Israel war news updates: US death toll rises; did Egypt give warning? – USA TODAY

The American death toll rose to 22 and Israeli fatalities surpassed 1,200 Wednesday while desperation swept across Gaza as Tel Aviv’s response to the brutal attack by Hamas left neighborhoods destroyed, homes dark and hospitals low on medical supplies.
Thursday’s live updates: US backs Israel amid strikes in Gaza, Blinken says
“At this time, we can confirm the deaths of at least 22 U.S. citizens,” the State Department said in a statement. “We extend our deepest condolences to the victims and to the families of all those affected.” In addition, 17 Americans remain unaccounted for, the White House said.
Israeli soldiers retaking communities near the Gaza border encountered streets littered with the bodies of civilians, including women and children. The Israeli health ministry said the death toll is likely to increase amid continued fighting and the discovery of more bodies in the settlements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “crush and destroy” Hamas. “Every Hamas member is a dead man,” he said.
Palestinian officials say more than 1,100 militants and citizens in Gaza have been killed and more than 5,000 wounded. Israeli rockets smashed into neighborhoods for a fifth day Wednesday, destroying homes and infrastructure.
After nightfall, Palestinians were plunged into pitch blackness in large parts of Gaza City and elsewhere after the territory’s only power station ran out of fuel and shut down. Only a few lights from private generators still glowed.
The territory, home to more than 2 million Palestinians, fell into darkness after its only power station ran out of fuel Wednesday, and residents faced the grim prospect of limited supplies of food and water. The U.N.’s World Health Organization said supplies pre-positioned at hospitals were depleted.
“We will not allow a reality in which Israeli children are murdered,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a meeting with soldiers. “I have removed every restriction. We will eliminate anyone who fights us, and use every measure at our disposal.”
Hamas denied targeting children and issued a statement condemning Western media for “promoting the Israeli occupation’s propaganda, which is full of lies and fabrications, as an attempt to cover up the crimes and massacres committed by the Israeli occupation around the clock.”
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∎ In the Be’eri kibbutz near Gaza, where Hamas fighters killed more than 100 residents, Major General Itai Veruv said the military found evidence of militants cutting the throats of bound captives, lining up children and killing them and packing 15 teenage girls in a room before throwing a grenade inside.
∎ Key Iranian leaders had no advanced warning that Hamas would attack Israel, the New York Times reports, citing U.S. intelligence officials it did not name. The information supports previous Biden administration statements that there was no indication Iran was involved in the attack.
∎ An estimated 260,000 people have fled their Gaza homes, most taking shelter into packed U.N. schools.
∎ Israeli forces exchanged gunfire over Israel’s northern borders with militants in Lebanon and Syria amid concerns of an expanded regional conflict. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed to have killed and wounded troops, which the Israelis did not confirm.
Family’s painful tale:An American mom, 67, spent her life advocating for Palestinian rights. Then, Hamas came for her.
The State Department upgraded its travel advisory for Israel and the West Bank to Level 3 on Wednesday, advising U.S. citizens to “reconsider travel.” The department kept its advisory for Gaza at the department’s highest level, Level 4, warning citizens “do not travel.”
The State Department said some areas have increased risk and cited the possibility of attacks in public areas, including tourist locations, transportation hubs, and local government facilities.
“Violence can occur in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza without warning,” the travel advisory states. “There has been a marked increase in demonstrations throughout Israel, some with little or no warning.”
According to a department spokesperson, State Department teams are providing assistance and are in constant communication with U.S. citizens who are trying to return to the United States.
The department advised citizens to take commercial flights that “involve transiting a third country if they are unable to book a direct flight to the United States.”
“We are acutely aware of the currently limited capacity on commercial flights and the high demand from U.S. citizens wanting to depart,” the department spokesperson said. “In order to meet high demand for flights, we are also exploring other contract options by air, land, and sea to nearby countries.”
— Francesca Chambers, Thao Nguyen
On Sunday morning, Logan walked into a Fort Myers-based temple and told Rabbi Yitzchok Minkowicz that he was leaving for Israel to join in the fight against Hamas.
“I’m going,” Logan told Minkowicz. 
He was holding his tefillin in his hands, leather wraps inscribed with verses of the Torah. Logan had come to the temple to pray one last time, and to tell Minkowicz what he had decided.
Minkowicz, who leads Chabad Lubavitch of Southwest Florida, has been working to counsel those distraught by the attack. Many in his congregation have lived in Israel or have family there, sheltering in bunkers or joining the army. A number of them feel adrift, terrified for their loved ones abroad, he said. 
Some, like Logan, have left to join the fight. Others wish they could help protect their country and their families. But the fact that they can’t is a constant source of pain and anger.
Logan, who holds dual citizenship with the U.S. and Israel, is one of roughly 360,000 reservists Israel has mobilized, and could soon be deployed on a ground offensive into Gaza. When Logan FaceTimed Minkowicz for a press event Tuesday morning, gunfire could be heard in the background. 
“The situation is very bad,” Logan said via FaceTime. “We’re working very hard. We’re training, we’re doing everything we can. It changes every second.” Read more here.
— Kate Cimini, Fort Myers News-Press
Israel officials were notified by neighboring Egypt that an attack was possible three days before it happened, according to a congressman with insight into such matters.
Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas who’s the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Hamas onslaught Saturday likely resulted from a “failure of intelligence” and that it was uncertain how both the U.S. and Israel were caught by surprise.
“We know that Egypt had warned the Israelis three days prior that an event like this could happen,” McCaul told reporters. “We know that this had been planned perhaps as long as a year ago.”
McCaul added that “a warning was given,” but it wasn’t clear at what level of government.
Netanyahu has denied having prior knowledge of the attack, calling those reports “absolutely false.” Other reports indicate the information may have been passed along but never reached his desk because it lacked details.
McCaul said the focus now is on keeping the conflict from expanding with the involvement of other militant groups in the region.
“We’re very concerned about the fidelity of our intelligence and the escalation of a conflict in the Middle East that could turn into a global Jihad movement in Israel,” he said.
In addition to the 22 Americans killed, 17 Americans are still missing in Israel following the Hamas attack, the White House said Wednesday – and the figures could rise further.
“I think we all need to steel ourselves for the very distinct possibility that these numbers will keep increasing,” said John Kirby, a White House spokesman on national security matters. “We might find out that more Americans are part of the hostage pool.”
Kirby said the U.S. knows some of the Americans  a “very small” number − are being held hostage by Hamas but does not know their condition or location. He said the administration is doing “everything we can” to locate them and bring them home.
“We don’t know if they’re all in one group or broken up into several groups. We don’t know if they’re being moved and with what frequency and to what locations,” Kirby said. “Tough to get more detail.”
Kirby said the U.S. is “casting the net wide” on hostage-recovery efforts, citing discussions with the Israeli government, other Middle East allies and countries such as Qatar that “that have open lines of communication with Hamas.”
The rising death toll is eight more than the 14 Americans who were confirmed dead Tuesday. The number of unaccounted Americans decreased from 20 to 17.
− Joey Garrison
A second U.S. aircraft carrier will be sent to the Mediterranean Sea and will be ready to help defend Israel if needed.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its strike group will be leaving in the coming week on a long-scheduled deployment to the European Command Area, Kirby said Wednesday. “She will be deployed into the Mediterranean and will be an available asset as well as her escort vessels,” he said. 
Kirby pointed out no decision has been made on whether the warship will join the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier off the coast of Israel, where it was deployed shortly after the Hamas attack. But the combination gives the U.S. a powerful presence in those waters.
“We’re sending a loud and clear message that the United States is ready to take action should any actor hostile towards Israel consider trying to escalate or widen this war,” Kirby said.
The Israeli government established a bipartisan war Cabinet to focus on war issues. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be joined by a leading opposition figure, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz and current Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
“Israel first of all,” Gantz tweeted.
Hamas has said it kidnapped more than 100 Israeli soldiers, men, women, children and older adults and are holding them in Gaza. The Israel government, under intense public pressure to eradicate Hamas, has mobilized 360,000 reservists and could be preparing to launch a ground offensive into Gaza, possibly within days.
EU foreign ministers, meeting in a teleconference, agreed overwhelmingly to continue financial support for Palestinians, said Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Borrell cited a “clear distinction” between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which controls the smaller West Bank enclave. Hamas is a terrorist organization while the Palestinian Authority is an EU partner, he said.
“Not all the Palestinian people are terrorists,” Borrell said. “So a collective punishment against all Palestinians will be unfair and unproductive. It will be against our interests and the interest of the peace.”
The ministers also reiterated a long-term commitment to a political solution based on creation of a free Palestinian state. Israel has balked at any plan that would allow Palestinians to have their own military.
The European Commission warned Elon Musk that X, formerly known as Twitter, could face penalties if it does not take action against “illegal content and disinformation” since Hamas’ attack on Israel. A letter from Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the internal market, said the company may be non-compliant of “very precise obligations regarding content moderation” in Europe’s new social media laws. The company could be fined up to 6% of its global revenue under EU rules.
In response to the letter, Musk wrote on X: “Our policy is that everything is open source and transparent, an approach that I know the EU supports. Please list the violations you allude to on 𝕏, so that that the public can see them.”
Breton replied: “You are well aware of your users’ − and authorities’ − reports on fake content and glorification of violence. Up to you to demonstrate that you walk the talk.”
Christopher Cann
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will have more than officials and dignitaries waiting to meet him when he arrives Thursday in Israel. Nahar Neta, whose mother is missing, would like a word too.
Neta said he has reached out to U.S. embassy officials in Tel Aviv but has had no new information or contact since he believes his mother, dual Israeli-American citizen Adrienne Neta, 66, was abducted from her home in Kibbutz Be’eri on Saturday morning. He’s hoping Blinken can provide updates on his mother and the 16 other Americans who remain unaccounted for.
Neta said he was on the phone with Adrienne when Hamas fighters stormed in. “We heard a lot of shouting and screaming, but no shots were fired and it’s our belief she was taken,” he said.
He took an immediate flight to Israel and arrived Monday. Now he awaits Blinken.
“I expect the administration and secretary of state to act as responsible for the lives of the American citizens held hostage by Hamas,” Neta said.
− Nick Penzenstadler
Israeli aircraft and artillery are pounding Gaza towns with what Palestinians are calling “belts of fire.” The term refers to intense, successive raids launched against a small target in a short period of time, the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reports. The raids began at dawn Wednesday and continued into the day, targeting farmland, police stations, government buildings, factories and other crucial locations, the online outlet reported. Emergency vehicles have been unable to reach some of the battered areas because of the intensity of the raids.
Israeli airstrikes late Tuesday struck the family house of Mohammed Deif, the leader of Hamas’ military wing, killing his father, brother and at least two other relatives in the southern town of Khan Younis, senior Hamas official Bassem Naim said. Deif has not been seen in public and Israeli authorities say they don’t know where he is.
Groups that study online hate speech say it has spiked in recent days – not just for Jewish communities but also for Palestinians. And representatives of both communities agree on one thing: U.S.-based social media companies are still not doing anywhere near enough to rid their platforms of hate against targeted groups.
“When it comes to serious crises like these where you’re going to see the worst of the worst types of violent content, gore, incitement to violence, it’s really incumbent on social media companies to coordinate across platforms,” said Daniel Kelley, director of strategy and operations at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Tech and Society, “in order to make sure that the platforms play the minimal amount of role possible in inflaming further violence.” Read more here.
Will Carless and Jessica Guynn
USA TODAY reached out to more than two dozen colleges, many with a history of having a presence in Israel or large study abroad programs, to ask how their programs have been affected by the unfolding crisis.
Some schools confirmed students have safely left the area. Others said students and staff remained in the region while their institutions monitor the situation and put in place new safety protocols. A small number of schools reported that by chance this semester they have no students and faculty studying in Israel. Read more here.
Zachary Schermele
At least 22 Americans have died in the onslaught and an unknown number are hostages of Hamas, the Biden administration says. The struggle to come home – and the fear for loved ones left behind in the deadly war zones of Gaza and Israel – is very real for many Americans as the world watches the violence abroad unfold.
The U.S. citizens longing to return to America include several people from church groups, including those in Naples, Florida, visiting Jerusalem for religious reasons, Salt Lake City-based Palestinian-Americans visiting family members and New Jersey Jewish residents who were celebrating the Simchat Torah holiday. They told the USA TODAY Network their trips turned from a tranquil, joyous crusade away from home into a nightmare from which they needed to swiftly escape.
Mark Schwartz, a councilman and volunteer firefighter in Teaneck, New Jersey, and his friends where among those who traveled to Israel for Simchat Torah.
“I got a flight to Bulgaria and will somehow get to New Jersey,” Schwartz told, part of the USA TODAY Network. “Everyone is in a mournful mood.” Read more here.
Kayla Jimenez
Hamas has vowed to annihilate Israel and for years has been responsible for numerous suicide bombings and other deadly attacks. On Saturday, about 1,000 Hamas fighters stormed across the Israeli border by land and sea in an attack that caught Israel’s military off-guard.
Hamas says the assault was a response to activity at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem that is the third holiest site in Islam. The site, which is also located on the holiest site for Jews − who refer to it as the Temple Mount − has long been a flashpoint between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli security services routinely raid the compound.
But Hamas leaders also say they were pushed to attack because of unrelenting Israeli crackdowns on militants in the West Bank, continued construction of settlements − which the international community considers illegal − thousands of prisoners being held in Israeli jails and Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
Israel countered by declaring war against Hamas and ordered its military to undertake take a “complete siege” of Gaza.
Online hate surges:Why everyone is blaming social media.
Hamas – an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, or the Islamic resistance movement – was founded in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank by a Palestinian activist connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. The State Department designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1997. Several other nations also consider it a terrorist organization.
In 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections, and in 2007 the group violently seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, which was controlled by the rival Fatah movement that still governs the West Bank. There have been no elections since. The group calls for establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state that would replace the current state of Israel and believes in the use of violence to carry out the destruction of Israel.
Hamas receives financial, material and logistical support from Iran, though so far, international leaders, including in Israel, have said there is no evidence that Iran was directly involved in Hamas’ attack.
Gaza, or the Gaza Strip, is a densely populated Palestinian exclave of about 2.3 million people. The narrow strip of land − about 150 square miles, or less than half the size of New York City − is about 25 miles long and six miles wide. Gaza shares a northern and eastern border with Israel and a southwestern border with Egypt while its western side abuts the Mediterranean Sea.
Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections and in 2007 seized control of the Gaza Strip from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority, controlled by the rival Fatah movement, administers semi-autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hamas has fought four wars against Israel since taking power.
The current war is a culmination of decades of conflict between Israel, which prides itself on its military prowess, and the Palestinian territory, which has been occupied since 1948 when Israel was founded and where Hamas rules the Gaza Strip.
At the center of the conflict: Who has the right to the land? Both Jewish people and Muslims have some of their holiest sites in Jerusalem.
Before Israel’s founding, the land was known as the Palestinian mandate, officially ruled by Great Britain. In 1947, the United Nations adopted a resolution that aimed to divide the Palestinian mandate into two states, Arab and Jewish. Large-scale migration of Jewish people to escape persecution, including by Nazis, prompted the U.N. solution.
A war between Israel and its Arab neighbors surrounding its founding in 1948 led to Israeli expansion into 77% of Palestinian mandate territory, and over half the Palestinian Arab population fled or was expelled, according to the U.N
Several conflicts between Israel and Arab states in the region followed over the next decades, and peace efforts that improved relations with other nations did not solve the issue of Palestinian self-determination. 
Israel captured the Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and has since imposed restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians there. These are all territories sought by Palestinians for their future independent state. The war also led to a second expulsion of Palestinians, according to the U.N.
Hamas rejects proposals for a two-state solution and believes in the eradication of Israel altogether through violent means. 
Palestinian uprisings, or intifadas, brought military clashes and protests against Israeli occupation beginning in 1987 and led to crackdowns by Israel’s military forces, and many were killed and injured on both sides.
In 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections, and in 2007 the group violently seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority, which was controlled by the rival Fatah movement that governs the West Bank. There have been no elections since.
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, Maureen Groppe, USA TODAY; The Associated Press


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