Live Updates | Biden Warns Israel Not To Attack Rafah Without Plan To Protect Civilians

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaks on a screen via a video link during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the death of Hezbollah leaders, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Nasrallah vowed Friday to make Israel pay blood for the killing of civilians in southern Lebanon earlier this week. The pictures on the poster show slain Hezbollah leaders, from left, Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi, Hezbollah leader Sheik Ragheb Harb, and top Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaks on a screen via a video link during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the death of Hezbollah leaders, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Nasrallah vowed Friday to make Israel pay blood for the killing of civilians in southern Lebanon earlier this week. The pictures on the poster show slain Hezbollah leaders, from left, Hezbollah leader Sheik Abbas Musawi, Hezbollah leader Sheik Ragheb Harb, and top Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
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President Joe Biden has again cautioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against moving forward with a military operation into Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah without a “credible and executable plan” to protect around 1.4 million Palestinians sheltering there.

However, Israel’s defense minister said the country is “thoroughly planning” its promised ground invasion of Rafah, and Netanyahu vowed early Friday to reject “international dictates” on a long-term resolution of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians.

Two Israeli airstrikes on Rafah overnight killed at least 13 people, including nine members of the same family, according to hospital officials and relatives.

The number of Palestinians killed during the war in Gaza has surpassed 28,000 people, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. A quarter of Gaza’s residents are starving. About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and around 250 abducted in Hamas' attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that sparked the war.

Currently:

Israeli forces storm the main hospital in southern Gaza, saying hostages were likely held there.

— Israeli airstrikes killed 10 Lebanese civilians in a single day. Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate.

— A look at the arsenals of Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia as cross-border strikes escalate.

— On the USS Eisenhower, four months of combat at sea facing Houthi missiles.

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

Here's the latest:

PALESTINIANS ARE FLEEING RAFAH BACK TO CENTRAL GAZA, U.N. OFFICIALS SAY

UNITED NATIONS — U.N. humanitarian officials say Palestinians in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah are reportedly moving out of that region toward central areas around Deir al-Balah as intensified Israeli airstrikes continue.

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza’s population, have crammed into Rafah, most of them displaced by fighting elsewhere in the territory. Hundreds of thousands are living in sprawling tent camps.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Friday about the reported movements toward Deir al-Balah, which is roughly 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of Rafah. He also described the lack of food in Rafah and elsewhere — especially in northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, where large areas have been completely destroyed.

“In Rafah, humanitarian conditions have become increasingly severe, with continued reports of people stopping aid trucks to take food,” he said. “Vulnerable segments of the population include children, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions, are particularly susceptible to the risk of malnutrition.”

Throughout Gaza, Dujarric said the delivery of aid is hindered by frequent border closures, longstanding import restrictions of goods into Gaza, damage to critical infrastructure, and the security situation.

TOP U.N. COURT REJECTS SOUTH AFRICAN REQUEST FOR URGENT MEASURES TO SAFEGUARD RAFAH FROM ISRAELI OPERATION

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The top U.N. court on Friday rejected a South African request to impose urgent measures to safeguard Rafah in the Gaza Strip, but also stressed that Israel must respect earlier measures imposed late last month at a preliminary stage in a landmark genocide case.

The International Court of Justice said in a statement that the “perilous situation” in Rafah “demands immediate and effective implementation of the provisional measures” that it ordered Jan. 26.

It said no new order was necessary because the existing measures “are applicable throughout the Gaza Strip, including in Rafah.”

The world court added that Israel “remains bound to fully comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention” and the Jan. 26 ruling which ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza.

Citing U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the court noted “the most recent developments in the Gaza Strip, and in Rafah in particular, ‘would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.’”

Israel has identified Rafah as the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza and vowed to continue its offensive there. An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza’s population, has crammed into the city, most of them displaced people who fled fighting elsewhere in Gaza.

Israel has said it will evacuate the civilians before attacking, though international aid officials have said there is nowhere to go due to the vast devastation left behind by the offensive.

ISRAEL IS ‘THOROUGHLY PLANNING’ A GROUND INVASION OF RAFAH, DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s defense minister says that Israel is “thoroughly planning” its promised ground invasion of the southern border town of Rafah.

The United States has urged Israel not to carry out the operation without a “credible” plan to protect the hundreds of thousands of civilians there. Many other world leaders have issued similar calls.

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza’s entire population, have crammed into Rafah. The vast majority have fled fighting in other areas of Gaza, and hundreds of thousands are living in sprawling tent camps.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters Friday that Rafah is “the next Hamas center of gravity” that Israel plans on targeting.

“We are thoroughly planning future operations in Rafah, which is a significant Hamas stronghold,” he said.

He declined to say when the operation might begin.

As he spoke, Israel pressed ahead with its operation in the nearby southern city of Khan Younis, where troops have focused on its main hospital.

Gallant said a total of 70 militants have been arrested in the hospital. He alleged 20 of them participated in the Oct. 7 cross-border attack that triggered the war.

ISRAEL DOES NOT INTEND TO FORCE PALESTINIANS INTO EGYPT, DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s defense minister says Israel has “no intention” of forcing Palestinian civilians into Egypt.

Israel has promised a military operation in Rafah, a southern Gaza town along the Egyptian border where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge. The Israeli pledges have raised fears that large numbers of civilians could be pushed across the border — a scenario Egypt says is unacceptable.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters Friday that Israel understands Egypt’s concerns.

“The state of Israel has no intention of evacuating Palestinian civilians to Egypt,” he said. “We respect and value our peace agreement with Egypt, which is a cornerstone of stability in the region as well as an important partner.”

New satellite photos show that Egypt is building a wall near the border in its territory that appears to be in anticipation of an Israeli operation in Rafah.

MISSILE FIRE TARGETS SHIP OFF YEMEN IN THE RED SEA, LIKELY FIRED BY HOUTI REBELS

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Missile fire apparently targeted a ship Friday off Yemen in the Red Sea, the latest attack suspected to have been carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels amid Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The vessel’s captain reported an explosion nearby the ship in the Red Sea off the Yemeni city of Mocha, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization center said.

“The crew and the vessel are reported safe,” the UKMTO said.

It did not immediately identify the vessel targeted.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels did not immediately acknowledge carrying out the attack. However, the rebels typically take several hours before claiming their assaults.

Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea over Israel’s offensive in Gaza. They have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, imperiling shipping in a key route for trade among Asia, the Mideast and Europe.

The U.S. and British militaries have conducted multiple rounds of airstrikes targeting the Houthis’ missile arsenals and launch sites in territory they hold.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military’s Central Command acknowledged carrying out new airstrikes targeting the Houthis on Thursday. It described hitting three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled territory that “were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.”

HEZBOLLAH LEADER SAYS ISRAEL WILL PAY FOR STRIKES THAT KILLED CIVILIANS IN LEBANON

BEIRUT — The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group vowed Friday to make Israel pay blood for the killing of civilians in southern Lebanon earlier this week.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah warned that if Israel decides to expand the war, the Iran-backed group has a “huge arsenal” of precision-guided missiles that can strike all parts of Israel all the way to southern Red Sea city of Eilat.

Nasrallah's comments came two days after Israeli airstrikes on southern Lebanon killed 10 civilians, making it the deadliest day in more than four months of cross-border exchanges.

“Our enemies and friends will see that the price of blood will be blood,” Nasrallah said. He added that Thursday’s rocket attack on the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona was only an initial response for the killing of civilians in the southern city of Nabatiyeh and the village of Souaneh.

Nasrallah did not go into details of how Hezbollah will retaliate, but as he was giving his televised speech, the group said its fighters attacked two Israeli posts along the border including one with an Iran-made Burkan rocket that has a large warhead.

Hezbollah activated Lebanon’s southern front with Israel following the Oct. 7 outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. The war began with the surprise attack in southern Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, a Hezbollah ally. Hezbollah officials have said they will stop attacking Israeli military posts when Israel’s attack on Gaza ends.

Also on Friday, Lebanon filed a complaint with the U.N. Security Council over the Israeli strikes Wednesday. Lebanon has filed 13 Security Council complaints alleging violations by Israel since Oct. 7.

U.N. CHIEF SAYS AN ISRAELI OFFENSIVE ON GAZA'S RAFAH WOULD BE DEVASTATING

MUNICH — The United Nations chief on Friday warned that an all-out offense by Israel on southern Gaza city of Rafah would be devastating for Palestinian civilians there.

Secretary-General António Guterres called the situation in Gaza “an appalling indictment of the deadlock in global relations” and said the U.N.'s humanitarian aid operation there is barely functioning.

“Rafah is at the core of the entire humanitarian aid operation,” Guterres said in an opening speech at the Munich Security Conference.

He said that humanitarian workers in Gaza are working under “unimaginable conditions” that include live fire, Israeli restrictions and the breakdown of public order.

“An all-out offensive on the city would be devastating” for the Palestinian civilians living there, he added.

PALESTINIAN ATTACKER OPENS FIRE AT A CROSSROADS IN SOUTHERN ISRAEL, KILLING 2 CIVILIANS

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian attacker opened fire at Israeli civilians in the country's south on Friday, killing two men and wounding four people, police said.

The shooting took place at a central Re’em junction in the city of Ashdod. Police said that the attacker had driven to the junction and started firing toward a group of civilians, before he was shot and killed by a civilian at the scene.

Kaplan Hospital in the nearby city of Rehovot said two men who were shot died at the scene while two others were being treated there. One of them was in critical condition, on a ventilator, while the other was reported to be seriously wounded.

Images circulated online of the assailant lying bloodied. His identity, condition and motivation for the attack were not immediately known.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the families of those killed and said the “attack reminds us that the whole country” is a front line and that attackers do not come from just Gaza.

SATELLITE IMAGES SHOW EGYPT IS BUILDING A WALL NEAR GAZA STRIP

Egypt is building a wall and is leveling land near its border with the Gaza Strip ahead of a planned Israeli offensive targeting Rafah, satellite images analyzed Friday by The Associated Press show. Egypt hasn't publicly acknowledged the construction but has warned Israel not to forcibly expel the Palestinians now displaced in Rafah into Egypt.

But the images from the Egyptian side of the border in the Sinai Peninsula suggest Cairo is preparing for just that scenario, something that could threatened its 1979 peace deal with Israel.

Cairo officials did not respond to requests for comment Friday from the AP. The satellite images, taken Thursday by Maxar Technologies, show construction ongoing on the wall, which sits along the Sheikh Zuweid-Rafah Road some 3.5 kilometers (2 miles) west of the border with Gaza.

The images show cranes, trucks and what appear to be precast concrete barriers being set up along the road.

NETANYAHU REJECTS ‘INTERNATIONAL DICTATES’ ON CONFLICT WITH PALESTINIANS

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will not accept what he portrayed as “international dictates” regarding a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.

Writing early Friday on X, Netanyahu said such a resolution can only be the result of negotiations. He also said Israel opposes a unilateral recognition of statehood, claiming it would amount to a “huge reward” for the militant group Hamas following its deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Netanyahu leads a right-wing coalition that is fiercely opposed to a Palestinian state arising alongside Israel. During his years as prime minister, there were no significant high-level negotiations with the Palestinians. He has boasted that he has been instrumental over the years in preventing Palestinian statehood.

The two-state solution has broad international support, but international diplomatic efforts were long dormant, with successive U.S. presidents reluctant to spend political capital on a seemingly intractable conflict.

This changed after the Oct. 7 attack that triggered Israel’s destructive war on Hamas in Gaza. Western diplomats have renewed a push for Palestinian statehood as part of a post-war scenario. Recognition of a provisional Palestinian state as an interim step has been floated, including by Britain’s foreign secretary.

Netanyahu wrote Friday that “Israel rejects outright international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians.”

ISRAELI HOSTAGE IN GAZA IS CONFIRMED DEAD BY HIS KIBBUTZ

JERUSALEM — An Israeli kibbutz says one of its residents who was kidnapped by Hamas has been pronounced dead.

Yair Yaakov, 59, was captured from his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants staged a attack on southern Israel that killed roughly 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage.

His partner, Meirav Tal, and two of his children, Yagil and Or, were also taken captive but released during a brief cease-fire in November.

Nir Oz was hit hard on Oct. 7, with dozens of residents taken hostage.

The kibbutz said Thursday that Yaakov had been killed on Oct. 7 and his body was being held in Gaza.

“He was energetic, loved life, and often enjoyed music with a cold beer. He was a loving father to his children,” the kibbutz said.

It did not say how it had determined the death, but families are typically notified of intelligence assessments by the Israeli military.

Over 100 hostages are still held captive in the Gaza Strip after 121 were released during the cease-fire. The remains of roughly 30 others either killed on Oct. 7 or who died in Hamas captivity are believed to be in Gaza.