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US Navy faces its most intense combat since World War II against Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels

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US Navy faces its most intense combat since World War II against Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels
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US Navy faces its most intense combat since World War II against Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels

2024-06-14 23:55 Last Updated At:06-15 00:00

ABOARD THE USS LABOON IN THE RED SEA (AP) — The U.S. Navy prepared for decades to potentially fight the Soviet Union, then later Russia and China, on the world's waterways. But instead of a global power, the Navy finds itself locked in combat with a shadowy, Iran-backed rebel group based in Yemen.

The U.S.-led campaign against the Houthi rebels, overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II, its leaders and experts told The Associated Press.

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A fighter jet lands on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

ABOARD THE USS LABOON IN THE RED SEA (AP) — The U.S. Navy prepared for decades to potentially fight the Soviet Union, then later Russia and China, on the world's waterways. But instead of a global power, the Navy finds itself locked in combat with a shadowy, Iran-backed rebel group based in Yemen.

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Crew members work in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Crew members work in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Drawings of drones and missiles that have been shot down are painted on the fuselage of a fighter jet stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Drawings of drones and missiles that have been shot down are painted on the fuselage of a fighter jet stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A fighter jet lands on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A fighter jet lands on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Crew members work in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Crew members work in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Cmdr. Eric Blomberg, the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Cmdr. Eric Blomberg, the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The combat pits the Navy's mission to keep international waterways open against a group whose former arsenal of assault rifles and pickup trucks has grown into a seemingly inexhaustible supply of drones, missiles and other weaponry. Near-daily attacks by the Houthis since November have seen more than 50 vessels clearly targeted, while shipping volume has dropped in the vital Red Sea corridor that leads to the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean.

The Houthis say the attacks are aimed at stopping the war in Gaza and supporting the Palestinians, though it comes as they try to strengthen their position in Yemen. All signs suggest the warfare will intensify — putting U.S. sailors, their allies and commercial vessels at more risk.

“I don't think people really understand just kind of how deadly serious it is what we're doing and how under threat the ships continue to be,” Cmdr. Eric Blomberg with the USS Laboon told the AP on a visit to his warship on the Red Sea.

“We only have to get it wrong once," he said. "The Houthis just have to get one through.”

The pace of the fire can be seen on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, where the paint around the hatches of its missile pods has been burned away from repeated launches. Its sailors sometimes have seconds to confirm a launch by the Houthis, confer with other ships and open fire on an incoming missile barrage that can move near or beyond the speed of sound.

“It is every single day, every single watch, and some of our ships have been out here for seven-plus months doing that," said Capt. David Wroe, the commodore overseeing the guided missile destroyers.

One round of fire on Jan. 9 saw the Laboon, other vessels and F/A-18s from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower shoot down 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis.

Nearly every day — aside from a slowdown during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan — the Houthis launch missiles, drones or some other type of attack in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait that connects the waterways and separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

The Navy saw periods of combat during the “Tanker Wars” of the 1980s in the Persian Gulf, but that largely involved ships hitting mines. The Houthi assaults involve direct attacks on commercial vessels and warships.

“This is the most sustained combat that the U.S. Navy has seen since World War II — easily, no question,” said Bryan Clark, a former Navy submariner and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. “We’re sort of on the verge of the Houthis being able to mount the kinds of attacks that the U.S. can’t stop every time, and then we will start to see substantial damage. … If you let it fester, the Houthis are going to get to be a much more capable, competent, experienced force.”

While the Eisenhower appears to largely stay at a distance, destroyers like the Laboon spend six out of seven days near or off Yemen — the “weapons engagement zone,” in Navy speak.

Sea combat in the Mideast remains risky, something the Navy knows well. In 1987, an Iraqi fighter jet fired missiles that struck the USS Stark, a frigate on patrol in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, killing 37 sailors and nearly sinking the vessel.

There's also the USS Cole, targeted in 2000 by boat-borne al-Qaida suicide bombers during a refueling stop in Yemen's port city of Aden, which killed 17 on board. AP journalists saw the Cole patrolling the Red Sea with the Laboon on Wednesday, the same day the Houthis launched a drone-boat attack against a commercial ship there that disabled the vessel.

Rear Adm. Marc Miguez, the Navy’s commander for its Carrier Strike Group Two, which includes the Eisenhower and supporting ships, said the Navy had taken out one underwater bomb-carrying drone launched by the Houthis as well during the campaign.

“We currently have pretty high confidence that not only is Iran providing financial support, but they’re providing intelligence support,” Miguez said. “We know for a fact the Houthis have also gotten training to target maritime shipping and target U.S. warships.”

Asked if the Navy believed Iran picks targets for the Houthis, Miguez would only say there was “collaboration” between Tehran and the rebels. He also noted Iran continues to arm the Houthis, despite U.N. sanctions blocking weapons transfers to them.

Iran's mission to the United Nations told the AP that Tehran "is adept at thwarting the U.S. strategy in a way that not only strengthens (the Houthis) but also ensures compliance with the pertinent resolutions.”

The risk isn't just on the water. The U.S.-led campaign has carried out numerous airstrikes targeting Houthi positions inside Yemen, including what the U.S. military describes as radar stations, launch sites, arsenals and other locations. One round of U.S. and British strikes on May 30 killed at least 16 people, the deadliest attack acknowledged by the rebels.

The Eisenhower's air crews have dropped over 350 bombs and fired 50 missiles at targets in the campaign, said Capt. Marvin Scott, who oversees all the air group's aircraft. Meanwhile, the Houthis apparently have shot down multiple MQ-9 Reaper drones with surface-to-air missile systems.

“The Houthis also have surface-to-air capabilities that we have significantly degraded, but they are still present and still there,” Scott said. “We're always prepared to be shot at by the Houthis.”

Officers acknowledge some grumbling among their crew, wondering why the Navy doesn't strike harder against the Houthis. The White House hasn't discussed the Houthi campaign at the same level as negotiations over the Israel-Hamas war.

There are several likely reasons. The U.S. has been indirectly trying to lower tensions with Iran, particularly after Tehran launched a massive drone-and-missile attack on Israel and now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

Meanwhile, there's the Houthis themselves. The rebel group has battled a Saudi-led coalition into a stalemate in a wider war that's killed more than 150,000 people, including civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

The U.S. directly fighting the Houthis is something the leaders of the Zaydi Shiite group likely want. Their motto long has been “God is the greatest; death to America; death to Israel; curse the Jews; victory to Islam.” Combating the U.S. and siding publicly with the Palestinians has some in the Mideast praising the rebels.

While the U.S. and European partners patrol the waterways, Saudi Arabia largely has remained quiet, seeking a peace deal with the Houthis. Reports suggest some Mideast nations have asked the U.S. not to launch attacks on the Houthis from their soil, making the Eisenhower's presence even more critical. The carrier has had its deployment extended, while its crew has had only one port call since its deployment a week after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Meanwhile, the Houthi attacks continue to depress shipping through the region. Revenue for Egypt from the Suez Canal — a key source of hard currency for its struggling economy — has halved since the attacks began. AP journalists saw a single commercial ship moving through the once-busy waterway.

“It's almost a ghost town,” Blomberg acknowledged.

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

A fighter jet lands on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A fighter jet lands on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Crew members work in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Crew members work in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Drawings of drones and missiles that have been shot down are painted on the fuselage of a fighter jet stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Drawings of drones and missiles that have been shot down are painted on the fuselage of a fighter jet stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A fighter jet lands on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A fighter jet lands on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, also known as "IKE," in the Red Sea on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Crew members work in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Crew members work in the combat information center of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon sails in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Cmdr. Eric Blomberg, the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Cmdr. Eric Blomberg, the commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon during a deployment in the Red Sea on Wednesday, June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

An HSC-7 helicopter lands on the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Laboon in the Red Sea, Wednesday on June 12, 2024. The U.S.-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels has turned into the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II. That's what its leaders and experts tell The Associated Press, whose journalists visited U.S. ships off Yemen in recent days. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

A United Kingdom-based aid group said one of its senior employees in Gaza was killed Friday in an Israeli strike that hit its warehouse located in an Israeli-declared humanitarian safe zone. The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair Foundation said in a statement.

The Israeli military said Husam Mansour, the Al-Khair Foundation member who was killed, was in fact a senior Hamas militant. Israel said he used his position with the humanitarian group to raise money for Hamas.

After a two-week Israeli offensive in northern Gaza, dozens of bodies were collected throughout Gaza City’s Tel al-Hawa neighborhood and brought to Al-Ahli Hospital on Friday morning. Civil defense workers said they were still recovering dead and wounded from destroyed streets and buildings.

Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,300 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza. Israeli restrictions, fighting and the breakdown of law and order have limited humanitarian aid efforts, causing widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine. The top United Nations court has ordered Israel to take steps to protect Palestinians as it examines genocide allegations against Israeli leaders. Israel denies the charge.

Currently:

— Israeli army acknowledges Oct. 7 failures, including slow response times and disorganization.

— Emergency workers uncover dozens of bodies in a Gaza City district after Israeli assault.

— Argentina designates Hamas a terrorist group in a show of support for Israel.

— Head of U.S. aid agency says Israel has pledged to improve safety for humanitarian workers in Gaza.

— Yemen’s Houthi rebels fired an Iranian missile at ship, debris analyzed by U.S. shows.

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

Here’s the latest:

UNITED NATIONS — The head of the United Nations agency helping Palestinian refugees says a donors conference raised enough money to keep its operations in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon running until the end of September.

Philippe Lazzarini told the pledging conference at its opening Friday morning that the agency known as UNRWA only had funds until the end of August.

At the end of the conference, he told reporters the total amount in pledges wouldn't be known until the following week. But he said he is confident there will be enough new money in its $850 million annual budget to keep the agency running for another month and pay its 30,000 staff who provide education, primary health care and other development activities to about 6 million Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA has been underfunded for years, but 2024 has been dire since Israel alleged that 12 of the agency’s 13,000 workers in Gaza participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack in southern Israel that sparked the ongoing war in Gaza. The agency terminated the contracts of all those employees. Still, 16 countries suspended funding UNRWA, amounting to about $450 million.

Lazzarini told reporters that 14 donors have officially resumed funding and he believes “very soon” a 15th country — the United Kingdom — will come back.

The United States, which was the biggest donor to UNRWA, providing the agency with $340 million in 2022 and several hundred million in 2023, was among the countries halting funding. The U.S. Congress has prohibited any payments to UNRWA until March 25, 2025.

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations chief launched an appeal for the beleaguered U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere in the Middle East, accusing Israel of issuing evacuation orders in the war-torn territory forcing Palestinians “to move like human pinballs across a landscape of destruction and death.”

“Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse in Gaza — somehow, appallingly, civilians are being pushed into ever deeper circles of hell,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the donor’s conference at U.N. headquarters on Friday.

He said the agency, known as UNRWA, faces “a profound funding gap” – and Palestinians are also seeing widening gaps in respect for international humanitarian law, and recognition of their human rights and dignity.

The U.N. is appealing for $1.2 billion to cover critical humanitarian needs in Gaza and the West Bank through the end of the year, UNRWA’s Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said.

“This appeal and the emergency appeal for Syria, Lebanon and Jordan are less than 20% funded,” he said. “The agency’s ability to operate beyond August depends on member states disbursing planned funding and making new contributions to the core budget.”

Guterres said nothing justifies Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel, and “nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

The Hamas attack killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and led to the abduction of about 250 people. Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,300 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Guterres said Israel’s latest evacuation orders in Gaza City have seen more civilian suffering and bloodshed.

“The extreme level of fighting and devastation is incomprehensible and inexcusable — and the level of chaos is affecting every Palestinian in Gaza and all those desperately trying to get aid to them,” he said.

Guterres said UNRWA hasn’t been spared: “195 UNRWA staff members have been killed, the highest staff death toll in U.N. history.”

Despite UNRWA staff being the subject of “increasingly violent protests and virulent misinformation and disinformation campaigns,” the secretary-general said, “They are the backbone of humanitarian operations in Gaza.”

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Health ministry said a 26-year-old Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli forces on Friday near the West Bank city of Ramallah, as ongoing violence roils the Israeli-occupied territory.

Commenting on the shooting, the Israeli army said its forces opened fire at a group of Palestinians who were hurling bricks and “explosive devices” at troops during a military raid into the village of Abwein, 37 kilometers (22 miles) north of Ramallah.

No further information about the shooting was made public. The military later released a photo of what appeared to be a homemade pipe bomb allegedly found at the scene.

Violence has spiked in the West Bank since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza erupted last October. Over 570 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank since then, according to data from the Palestinian Health Ministry.

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — A U.K.-based aid group said one of its employees in Gaza was killed Friday in an Israeli strike that hit its warehouse located inside an Israeli-declared humanitarian safe zone.

“It is with great sadness that we announce the loss of a senior aid worker, Engineer Husam Mansour who was killed in an air strike on a warehouse where essential food items were being prepared for aid distribution,” Al-Khair Foundation said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.

Imam Qasim Rashid Ahmad, the group’s director in London, said the strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse.

The Israeli military said that Mansour was in fact a senior Hamas militant. It said he used his position with the humanitarian group to raise money for Hamas.

The warehouse was located in Muwasi, a largely rural area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians fleeing its offensives to take refuge. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in makeshift tents are crowded in the approximately 60-square-kilometer zone (23 square miles).

Still, Israel has carried out airstrikes inside the zone. The Israeli army did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment on Friday’s strike.

Al-Khair Foundation is an Islamic non-governmental organization based in London and Turkey.

BEIRUT — A Hamas political official said Friday that the Palestinian militant group is still insisting on written guarantees from mediators in the ongoing cease-fire negotiations that Israel will not resume the war after the first group of Israeli hostages held in Gaza are released.

While the two sides have agreed on a general framework for a deal, the main sticking point remains that Hamas wants it to result in a permanent cease-fire, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that any agreement “must allow Israel to return to fighting until all the objectives of the war are achieved.”

Ahmed Abdul-Hadi, the head of Hamas’ political office in Lebanon, said Hamas has been “flexible” on some points but continues to insist that “negotiations should continue for a permanent cease-fire until a permanent cease-fire is reached,” as opposed to the wording in the current proposal, under which the cease-fire should continue as long as negotiations continue.

“Netanyahu can stop the negotiations and thus resume the aggression” at any time, he said. “We want something in writing to ensure that negotiations continue … in order to reach a permanent cease-fire.”

He denied reports that the group’s leadership inside Gaza had pressured political leaders outside to accept the deal on the table due to the military pressure it is facing, saying that the “military situation is very solid for the resistance (Hamas) and is better than the early days of the war.”

Abdul-Hadi said that Hamas does not expect to resume its role as the ruling party in Gaza after the war but wants to see a Palestinian government of technocrats. However, he said the form that future governance in the enclave should take is “a Palestinian matter that is agreed upon by the Palestinian people” and is not on the table in the current negotiations.

“We do not want to rule Gaza alone again in the next phase,” he said. “We want to have a partnership and national consensus.”

Abdul-Hadi said a meeting between Hamas and its main rival, Fatah, is expected to take place in China later this month and that “We hope that this meeting will result in a national consensus.” The meeting was previously scheduled to take place last month but was postponed, with the two sides trading blame for the delay.

Dozens of bodies collected throughout a western neighborhood of Gaza City arrived at Al-Ahli Hospital on Friday morning as Palestinian emergency workers said they continued to unearth the dead throughout the neighborhood’s destroyed streets and buildings.

The hospital’s director, Fadel Naem, told The Associated Press that people both dead and wounded had been brought to the hospital from the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood, transported in groups of up to 10, amid sniper fire and the buzz of helicopters.

Meanwhile, emergency crews from the civil defense were continuing to recover bodies scattered in destroyed streets and buildings, where entire families appear to have been killed by artillery fire and aerial bombardment, Mahmoud Basal, the group’s spokesperson said.

The Israeli army said it could not comment on its activities in the area.

“There are homes that we cannot reach, and there are those who were burned inside their homes,” Basal said, noting many of those who were killed had left nearby shelters after being ordered to evacuate.

In recent months, Israel has intensified operations in various neighborhoods of Gaza City, including the Shati refugee camp and the Shijaiyah district, and has issued multiple evacuation orders in the north of the territory.

The scenes in Tel al-Hawa mirror those in other Gaza City neighborhoods from which Israel’s military has withdrawn in recent days. On Thursday, civil defense workers found 60 bodies in Shijaiyah under similar circumstances, with more believed to be buried under rubble.

JERUSALEM — Israel’s military said Friday that one of its soldiers was killed in combat in northern Israel as the country’s army and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah continue to trade cross-border fire.

The military did not specify how the 33-year-old sergeant was killed.

The Iranian-backed group and Israel have been trading near daily exchanges of fire since the Israel-Hamas war broke out last year.

Hezbollah says it is striking Israel in solidarity with Hamas, another Iran-allied group that ignited the war in Gaza with its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. The group’s leadership says it will stop its attacks once there is a cease-fire in Gaza, and that while it does not want war, it is ready for one.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden acknowledged disappointments, missteps and frustrations with Israel’s hard-right government Thursday, but pointed to increased hopes now of a cease-fire to end the Israel-Hamas war devastating the lives of Gaza’s people.

Biden looked back over the course of his efforts in Israel’s war against Hamas during a much-watched press conference at the site of the just ended NATO summit.

He called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government the most conservative Israeli administration he had experienced, and said he had urged Israeli leaders not to follow the example that the U.S. set against al-Qaida and other extremist militant groups. “’Don’t think that’s what you should be doing, doubling-down,”’ he recounted telling them.

He said he had been “disappointed” his order for the U.S. military to build a pier to bring aid by sea to Gaza, along with some other efforts, “have not succeeded as well.”

But Biden said Israel and Hamas had now both agreed to the broad terms of a deal to pause fighting and free hostages, and said that made prospects brighter now. Mediators were helping work on gaps in agreement, he said.

Israeli soldiers sit on their vehicle near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israeli soldiers sit on their vehicle near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An Israeli tank maneuvers near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An Israeli tank maneuvers near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An Israeli tank maneuvers near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An Israeli tank maneuvers near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An Israeli tank maneuvers near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An Israeli tank maneuvers near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

In this image taken from video, Palestinians returned to scenes of destruction in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood on Thursday, July 11, 2024, after Israeli troops withdrew following a two-week offensive. (AP Photo)

In this image taken from video, Palestinians returned to scenes of destruction in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood on Thursday, July 11, 2024, after Israeli troops withdrew following a two-week offensive. (AP Photo)

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

In this image taken from video, Palestinians returned to scenes of destruction in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood on Thursday, July 11, 2024, after Israeli troops withdrew following a two-week offensive. (AP Photo)

In this image taken from video, Palestinians returned to scenes of destruction in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood on Thursday, July 11, 2024, after Israeli troops withdrew following a two-week offensive. (AP Photo)

A Palestinian man holds the body of his child killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, at a hospital morgue in Deir al-Balah, Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

A Palestinian man holds the body of his child killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, at a hospital morgue in Deir al-Balah, Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

An Israeli soldier dismounts from his tank near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An Israeli soldier dismounts from his tank near the Israel-Gaza border in southern Israel, Friday, July 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

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