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Live updates | Fighting in southern Gaza city as Israel widens its offensive

The center of Gaza's second-largest city has seen fighting amid Israel’s widening air and ground offensive in the southern part of the territory that has displaced tens of thousands more Palestinians and worsened dire humanitarian conditions. Distribution of food, water and medicine have been prevented outside a sliver of southern Gaza, and new military evacuation orders are squeezing people into ever-smaller areas.

The United Nations said 1.87 million people — more than 80% of Gaza’s population — have been driven from their homes since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, triggered by the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas assault on southern Israel. The U.N. also says that all telecom services have been shut down due to cuts in the main fiber routes. On Wednesday, the United Nations chief urged the U.N. Security Council to use its clout to avert “a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

Around 1,200 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said the death toll in the territory has surpassed 16,200, with more than 42,000 wounded. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but said 70% of the dead were women and children.

Currently:

— U.N. chief uses rare power to warn Security Council of impending ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza

— Senior U.N. official denounces ‘blatant disregard’ in Israel-Hamas war after many U.N. sites are hit.

Hanukkah message of light in darkness feels uniquely relevant to U.S. Jews amid war and antisemitism.

— Generation after generation, Israeli prison marks a rite of passage for Palestinian boys.

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

Here’s what’s happening in the war:

ISRAEL FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICAL OF U.N. CHIEF

JERUSALEM — Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is sharply criticizing the U.N. secretary-general after he issued a dire warning over the situation in the Gaza Strip, calling Antonio Guterres' tenure at the world body “a danger to world peace.”

Guterres wrote to the 15-member Security Council on Wednesday urging it to use its influence to avert “a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza. He also reiterated an urgent call for a humanitarian cease-fire and warned that Israel's bombardment will soon lead to a complete breakdown of public order.

Posting on the social media platform X, Cohen said Guterres' call for a cease-fire and request to activate Article 99 of the U.N. Charter “constitutes support of the Hamas terrorist organization and an endorsement of the murder of the elderly, the abduction of babies and the rape of women.”

“Anyone who supports world peace must support the liberation of Gaza from Hamas,” Cohen concluded.

It was the first time since Guterres took the helm of the United Nations in 2017 that he has written to the Security Council under Article 99, which lets him bring to the council’s attention any matter he believes threatens international peace and security.

ISRAEL'S SECURITY CABINET APPROVES FUEL DELIVERIES TO GAZA

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his Security Cabinet has approved small deliveries of fuel into the Gaza Strip to prevent a humanitarian crisis and the spread of disease in the crowded southern part of the besieged territory.

Netanyahu says the “minimal amount” of fuel will be set by the three-member authority in charge of managing the war against Hamas.

Israel has greatly restricted fuel shipments into Gaza, saying that Hamas diverts it for military purposes. Humanitarian officials say the fuel shortages have crippled the health care system and hindered deliveries of basic humanitarian supplies.

Netanyahu’s office said shipments would be approved “from time to time” for the southern Gaza Strip, where the vast majority of Gaza’s population is concentrated.

The decision comes as Israel faces mounting pressure from the United States to ramp up aid to Gaza to avoid mass civilian casualties.

ISRAELI MILITARY SAYS HAMAS LEADER IS HIDING UNDERGROUND

JERUSALEM — An Israeli army spokesman says Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar is hiding underground and it is the mission of the Israeli military to “find Sinwar and kill him."

Israeli forces have pushed deeper into Sinwar’s hometown of Khan Younis over the past two days, heightening the focus on the Hamas leader seen as the mastermind of the deadly Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel.

Sinwar grew up in the refugee camp of Khan Younis which over the decades evolved into a crowded neighborhood of the city. Mohammed Deif, the shadowy military leader of Hamas, is from the camp as well.

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that troops “are encircling Sinwar’s house,” adding that “he can escape, but it’s only a matter of time before we get him.”

Asked later whether this meant troops were closing in on the Sinwar home, as some media had reported, Israeli army spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said: “The house of Sinwar is the area of Khan Younis.”

“Sinwar is not above ground; he is underground,” Hagari said. “I don’t want to elaborate where and how and what we know in terms of intelligence. This is not the place to talk about such things in the media. Our job is to find Sinwar and kill him.”

ISRAELI MILITARY SAYS IT FOUND STASH OF WEAPONS

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military said Wednesday that it found a large stash of weapons, including long-range rockets and explosives, near a clinic and school in northern Gaza.

The military released videos from inside Gaza of the weapons arranged neatly on the ground, and said they included hundreds of missiles and dozens of explosives, grenades and drones.

Israeli media reported that the weapons were found near Shati refugee camp, which Israeli forces gained control of during their offensive in the north of the strip.

ARAB NATIONS CALL FOR A CEASE-FIRE

UNITED NATIONS — Arab nations at the United Nations are fine-tuning a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in the two-month Israeli-Gaza war.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, said Wednesday that it’s essential that the U.N.’s most powerful body demand a halt to the conflict following the resumption of bloodshed in Gaza after the end of a weeklong humanitarian truce on Dec. 1.

Surrounded by members of the 22-nation Arab Group, Mansour also told reporters that a ministerial delegation from Arab nations and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation headed by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister will be in Washington on Thursday to meet with U.S. officials.

“On top of the agenda is this war has to stop,” he said. “A cease-fire has to take place and it has to take place immediately.”

Mansour said the national security adviser to U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris contacted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday morning and that Abbas pressed for an immediate cease-fire and more humanitarian aid.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has veto power in the Security Council and has not supported a cease-fire.

On Tuesday, U.S. deputy ambassador Robert Wood told reporters that the role of the Security Council in the Israeli-Gaza war “is not to get in the way of this important diplomacy going on on the ground … because we have seen some results, although not as great results as we want to see.”

A Security Council resolution at this time, he said, “would not be useful.”

YAD VASHEM CALLS UNIVERSITIES' RESPONSE TO ANTISEMITISM INADEQUATE

JERUSALEM — Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial says it is alarmed by the congressional testimonies of the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The memorial claims the universities had an inadequate response to campus antisemitism that has flared during the Israel-Hamas war.

In a statement Wednesday, Yad Vashem accused the presidents of “minimizing” and “contextualizing” antisemitism.

“The positions taken by the three university presidents in their testimonies highlight a basic ignorance of history, including the fact that the Holocaust did not start with ghettos or gas chambers, but with hateful antisemitic rhetoric, decrees and actions by senior academics, among other leaders of society,” the statement said.

In recent weeks, the federal government has opened investigations into several universities, including Penn and Harvard, regarding antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus.

The university presidents told a House Committee on Tuesday that there is a fine line between protecting free speech and allowing protests, while also combatting antisemitism.

The academic leaders said they were taking steps to combat antisemitism on campus, including increasing security and providing additional counseling and mental health support.

U.N. CHIEF WARNS OF POSSIBLE HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE IN GAZA

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief is urging the U.N. Security Council to use its clout to avert “a humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that the fast-deteriorating humanitarian system now risks a total collapse.

He reiterated his urgent call for a humanitarian cease-fire. He warned that Israel's bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza, who have no shelter or essentials to survive, will soon lead to a complete breakdown of public order.

Guterres wrote to the 15-member Security Council on Wednesday under Article 99 of the U.N. Charter for the first time since he took the helm of the 193-member world body in 2017. It allows the secretary-general to bring to the council's attention any matter that he believes threatens international peace and security.

Guterres said the desperate conditions in Gaza and the breakdown of public order will make humanitarian assistance impossible. He warned that “an even worse situation could unfold, including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into neighboring countries.”

“The international community has a responsibility to use all its influence to prevent further escalation and end this crisis,” Guterres said.

LEAFLETS IN KHAN YOUNIS

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Residents of Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza and the latest focus of the Israeli military’s ground offensive, say the army has showered the area with leaflets quoting a verse in the Quran.

Palestinians deciding whether to flee Khan Younis as Israeli tanks draw closer viewed the quoted verse, “The flood overtook them as they were wrongdoers,” as an ominous portent.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about the leaflet drop.

Journalist Aamer Tabsh in Khan Younis said he saw Israeli planes drop thousands of the fliers.

Tabsh said residents are convinced the reference to the epic flood of Noah in the Quran and Bible “means that something much worse is coming.”

Some are linking it to Hamas’ name for its Oct. 7 attack against Israel, Al Aqsa Flood Battle. Others pointed to recent reports that the Israeli military was considering flooding Hamas’ subterranean tunnel network with seawater to force out the militants.

JERUSALEM MARCH PLANNED FOR THURSDAY

JERUSALEM — Ultranationalist Jews plan to march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday in a demonstration that risks igniting new violence in the holy city.

Israeli police on Wednesday confirmed that they gave permission for a march of 200 people to pass through the Muslim Quarter and the Old City to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. The march coincides with the start of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Ultranationalist activists have called on supporters to honor the memory of fallen soldiers who died in the latest Gaza war and to push for expanded Jewish access to Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site.

Jews call the site the Temple Mount, the spot where the biblical Temples once stood. Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock.

Police said Thursday’s march will not enter the compound.

Former Jerusalem police Chief Yair Yitzhaki told Army Radio he couldn’t understand why police approved the march. He added that the route through the Muslim Quarter was “an attempt to anger and inflame the area.”

Jerusalem has been the site of multiple Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks since Israel’s war with Hamas began on Oct. 7.

A similar march in 2021 boiled over into an 11-day Gaza war.

The Associated Press