First aid boat nears Gaza as war drags into Ramadan

The first Gaza-bound food shipment along a new maritime corridor was visible off the besieged territory's coast, an AFP journalist said, as Palestinians gathered for the first Friday prayers of Ramadan.

AFP footage showed the Open Arms, which set sail from Cyprus on Tuesday, towing a barge that the Spanish charity operating it says is loaded with 200 tonnes of food for Gazans threatened with famine after more than five months of war.

The Hamas-ruled territory's health ministry said Israeli fire had earlier killed 20 people waiting to receive aid. Israel rejected this, saying "armed Palestinians" opened fire on civilians.

Witnesses as well as Israeli and Hamas officials reported air strikes and fighting in Khan Yunis, the southern Gaza Strip's main city, as well as areas of the north where humanitarian conditions have been particularly dire.

As Muslim worshippers marked the first Friday of the fasting month, AFP photographers saw Palestinians in the occupied West Bank waiting to cross Israeli checkpoints to reach Jerusalem's revered Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

With tensions soaring over the Gaza war, Israel has said thousands of police would be deployed across the Old City in annexed east Jerusalem ahead of the expected mass prayers.

Mediators hoping to secure a new truce and hostage release deal have received Hamas's response to the latest proposal, a source from the Palestinian militant group told AFP, stressing demands for a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and increased aid flow.

The source said Hamas — whose Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel triggered the war — showed "flexibility" in talks with Qatari and Egyptian mediators, accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of obstructing an agreement.

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