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Israel attacks Rafah after Hamas claims responsibility for deadly rocket strike: Updates

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Three Israeli soldiers were killed in a rocket attack claimed by the Hamas armed wing, near the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, where Palestinian health officials said at least 19 people were killed by Israeli fire on Sunday.

Israel’s military said 10 projectiles were launched from Rafah in southern Gaza towards the area of the crossing, which it said was now closed to aid trucks going into the coastal enclave. Other crossings remained open.

Hamas’ armed wing said it fired rockets at an Israeli army base by the crossing and its media quoted a source close to the group saying the commercial crossing was not the target, according to Reuters. The Times of Israel reported that Palestinian medics said Israeli airstrikes killed 16 people in Rafah just hours after the Hamas attack.

Sunday’s attack came amid the latest impasse in Gaza cease-fire talks. Hamas negotiators maintained their demand for an end to the war, Palestinian officials said. But on Sunday, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a speech for the country’s annual Holocaust Memorial Day that no international pressure “will stop Israel from defending itself.”

“If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone,” Netanyahu added.

Israel began its war in response to the Hamas cross-border attack on Oct. 7, in which about 1,200 people were killed and 252 hostages were taken, according to Israeli tallies. More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed and more than 77,000 have been wounded, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Parts of Gaza in ‘full-blown famine’: World Food Program director Cindy McCain says crisis worsening

Developments:

∎ Hamas called the Israeli decision on Al Jazeera a “blatant violation of freedom of the press, and a repressive and retaliatory measure against Al Jazeera’s professional role in exposing the crimes of the occupation.”

Pro-Palestinian rallies and protests continued to sweep across the U.S., with dozens of arrests and sometimes violent clashes with counterdemonstrators.

Pro-Palestinian protests stretch on after arrests, police crackdowns: Latest updates

Arab media giant Al Jazeera said Sunday it would “pursue every legal step” to continue operations in Israel, hours after Netanyahu’s Cabinet voted to shut down the Qatari-based global outlet’s offices in Israel until the war in Gaza ends.

Netanyahu, who has long accused Al Jazeera of bias toward Hamas, said the cabinet determined the outlet was a threat to national security. The decision comes amid concerns that cease-fire talks were failing and that an Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah is coming “in the near future.”

Israeli authorities raided an East Jerusalem hotel room used by Al Jazeera as its office, and video circulated online showed plainclothes officers dismantling camera equipment. Israeli satellite and cable television providers suspended Al Jazeera broadcasts.

“Al Jazeera correspondents have harmed the security of Israel and incited against (Israeli) soldiers,” Netanyahu said. “The time has come to eject Hamas’s mouthpiece from our country.”

Al Jazeera rejected those claims as a “dangerous and ridiculous lie” that puts its journalists at risk. The network is funded by the Qatari government, which has been a key mediator in cease-fire talks. Like many media outlets around the world, however, Al Jazeera has been critical of Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

“The Israeli PM and his military… wanted everything to happen and be concealed without anybody reporting or talking about it,” said Al Jazeera reporter Hani Mahmoud.

CIA chief William Burns is traveling to Doha from Cairo for an emergency meeting with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Thani amid flagging negotiations for a hostage release and temporary truce deal, multiple media outlets reported, citing sources familiar with the talks. The goal is to exert “maximum pressure” on Israel and Hamas to continue negotiating despite indications the talks are “near collapse,” Reuters reported, citing an official briefed on the talks.

Hamas reiterated its demand for an end to the war in exchange for the freeing of hostages. Netanyahu, however, warned that Israel would make no deal that would free hostages in exchange for ending the war, saying that would keep Hamas in power and pose a threat to Israel. Israel is willing to pause fighting in Gaza in order to secure the release of hostages still being held by Hamas-led militants, he said.

Israel has shown willingness to negotiate a cease-fire while Hamas remains “entrenched in its extreme positions,” including a demand that Israel remove all forces from the Gaza Strip, end the war, and leave Hamas in power. “Israel cannot accept that,” Netanyahu said.

Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh said the militants remain committed to a “comprehensive” cease-fire but said it must guarantee Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. He blamed Netanyahu for “the continuation of the aggression and the expansion of the circle of conflict, and sabotaging the efforts made through the mediators and various parties.”

Israel shut down humanitarian aid shipments through the Karem Abu Salem border crossing after a nearby rocket attack injured several people, Israeli officials said. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Hamas attacked from a civilian-populated area and, noting that Monday is Holocaust Remembrance Day, called the attack a “harsh reminder of the Nazi terrorist organization Hamas’s methods.”

“The world must wake up and support Israel in its mission to eradicate Hamas,” Katz wrote on social media.

World Food Program director Cindy McCain parts of Gaza in ‘full-blown famine’

Gaza, which has dealth with tens of thousands of war deaths along with the destruction of much of its infrasture, now has “full blown famine” to contend with, says Cindy McCain, director of the World Food Program. Her remarks are not an official declaration of famine, which is a technical designation spearheaded by the United Nations. The U.N. has said famine is “imminent” in Gaza since mid-March. But McCain, in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” joined Samantha Power, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, in making the claim. Power was the first to make the claim during congressional testimony last month.

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“There is famine – full-blown famine – in the north and it’s moving its way south,” McCain said. “It’s horror. It’s so hard to look at and it’s so hard to hear.”

Riley Beggin

Contributing: Reuters

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