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The Latest | Germany will resume working with UN relief agency for Palestinians after a review

Germany said Wednesday that it plans to follow several other countries in resuming cooperation with the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians in Gaza after the publication of an independent review of its neutrality.

The head of the Arab League hailed the report, saying it showed that Israel’s allegations were baseless and part of a “systematic campaign” meant to end the mandate of the agency.

Israel says that hundreds of UNRWA workers are members of Palestinian militant groups, and claims the report understated the problem. Its allegations led to the suspension of contributions to UNRWA by the United States and more than a dozen other countries.

Also Wednesday, the Israeli military said it is redeploying two reserve brigades from Israel’s northern border to Gaza for “defensive and tactical missions,” as it prepares for an offensive in Rafah, which Israel describes as Hamas’ last stronghold in the territory.

More than half of the territory’s population of 2.3 million have sought refuge in Rafah.

The U.S. Senate passed a $26 billion aid package late Tuesday that includes around $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, which experts say is on the brink of famine, as well as billions for Israel. President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

The Israel-Hamas war was sparked by the unprecedented Oct. 7 raid into southern Israel in which the militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 hostages. Israel says the militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

The war in Gaza has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, around two-thirds of them children and women.

Currently:

— U.N. calls for investigation into mass graves uncovered at two Gaza hospitals raided by Israel

— U.S. Senate passes spending package with $26 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and military aid for Israel

— Satellite photos suggest Iran air defense radar struck during apparent Israeli attack on Isfahan

— Students across the United States are upping their Gaza war protests

— Nepal asks visiting Qatari emir to help free Nepali student held hostage by Hamas

Here is the latest:

BEIRUT — Israel’s air force carried out a series of airstrikes on border areas in southern Lebanon Wednesday hours after Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah said it fired dozens of rockets in retaliation for strikes a day earlier that killed two civilians.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV reported as many as 14 airstrikes Wednesday on the outskirts of the border villages of Aita al-Shaab and Ramia.

Israel’s military spokesman said they are striking at Hezbollah targets in south Lebanon, adding that details will follow later.

Hezbollah earlier said that it fired dozens of rockets at the northern Israeli village of Shomera in retaliation for an airstrike the day before that killed a woman and a 10-year-old girl and also wounded six people.

Hezbollah also said that it fired two missiles at a building in the northern Israeli village of Avivim saying Israeli troops were taking positions inside it.

CAIRO – Egyptian authorities have arrested around two dozen activists who held a protest outside a U.N. facility in Cairo in solidarity with Palestinians in war-torn Gaza, a rights lawyer said Wednesday.

Lawyer Khaled Ali said at least 18 activists, mostly women, were arrested Tuesday when police forces broke up the protest outside the regional office of the U.N. women’s agency in Cairo’s district of Maadi.

There was no comment from the government.

The protesters called for the protection of women in Gaza amid Israel’s monthslong war on Hamas. They were also voicing solidarity for civilians in Sudan, which has been plunged into a destructive war between rival generals since April last year.

Among those detained were prominent rights lawyers Mahinour el-Masry and Ragia Omran, and activists Rasha Azab and Iman Ouf, Ali said. A couple of bystanders were also detained when police forces dispersed the protest, he added.

Though Egypt’s government has condemned Israel’s campaign in Gaza, it has largely banned public protests against the war. Criticism of the country’s ties with Israel, with which it signed a peace accord in 1979, is highly sensitive.

Earlier this month, security forces arrested 10 activists who participated in a pro-Palestinian protest. They were later released.

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says its forces shot dead a Palestinian woman after she allegedly ran toward Israeli soldiers with a knife in the southern West Bank on Wednesday.

The military said the incident took place at Okfim junction near the Palestinian city of Hebron. No soldiers were injured in the attempted stabbing.

Palestinian authorities identified the slain woman as 20-year-old Maimuna Harahsheh.

Violence has surged in the West Bank since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7., when Hamas militants from Gaza broke into southern Israel, killing 1,200 people.

Rights groups and Palestinians say Israeli forces use excessive force against Palestinian suspects, a problem they say has worsened since the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted.

Since October, at least 487 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank, the Ramallah-based Health Ministry says.

Many Palestinians have been shot dead in armed clashes, some in attempted stabbing attacks, and others for throwing stones at troops. Several appear to have been shot dead while posing no apparent threat.

CAIRO — The head of the Arab League on Wednesday hailed the conclusion of an independent review of the neutrality of the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians.

Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the wide-ranging 48-page report by the independent panel showed that Israel’s allegations were baseless and part of a “systematic campaign” meant to end the mandate of the agency, known as UNRWA.

The report, which was released earlier this week, found that Israel had never expressed concern about anyone on the staff lists it has received annually since 2011.

It said UNRWA has “robust” procedures to uphold the U.N. principle of neutrality, but it cited serious gaps in implementation.

Israel says that hundreds of UNRWA workers are members of Palestinian militant groups. Its allegations led to the suspension of contributions to UNRWA by the United States and more than a dozen other countries, but some have resumed contributions. Israel says the report ignored the severity of the problem.

In a statement, Aboul Gheit urged all countries that suspended funding to resume financial assistance for UNRWA which helps 6 million Palestinians. He said a review of these countries’ position is a “humanitarian necessity and a moral duty,” specifically urged UNRWA’s largest donor, the U.S., to reconsider.

TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli military said it is deploying two reserve brigades for missions in the Gaza Strip.

Wednesday’s announcement came as Israel prepared for a ground invasion of Rafah, the southern Gaza city that Israel says is Hamas’ last major stronghold.

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million is sheltering in the city, and an offensive there has raised international concern over the potential harm to civilians. Israel has been gradually reducing the number of troops it has in the territory, but officials have said that was with the aim of regrouping as the army prepares to move into Rafah.

Israel considers an invasion there necessary to meet its war aim of destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities.

In a statement Wednesday, the Israeli military said the brigades would be involved in “defensive and tactical missions” in Gaza, without elaborating. It said the soldiers have been studying the main lessons from the fighting in Gaza ahead of their deployment.

The military said the brigades had previously been operating along Israel’s northern border, where the militant group Hezbollah and Israeli forces have been exchanging fire throughout the war in Gaza.

BERLIN – Germany said Wednesday it plans to follow several other countries in resuming cooperation with the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians in Gaza after the publication of an independent review of its neutrality.

Germany’s foreign and development aid ministries said in a joint statement Wednesday that the recommendations of the report “must now be implemented promptly.”

Among those recommendations were stronger oversight of UNRWA’s leadership and greater international involvement in supporting the agency as it addresses neutrality issues.

The German statement said that “against this background and accompanying these reforms, the German government will shortly continue cooperation with UNRWA in Gaza, as Australia, Canada, Sweden and Japan, for example, already have done.”

It said that Germany will consult closely with its “closest international partners” on the payment of further funds. Germany is a staunch ally of Israel.

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