The Latest | Israel cancels Washington visit in protest after US lets Gaza cease-fire pass at UN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a high-level delegation’s planned visit to Washington after the U.S. decided not to use its veto power on Monday’s U.N. Security Council resolution for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

After vetoing three previous resolutions calling for a cease-fire, the U.S. decision to abstain comes at a time of growing tensions between President Joe Biden’s administration and Netanyahu over Israel’s prosecution of the war, the high number of civilian casualties and the limited amounts of humanitarian assistance reaching Gaza.

International aid officials say the entire population of the Gaza Strip — 2.3 million people — is suffering from food insecurity and that famine is imminent in the hard-hit north.

More than 32,000 people have been killed in the territory, and more than 74,000 wounded, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its counts. It says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Some 1,200 people were killed on Oct. 7 when Palestinian militants launched a surprise attack out of Gaza, triggering the war, and abducted another 250 people. Hamas is still believed to be holding some 100 Israelis hostage, as well as the remains of 30 others.

Currently:

Palestinians describe bodies and ambulances crushed in Israel’s ongoing raid at Gaza’s main hospital.

U.N. passes resolution demanding a cease-fire in Gaza during current Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

— Thousands of Christians attend Palm Sunday celebrations in Jerusalem against a backdrop of war.

Israeli airstrike in northeastern Lebanon wounds three people, local official says.

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

Here’s the latest:

WHITE HOUSE SURPRISED BY ISRAEL’S RESPONSE TO U.N. VOTE

WASHINGTON — White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the response by Israel to the U.N. resolution was surprising. “We’re kind of perplexed by this,” he said.

He said the Israelis were “choosing to create a perception of daylight here when they don’t need to do that.”

According to a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the talks, American officials were in touch with Israel throughout the weekend to make the U.S. position known on the Security Council resolution, and to articulate that it was not a change in policy or in support for Israel. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive discussions.

Netanyahu did not talk to Biden before he canceled the delegation’s trip, and Biden doesn’t have any immediate plans to phone Netanyahu, the official said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was set to meet with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and others Monday in Washington where discussions would continue. The U.S. official said the plan by Israel to enter Rafah was not imminent and there would still be time for ongoing talks — despite the canceled trip.

Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations at Bar Ilan University, said Netanyahu’s decision to cancel the diplomatic delegation to the United States was a mistake and demonstrates the tension between the US and Israel at this moment.

Gilboa said Biden is trying to placate voices within the Democratic party that oppose his support of Israel, while Netanyahu is trying to show his ability to stand up to American policies he considers anti-Israel.

“If domestic considerations are dominating decision making in the war, you have very harsh exchanges of rhetoric,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington contributed.

‘REASONABLE GROUNDS’ TO BELIEVE ISRAEL IS COMMITTING GENOCIDE IN GAZA, INDEPENDENT U.N. EXPERT SAYS

GENEVA — An independent expert working with the U.N.’s top human rights body says there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel has been carrying out genocide in Gaza.

Israel’s government quickly rejected the report.

The report from Francesca Albanese, the U.N. special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, cited Israeli polices and the “patterns of violence” during Israel’s military operation in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7.

It accused Israeli military forces and government leaders of having intentionally violated the laws of war and protections that they confer, “in an attempt to legitimize genocidal violence against the Palestinian people.”

“By analyzing the patterns of violence and Israel’s policies in its onslaught o Gaza, this report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met,” said the report, entitled “Anatomy of a Genocide.”

The report was drawn up under a mandate from the Human Rights Council., the U.N.’s top human rights body. It lays out some of the most methodical reasoning yet into claims of genocide against Palestinians that have been raised by critics of Israel and others.

The Israeli diplomatic mission in Geneva, where the council is based and is currently in session, said the report “brings shame” on the 47-country rights body and blasted Albanese for a “campaign of delegitimizing the very creation and existence of the State of Israel.”

“Since the war, she has continued this campaign unabated, excusing and legitimizing the attacks of Oct. 7, dismissing their antisemitic nature and dismissing any concrete evidence of acts of savagery that were perpetrated on that day,” the mission said.

“It is clear from the report that the Special Rapporteur began with the conclusion that Israel is committing genocide, and then tried to prove her distorted and politically-driven views with weak arguments and justifications,” it added.

U.N. human rights officials have been careful to say that only a competent court can make the final determination about genocide, and that is especially hard during ongoing conflict like the one in Gaza.

Albanese is an outside expert and does not speak for the United Nations.

JORDAN AND TURKEY PRAISE U.N. CEASE-FIRE RESOLUTION

ANKARA, Turkey — Jordan and Turkey have welcomed the U.N. Security Council’s resolution on Gaza, with both countries saying Israel must comply with the resolution’s demands.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Oncu Keceli said in a statement that the resolution was “a positive step.”

“We call on the international community to take a united stand against Israel to end the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and to find a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the spokesman said.

Jordan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Sufyan Al-Qudah noted the resolution “emphasizes protecting civilians and allowing the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid.”

HAMAS WELCOMES U.N. CEASE-FIRE RESOLUTION BUT WANTS TRUCE TO BE PERMANENT

CAIRO — Hamas said it welcomed the decision by the United Nations to call for a cease-fire but said the truce needs to permanent.

“We confirm our readiness to engage in an immediate prisoner exchange process that leads to the release of prisoners on both sides,” the Palestinian militant group said Monday.

Israel is seeking the release of the more than 100 hostages still held in Gaza by Hamas, while Hamas wants an end — not a temporary pause — to the war along with the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza. Hamas also wants Israel to release large numbers of Palestinian prisoners.

International mediators, led by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt, have been working on a cease-fire to pause or end the war in Gaza.

WHITE HOUSE SAYS U.S. POLICY HAS NOT CHANGED, AFTER ABSTAINING ON U.N. CEASE-FIRE RESOLUTION

WASHINGTON — White House national security spokesman John Kirby insisted the the U.S. abstaining from a U.N. resolution on Gaza cease-fire, allowing the resolution to pass, was not a change in American policy.

“There is no reason for this to be seen as an escalation. Nothing has changed about our policy,” he said.

Kirby said the resolution called for both a cease-fire and the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. “And that is, broadly speaking, in keeping with what has been our policy.”

Kirby said the U.S. was disappointed in Israel’s decision to cancel this week’s diplomatic delegation to Washington, but said the discussions with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant would likely include some of what the U.S. had hoped to discuss with the delegation on Israel’s planned ground assault on the Gaza city of Rafah.

He said he would not discuss whether the U.S. would consider withholding support if the Israelis were to proceed.

The White House was aiming to talk to the Israelis about possible alternatives to a ground invasion of Rafah, but Kirby would not get into specifics.

NETANYAHU CANCELS ISRAELI DELEGATION’S TRIP TO WASHINGTON IN PROTEST OF U.N. CEASE-FIRE VOTE

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has canceled a planned visit to Washington by a high-level delegation to protest Monday’s U.N. Security Council decision calling for an immediate cease-fire.

The resolution passed 14-0 on Monday after the U.S. decided not to use its veto power and instead abstained.

Netanyahu accused the U.S. of “retreating” from what he said had been a “principled position” by allowing the vote to pass without conditioning the cease-fire on the release of hostages held by Hamas.

The Israeli delegation was to present White House officials with plans for an expected ground invasion of the strategic Gaza town of Rafah, where over 1 million Palestinian civilians have sought shelter from the war.

U.N. DEMANDS CEASE-FIRE IN GAZA DURING RAMADAN, ITS FIRST DEMAND TO HALT FIGHTING

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council has demanded a cease-fire in Gaza during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, its first demand to halt fighting.

The United States abstained on the resolution, which also demanded the release of all hostages taken captive during Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel.

However, the measure does not link that demand to the cease-fire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends April 9. Because Ramadan ends next month, the cease-fire demand would last for just two weeks, although the draft says the pause in fighting should lead “to a permanent sustainable cease-fire.”

Since the start of the war, the Security Council has adopted two resolutions on the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, but none has called for a cease-fire.

The United States has previously vetoed three resolutions demanding a cease-fire in Gaza, the most recent an Arab-backed measure on Feb. 20. That resolution was supported by 13 council members with one abstention, reflecting the overwhelming support for a cease-fire.

Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution in late October calling for pauses in the fighting to deliver aid, the protection of civilians and a halt to arming Hamas. They said it did not reflect global calls for a cease-fire.

They again vetoed the U.S. resolution Friday, calling it ambiguous and saying it was not the direct demand to end the fighting that much of the world seeks.

HAMAS ACCUSES U.S. OF DISRUPTING ITS TALKS WITH ISRAEL

CAIRO — Hamas has accused the United States on Monday of disrupting cease-fire talks the militant group has been holding with the Israeli government.

In a statement, Hamas said the U.S. should not be a mediator due to its support of Israel.

“The American administration is the main reason for stalling any agreement,” senior Hamas official Husam Badran said in a statement. He also described Washington as “military partner” of Israel, making it unfit to play the role of mediator.

The criticism comes days after a fresh round of cease-fire talks concluded in Doha, Qatar, which included the CIA chief, William Burns.

The U.S. has provided Israel with key diplomatic and military support throughout the war. It has worked with Qatar and Egypt in mediation attempts to broker a deal that would include a pause in fighting and the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

Hamas has demanded guarantees for an end to the war, the release of Palestinian prisoners and a plan for reconstruction of war-battered Gaza.

During a previous one-week cease-fire in November, around 100 hostages, mostly Israelis, were released in exchange for 180 Palestinian prisoners.

Badran also claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not interested in a deal and is deceiving hostages’ families.

Israeli media have reported that Israel has accepted a formula that would release hundreds of prisoners for the hostages and was waiting for a response from Hamas.

“The issue is not related to the prisoners and their numbers,” Badran said. “The problem is that the occupation refuses to give any guarantees to the mediators on the basic issues in the lives of people in Gaza.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Hamas of making unrealistic demands.

U.N. CHIEF SAYS AN INVASION OF RAFAH WOULD BE CATASTROPHIC

AMMAN, Jordan — The U.N. secretary-general says there is a “growing consensus” that an Israeli ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah would be a “catastrophic humanitarian disaster.”

António Guterres, speaking to reporters during a visit to a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan on Monday, reiterated his call for a cease-fire and the release of all hostages held by Hamas.

He noted that the United States, European and Muslim countries have urged Israel not to expand its ground offensive to Rafah.

Some 1.4 million Palestinians, most of whom have fled fighting elsewhere in Gaza, have packed into the southern city on the border with Egypt. Israel and Egypt refuse to accept refugees, and it’s unclear where civilians could flee within the war-ravaged territory.

Israel says Hamas maintains four battalions with thousands of fighters in Rafah, and that it cannot defeat the militant group without crushing them.

“I strongly hope that this consensus that is emerging in the whole of the international community will make Israel reflect and avoid what would be a dramatic threshold,” Guterres said.

ISRAELIS IN JERUSALEM CELEBRATE PURIM IN THE SHADOW OF WAR

JERUSALEM — Tens of thousands of Israelis are celebrating the Purim holiday in Jerusalem in the shadow of the war in Gaza.

The festival of Purim marks the victory of Jews over a tyrant in ancient Persia and is celebrated with costumes, drinking and parties.

Although many cities across Israel decided to cancel the celebrations due to the ongoing war, Jerusalem — celebrates Purim one day later than the rest of the country — held a traditional Purim parade for the first time in 42 years. It featured large floats of beloved children’s characters and DJs dressed up as characters from the story of Purim.

About two dozen family members and supporters of the approximately 100 hostages being held in Gaza protested the parade.

“I know it’s tradition to be happy on Purim, but this year I think it’s tactless to do these carnivals,” said David Heyd.

Other family members of the hostages kicked off the parade, marching silently at the front with a giant yellow ribbon.

“My daughter, she needs to be here, she was supposed to be here. I am wearing a shirt she was supposed to wear, and I’m waiting for her,” said Meirav Leshem Gonen, whose daughter Romi has been held hostage in Gaza for 170 days.

As the parade wound its way through the streets of Jerusalem, children in colorful costumes packed the streets eating sweets and cookies, waiting for the floats to pass.

“We’re showing the whole world and our enemies that we’re continuing to live, continuing to celebrate,” said Shabi Levy, a Jerusalem resident who was watching the parade with his three children.

ISRAELI STRIKES KILL AT LEAST 30 PALESTINIANS IN RAFAH IN PAST 24 HOURS, PALESTINIAN HEALTH OFFICIALS SAY

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Palestinian health officials say Israeli strikes have killed at least 30 Palestinians in the southern city of Rafah over the past 24 hours.

The Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital, which received the bodies, said Monday that 10 children and 11 women were among those killed.

Israel has vowed to expand its ground offensive to Rafah, which is now housing some 1.4 million people – more than half of Gaza’s population. Most have fled fighting elsewhere.

Israel ordered Palestinians to move south in the opening months of the war but has continued to carry out strikes in all parts of the territory, including Rafah.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has urged Israel against launching a major operation in Rafah, warning of a humanitarian catastrophe. Israel says it cannot defeat Hamas without going into Rafah, where it says the group has four battalions composed of thousands of fighters.

Israel’s offensive has killed over 32,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and driven a third of Gaza’s population to the brink of starvation. It was launched in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack into Israel, which killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Hamas-led militants also took around 250 people hostage. It is still holding around 100 hostages, and the remains of around 30 others, after most of the rest were freed during a cease-fire last year in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE KILLS AT LEAST 21 IN CENTRAL GAZA, PALESTINIAN HEALTH OFFICIALS SAY

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Palestinian health officials say an Israeli airstrike on an apartment block in central Gaza killed at least 21 Palestinians from two extended families.

The strike late Sunday killed 10 members of the Salman family and 11 members of the Buhesi family, according to hospital records. An Associated Press reporter saw the bodies at the hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah.

The Israeli military says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames civilian casualties on Hamas because the militants fight in dense, residential neighborhoods. But the military rarely comments on individual strikes, which often kill women and children.

The war broke out on Oct. 7. when militants from Gaza stormed into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking another 250 hostage.

In response, Israel launched one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history. Gaza’s Health Ministry says over 32,000 Palestinians have been killed. It does not differentiate between civilian and combatant casualties but says women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.

AID GROUPS DESCRIBE ‘UNIMAGINABLE’ SITUATION IN GAZA HOSPITAL

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Aid groups that visited a packed Gaza hospital described an “unimaginable” situation in which large open wounds were left untreated.

An emergency medical team organized by three aid groups spent two weeks carrying out surgeries and other care at the European Gaza Hospital near Khan Younis. The southern city has seen heavy fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants since the start of the year.

The hospital has expanded to 1,000 beds from its original capacity of 200 to accommodate patients from Nasser Hospital, the main hospital in Khan Younis, which Israeli forces raided last month. There are also an estimated 22,000 people sheltering at the European Gaza Hospital.

The visiting surgeons “reported large infected open wounds on patients and having to administer emergency nutritional supplies to patients as the lack of food was jeopardizing patient treatment.”

In a statement released Monday, the team said healthcare workers had been forced to evacuate or were unable to access the hospital. It said Israeli restrictions had led to shortages of medical supplies, including basics like gauze and plates and screws used to stabilize broken bones.

Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian facilities to shield its fighters and has raided a number of medical facilities since the start of the war. Most of Gaza’s hospitals have been forced to shut down, even as scores are killed and wounded each day in Israeli strikes.

Israel’s offensive has killed over 32,000 Palestinians, and experts warn that even more are at risk of dying from disease and starvation.

The war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants stormed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 people.

The emergency medical team was organized by Medical Aid for Palestinians, the International Rescue Committee and the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund.

UN SET TO VOTE ON RESOLUTION DEMANDING IMMEDIATE CEASE-FIRE

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council is set to vote Monday on a resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The vote comes after Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution Friday that would have supported “an immediate and sustained cease-fire” in the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

The United States warned that the resolution to be voted on Monday morning could hurt negotiations to halt hostilities by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar, raising the possibility of another veto, this time by the Americans.

The resolution, put forward by the 10 elected council members, is backed by Russia and China and the 22-nation Arab Group at the United Nations.

THOUSANDS OF CHRISTIANS MARK PALM SUNDAY IN JERUSALEM

JERUSALEM — Thousands of Christian faithful attended Palm Sunday celebrations at Jerusalem’s sacred Mount of Olives, marking the first day of Holy Week as conflict surges across the region.

Pilgrims waved branches and fronds in the air, items that were placed before Jesus’ feet as he was greeted by cheering crowds during his entrance into Jerusalem, according to the Bible. Earlier Sunday, Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre — revered as the site of Jesus’s crucifixion — also held a service.

The annual celebration came as the Israel-Hamas war rages on in Gaza. However, the conflict appeared to have had little effect on the procession, which swelled to a similar size as last year.

The celebration marks the beginning of the most somber week in the Christian calendar, which marks Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter.

ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE HITS LEBANON, WOUNDING AT LEAST 3 PEOPLE

BEIRUT — An Israeli airstrike deep in northeastern Lebanon early Sunday wounded at least three people, a local official said.

The airstrike near the city of Baalbek, a stronghold of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group, was the latest to hit the area in recent weeks.

The strike occurred a few minutes after midnight and wounded three people according to Baalbek’s mayor, Bachir Khodr, who posted the news on X.

It was not immediately clear what was struck. The strike came hours after Hezbollah said it used two drones carrying explosives to attack an Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system in the northern Israeli town of Kfar Blum.

The Israeli military said warplanes attacked a workshop used by Hezbollah for military activities. It added that after the strike some 50 rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel, saying some were shot down and others fell in open areas.

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