegations that have intensified during the country’s war against Hamas in Gaza. Israel has carried out nightly raids in the West Bank to crack down on suspected militants there.

Palestinians have staged several attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians in the West Bank and Israel since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7. Last month, an Israeli woman was killed and 13 injured in a ramming and stabbing attack in a suburb north of Tel Aviv.

SPAIN PLEDGES $3.8 MILLION TO KEEP UN AGENCY IN GAZA GOING

MADRID — Spain’s foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, says his government will give 3.5 million euros ($3.8 million) to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees to help it maintain its activities in the short term.

The agency known as UNRWA has had several donor countries suspend their funding after Israel alleged that 12 of its were involved in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the country’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

UNRWA is the main humanitarian aid organization in Gaza. The Spanish government says it is closely following the investigation of Israel’s allegations and has urged the European Union to keep funding the agency.

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