'No place safe' as Israeli airstrikes bombard Gaza Strip: Live updates

Editor's Note: For the latest news on the Israel-Hamas conflict, please see our live updates file here.

Israeli airstrikes bombarded the Gaza Strip on Friday as the areas where Palestinian civilians could escape the expanding military operations continued to shrink and a United Nations official warned there's "no place safe for civilians in southern Gaza."

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, an independent humanitarian aid group, said an airstrike smashed into a house near its headquarters in Khan Younis on Friday, sending "dozens" of injured people to a nearby hospital and inciting panic among the 14,000 displaced civilians crowded in the facility. The group said there were "numerous" casualties.

Khan Younis, the second largest city in the territory, has been the focus of the Israeli military's ground offensive that expanded into the southern region of Gaza last week.

Palestinians inspect the rubble following Israeli bombardment on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 8, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Palestinians inspect the rubble following Israeli bombardment on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 8, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Medhat Abbas, director general for the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, said a strike in the city of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, killed and wounded a number of people but gave no exact numbers, according to the Associated Press.

The Israeli military on Friday said its ground, aerial and naval forces struck more than 450 targets in Gaza over the last 24 hours. It did not specify where the operations occurred but said several militants were killed by airstrikes before they could launch "rocket fire at our forces."

Since the war began two months ago, Israel’s campaign has killed more than 17,100 people in Gaza, 70% of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Hamas and other militants killed about 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, in the Oct. 7 attack and took more than 240 hostages. An estimated 138 hostages remain in Gaza, mostly soldiers and civilian men, after more than 100 were freed, most during a cease-fire last month.

A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 8, 2023, shows smoke rising above buildings during an Israeli strike in northern Gaza, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.
A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on Dec. 8, 2023, shows smoke rising above buildings during an Israeli strike in northern Gaza, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Developments:

∎ Thomas White, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, said, “Society is on the brink of full-blown collapse” in Gaza. “Civil order is breaking down in #Gaza - the streets feel wild, particularly after dark -  some aid convoys are being looted and UN vehicles stoned,” he wrote on X. “UNRWA continues to serve the population with what limited aid we have.”

∎ Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Jassim Al-Thani in Washington, D.C., to discuss diplomatic efforts for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza, the need for humanitarian aid corridors in the devastated enclave, and the safe return of the remaining hostages held by Hamas.

∎ Six Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed on Friday during Israel's latest raid in the West Bank, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The armed forces were attempting to arrest suspected Palestinian militants when gunfights broke out.

The Israel Defense Forces said the death toll of its soldiers has risen to 87 since Oct. 7, when 1,200 Israelis were killed, most of them civilians. The military also says it has killed about 5,000 militants and has acknowledged that about two Palestinian civilians have died for every militant.

On Friday, Israeli planes dropped leaflets on refugee camps in central Gaza that pieced together an Arabic saying and a verse from the Quran: “To Hamas leaders: A life for a life, an eye for an eye and whoever started is to blame. If you punish, then punish with the like of that with which you were afflicted.” The leaflet left out the rest of the verse, which says it is better to patiently endure afflictions without retaliating.

Two Israeli soldiers injured in failed Gaza hostage rescue

Two Israeli soldiers were seriously wounded in a failed hostage rescue in Gaza late on Friday, a military spokesman said. Hamas' military wing said it had repelled the rescue attempt, and that an Israeli soldier it was holding hostage had been killed by Israeli air fire.

Hamas holds an estimated 137 hostages taken during its Oct. 7 rampage through southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people. Some 110 captives were released during a cease-fire last month.

The Israel Defense Force said it had killed numerous Hamas gunmen during the rescue mission. Israeli forces control northern Gaza and are fighting in southern Gaza in a war on Hamas that has killed more than 17,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

"Two IDF soldiers were seriously injured tonight during an operation in the Gaza Strip to rescue hostages from Hamas," military spokesman Daniel Hagari said on X, the former Twitter. "The forces raided a Hamas location and eliminated terrorists who took part in the kidnapping and were holding of the hostages."

"No hostages were rescued in this operation."

U.S. vetoes cease-fire resolution

The U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Friday that called for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. It was backed by the vast majority of the 15-member council and many other nations in a 13-1 vote and the United Kingdom abstaining.

"We do not support calls for an immediate cease-fire,” said Deputy U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood. “This would only plant the seeds for the next war, because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace to see a two-state solution.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that he had invoked the little-used Article 99 of the U.N. Charter to call for a meeting on the Gaza war as a threat to international peace and security. “There is a high risk of the total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza," Guterres told the Council.

He warned that the humanitarian support system in Gaza, which one U.N. official has already described as "in tatters," will collapse, leading to a breakdown in public order, and mass displacement of refugees into Egypt. “I fear the consequences could be devastating for the security of the entire region," he said.

Guterres told the council that Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel “can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.” He added that “while indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, and the use of civilians as human shields, are in contravention of the laws of war, such conduct does not absolve Israel of its own violations.” At least 350 Palestinians were killed and 1,900 injured in Gaza between Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, the U.N. reported, citing Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry. Five Israeli solders were killed.

Article 99 of the U.N. charter hasn't been invoked at the Security Council since 1971, over the India-Pakistan war that led to the creation of independent Bangladesh.

Israel rounds up Palestinian men in northern Gaza

Israel said Friday the military was rounding up Palestinian men in northern Gaza for interrogation, searching for Hamas militants. U.N. monitors said Israeli troops reportedly detained men and boys from the age of 15 in a school-turned-shelter.

The first images of mass detentions emerged Thursday from Beit Lahiya, showing dozens of men kneeling or sitting in the streets, stripped down to their underwear with their hands bound behind their backs.

The detentions pointed to Israeli efforts to secure the military's hold on northern Gaza as the war entered its third month. Furious urban fighting has continued in the north, underscoring Hamas’ heavy resistance, and tens of thousands of residents are believed to remain in the area six weeks after troops and tanks rolled in.

Some U.S. experts say Israel is committing war crimes

A growing number of U.S. war crimes experts believes Israel is violating the laws of war and armed conflict in its punishing campaign against Hamas. “I have very serious concerns about their compliance with the law of war in Gaza based on what I’m seeing,” attorney Brian Finucane, who spent nearly a decade as a State Department adviser on the law of armed conflict, told USA TODAY's Josh Meyer in a detailed story published Friday.

The increased scrutiny of Israel's conduct comes as U.S. officials grow louder in demanding that Israel reduce civilian deaths. Last weekend, Vice President Kamala Harris told an audience of Middle Eastern leaders: “The United States is unequivocal; international humanitarian law must be respected. Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed.”

Eyal Hulata, Israel’s national security adviser until earlier this year, told USA TODAY that Israel is abiding by globally recognized rules of armed conflict, “from the way the goals of the war were crafted and all the way to our operational conduct." He blamed the massive death toll in Gaza, which has passed 17,000, on Hamas' use of civilians as human shields in hospitals and other locations.

For decades, legal experts have argued about what constitutes a war crime based on the Geneva Conventions and other international laws and policies. The knotty questions about proportionality, including how and when civilian deaths can be justified, have been especially vexing. "I would say that Israeli actions fall outside what is reasonable and do constitute war crimes,” Anthony Dworkin, a former director of the nonprofit Crimes of War Project, said.

Blinken talks hostages, cease-fire with Qatar prime minister

America's top diplomat sat down with Qatar's prime minister on Friday, as Israel's biggest backer and the Middle East region's top mediator searched for a breakthrough that would free the remaining hostages held by Hamas and create a cease-fire in Gaza.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on X, the former Twitter, that he and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Jassim Al-Thani "discussed ongoing efforts to facilitate the safe return of all hostages and further increase aid to civilians in Gaza."

Qatar played a key role in negotiating last month's temporary cease-fire that saw the release of 100 hostages, including three American citizens − a 4-year-old girl among them. Al-Thani, who also serves as Qatar's foreign minister, emphasized the ever-rising toll of civilian deaths in Gaza during his meeting with , according to a government statement.

Al-Thani "stressed the necessity of opening humanitarian corridors in a sustainable manner to ensure the continued entry of aid to the Palestinian brothers in the Gaza strip," the statement said, and he "expressed the State of Qatar's firm position condemning all forms of targeting of civilians."

Reuters journalist killed in 'active combat zone' Israeli military says

In response to an investigation that revealed Israeli tank fire killed a Reuters video journalist and injured six reporters in Lebanon, the Israeli military said the incident took place in an active combat zone and was under review, the outlet reported.

In a statement, the Israeli military said its forces were firing at Hezbollah fighters who had attacked across the Lebanese border.

"One incident involved the firing of an anti-tank missile, which struck the border fence near the village Hanita. Following the launch of the anti-tank missile, concerns arose over the potential infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory," the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a statement. "In response, the IDF used artillery and tank fire to prevent the infiltration. The IDF is aware of the claim that journalists who were in the area were killed."

"The area is an active combat zone, where active fire takes place, and being in this area is dangerous," the Israeli military added. "The incident is currently under review."

Videographer Issam Abdallah, 37, who had covered wars for years, was filming Israeli shelling less than a mile away from the border with Lebanon on Oct. 13 when a round hit a group of journalists from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera, killing Abdallah, Reuters said its investigation showed. A second strike less than 40 minutes later severely injured AFP photographer Christina Assi, 28.

Amnesty International said its own investigation concluded the strikes were "likely a direct attack on civilians that must be investigated as a war crime.''

Human Rights Watch issued a report calling the shelling "an apparently deliberate attack on civilians and thus a war crime."

UN says humanitarian plan is 'in tatters'

Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s humanitarian chief, warned "we do not have a humanitarian operation in southern Gaza that can be called by that name anymore."

Citing the expanding ground offensive by the Israeli military, Griffiths said there’s “no place safe for civilians” in the southern region of the enclave, leaving the humanitarian community’s plan to assist them “in tatters.”

“I have just come from a meeting with my own staff around the world, buried in the tragedy of conflicts, and they have spoken to me this morning now about two things,” Griffiths said at a news briefing in Geneva on Thursday. “One is that in Gaza, there is no exit for the people of Gaza. And the other is, in Gaza, as a result, hope for the future is, at its best, at a premium.”

“So our humanitarian program is no longer a functioning one,” he added.

According to Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, more than 80 U.N. facilities in the Gaza Strip have been hit.

The escalation of fighting in and around the city of Khan Younis has displaced tens of thousands of people in addition to cutting off the majority of humanitarian aid deliveries. More than 80% of the territory’s population has already fled their homes.

Contributing: John Bacon, Jorge L. Ortiz, USA TODAY; Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Humanitarian efforts 'in tatters' amid combat in Gaza: Live updates