The Latest | Israel vows to defend itself if Iran responds to attack on its consulate

Israel’s military said Thursday it is prepared to defend the country and strike back if Iran retaliates for a deadly airstrike on the Iranian Consulate in Syria.

Tehran holds Israel responsible for the attack earlier this month, which the U.S. military believes Israel carried out. Israel has not commented on it. The increased tensions have sparked international concern that Israel’s devastating war against Hamas in Gaza could spill over into the rest of the Middle East.

Six months of fighting in Gaza have pushed the tiny Palestinian territory into a humanitarian crisis, leaving more than 1 million people on the brink of starvation. The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, told lawmakers Wednesday she accepted “credible” reports that famine is now occurring in hard-hit northern Gaza. President Joe Biden said this week that Israel is not doing enough to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Israeli bombardments and ground offensives have killed at least 33,360 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded 74,993, the Health Ministry says. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its tally, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

The war started on Oct. 7 when Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack, mostly civilians. Palestinian militants took around 250 people hostage.


— More aid is supposed to be entering the Gaza Strip. Why isn’t it helping?

— U.S. Muslim leaders are ‘out of words’ as they tire of White House outreach on the war in Gaza

— A mission of mercy, then a fatal strike: How an aid convoy in Gaza became Israel’s target

— Find more AP coverage at

Here’s the latest:


TEL AVIV, Israel — Protesters took to streets in Tel Aviv on Thursday night to demonstrate against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and call for the release of dozens of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

Demonstrators carried large photos of hostages as well as signs with slogans, some in English and some in Hebrew.

At the beginning of the month, tens of thousands of Israelis thronged central Jerusalem in the largest anti-government protest since the country went to war in October. Nearly six months of conflict have renewed divisions over Netanyahu’s leadership, although the country remains largely in favor of the war.

Netanyahu says early elections would paralyze Israel for six to eight months and stall the hostage talks. He has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring all the hostages home, however those goals have been elusive.


WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted repeatedly Thursday that famine conditions in parts of Gaza were “imminent,” seemingly softening USAID Administrator Samantha Power saying that it was “credible” to assess that famine had already begun occurring there.

“That is why we’re doing everything we can to uptick, obviously, the humanitarian aid” arriving into Gaza, Jean-Pierre said, noting that the number of trucks carrying aid into Gaza has increased dramatically in recent days.

“We know how dire the situation is in Gaza, so we are certainly deeply concerned about these reports,” Jean-Pierre said. “We have been working around the clock, around the clock, to get more of that aid into Gaza.”

She added that the U.S. “will continue to push Israel to increase the flow” of aid into Gaza.

Under U.S. pressure, Israel has promised to ramp up aid to Gaza dramatically, saying last week it would open another cargo crossing and surge more trucks than ever before into the besieged Palestinian territory. But days later, there are few signs of those promises materializing and international officials say starvation is widespread in hard-hit northern Gaza.

While Israel says it has dramatically increased the number of aid trucks entering the territory, U.N. workers report only a slight uptick — possibly because they count trucks differently.


Corrects that Jean-Pierre was speaking Thursday, not Monday.


JERUSALEM — Israel’s military says it is prepared to defend the country and strike back if Iran decides to attack. Iran has been threatening to avenge the deaths of two of its generals killed in an airstrike in Damascus last week. It blames Israel for the strike, though Israel has not commented.

Israel has called up additional air defense units and activated other troops in anticipation of an attack by either Iran or the many proxy militant groups it supports in the region.

The army’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told reporters Thursday that an attack from Iranian territory “would be clear proof of Iranian intentions to escalate the Middle East and stop hiding behind the proxies.”

He said Israel has improved its offensive and defensive capabilities in recent months. “We will know how to act where needed,” he said.

Hagari said the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, Gen. Erik Kurilla, arrived in Israel for a strategic assessment with Israeli military leaders.

U.S. President Joe Biden said this week that the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad.


JERUSALEM — Thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protested in Jerusalem on Thursday over a court ruling that could end their exemptions from mandatory service in the Israeli military.

Carrying signs that read “to jail, not to the army,” they rallied in front of Israel’s military enlistment office. There were scuffles between police and some of the protesters.

Israel’s Supreme Court last month ordered an end to government subsidies for many ultra-Orthodox men who do not serve in the army. The ruling could have far-reaching consequences for the government and the tens of thousands of religious men who refuse to take part in mandatory military service.

Most Jewish men are required to serve nearly three years in the military, followed by years of reserve duty. Jewish women serve two mandatory years.

The exemptions for ultra-Orthodox — coupled with government stipends many seminary students receive through age 26 — have infuriated much of the general public.

These longstanding tensions have only grown in the six months of war in Gaza. The ultra-Orthodox say integrating into the army will threaten their generations-old way of life. The army has said it is suffering from manpower shortages because of the war.


BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister has spoken with her Iranian counterpart as tensions between Iran and Israel escalate.

The Foreign Ministry wrote on social network X that Annalena Baerbock spoke by phone on Thursday with Iran’s Hossein Amirabdollahian.

It didn’t give details of the call but said “no one can have an interest in a further regional escalation.”

The ministry called on all in the region “to act responsibly and exercise restraint.”

Germany is a staunch ally of Israel, which is at war in Gaza with the militant Hamas group, a proxy of Iran.


WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, has said she accepted “credible” reports that famine was now occurring in northern Gaza and urged Israel to take further steps to surge humanitarian aid shipments.

Power told lawmakers on Wednesday that short of famine, civilians in all parts of Gaza, particularly children, are suffering from extreme malnutrition.

Her comments, in reply to a lawmaker’s question, did not include using the word “famine” but she responded affirmatively when asked whether she believes famine had begun in the north.

Power is not the first senior U.S. official to describe the hunger and malnutrition situation in Gaza. Last week in Brussels, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said all Gazans were suffering from acute food insecurity.

“Despite important steps that Israel has taken to allow assistance into Gaza, the results on the ground are woefully insufficient and unacceptable,” he told reporters at a news conference at NATO headquarters.

“A hundred percent of the population in Gaza knows acute levels of food insecurity. A hundred percent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance,” he said.


NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus’ foreign minister says additional quantities of humanitarian aid continue to arrive in the east Mediterranean island nation for eventual transfer by ship to Gaza. That’s despite the suspension of shipborne aid deliveries to the Palestinian territory.

Constantinos Kombos told reporters Thursday that Cypriot authorities in cooperation with U.S. military officials continue preparations for a resumption of aid shipments. They will resume once the sea corridor to Gaza is reactivated after a U.S.-built floating dock designed to receive 1,500 tons or more of aid weekly is completed around May 1.

He said shipments will resume once security protocols are revised in the Palestinian territory to ensure the safe distribution of aid in the wake of the April 1 Israeli airstrikes that killed seven workers with U.S. charity World Central Kitchen.

Once that happens, Kombos said he doesn’t exclude the possibility that some shipments could reach Gaza through the WCK-built pier, where more than 300 tons of aid have already been offloaded.

Israel says the deaths were a tragic error but WCK laid the blame squarely on Israel’s military. The charity said the Israeli army had coordinated over the movement of the cars carrying the workers as they left northern Gaza.


KIBBUTZ NIR OZ, Israel — Residents of a hard-hit kibbutz in southern Israel held a special Passover celebration Thursday ahead of the Jewish holiday in less than two weeks.

On April 22, Jews around the world will celebrate one of the most important holidays recounting the biblical story of their exodus from Egypt after hundreds of years of slavery. But for many Israelis it’s hard to fathom honoring an occasion focused on freedom, when friends and family are still in captivity.

Around 250 hostages were taken when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel more than six months ago. While some were released in a week-long cease-fire in November, about 130 remain, with approximately a quarter of those believed to be dead.

Kibbutz Nir Oz, the host of Thursday’s event was one of the hardest hit. Its residents comprised a third of the hostages.

On Thursday, photos of those abducted lined the empty chairs around the traditional Seder table, with flyers citing the names of those who had been killed or taken beside commemorative candles.

“Six months have passed, six months of them being there in hell. It can’t be that they are going through hell just in order to be murdered in captivity. There has to be hope, we have to free them now,” said Ofri Bibas-Levy.

Her sister, her sister’s husband and their two small boys were taken and are still held. The youngest was just 9-months old at the time he was abducted.


BERLIN – German airline Lufthansa says its flights to and from Tehran will remain suspended through Saturday “due to the current situation in the Middle East.”

Lufthansa, which usually has five flights per week from Frankfurt to Tehran, suspended its flights on Saturday, initially until Thursday.

In an emailed response to a query about the flights on Thursday, the company didn’t elaborate on its concerns about the situation. Iran has vowed to retaliate against Israel over an attack on its consulate in Damascus earlier this month.

Lufthansa said that flights by its Austrian Airlines subsidiary to Tehran continue because, due to the shorter flight time from Vienna, it can run the flights as “daylight operations,” with the plane returning immediately after arrival in Tehran.

It said that flights to and from Frankfurt had to be canceled “as Lufthansa has decided not to let the crew disembark in Tehran.”

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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