The Latest | Families of hostages held in Gaza launch a 4-day march to demand their freedom


The families of hostages held in Gaza and their supporters are launching a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free.

The march comes as negotiations are underway in Qatar to bring about a deal between Hamas and Israel that would lead to a cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages. U.S. President Joe Biden has said such a deal was at hand but officials from Israel and Hamas were skeptical of his optimism.

Negotiators from the U.S., Egypt and Qatar are working on a framework deal under which Hamas would free some of the dozens of hostages it holds, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a six-week halt in fighting. During the temporary pause, negotiations would continue over the release of the remaining hostages.

The war has unleashed a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and sparked global concern over the situation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety from Israel’s daily bombardments.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed after almost five months of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry, which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence.

The war began after Hamas-led militants stormed across southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 others hostage.


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— Qatar’s emir to discuss Gaza and hostages with Macron during a state visit to France.

— Biden implores Congress to avoid a government shutdown, send urgent aid to Ukraine and Israel.

— Find more of AP’s coverage at

Here’s the latest:

TEL AVIV, Israel — The families of hostages held in Gaza and their supporters are launching a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free.

The march comes as negotiations are underway in Qatar to bring about a deal between Hamas and Israel that would lead to a cease-fire in exchange for the release of hostages. U.S. President Joe Biden has said such a deal was at hand but officials from Israel and Hamas were skeptical of his optimism.

Hostages freed in a late-November deal, some of whom still have relatives held in Gaza, are joining the march Wednesday. The march will end near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later this week.

In its Oct. 7 attack, Hamas abducted roughly 250 people, according to Israeli authorities, including men, women, children and older adults. Roughly 100 were freed about 50 days into their captivity. Some 130 hostages remain and Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.

The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault.

UNITED NATIONS – At least one quarter of Gaza’s population – 576,000 people – are one step away from famine, and virtually the entire 2.3 million population needs food, a top U.N. humanitarian official says.

And as grim as the picture is now, U.N. humanitarian coordinator Ramesh Ramasingham told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that “there is every possibility for further deterioration.”

He said one in six children under the age of two in northern Gaza — the initial target of Israel’s offensive following Hamas’ surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7 – are suffering from “acute malnutrition and wasting,” where the body becomes emaciated from a lack of nutrition.

Ramasingham said the rest of Gaza’s population is relying on “woefully inadequate humanitarian food assistance to survive.”

He reiterated the U.N.’s urgent call for a cease-fire. If nothing is done, he said, humanitarian officials fear “widespread famine in Gaza is almost inevitable,” and many more people will die.

He said Israeli military operations, insecurity, extensive restrictions on the entry and delivery of essential goods including food, water and medicine, have decimated food production and agriculture. These factors have also crippled the commercial sector which was a key provider of daily needs in Gaza, he said.

At this stage, he said, “very little will be possible” as long as the fighting keeps going and as an Israeli offensive into southern Gaza looms. Some 1.4 million people who fled the fighting have taken refuge in the area around Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza. Israel has vowed to push into Rafah, which it calls a Hamas stronghold.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Two infants died from dehydration and malnutrition at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza City, said the spokesman for Gaza’s Health Ministry, Ashraf al-Qidra. He warned that infant mortality threatens to surge.

“Dehydration and malnutrition will kill thousands of children and pregnant women in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

The U.N. Population Fund said the Al Helal Al Emirati maternity hospital in Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah reported that newborns were dying because mothers were unable to get prenatal or postnatal care.

Premature births are also rising, forcing staff to put four or five newborns in a single incubator. Most of them do not survive, it said, without giving figures on the numbers of deaths.

PARIS — The emir of Qatar spoke Tuesday of “a race against time” to secure hostage releases as part of the diplomatic push for a cease-fire in Gaza in which his country is playing a key role.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani spoke during a state visit to France at a dinner in his honor hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron. Al Thani noted that their two countries are working intensely on Gaza diplomacy but also spoke soberingly about the mounting casualties.

“The world sees a genocide of the Palestinian people. Hunger, forced displacement, savage bombardments are used as weapons. And the international community still hasn’t managed to adopt a unified position to end the war in Gaza and provide the strict minimum of protection for children, women and civilians,” the Qatari leader said, speaking through a translator.

South Africa accuses Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians, and has filed a case at the United Nations’ top court. Israel adamantly denies the genocide allegations and says it is carrying out operations in accordance with international law.

“We are in a race against time to bring the hostages back to their families and at the same time we must work to put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people,” Al Thani said.

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says an anti-tank missile launched from Lebanon has landed “in the area” of an air-control installation in northern Israel.

The army says the strike did not harm the site’s capabilities. It says it is now striking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

The army says it detected a total of 20 launches from Lebanon on Tuesday. It says some were intercepted by air defense systems while others landed in open areas.

Hezbollah claimed two strikes on the Meron air control installation Tuesday, the first of which it said was in retaliation for Israel’s strikes on the Baalbek area deep inside Lebanese territory on Monday.

The militant group claimed the second strike “led to the damage and complete destruction” of some of the facility’s “technical and espionage equipment.”

Both sides’ battlefield claims could not be independently verified.

Israel and the Lebanese militant group have been exchanging fire almost daily since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted on Oct. 7. Israel’s defense minister this week vowed to step up the attacks on Hezbollah.

LONDON — Jordan said it air-dropped humanitarian aid directly into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the latest relief drop orchestrated by the country’s military during the war.

Three C-130 cargo planes from the Jordanian air force took part alongside one plane each from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France.

The packages contained “relief and food aid” and were released by planes flying at low altitude above Gaza’s Mediterranean shoreline, the Jordanian military said in a statement. One aircraft brought medical supplies and fuel to a Jordanian-run field hospital in southern Gaza.

Videos posted on social media showed crowds eagerly gathered along the beach in Gaza, and aid packages dangling from parachutes slowly descending into the water offshore. A few Palestinians paddled out in small boats to retrieve the aid and distribute it to people waiting on shore, many of them children.

Last week, a Jordanian Air Force plane delivered a U.K.-funded aid shipment directly to a hospital in northern Gaza.

Most humanitarian aid for Gaza goes through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. The United Nations says 138 truckloads of aid entered Gaza on Tuesday. Aid groups said they’ve faced a cumbersome inspection process that allows only a trickle of aid to enter even as needs mounted. Israel says the inspections are needed for security reasons.

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