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Israeli strikes kill at least 37 Palestinians, most in tents, near Gaza's Rafah as offensive expands

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Israeli strikes kill at least 37 Palestinians, most in tents, near Gaza's Rafah as offensive expands
News

News

Israeli strikes kill at least 37 Palestinians, most in tents, near Gaza's Rafah as offensive expands

2024-05-29 09:59 Last Updated At:10:00

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli shelling and airstrikes killed at least 37 people, most of them sheltering in tents, outside the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight and on Tuesday — pummeling the same area where strikes triggered a deadly fire days earlier in a camp for displaced Palestinians — according to witnesses, emergency workers and hospital officials.

The tent camp inferno has drawn widespread international outrage, including from some of Israel’s closest allies, over the military’s expanding offensive into Rafah. And in a sign of Israel's growing isolation on the world stage, Spain, Norway and Ireland formally recognized a Palestinian state on Tuesday.

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Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli shelling and airstrikes killed at least 37 people, most of them sheltering in tents, outside the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight and on Tuesday — pummeling the same area where strikes triggered a deadly fire days earlier in a camp for displaced Palestinians — according to witnesses, emergency workers and hospital officials.

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians transport the bodies of their relatives killed in an Israeli bombardment where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians transport the bodies of their relatives killed in an Israeli bombardment where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Palestinians flee from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians flee from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

An Israeli fighter jet releases flares, and a drone is seen from Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kreem Hana)

An Israeli fighter jet releases flares, and a drone is seen from Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kreem Hana)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

This image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows tent camps line the beach and fill empty lots outside the central Gaza city of Khan Younis, Friday, May 24, 2024, housing Palestinians who fled Israel's offensive in Rafah the past three weeks. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows tent camps line the beach and fill empty lots outside the central Gaza city of Khan Younis, Friday, May 24, 2024, housing Palestinians who fled Israel's offensive in Rafah the past three weeks. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Israeli soldiers move on the top of a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Israeli soldiers move on the top of a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kreem Hana)

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kreem Hana)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, on Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Palestinians killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, on Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people in the area. Israel's army confirmed Sunday's strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people in the area. Israel's army confirmed Sunday's strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people in the area. Israel's army confirmed Sunday's strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people in the area. Israel's army confirmed Sunday's strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The Israeli military suggested Sunday's blaze in the tent camp may have been caused by secondary explosions, possibly from Palestinian militants' weapons. The results of Israel's initial probe into the fire were issued Tuesday, with military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari saying the cause of the fire was still under investigation but that the Israeli munitions used — targeting what the army said was a position with two senior Hamas militants — were too small to be the source.

The strike or the subsequent fire could also have ignited fuel, cooking gas canisters or other materials in the camp. The blaze killed 45 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials’ count. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fire was the result of a “tragic mishap.”

Israel's assault on Rafah, launched May 6, spurred more than 1 million people to flee the city, the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees said Tuesday. Most were already displaced multiple times in the nearly eight-month war between Israel and Hamas. Families are now scattered across makeshift tent camps and other war-ravaged areas.

The strikes over the past few days have hit areas west of Rafah, where the military had not ordered civilians to evacuate. Israeli ground troops and tanks have been operating in eastern Rafah, in central parts of the city, and along the Gaza-Egypt border.

Shelling late Monday and early Tuesday hit Rafah’s western Tel al-Sultan district, killing at least 16 people, the Palestinian Civil Defense and the Palestinian Red Crescent said. Seven of the dead were in tents next to a U.N. facility about about 200 meters (yards) from the site of Sunday's fire.

“It was a night of horror,” said Abdel-Rahman Abu Ismail, a Palestinian from Gaza City who has been sheltering in Tel al-Sultan since December. He said he heard “constant sounds” of explosions overnight and into Tuesday, with fighter jets and drones flying above.

He said it reminded him of the Israeli invasion of his neighborhood of Shijaiyah in Gaza City, where Israel launched a heavy bombing campaign before sending in ground forces in late 2023. “We saw this before,” he said.

The United States and other allies of Israel have warned against a full-fledged offensive in the city, with the Biden administration saying this would cross a “red line” and refusing to provide offensive arms for such an undertaking. On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller gave no indication the administration sees Israel as crossing any of the red lines for Rafah, saying the offensive is still on a “far different” scale than assaults on other population centers in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its Rafah offensive last week as part of South Africa's case accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

A proposed U.N. Security Council resolution demanding a halt to the fighting in Rafah was being circulated by Algeria on Tuesday, with plans to potentially bring it to a vote this week. The U.S. has vetoed multiple Gaza cease-fire resolutions.

On Tuesday afternoon, an Israeli drone strike hit tents near a field hospital by the Mediterranean coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people, including 13 women, Gaza's Health Ministry said.

A witness, Ahmed Nassar, said his four cousins and some of their husbands and children were killed in the strike and a number of tents were destroyed or damaged. Most of those living there had fled from the same neighborhood in Gaza City earlier in the war.

“They have nothing to do with anything,” he said.

Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead in Rafah, saying Israeli forces must enter the city to dismantle Hamas and return hostages taken in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.

In its investigation of Sunday’s deadly strike and fire, the Israeli military released satellite photos of what it said was a Hamas rocket launch position about 40 meters (yards) from an area of sheds that was targeted. In the photo, the alleged launcher itself did not appear to have been struck.

He said Israeli warplanes used the smallest bombs possible — two munitions with 17-kilogram (37-pound) warheads. “Our munition alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” he said.

Hagari said that the fire was “a devastating incident which we did not expect” and ignited due to “unforeseen circumstances.”

Still, the strikes have triggered a flight of people from areas west of Rafah. Sayed al-Masri, a Rafah resident, said many families were heading to the crowded Muwasi area or to Khan Younis, a southern city that suffered heavy damage during months of fighting.

“The situation is worsening” in Rafah, al-Masri said.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said two medical facilities in Tel al-Sultan are out of service because of intense bombing nearby. Medical Aid for Palestinians, a charity operating throughout the territory, said the Tel al-Sultan medical center and the Indonesian Field Hospital were under lockdown with medics, patients and displaced people trapped inside.

Most of Gaza’s hospitals are no longer functioning. Rafah’s Kuwait Hospital shut down Monday after a strike near its entrance killed two health workers.

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization said the casualties from Sunday’s strike and fire “absolutely overwhelmed” field hospitals in the area, which were already running short on supplies to treat severe burns.

“That requires intensive care, that requires electricity, that requires high-level medical services,” Dr. Margaret Harris told reporters in Geneva. “Increasingly, we are struggling to even have the high-level skilled doctors and nurses because they’ve been displaced.”

The war began when Hamas and other militants burst into southern Israel in a surprise attack on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 civilians and abducting around 250. More than 100 were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israel responded to the attack with a massive air, land and sea offensive that has killed at least 36,096 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its count. Around 80% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been displaced and U.N. officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

The fighting in Rafah has made it nearly impossible for humanitarian groups to import and distribute aid to southern Gaza.

The Israeli military says it has allowed hundreds of trucks to enter through the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing since the start of its operation, but aid groups say it’s extremely difficult to access that aid on the Gaza side because of the fighting.

The U.N. says it has only been able to collect aid from around 170 trucks over the past three weeks via Kerem Shalom. Smaller amounts of aid were also entering through two crossings in the north and by sea through a U.S.-built floating pier, but it’s nowhere near the 600 trucks a day that aid groups say are needed. And the pier is being removed for repairs.

Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians transport the bodies of their relatives killed in an Israeli bombardment where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians transport the bodies of their relatives killed in an Israeli bombardment where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Palestinians flee from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians flee from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

An Israeli fighter jet releases flares, and a drone is seen from Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kreem Hana)

An Israeli fighter jet releases flares, and a drone is seen from Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kreem Hana)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

This image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows tent camps line the beach and fill empty lots outside the central Gaza city of Khan Younis, Friday, May 24, 2024, housing Palestinians who fled Israel's offensive in Rafah the past three weeks. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

This image provided by Planet Labs PBC shows tent camps line the beach and fill empty lots outside the central Gaza city of Khan Younis, Friday, May 24, 2024, housing Palestinians who fled Israel's offensive in Rafah the past three weeks. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Israeli soldiers move on the top of a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Israeli soldiers move on the top of a tank near the Israeli-Gaza border, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kreem Hana)

Palestinians fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah during an Israeli ground and air offensive in the city on Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kreem Hana)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents destroyed by Israel's bombardment, adjunct to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, on Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Palestinians killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip are brought to the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir al Balah, central Gaza Strip, on Monday, May 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people in the area. Israel's army confirmed Sunday's strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people in the area. Israel's army confirmed Sunday's strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people in the area. Israel's army confirmed Sunday's strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike where displaced people were staying in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Monday, May 27, 2024. Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people in the area. Israel's army confirmed Sunday's strike and said it hit a Hamas installation and killed two senior Hamas militants. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Smoke billows after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Tuesday, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Next Article

Muslims start the Hajj against the backdrop of the destructive Israel-Hamas war

2024-06-14 12:42 Last Updated At:12:51

MINA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in Mecca converged on a vast tent camp in the desert on Friday, officially opening the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Ahead of their trip, they circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, Islam’s holiest site.

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world have already amassed in and around Mecca for the Hajj, and the number was still growing as more pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia joined. Saudi authorities expected the number of pilgrims to exceed 2 million this year.

This year’s Hajj came against the backdrop of the raging war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Palestinian militants, which pushed the entire Middle East to the brink of a regional war between Israel and its allies on one side and Iran-backed militant groups on the other.

Palestinians in the coastal enclave of Gaza were not able to travel to Mecca for Hajj this year because of the closure of the Rafah crossing in May when Israel extended its ground offensive to the strip’s southern city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

Palestinian authorities said 4,200 pilgrims from the occupied West Bank arrived in Mecca for Hajj. Saudi authorities said 1,000 more from the families of Palestinians killed or wounded in the war in Gaza also arrived to perform Hajj at the invitation of King Salman of Saudi Arabia. The 1,000 invitees were already outside Gaza — mostly in Egypt — before closure of the Rafah crossing.

“We are deprived of (performing) Hajj because the crossing is closed, and because of the raging wars and destruction,” said Amna Abu Mutlaq, a 75-year-old Palestinian woman from Gaza’s southern city of Khan Younis who had planned to perform Hajj this year. “They (Israel) deprived us from everything.”

This year's Hajj also saw Syrian pilgrims traveling to Mecca on direct flights from Damascus for the first time in more than a decade. The move was part of an ongoing thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and conflict-stricken Syria. Syrians in rebel-held areas used to cross the border into neighboring Turkey in their exhausting trip to Mecca for Hajj.

“This is the natural thing: Pilgrims go to Hajj directly from their home countries,” said Abdel-Aziz al-Ashqar, a Syrian coordinator of the group of pilgrims who left Damascus this year for Hajj.

The pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and all Muslims are required to make the five-day Hajj at least once in their lives if they are physically and financially able to do it.

It is a moving spiritual experience for pilgrims who believe it absolves sins and brings them closer to God, while uniting the world’s more than 2 billion Muslims. It’s also a chance to pray for peace in many conflict-stricken Arab and Muslim countries, including Yemen and Sudan, where more than a year of war between rival generals created the world's largest displacement crisis.

For many Muslims, the Hajj is the only major journey that they made in their life. Some spend years saving up money and waiting for a permit to embark on the journey in their 50s and 60s after they raised their children.

The rituals during the Hajj largely commemorate the Quran’s accounts of Prophet Ibrahim, his son Prophet Ismail and Ismail’s mother Hajar — or Abraham and Ismael as they are named in the Bible.

Male pilgrims wear an ihram, two unstitched sheets of white cloth that resemble a shroud, while women dress conservative, loose-fitting clothing with headscarves, and forgo makeup and perfume. They have been doing the ritual circuit around the cube-shaped Kaaba, counter-clockwise in the seven-minaret Grand Mosque since arriving in Mecca over recent days.

Saudi authorities have adopted security restrictions in and around Mecca, with checkpoints set up on roads leading to the city to prevent those who don’t have Hajj permits from reaching the holy sites.

Security authorities arrested many people who attempted to take pilgrims to Mecca who didn’t have Hajj permits, said Lt. Gen. Muhammad al-Bassami, head of Hajj Security Committee. Most of them were expelled from the country, while travel agents faced jail for up to six months, according to the Interior Ministry.

On Friday, the pilgrims made their way to Mina, officially opening the Hajj. They then will move for a daylong vigil Saturday on Mount Arafat, a desert hill where the Prophet Muhammad is said to have delivered his final speech, known as the Farewell Sermon. Healthy pilgrims make the trip on foot, others use bus or train.

The time of year when the Hajj takes place varies, given that Hajj is set for five days in the second week of Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar.

Most of the Hajj rituals are held outdoors with little if any shade. When it falls in the summer months, temperatures can soar to over 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). The Health Ministry has cautioned that temperatures in the holy sites could reach 48 Celsius (118 Fahrenheit). Many pilgrims carried umbrellas against the burning sun.

After Saturday’s warship in Arafat, pilgrims will travel a few kilometers (miles) to a site known as Muzdalifa to collect pebbles that they will use in the symbolic stoning of pillars representing the devil back in Mina.

Pilgrims then return to Mina for three days, coinciding with the festive Eid al-Adha holiday, when financially able Muslims around the world slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor. Afterwards, they return to Mecca for final circumambulation, known as Farewell Tawaf.

In recent years, the annual pilgrimage has returned to its monumental scale after three years of heavy restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, more than 1.8 million pilgrims performed Hajj, approaching the 2019 level when more than 2.4 million pilgrims participated in the pilgrimage.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Two blind pilgrims preform Hajj with the help of their guide outside of the Grand Mosque during the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Baraa Anwer)

Two blind pilgrims preform Hajj with the help of their guide outside of the Grand Mosque during the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Baraa Anwer)

A woman holds an umbrella to protect herself from the sun as she leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A woman holds an umbrella to protect herself from the sun as she leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque, during during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A pilgrim covers his head with a praying mat to protect himself from the sun as he leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

A pilgrim covers his head with a praying mat to protect himself from the sun as he leaves after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Thursday, June 13, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Pilgrims leave after offering prayers outside at the Grand Mosque during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, early Friday, June 14, 2024. Hajj is the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that is required once in a lifetime of every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able to make it. Some Muslims make the journey more than once. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

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