Aid from new pier off Gaza should be distributed this weekend, while pressure grows on Netanyahu

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DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip -- The first distribution of badly needed aid is expected to begin this weekend after rolling off a newly built U.S. pier off the coast of Gaza, even as aid workers warn much more access is needed to the besieged territory where famine might be under way.

Israeli restrictions and heavy fighting in the war against the Hamas militant group — now in its eighth month — have left residents in parts of Gaza scrounging for weeds and animal feed, skipping meals and living on pale diets of bread. Deliveries to the territory that long has largely relied on humanitarian aid are still far from the average of about 500 trucks that entered daily before the war.

United Nations officials have not said where the truckloads of food would be distributed after arriving Friday and being stored in central Deir al-Balah.

U.S. military officials anticipate the pier operation could reach 150 truckloads a day. Risks include attacks, logistical hurdles and a growing shortage of fuel.

The Israeli blockade of Gaza began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and took 250 others hostage. Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza, local health officials say, while hundreds more have been killed in the occupied West Bank.

On Saturday, at least five police officers were killed in an Israeli strike on a car in the Nuseirat refugee camp, medical officials said. They were taken to a hospital in Deir al-Balah and counted by Associated Press journalists. The police are a civilian force distinct from Hamas’ military wing.

Overnight, at least three people were killed in a strike that hit a house in the Barbara refugee camp in the southernmost city of Rafah, according to the Kuwaiti Hospital. The hospital said in the last 24 hours it had received the bodies of six people killed in Israeli strikes. The military said it remained active in eastern Rafah.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said one person was killed when an Israeli strike hit the city of Jenin on Friday night. The Israeli army said it struck a militant command center and killed Islam Khamaysa. He was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander in Jenin, according to the militant group and the army.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under growing pressure on multiple fronts. Hard-liners in his government want the military offensive on Rafah to press ahead with the goal of crushing Hamas. Top ally the U.S. and others have warned against the offensive on a city where more than half of Gaza's population of 2.3 million had sheltered — hundreds of thousands have now fled — and they have threatened to scale back support over Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

The U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will be in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend to discuss the war and is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu, who has declared that Israel would “stand alone” if needed.

Many Israelis, anguished over the hostages and accusing Netanyahu of putting political interests ahead of all else, want a deal to stop the fighting and get them freed. There was fresh frustration Friday when the military said its troops in Gaza found the bodies of three hostages killed by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack.

The latest talks in pursuit of a cease-fire, mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, have brought little. A vision beyond the war is also uncertain. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of the three-member War Cabinet, in the past week openly said he has repeatedly pleaded with the Cabinet to decide on a postwar vision for Gaza that would see the creation of a new Palestinian civilian leadership.

Meanwhile, fighting recently erupted again in places Israel had targeted in the early days of the war and said it had under control, notably in northern Gaza.

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Jeffery reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Sam Mednick in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.

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

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