Live updates | Israeli troops tighten encirclement of Gaza City as top US diplomat arrives in Israel

Israeli troops tightened their encirclement of Gaza City on Friday as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel to press for a humanitarian “pause” in the fighting with Hamas and for more aid to be allowed into besieged Gaza.

Tensions continued to escalate along the northern border with Lebanon ahead of a speech planned later Friday by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, a Hamas ally. It is his first public speech since Hamas attacked Israel last month, stoking fears the conflict could become a regional one.

Roughly 800 people — including hundreds of Palestinians with foreign passports and dozens of injured — have been allowed to leave the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing under an apparent agreement among the U.S., Egypt, Israel and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas.

Israel has allowed more than 260 trucks carrying food and medicine through the crossing, but aid workers say it’s not nearly enough. Israeli authorities have refused to allow fuel in.

The Palestinian death toll in the Israel-Hamas war has reached 9,061, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza. In the occupied West Bank, more than 130 Palestinians have been killed in violence and Israeli raids.

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, most of them in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that started the fighting, and 242 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by the militant group.


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Here’s what is happening in the latest Israel-Hamas war:

TEL AVIV, Israel — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Israel for urgent talks with Israeli officials about their escalating war with Hamas in Gaza.

Blinken landed in Tel Aviv on Friday for his third trip to Israel since the war began with Hamas’ incursion into Israel on Oct. 7. Blinken will also visit Jordan and may make additional stops in the region before traveling to Asia early next week.

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He will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top officials at a highly charged and sensitive time as Israel intensifies its military operations in Gaza and international criticism of its tactics increases over the large number of civilian casualties.

U.S. President Joe Biden has called for a “humanitarian pause” in the fighting in order to arrange the evacuation of dual citizens and foreigners still trapped in Gaza as well as to try to secure the release of more than 240 hostages Hamas is holding and to increase humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.

Blinken will again stress Israel’s right to defend itself but will also be making the case for Israel to respect the rules of war as well as consider postwar scenarios for how the territory can be run if and when it succeeds in eradicating Hamas.

For the past week, the U.S. administration has been pushing a two-state resolution to establish a durable and lasting peace, although neither the current Israeli nor Palestinian leaderships have shown interest in such negotiations, which have failed multiple times.

Blinken will also urge Israeli authorities to rein in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank by Jewish settlers.

BEIRUT — In the hours before a much-anticipated speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday, his first since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, Lebanon’s state news agency reported Israeli shelling on the outskirts of several towns along the Lebanese border.

Nasrallah’s speech comes as low-level clashes have increased between Hezbollah and Palestinian armed groups on one side and Israeli forces on the other.

On Thursday, Hezbollah announced a simultaneous attack against 19 Israeli military posts with mortar fire and anti-tank missiles and also launched suicide drones for the first time in the conflict, targeting an Israeli post in the disputed Chebaa Farms area. Also Thursday evening, Hamas claimed responsibility for rocket strikes on the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona that injured two people.

Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery shelling of Lebanese border areas, with Lebanese state media reporting four civilians were killed in the Saluki Valley area. At least 10 civilians and dozens of fighters with Hezbollah and allied groups have been reported killed in Lebanon since Oct. 7.

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RAFAH CROSSING, Gaza Strip — Israel on Friday released hundreds of Palestinian workers who said they had been held in an Israeli-run jail since the Israel-Hamas war broke out Oct. 7.

The workers were dropped off by buses early Friday near Gaza and walked into the southern edge of the besieged enclave through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

The workers were among what Israeli rights groups believe are thousands of laborers marooned in Israel since the outbreak of the war. They say some of the workers were detained by Israel without charge or due process.

The rights groups say the workers had their work permits revoked and any trace of their status wiped from their records, leaving them vulnerable and in legal limbo at a time when their families in Gaza are enduring Israel’s massive bombardment.

Some of those walking into Gaza early Friday said they had been held at Ofer, an Israeli-run detention center in the occupied West Bank.

One of those released, Mohammed Shalaya, said treatment was bad during the first five to six days but that conditions then improved.

Shalaya said he worked at a quarry in northern Israel. He said he and the other workers were forced to hand over their money, cellphones and identity cards after being detained and didn’t get their possessions back before being dropped off near Gaza.

TOKYO — A Japanese Defense Ministry aircraft carrying 46 passengers — 20 Japanese residents of Israel and two of their non-Japanese relatives, 15 South Koreans, four Vietnamese and one Taiwanese — from Israel is on its way to Tokyo and is expected to arrive later Friday, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Bahrain’s government says its ambassador to Israel has returned to the island nation as Israel continues its war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The state-run Bahrain News Agency issued a statement late Thursday saying the ambassador “returned to the kingdom some time ago,” hours after the lower house of its parliament made a series of claims about relations between the two countries.

The Israeli Embassy in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, had evacuated in mid-October amid security concerns.

The Bahraini statement did not say that the country had severed diplomatic and economic ties despite an earlier assertion by parliament’s lower house. Israel’s Foreign Ministry said, “Relations between Israel and Bahrain are stable.”

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Bahrain was one of several Arab nations that diplomatically recognized Israel in 2020. In the time since, Bahrain has heralded its ties to the country, despite protests. Those ties have been strained by the war.

Bahrain is also home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and long has had tense relations with Iran, which has backed Hamas.

UNITED NATIONS – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report that Israel used disproportionate force against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and some killings “appeared to amount to extrajudicial executions.”

In the report circulated Thursday, Guterres said Israeli forces have escalated the use of deadly force in recent years across the West Bank, while attacks by Palestinians also rose. He said Israeli security forces killed 304 Palestinians, including 61 boys and two girls, in the West Bank and east Jerusalem during the two-year period ending May 31.

In numerous instances monitored by the U.N. human rights agency, Guterres said, “Israeli security forces apparently used force unnecessarily or in a disproportionate manner, resulting in a possible arbitrary deprivation of life,” which is prohibited under international humanitarian law.

The secretary-general said the number of Palestinians in Israeli detention increased considerably in those two years, and Israel continued restricting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and to freedom of movement.

JERUSALEM — Israel will stop providing funding to the Palestinian Authority earmarked for the Gaza Strip and will bar Palestinians in Gaza from working in Israel.

Though Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, the PA has continued to pay tens of thousands of civil servants in the strip. The decision by Israel’s Security Cabinet on Thursday would punish the cash-strapped PA for continuing those salaries.

“Israel is severing off all contact with Gaza,” the government’s statement said.

Under interim peace accords from the 1990s, Israel collects tax funds on behalf of Palestinians and transfers the money to the PA each month.

The statement also said Israel was revoking permits for the roughly 18,000 Palestinians from Gaza who were allowed to work inside Israel. The jobs were highly coveted in Gaza, which has an unemployment rate of roughly 50%.