ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Dec. 24: Herzog says slide toward ‘toxic’ pre-October 7 disunity harming war effort

IDF reportedly investigating after Hamas claims dozens killed in airstrike * Israel said mulling letting Hamas chiefs live to end war, free hostages * Ground op toll surges to 154

  • Activists demonstrate against unnecessary government offices outside the Ministry of the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience in Jerusalem, December 24, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
    Activists demonstrate against unnecessary government offices outside the Ministry of the Negev, Galilee and National Resilience in Jerusalem, December 24, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
  • Family and friends attend the funeral of Israeli soldier Staff.-Sgt. Gal Hershko in Kibbutz Yiftah, on the border with Lebanon on December 24, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
    Family and friends attend the funeral of Israeli soldier Staff.-Sgt. Gal Hershko in Kibbutz Yiftah, on the border with Lebanon on December 24, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
  • IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo released December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo released December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A screenshot from a video of a large Hamas tunnel network found in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya camp and revealed by the IDF on December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
    A screenshot from a video of a large Hamas tunnel network found in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya camp and revealed by the IDF on December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo released December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo released December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • IDF soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip on December 22 and 23, 2023: Top L-R: Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Issachar Farhi, Master Sgt. (res.) Eliyahu Meir Ohana, Sgt. First Class (res.) Elyassaf Shoshan, Sgt. First Class (res.) Ohad Ashur, Staff Sgt. Roy Elias; middle: Staff Sgt. David Bogdanovskyi, Staff Sgt. Orel Bashan, Staff Sgt. Itamar Shemen, Staff Sgt. Gal Hershko, Cpt. Oshri Moshe Butzhak; bottom: Warrant Officer (res.) Alexander Shpits, Master Sgt. (res.) Shay Termin, Staff Sgt. Birhanu Kassie, Staff Sgt. Nir Rafael Kananian. (Courtesy)
    IDF soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip on December 22 and 23, 2023: Top L-R: Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Issachar Farhi, Master Sgt. (res.) Eliyahu Meir Ohana, Sgt. First Class (res.) Elyassaf Shoshan, Sgt. First Class (res.) Ohad Ashur, Staff Sgt. Roy Elias; middle: Staff Sgt. David Bogdanovskyi, Staff Sgt. Orel Bashan, Staff Sgt. Itamar Shemen, Staff Sgt. Gal Hershko, Cpt. Oshri Moshe Butzhak; bottom: Warrant Officer (res.) Alexander Shpits, Master Sgt. (res.) Shay Termin, Staff Sgt. Birhanu Kassie, Staff Sgt. Nir Rafael Kananian. (Courtesy)
  • Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in the Naqura area of southern Lebanon following Israeli strikes on December 24, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
    Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in the Naqura area of southern Lebanon following Israeli strikes on December 24, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)
  • Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
    Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
  • An Israeli army self-propelled artillery howitzer fires rounds from a position near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on December 24, 2023. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
    An Israeli army self-propelled artillery howitzer fires rounds from a position near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on December 24, 2023. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The Times of Israel is liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.

Aussie cricket captain backs player’s Gaza messages on shoes, bat

Australia's Usman Khawaja celebrates his century during their test match against Pakistan in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Australia's Usman Khawaja celebrates his century during their test match against Pakistan in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Australian cricket captain Pat Cummins is backing star opener Usman Khawaja over bid to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was “not offensive”.

Khawaja has been denied permission by the International Cricket Council to have a sticker showing a black dove holding an olive branch on his bat and shoes during the second Test against Pakistan.

The 36-year-old, a Muslim, was stopped from wearing shoes emblazoned with the hand-written slogans “Freedom is a human right” and “All lives are equal” during the first Test in Perth.

The Council said they flouted its rules on messages that relate to politics, religion or race.

“We really support Uzzy. He’s standing up for what he believes and I think he’s done it really respectfully,” Cummins tells reporters on the eve of the Test in Melbourne.

“As I said last week, ‘All lives are equal’, I don’t think that’s very offensive and I’d say the same about the dove,” he adds. “That’s Uzzy. I think he can really hold his head high with the way he’s gone about it.”

But he adds that the International Cricket Council is unlikely to okay the message.

“They make up the rules and you’ve got to accept it.”

Treasury said to recommend shutting 10 unnecessary ministries to cover budget shortfalls

The Finance Ministry has reportedly recommended closing 10 superfluous government ministries to cover a wartime budget shortfall of NIS 70 billion ($20 billion), alongside a list of other potential measures.

According to Channel 12 news, the ministries targeted by the treasury are:

  • The Settlements and National Missions Ministry, headed by Orit Strock.
  • The Jerusalem and Jewish Tradition Ministry, helmed by Meir Porush.
  • The Intelligence Ministry, headed by Gila Gamliel.
  • The Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, headed by Yitzhak Wasserlauf.
  • The Regional Cooperation Ministry, helmed by David Amsalem.
  • The Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality Ministry, led by Amichai Chikli.
  • The Strategic Affairs Ministry, headed by Ron Dermer.
  • The Heritage Ministry, led by Amichai Eliyahu.
  • The Advancement of the Status of Women Ministry, helmed by May Golan.

According to the report, the Finance Ministry is also recommending cutting NIS 5 billion ($1.4 billion) off coalition funds — money going to party’s political demands — nixing subsidies on gas prices, hiking taxes on cigarettes, and further taxing benefits in advanced study funds.

If there is no other choice, the treasury could reportedly recommended raising the VAT tax attached to virtually all consumer goods, which currently stands at 17%.

IDF strikes cell approaching Israel-Lebanon border, as tit-for-tat attacks continue

The IDF says it struck a cell approaching the Israeli border near the Lebanese village of Ayta ash-Shab earlier.

Shortly afterward, two projectiles were fired from Lebanon at the Avivim area.

There are no reports of injuries in the attack.

The IDF says it struck the source of the fire.

The IDF also says tanks shelled a Hezbollah position near Yaroun in southern Lebanon.

Hamas health authorities claim 70 dead in airstrike in central Gaza

Palestinian health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza claim at least 70 people have been killed in an Israeli airstrike in the center of the Strip, in the Maghazi camp, east of Deir al-Balah.

If true, it is one of the deadliest strikes since the war was sparked by the terror group’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel, which triggered a fierce bombing campaign and ground offensive.

The Al-Jazeera satellite channel broadcasts footage of frantic Palestinians, including emergency workers, picking through several gutted buildings.

The Hamas-run health ministry says at least 70 people have been killed. The toll cannot be independently verified, and the ministry has been accused in the past of inflating casualty numbers.

There is also no immediate information about whether the victims are civilians or linked to armed groups. Hamas-controlled health authorities never divulge this information.

There is no immediate comment from the IDF.

‘Thinking of Palestine, of Israel’: Pope’s Christmas addresses overshadowed by war

Pope Francis presides over the Christmas Eve mass at  St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on December 24, 2023. (Tiziana FABI / AFP)
Pope Francis presides over the Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on December 24, 2023. (Tiziana FABI / AFP)

Pope Francis appeals for peace while kicking off Christmas celebrations with a mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica, as the Israel-Hamas war rages in the Gaza Strip.

“Tonight, our hearts are in Bethlehem, where the Prince of Peace is once more rejected by the futile logic of war, by the clash of arms that even today prevents him from finding room in the world,” the pope tells some 6,500 faithful who attend the traditional service.

Francis’s address never mentions Israel or Gaza by name, but he makes numerous references to violence and war.

Arguing that justice will not come “from a show of force,” the pontiff says Jesus “does not eliminate injustice from above by a show of force, but from below, by a show of love.”

“He does not burst on the scene with limitless power,” he says.

During his weekly Angelus prayer earlier today, the pope said that “we are close to our brothers and sisters who are suffering from war — we are thinking of Palestine, of Israel, of Ukraine.”

Oct. 7 victim Shani Gabay was buried with another woman in error; family thought she was abducted

Shani Gabay (Courtesy)
Shani Gabay (Courtesy)

The brother of Shani Gabay, a woman who was killed by Hamas terrorists at the Supernova rave on October 7, reveals that she was initially buried by mistake together with another victim, leading the family to think for weeks that she had been kidnapped, before investigators managed by chance to identify the error.

Speaking to the Ynet news site, Aviel Gabay reveals gruesome details about his sister’s death that led to the error. He recounts how her distinct necklace and advanced DNA testing led to the family getting a belated closure, and expresses anger over the mishap.

Gabay’s death was publicly confirmed 47 days after she went missing.

CONTENT WARNING: GRAPHIC DETAILS

Aviel Gabay says Shani managed to escape several attacks at the festival with gunshot injuries, before she and several others hid in an abandoned ambulance. That ambulance was then hit by an RPG fired by Hamas terrorists, killing them.

She then went missing, and her family got no information about where she was, Aviel Gabay tells Ynet. Assuming she had been kidnapped to Gaza, the family became active in the forums of families of hostages and missing.

Then, one day, officials knocked on their door, he says. “They admitted they had made a big mistake and that they had buried Shani on the first week of the war together with another young woman, whom Shani hadn’t even known.

“I understood from the cops that they had found a charred necklace shaped like a half-moon, about a month after the murder, checked it for DNA and found a high concentration of DNA matching Shani’s,” he says.

“They also found a low concentration of DNA belonging to another woman on the necklace. They contacted the other family, asking them to open up the grave. The family agreed — and we are very grateful for that — and they then took the body they found in the grave for a CT test, and discovered two skulls. A dentist then carried out an examination on the two girls, and clearly found that there were teeth belonging to Shani.

“When they buried her for the first time, they didn’t do thorough and comprehensive checks like we would have expected them to do. Probably, as a result of the RPG missile, the ambulance burned and both bodies were found attached to one another,” he says, adding that the family was then finally able to bury Shani.

“Our feeling is that there was a giant failure,” says Aviel. “I am angry at whomever checked the bodies and was responsible for the burial. Someone was negligent. I know they did hard work and saw horrors that make it hard to sleep, but still — when burying a body, I expect there to be not 100%, but a million-percent certainty that you know who is being buried. It is unacceptable that they buried a burnt body and a dentist didn’t conduct the elementary check.

“Had the necklace not been found… we would have continued to believe she was kidnapped and missing,” he says, adding that authorities must ensure no other such cases have occurred.

Police comment that “the Israel Police shared the immense grief of the Gabay family and regrets the distress” caused to its members.

President Herzog slams political infighting during wartime, says enemy ‘celebrating’

President Isaac Herzog attends a ceremony in which Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron's tenure is extended for another 5-year term, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, December 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)
President Isaac Herzog attends a ceremony in which Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron's tenure is extended for another 5-year term, at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, December 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)

In a primetime address, President Isaac Herzog laments the growing military death toll as part of the ongoing ground offensive in Gaza, and lambastes political infighting that serves Israel’s enemies.

“The enemy is waiting to see chasms among us, for us to start fighting with one another. It sees the confrontations, the ego battles and the political headbutting,” Herzog says, appearing to refer to proliferating verbal attacks by politicians against other politicians and military officials. “It celebrates every time disagreement drives us apart.”

“We must not return to the discourse of October 6, of us and them,” Herzog says, referring to the deep societal divisions that raged earlier this year over the hardline government’s judicial overhaul, before Hamas’s October 7 massacres temporarily drove Israelis to unite.

“We must not return to toxic discourse online. Anyone who returns us to the discourse of October 6 harms the war effort and citizens’ security,” he adds.

“I am directly addressing the leadership and anyone acting in the public and political spheres, and demanding that you stop. Show responsibility, restrain yourselves and wait a little longer with the political campaigns and messages.”

Netanyahu reported to tell ministers: If we don’t ensure humanitarian aid, whole world will be against us

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military HQ in Tel Aviv on December 24, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military HQ in Tel Aviv on December 24, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Channel 12 reports further quotes from this morning’s cabinet meeting, when several ministers criticized the handling of the war amid the rising toll of fallen IDF soldiers.

Nir Barkat, the economy minister and a would-be Likud party leader and PM: “The number of Air Force bombardments has fallen dramatically. Soldiers are being sent to booby-trapped buildings like [sitting] ducks.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu: “The fact that you keep saying this doesn’t make it true. There are operational considerations.”

Barkat: “No consideration can justify our endangering the lives of our soldiers for some imaginary morality…”

Ministers also complained that IDF chief Herzi Halevi was not present to update them.

David Amsalem, a junior justice minister: “Where is the chief of staff? He hasn’t been here for two and a half months.”

Cabinet secretary Yossi Fuchs: “He came to the meeting that dealt with the deal to release hostages.”

Tourism Minister Haim Katz: “He hasn’t been since, to give an update, to give explanations.”

Amsalem: “Ultimately, the government is the forum that makes the decisions. This is the forum from which the other [smaller cabinet] bodies operate.”

Netanyahu (to Fuchs): “Please convey the ministers’ comments to the chief of staff. It would be appropriate for him to participate. This is the government of Israel.”

Channel 12 quotes a senior security source saying in response that “Halevi is running the war; comes to cabinet meetings; comes to meetings of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; sends senior representatives…”

The ministers also argue over humanitarian aid entering Gaza:

Netanyahu: “We don’t directly provide them with fuel; it enters via other means.”

National Missions Minister Orit Strock: “That’s precisely the problem. Maybe the Shin Bet should distribute the food, so that Hamas won’t seize it.”

National Resilience Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf: “How can it be that we send in humanitarian aid without them considering our hostages?”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir: “In the north of the Strip, they didn’t get food and fuel and the number of IDF fallen was not as large as it is now. It’s part of their ammunition. There needs to be a reassessment.”

Netanyahu: “There are countries [whose positions] we have to take into account. If we don’t do that, eventually there’ll be a UN decision to impose a blockade on us. The whole world will be against us.”

Report: Israel mulling not killing Hamas chiefs, deporting them to free hostages, end war

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)
Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

Israel is reportedly weighing an option of not killing Hamas leaders in Gaza Yahya Sinwar and Muhammad Deif, if and when the opportunity arises, handing them immunity of sorts and deporting them to Qatar or another country as part of a solution that would secure the release of all hostages held in Gaza and end the war against the terror group.

The Kan public broadcaster, citing several unnamed Israeli sources, reports that the security and political leadership have been discussing such an option, though there is no concrete proposal on the table at this time.

Stressing that this is a long-term option that isn’t relevant right now, Kan cites a source saying any such plan must not harm the stated goal of dismantling Hamas’s leadership and military capabilities.

Another source is quoted as saying that “deporting the Hamas leadership abroad doesn’t contradict the war goals.”

IDF reveals massive Hamas tunnel network in Gaza’s Jabaliya, where it found 5 hostages’ bodies

A screenshot from a video of a large Hamas tunnel network found in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya camp and revealed by the IDF on December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
A screenshot from a video of a large Hamas tunnel network found in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya camp and revealed by the IDF on December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF reveals a large Hamas tunnel network in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya camp, where the bodies of five Israeli hostages were recovered earlier this month.

Troops of the 551st Brigade and Military Intelligence’s Unit 504 led the operation to retrieve the bodies of soldiers Warrant Officer Ziv Dado, Cpl. Nik Beizer and Sgt. Ron Sherman, and civilians Elia Toledano and Eden Zacharia.

The IDF had intelligence of two bodies of hostages being in the Jabaliya camp area, and located tunnel shafts during their scans.

The shafts, investigated by troops, including the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit, revealed a massive tunnel network with two levels and an elevator heading down dozens of meters to a large hall and command center.

The IDF says the network had many branches used by Hamas to fight, including some tunnels going underneath a nearby school and hospital. One of the shafts led to the home of the former commander of Hamas’s northern Gaza brigade, Ahmed Ghandour, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike.

The entire network was around a square kilometer in size.

Weapons and infrastructure used to manufacture weapons were also found in the tunnel, the IDF says.

The first two bodies, of Dado and Zacharia, were found on December 13, and three days later, the other three, Beizer, Sherman and Toledano, were located in a different area of the tunnel network.

The IDF says it has shown the families of the hostages the army’s investigation into the operation to retrieve their bodies.

The massive tunnel network was destroyed several days ago by the IDF, after it completed its scans of the area.

Netanyahu’s wife urges Pope Francis to demand release of all hostages in Gaza

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, November 22, 2023. (AP Photo/ Andrew Medichini)
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, November 22, 2023. (AP Photo/ Andrew Medichini)

Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, writes an open letter to Pope Francis, asking him for his “personal intervention” in the plight of the 129 hostages held by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza since being kidnapped by Hamas on October 7.

“Your Holiness, I ask for your personal intervention in this matter. Please use your influence to demand the unconditional release all the hostages without delay,” she writes. “Please also call on the Red Cross to demand to visit all the hostages at once and deliver them vital medicine. So far, the Red Cross has failed to insist on these deliverables. You intervention could tilt the balance and save precious lives.”

Netanyahu specifically highlights the plight of 25-year-old abductee Noa Argamani, whose kidnapping was captured in harrowing video footage.

“Noa was snatched from a peaceful music festival that turned into a Hamas-perpetrated bloodbath. The terror in her eyes, captured on camera during her abduction, is palpable,” she says.

“Noa’s mother, born in China, is battling stage four brain cancer. In a video message, she said, ‘I don’t know how much time I have left. I wish for the chance to see my Noa at home. Noa, I want to tell you if I don’t see you, please know we did everything we could to get you released fast. The whole world loves you.'”

A letter sent by Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, to Pope Francis on December 24, 2023, urging him to call for the release of Gaza hostages. (Courtesy)

Gantz criticizes ‘baseless declarations’ after Barkat slams IDF tactics as too risky

Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a press conference on December 16, 2023. (YouTube screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a press conference on December 16, 2023. (YouTube screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz, the head of the centrist National Unity party that entered an emergency government after the ongoing war broke out, calls on fellow government members to tone down their rhetoric and avoid “baseless declarations.”

The statement is perceived as a rebuke of Likud’s Economy Minister Nir Barkat over comments he made earlier today, decrying the growing IDF death toll in Gaza.

Barkat, seen as a potential future rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a Likud leader, said: “It is unacceptable that we would endanger our soldiers, and send them exposed into buildings that have not been bombed.

“Surrendering to any external pressure, even if it is from our best friends, is a grave mistake for which we are paying a heavy price,” Barkat said, according to Channel 12 news.

In a tweet, Gantz praises IDF soldiers and says they’re “getting all the necessary tools,” and that ground forces are getting “widespread and accurate aerial cover with unprecedented power.

“Especially at this time, it is expected from government ministers and all public leaders to act with responsibility in their remarks and not issue baseless declarations that harm the resilience of the entire Israel society, and the families of combat fighters in particular,” Gantz says.

Report: TikTok refused to run ads by families of Gaza hostages for being ‘too political’

Chinese social media platform TikTok refused to run a paid ad campaign by families of hostages held in Gaza by Palestinian terrorists and demanding their release, deeming it “too political,” Fox News has reported.

The same campaign ran on Facebook and Instagram, the report says.

It comes amid widespread charges that TikTok is favoring pro-Palestinian voices and serving as an echo chamber for anti-Israel sentiment.

A statement by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi says he has contacted TikTok’s management and demanded that they change their decision.

Tel Aviv University opens emergency national PTSD clinic

Tel Aviv University announces the launch of a national PTSD clinic, intended to serve both soldiers and civilians affected by the Israel-Hamas war. The center, to be run by TAU’s National Center for Traumatic Stress and Resilience, is expected to be the largest of its kind in the country.

A “cautious estimate” is that experts expect some 30,000 new cases of PTSD and related issues as a result of the current conflict, according to a TAU press release.

The new center began construction a year ago aiming at a 2025 opening, but “TAU decided to make the necessary adaptations and open the clinic immediately in specially allocated temporary premises. The goal is to enable an immediate therapeutic response to as many patients as possible, thereby bolstering Israel’s depleted mental health system which, even before the war, was unable to meet the population’s real needs,” the university says.

The center is to be led by Dr. Ofir Levi, a TAU faculty member in the school of social work who was previously in charge of the IDF’s PTSD treatment program.

IDF troops find Hamas weapons cache hidden in Gaza City school-turned-shelter

Hamas weapons discovered by IDF troops in a school in Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Hamas weapons discovered by IDF troops in a school in Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

In a school serving as a shelter in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, troops of the 401st Armored Brigade and Navy’s Shayetet 13 commando unit battled Hamas gunmen and found a cache of weapons, the IDF says.

The IDF says the forces raided the school after receiving intelligence of Hamas operatives in the area, killing many of them in the process, while dozens of others surrendered.

“After we evacuated the [civilian] population, we found in the complex many weapons, hidden between the civilians’ equipment,” says a Shayetet 13 deputy company commander in a video, showing assault rifles, grenades and other explosive devices found in the school.

The IDF says dozens of Hamas fighters who surrendered and were interrogated by officers of the Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 504 at the scene were taken to Israel for further questioning.

Hamas weapons discovered by IDF troops in a school in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF announces death of Maj. (res.) Aryeh Rein in battle in Gaza today

Maj. (res.) Aryeh Rein, an IDF soldier killed in the Gaza Strip on December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF announces the death of a soldier killed during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip today, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 154.

He is named as Maj. (res.) Aryeh Rein, 39, of the 14th Reserve Armored Brigade’s 79th Battalion, from Mishmarot.

Egypt submits proposal to end war, free all hostages, form PA-Hamas government to rule Gaza

A protester carries an umbrella calling for the return of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack, in Tel Aviv on December 23, 2023. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
A protester carries an umbrella calling for the return of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack, in Tel Aviv on December 23, 2023. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Israeli officials confirm to several Hebrew media outlets that Egypt has placed on the table a new proposal for a truce and a further release of Israeli hostages held by Gazan terrorists, with some indicating Jerusalem isn’t flat-out rejecting it and that it could lead to negotiations.

According to the Saudi news website Asharq, which quotes a source who participated in the talks between Egypt and Hamas in Cairo last week, the Egyptian initiative is a plan to end hostilities and release all the remaining hostages, in three stages.

The first stage would be a two-week halt in fighting, extendable to three or four, in exchange for the release of 40 hostages — women, minors and elderly men, especially sick ones.

In return, Israel would release 120 Palestinian security prisoners of the same categories. During this time, hostilities would stop, Israeli tanks would withdraw, and humanitarian aid would enter Gaza.

The second phase would see an Egypt-sponsored “Palestinian national talk” aimed at ending the division between Palestinian factions — mainly the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terror group — and leading to the formation of a technocratic government in the West Bank and Gaza that would oversee the reconstruction of Gaza and pave the way for Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections.

The third stage would include a comprehensive ceasefire, the release of the remaining Israeli hostages, including soldiers, in return for a to-be-determined number of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails affiliated with Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group — including those arrested after October 7 and some convicted of serious terror offenses. In this phase, Israel would withdraw its forces from cities in the Gaza Strip and would allow displaced Gazans from the enclave’s north to return to their homes.

Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh returned to Qatar yesterday after a four-day visit to Cairo to discuss the Egyptian proposal with the terror group’s political bureau. In parallel, a delegation of the Islamic Jihad has arrived in Cairo today for talks with Egyptian officials.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted from Israel by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 22 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Displaced Nir Oz massacre survivors to get temporary housing in Kiryat Gat

Moshe Edri, the head of the Tekuma Authority, wearing a white shirt, attends a signing ceremony at the authority's offices in the Sorek Region on December 24, 2023. (Courtesy of Tekuma Authority)
Moshe Edri, the head of the Tekuma Authority, wearing a white shirt, attends a signing ceremony at the authority's offices in the Sorek Region on December 24, 2023. (Courtesy of Tekuma Authority)

Evacuated residents of Kibbutz Nir Oz are expected to move temporarily into a housing complex in Kiryat Gat next week, the government authority responsible for the evacuees’ resettlement says in a statement.

The expected move follows the finalization and signing today of a three-way agreement between kibbutz representatives, the Housing Ministry, and the Tekuma Authority — which the government set up to rehabilitate the Gaza border area.

The agreement means that the survivors of Nir Oz, one of the hardest-hit communities in the October 7 deadly incursion into Israel by Hamas, will live rent-free in 140 apartments in housing complexes in the Karmei Gat neighborhood of Kiryat Gat, a city situated some 50 milometers (30 miles) northeast of Nir Oz that is experiencing a population boom.

Each of Nir Oz’s households is eligible to an NIS 80,000 adjustment grant ($22,000) on top of a monthly stipend of NIS 1,173 ($325) for each kibbutz member, the statement says. Nir Oz’s residents, who are currently staying in Eilat, will live in Kiryat Gat until damages to their kibbutz are repaired and it is deemed safe to return.

The ministry and its Amidar housing company will allocate additional space and facilities for specific kibbutz institutions, including the dining hall; youth clubs; senior citizens’ club and clinic, in addition to a kindergarten, the Tekuma Authority says in a statement.

This is meant to “provide the kibbutz community with the highest possible sense of convenience and belonging,” the statement says.

Nir Oz was invaded by terrorists and ravaged on October 7, with at least 38 residents killed and at least 78 kidnapped to Gaza out of a population of 400.

Cyber Directorate finds online attacks have grown more sophisticated throughout war

The National Cyber Directorate publishes a report outlining cyber attacks against Israel since the start of the war against Hamas, concluding that such attacks have grown in number and intensity throughout the hostilities.

At the war’s start, the attacks were unsophisticated, focusing on defacing websites and attempts to steal information. Gradually, the report finds, the attacks became more focused and aimed at causing actual damage and disrupting the activities of organizations.

Cyberattacks have originated from some 15 different groups, linked to Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, some of which collaborated with one another.

Other cyber operations focused on spreading disinformation online.

Cohen meets Foreign Ministry’s cadet course, hails its diversity

Candidates in the Foreign Ministry’s cadet course with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (center) on December 24, 2023, in Jerusalem. (Foreign Ministry)
Candidates in the Foreign Ministry’s cadet course with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (center) on December 24, 2023, in Jerusalem. (Foreign Ministry)

The Foreign Ministry says a majority of candidates in its cadet course are women and that the group of 41 budding foreign service officers includes four members of the country’s Druze community and one from the Muslim community.

Many periphery towns are also represented in the course, including Ashkelon, Dalit El Carmel, Bat Yam, Atlit and Horfish, as the Foreign Ministry aims to diversify the diplomats representing Israel.

“The struggle on the diplomatic front in the Swords of Iron War has proven once again the centrality of the Foreign Ministry to the security of the State of Israel,” says Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who is slated to step down from his post next month.

“The cadets who joined this week are the best sons and daughters of the State of Israel and they represent the entire Israeli society — Jews, Druze and Muslims, representatives of the periphery and central Israel, tech workers and civil service employees.”

In rally, 10,000 Moroccans urge end to Israel ties, boycott of brands ‘backing’ country

Moroccans hold placards and Palestinian flags during a protest in Rabat on December 24, 2023, in solidarity with Gaza amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Photo by AFP)
Moroccans hold placards and Palestinian flags during a protest in Rabat on December 24, 2023, in solidarity with Gaza amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

Some 10,000 people stage one of Morocco’s biggest pro-Palestinian rallies since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war, urging authorities to sever Rabat’s nascent ties with the Jewish state.

According to Reuters, the protest is led by Islamist and leftist groups, with some demonstrators holding banners reading “Resistance till victory” and “Stop Moroccan government normalization with Israel.”

Some also urge boycotts of brands perceived as supporting Israel.

Morocco normalized ties with Israel in 2020 as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords.

IDF strikes Hezbollah sites in response to attacks, hits ‘threats’ along Lebanon border

The IDF says it struck further Hezbollah sites in Lebanon in response to attacks on the border today, alongside fire to “remove threats” in a number of areas along the border.

Earlier, several projectiles were fired from Lebanon at Avivim, Margaliot and Arab al-Aramshe.

The IDF says it also shelled the launch sites with artillery.

Cabinet okays $20 million for boosting wildcat settlement outposts

Israeli settlers and their children in front of a caravan in illegal West Bank outpost of Avigail in the Hebron Hills, May 25, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli settlers and their children in front of a caravan in illegal West Bank outpost of Avigail in the Hebron Hills, May 25, 2009. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The cabinet approves NIS 75 million ($20 million) for bolstering infrastructure, including for security purposes, in wildcat Israeli settlement outposts in the West Bank, following pressure from the Religious Zionism party and its leader, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

The funds will provide some 70 illegal outposts — known in the settlement movement as “young settlements,” which have never been authorized by the government — with items including firefighting trailers, prefabricated bomb shelters, generators, field cameras, lighting, and rescue equipment.

The money will be transferred to the Settlements and National Projects Ministry, headed by Religious Zionism’s Orit Strock and disbursed by her ministry.

“It is a great honor to give minimal security to the pioneers of our day, who are deep in the territory and do not deserve to be fourth-class citizens,” says Strock following the approval of the funds, adding that “this is just the beginning.”

The dozens of settlements in question were established in the 1990s and early 2000s with the assistance of different ministries, including the housing and construction, defense, and energy ministries, but without formal approval from the government, meaning they are illegal under Israeli law.

Universities say academic year to begin in a week, but IDF reservists to get late start

Israel’s major universities will open the repeatedly delayed 2023-2024 academic year on December 31. However, students still serving in the IDF as reservists at that time will not be totally out of luck; they’ll be able to join “a few weeks later,” the Association of University Heads announces.

The exact date on which the student-soldiers will begin their studies is to be determined in conjunction with the IDF, which last week requested that the start date for all students be pushed back further.

The students returning from IDF duty are to have a “concentrated week” of intensive studies in order to get them up to speed on any missed material, and then integrate into regular classes.

The start of the academic year was originally scheduled for October 15 but has been delayed several times due to the ongoing war on the Hamas terror group. It is estimated that as many as 30% of all Israel’s university students were called up to serve as IDF reserve soldiers, along with thousands of university faculty and staff.

Sirens sound in northern border towns Arab al-Aramshe and Margaliot

Sirens warning of incoming fire have sounded in the northern border towns Arab al-Aramshe and Margaliot.

The communities — close to the frontier with Lebanon — have been largely evacuated of civilians.

Earlier today, a missile fired from Lebanon hit a building in Avivim. There were no casualties.

2-year-old dies in Kfar Qasim apartment fire; 3 children lightly injured

A two-year-old has died in a fire in an apartment in the central city Kfar Qasim, emergency services say.

Magen David Adom says the toddler’s death was pronounced at the scene.

Three other children were treated for light injuries, the medical service says.

2 charged with stealing vehicles from Be’eri belonging to murdered, evacuated residents

Undated image of a tow truck loaded with vehicles stolen from Kibbutz Be'eri (Israel Police)
Undated image of a tow truck loaded with vehicles stolen from Kibbutz Be'eri (Israel Police)

Police say two people have been charged over the theft of vehicles from Kibbutz Be’eri in the Gaza border area, noting that some of the owners were killed in the Hamas onslaught on October 7.

In a statement, police say the two suspects gained access to the vehicles by volunteering to help civilians and soldiers move equipment and cars in the aftermath of the terror assault.

Police say the two — residents of Holon and Bareket in the center of the country — conspired to take advantage of having access to a closed military area, and stole the vehicles from Be’eri and then transferred them to the West Bank.

The suspects loaded the stolen vehicles onto a tow truck owned by one of them, and stole five vehicles belonging to members of the kibbutz who were murdered or evacuated from their homes.

Police say the suspects were arrested last month and indicted today.

Be’eri was one of the hardest-hit communities in the devastating attack by Hamas on October 7.

Woman found dead in Kiryat Yam apartment, the fourth suspected murder in 12 hours

Police say a woman was found dead in an apartment in Kiryat Yam, and that her death was being investigated as a suspected murder.

In a statement, police say they were called to the apartment to in a suspected case of violence, and found the woman’s body.

A man was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the death of the unnamed woman, police say.

The case is the fourth suspected murder within a 12 hour period.

A man was killed in a shooting in the northern town Kafr Qara earlier today.

Overnight, Bashar Zarani, 23, was shot to death in an apparent criminal dispute in Tiberias.

In Holon, near Tel Aviv, police said a 57-year-old woman was found dead in her home. Authorities offered few details about the suspected killing.

Soldiers killed in Gaza fighting are buried: ‘You fought for Israel until the last drop of your blood’

Funerals are held for some of the 14 troops killed in heavy fighting in Gaza over the weekend.

Sgt. First Class (res.) Elyassaf Shoshan, 23, is buried at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery.

Relative Asher Shoshan eulogizes the fallen soldier: “You are not the salt of the earth, you are the earth.”

“You are the sunset, you are the joy, you are the light, the compassion, the love,” he says, according to the Walla news site.

Cpt. Oshri Moshe Butzhak, 22, is laid to rest in Haifa.

“You fought for the Land of Israel until the last drop of your blood,” his mother says. “Now that you are close to God, ask him for victory for the people of Israel with as little pain as possible.”

His father says Oshri had asked for his organs to be donated if he died, but that due to the nature of his injuries, only his corneas were viable.

Butzhak was due to marry his fiancee Ravid in six months.

Iran says domestically produced ‘fully smart’ cruise missiles delivered to naval base

In this picture released by the official website of the Iranian Army on Dec. 24, 2023, a missile system is displayed in an unveiling ceremony at a naval base near the Indian Ocean in the southern Iranian port of Konarak (Iranian Army via AP)
In this picture released by the official website of the Iranian Army on Dec. 24, 2023, a missile system is displayed in an unveiling ceremony at a naval base near the Indian Ocean in the southern Iranian port of Konarak (Iranian Army via AP)

Iran’s navy says it added domestically produced sophisticated cruise missiles to its arsenal, Iranian state TV reports.

The report says both Talaeieh and Nasir cruise missiles have arrived at a naval base near the Indian Ocean in the southern Iranian port of Konarak, some 1,400 kilometers (850 miles) southeast of the capital, Tehran.

Navy chief Adm. Shahram Irani says the Talaeieh has a range of more than 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) and called it “fully smart.” Irani says the cruise missile is capable of changing targets during travel.

He says the Nasi has a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles) and can be installed on warships.

From time to time Iran announces the test firing, production and commissioning of new military equipment that cannot be independently verified. The country says it has a stock of various kinds of missiles with ranges up to 2,000 kilometers (1250 miles), capable of reaching Israel and US bases in the region.

The announcement comes amid a wave of drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on a vital shipping lane in the Red Sea, which they say is a response to the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu denies US preventing Israel carrying out military operations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the cabinet meeting by offering condolences for the soldiers killed over the weekend, and apparently pushes back against comments from Economy Minister Nir Barkat and reports that US President Joe Biden talked him out of a preemptive strike on the Hezbollah terror organization.

“It’s a difficult morning after a difficult day,” says Netanyahu, reading from prepared remarks. “All the government and the people of Israel send our sympathies to the families of the heroes who fell in the war for our home.”

“This war is exacting a high price from us, but we have no choice other than to continue to fight,” he says.

Netanyahu says he spoke yesterday to Biden and expressed appreciation for the US stance at the United Nations Security Council after its work to soften a resolution on the Gaza fighting.

“I told Biden we will fight until there is total victory, however long it takes. The US understands this,” he says.

“There have been reports that US has prevented, and is preventing, us from carrying out operations in the region. This is not true. Israel is a sovereign country. Our decisions on the war are based on our operational considerations, and not external pressures,” Netanyahu says.

The comments appear to be a response to reports over the weekend, and comments by Barkat, seen as a potential future rival to Netanyahu as Likud leader.

Earlier today, Barkat said, “It is unacceptable that we would endanger our soldiers, and send them exposed into buildings that haven’t been bombed.

“Surrendering to any external pressure, even if it is from our best friends, is a grave mistake for which we are paying a heavy price,” Barkat said.

“We are too nice, and we are too considerate. And the bottom line is that our soldiers, the fighters, take disproportionate risks and we pay a heavy price.”

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Israel had warplanes in the air ready to carry out a major preemptive strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon four days after Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, but Biden convinced Netanyahu to stand down at the last minute.

Sirens sounding in Avivim and Yir’on near Lebanon border

Sirens warning of incoming fire are sounding in the northern border towns Avivim and Yir’on.

The communities — close to the frontier with Lebanon — have been largely evacuated of civilians.

Amid debate on delay of municipal elections, IDF says almost 4,000 reserve soldiers are candidates

Illustrative: A man casts his ballot at a voting station in Israel's municipal elections, October 30, 2018, in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: A man casts his ballot at a voting station in Israel's municipal elections, October 30, 2018, in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The IDF says that there almost 4,000 reserve soldiers currently on duty who are candidates in the nationwide municipal elections scheduled for the end of January, against the background of a dispute within the government on whether to further postpone the elections in light of the ongoing war with Hamas and the difficulties this poses to reservists in voting and running for office.

According to a document provided by the IDF Chief of Staff’s Office, there are 3,983 reserve soldiers running in the municipal elections, with 115 in command roles. There are 70 reservists running for mayor.

The army says that those running for office will be released from service for the campaign “in accordance with operational necessities” and “the development of the war fronts,” although it notes that there are some candidates whom it will not be possible to release.

The document also says that a system should be created to allow soldiers to vote in the municipal elections “outside the borders of Israel,” since operational considerations and the safety of soldiers mean that it will not be possible to let them leave the Gaza Strip to vote.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism party, who has for weeks been calling to postpone the elections, says the figures demonstrate why postponement is the right step, and says he hopes the government adopts this position.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir says “the people of Israel need all its soldiers in Gaza, without dealing with politics,” and says he will advocate in today’s cabinet meeting for postponing the elections.

Senior United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni announces just ahead of the cabinet meeting that he has told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that UTJ also supports postponing the election.

Until now, the Likud party and National Unity have reportedly supported holding the elections as scheduled for January 30.

They were originally set for October 31, and were postponed due to the war.

Israel’s Yes says Nova documentary is most viewed film in company’s history

From '#Nova,' the 52-minute documentary for Yes Studios about what took place at the Supernova desert rave on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)
From '#Nova,' the 52-minute documentary for Yes Studios about what took place at the Supernova desert rave on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

Israel’s Yes Studios says “#Nova,” a 52-minute documentary about the October 7 attack by Hamas terrorists on the music festival, is the most viewed film in the company’s history, the Walla news site reports.

The film is made up of video and audio footage made by some of the 3,000-plus partygoers as well as by the Hamas terrorists who carried out the devastating attack.

It is a deep, disturbing dive into the chaotic, terrifying hours of the onslaught on the rave, in which 360 people were killed and dozens more assaulted and taken hostage to Gaza.

Given the importance of the film, Yes offered it to all Israeli outlets to air for free.

Yes says it is working on widespread distribution of the documentary abroad.

IDF announces death of soldier in Gaza fighting, taking weekend’s toll to 14

Staff Sgt. Roy Elias (Courtesy)
Staff Sgt. Roy Elias (Courtesy)

The IDF announces the death of another soldier killed during fighting in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 153.

He is named as Staff Sgt. Roy Elias, 21, of the Combat Engineering Corps’s 603rd Battalion, from Tzofar.

In all, 14 IDF soldiers were killed over the weekend in Gaza.

IDF carries out ‘wide-scale’ wave of strikes on Hezbollah sites in Lebanon

Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in the Naqura area of southern Lebanon following Israeli strikes on December 24, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in the Naqura area of southern Lebanon following Israeli strikes on December 24, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

The IDF says it carried out a “wide-scale” wave of airstrikes against Hezbollah sites in Lebanon this morning.

It says fighter jets hit military buildings, rocket launchers, and other infrastructure belonging to the terror group.

Several rockets were also fired from Lebanon at the Keren Naftali peak in the Galilee Panhandle.

The IDF says it shelled the source of the fire with artillery.

Former justice minister David Libai dies aged 89

David Libai at the Jerusalem District Court on March 13, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
David Libai at the Jerusalem District Court on March 13, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former justice minister David Libai dies aged 89, Hebrew-language media reports.

Libai was elected to the Knesset as a lawmaker for the Labor Party in 1984.

He served as justice minister under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and continued in the position under Shimon Peres after Rabin was assassinated in November 1995.

Iran summons Russian envoy over statement on disputed islands in Persian Gulf

This handout photo provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official website via SEPAH News shows Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers taking part in a military drill near the island of Abu Musa, off the coast of the southern Iranian city of Bandar Lengeh (SEPAH NEWS / AFP)
This handout photo provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) official website via SEPAH News shows Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers taking part in a military drill near the island of Abu Musa, off the coast of the southern Iranian city of Bandar Lengeh (SEPAH NEWS / AFP)

Iran summons Russia’s charge d’affaires after Moscow and Arab countries released a joint statement last week challenging Iran’s claim to disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, state media reports.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency says the Russian envoy was summoned and handed a note to deliver to Moscow in which Tehran protested the statement the 6th Arab-Russian Cooperation Forum issued in Morocco that called for a peaceful solution to resolve the conflict between Iran and the United Arab Emirates over the islands.

This marked the second time this year that Iran has called for a Russian envoy in protest over comments on the disputed islands. Tehran summoned the Russian ambassador in July over a similar statement.

The diplomatic spat is a rare occurrence between the two countries that have recently deepened their ties.

Iran took control of the three islands of Abu Musa, the Greater Tunb and the Lesser Tunb after British forces withdrew in 1971. It considers them an “inseparable” part of its territory. The UAE also claims the three islands and has long pressed for a negotiated solution.

Rocket alert sirens sound in Gaza border towns

After a nearly 17-hour lull, rocket sirens are sounding in the Gaza border communities of Be’eri, Alumim, and Nahal Oz.

The communities have been largely evacuated of civilians since October 7.

After 2 months amid war, Google starts to reactivate live traffic updates on Waze, maps

Traffic piles up on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, July 24, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Traffic piles up on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, July 24, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

For the first time in some two months amid the war with the Hamas terror group, Google is starting to gradually reactivate live traffic updates for Google Maps and Waze in Israel.

“As more drivers return to the roads, we are updating Google Maps and Waze so that users in Israel and Gaza can see real-time traffic conditions along their route as they navigate,” Google says in a statement.

Google, which acquired mapping app Waze in 2013, says that some of the traffic functions on Google Maps are still disabled.

After the onset of the war on October 7, Google temporarily suspended live traffic navigation updates at the end of October “out of consideration for the safety of local communities.”

Users of the navigation apps were still getting directions and estimated times of arrival for Google Maps and Waze, but could not see traffic build-up.

The move, which follows a similar step in Russia and Ukraine last year, was aimed at preventing revealing the locations of large concentrations of people who could be targeted by terrorists, or troop movements.

86 homes damaged in northern border kibbutz during weeks of rocket, missile fire from Lebanon

An Israeli soldier walks amid the rubble of a house hit in a strike by Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group, in Kibbutz Manara in northern Israel near the Lebanon border, on November 27, 2023. (Jalaa Marey / AFP)
An Israeli soldier walks amid the rubble of a house hit in a strike by Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group, in Kibbutz Manara in northern Israel near the Lebanon border, on November 27, 2023. (Jalaa Marey / AFP)

The community manager of Kibbutz Manara, close to the border with Lebanon, says that 86 houses in the community have been damaged by rocket and missile fire from the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon.

“Eighty-six houses were damaged here in Manara, some completely destroyed and some only with shattered windows,” Yochai Wolfin tells the Kan public broadcaster, noting that the kibbutz has been largely evacuated of civilians.

“The kibbutz has been hit a number of times and the damage is serious,” he says. “We want to return home and we are waiting for deterrence to be restored to the northern border.”

Since October 7, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

Israel has said it will no longer tolerate the presence of Hezbollah along the northern frontier after Hamas’s massacre, in which thousands of terrorists burst into Israel from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping over 240, mostly civilians.

Israel has increasingly warned that if the international community does not push Hezbollah forces away from its border through diplomatic means, it will take action.

IDF says large weapons cache found in Gaza building used by civilians to shelter

Weapons found by the IDF in a building where civilians were sheltering in the northern Gaza Strip, December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Weapons found by the IDF in a building where civilians were sheltering in the northern Gaza Strip, December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says the Air Force, Navy, and ground forces struck some 200 targets in the Gaza Strip over the past day, as “fierce battles” continue.

In northern Gaza, the IDF says troops of the Yiftah Brigade identified several terror operatives coming out of a building used by Hamas for observation, and called in an airstrike.

The 460th Armored Brigade, operating in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, directed airstrikes and artillery against seven Hamas operatives and four observation positions in the area, the IDF says.

Meanwhile, soldiers of the 261st Brigade, the Bahad 1 officers’ school in wartime, found a large cache of weapons used by Hamas in a building where civilians were sheltering in northern Gaza.

The IDF says the building is located near a school, mosque, and clinic, and inside the troops found “explosive belts adapted for children,” dozens of mortars, hundreds of grenades, and intelligence documents.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, the IDF says troops of the Kfir Brigade raided a Hamas headquarters, locating weapons, including dozens of grenades and explosive devices.

London police arrest man over theft of Banksy artwork interpreted as call for Gaza ceasefire

A person removes a piece of art work by Banksy, which shows what looks like three drones on a traffic stop sign, which was unveiled at the intersection of Southampton Way and Commercial Way in Peckham, south east London, Dec. 22, 2023. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)
A person removes a piece of art work by Banksy, which shows what looks like three drones on a traffic stop sign, which was unveiled at the intersection of Southampton Way and Commercial Way in Peckham, south east London, Dec. 22, 2023. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)

Police in London say officers arrested a man on suspicion of theft and criminal damage after a Banksy artwork was removed from a south London street corner within hours of appearing.

The installation, a traffic stop sign covered with three aircraft resembling military drones, has been widely interpreted as a call for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, sparked by the terror group’s brutal October 7 massacres in southern Israel in which some 1,200 were killed, mainly civilians, and some 240 taken hostage to Gaza.

Less than an hour after Banksy confirmed it was his latest work — posting a photo of it on social media — witnesses filmed it being removed by a man with bolt cutters, with the help of another man.

One of them then ran off with the sign under his arm.

In a statement Friday, councillor Jasmine Ali, deputy leader of Southwark Council, hit out at the unauthorized removal.

“It should not have been removed and we’d like it back so everyone in the community can enjoy Banksy’s brilliant work,” she said.

“We have reported the removal of our sign to the police to help get it back.”

Programmer maps the hometowns of all IDF soldiers killed since October 7

Family and friends of the commander of the Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion, Lt. Col. Tomer Grinberg at his funeral at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on December 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Family and friends of the commander of the Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion, Lt. Col. Tomer Grinberg at his funeral at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem on December 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An American-Israeli programmer has created an interactive map of the hometowns of every one of the over 480 Israeli soldiers who have been killed since Hamas’s brutal assault on October 7.

“One aspect of this horrible war which has really touched me is how deeply all of Israel has been affected personally by the losses. Every time there’s a new terrible announcement about more fallen soldiers, I’ve noticed that they’re from new places. To help myself internalize just how broad the impact has been, I made a map of the hometown of every fallen soldier since (including) October 7. May this map never need any more names added to it,” tweets Liron Kopinsky.

“I copied it by hand from the IDF website into Excel and so I looked at each photo. It felt like giving each person a little honor,” Kopinsky tells The Times of Israel, adding that the fallen hail from 224 different cities.

“The map only shows ‘where they live.’ Not where they were born. Where they grew up. Where their parents, siblings, cousins, friends live. The ripples are way broader,” he says.

Man shot and killed in Kafr Qara

Police say a man was killed in a shooting in the northern town Kafr Qara.

According to the statement, the man in his 40s was injured in the shooting but medics later pronounced his death.

It came as police were already investigating two other apparent murders overnight.

In Tiberias, Bashar Zarani, 23, was shot to death in an apparent criminal dispute, though his family believes he was not the target, the Ynet news site reports.

The killing of Zarani, from the Galilee town of Tura’an, marked the 241st slaying in the Arab community this year, a massive uptick from 114 killed at this point last year, according to the Abraham Initiatives NGO, which tracks murders in Arab society.

In Holon, near Tel Aviv, police say a 57-year-old woman was found dead in her home. Authorities offered few details about the suspected killing.

UK’s Cameron says Iran ‘a thoroughly malign influence in the region and the world’

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on December 12, 2023, after attending a cabinet meeting. (Adrian DENNIS / AFP)
Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on December 12, 2023, after attending a cabinet meeting. (Adrian DENNIS / AFP)

LONDON — UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron brands Iran “a thoroughly malign influence in the region and in the world” in an interview in which he also pledges stepped-up deterrence towards Tehran.

The former British prime minister’s warning echoes accusations by the United States that Iran is involved in attacks on commercial ships by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, providing drones, missiles and tactical intelligence.

Cameron, who this week visited the region and discussed with his Egyptian counterpart Israel’s war in Gaza as well as the volatile situation in the Red Sea, accuses Tehran of aiding various “proxies” there.

“Iran is a thoroughly malign influence in the region and in the world — there’s no doubt about that,” he tells the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

“You’ve got the Houthis, you’ve got Hezbollah, you’ve got the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq that have actually been attacking British and American bases, troops. And, of course, Hamas.

“So you’ve got all of these proxies, and I think it’s incredibly important that, first of all, Iran receives an incredibly clear message that this escalation will not be tolerated.”

Britain’s top diplomat, who returned to frontline politics last month after stepping down as prime minister in the aftermath of losing the 2016 Brexit referendum, says London will increase cooperation with its allies over Tehran.

“We need to work with our allies to develop a really strong set of deterrent measures against Iran, and it’s important that we do that,” he added.

“The level of danger and insecurity in the world is at an extremely high level compared with previous years and decades, and the Iran threat is a part of that picture.”

IDF announces names of 8 more soldiers killed in Gaza Saturday

IDF soldiers announced killed in the Gaza Strip on December 24, 2023: Top L-R: Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Issachar Farhi, Master Sgt. (res.) Eliyahu Meir Ohana, Sgt. First Class (res.) Elyassaf Shoshan, Sgt. First Class (res.) Ohad Ashur; bottom: Staff Sgt. David Bogdanovskyi, Staff Sgt. Orel Bashan, Staff Sgt. Itamar Shemen, Staff Sgt. Gal Hershko. (Courtesy)
IDF soldiers announced killed in the Gaza Strip on December 24, 2023: Top L-R: Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Issachar Farhi, Master Sgt. (res.) Eliyahu Meir Ohana, Sgt. First Class (res.) Elyassaf Shoshan, Sgt. First Class (res.) Ohad Ashur; bottom: Staff Sgt. David Bogdanovskyi, Staff Sgt. Orel Bashan, Staff Sgt. Itamar Shemen, Staff Sgt. Gal Hershko. (Courtesy)

The Israel Defense Forces announces the names of eight additional soldiers killed in fighting on Saturday, bringing the number of troops killed over the weekend to 13.

Four of those killed were from the 7th Armored Brigade, all with the rank of Staff Sgt., who died in battle in southern Gaza Saturday.

They were David Bogdanovskyi, 19, and Orel Bashan, 20, both from Haifa, Gal Hershko, 20, from Yiftah, and Itamar Shemen, from Lapid, a paramedic who had been placed with the brigade.

Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Issachar Farhi, 30, from Herzliya, was killed in fighting in central Gaza Saturday alongside Master Sgt. (res.) Eliyahu Meir Ohana, 28, from Haifa.

Both were from the Yiftach Brigade, a reserves infantry unit.

Sgt. First Class (res.) Elyassaf Shoshan, 23, from Jerusalem was also killed in central Gaza, as was fellow paratroopers reservist Sgt. First Class (Res.) Ohad Ashur, 23, from Kfar Yona.

Another five soldiers were seriously wounded in the battles.

Another soldier killed Saturday was named earlier by the IDF: Cpt. Oshri Moshe Butzhak, 22, a team commander in the Nahal Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, from Haifa.

The IDF earlier also announced the names of four soldiers killed Friday: Staff Sgt. Nir Rafael Kananian, 20, of the Givati Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, from Beit Keshet; Staff Sgt. Birhanu Kassie, 20, of the Givati Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, from Beit Shemesh; Master Sgt. (res.) Shay Termin, 26, of the 55th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade’s 6623rd Battalion, from Rosh Pina; Warrant Officer (res.) Alexander Shpits, 41, of the 55th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade’s 6623rd Battalion, from Karmiel.

IDF soldiers the military says were killed in the Gaza Strip on December 23, 2023: L-R: Warrant Officer (res.) Alexander Shpits, Master Sgt. (res.) Shay Termin, Staff Sgt. Birhanu Kassie, Staff Sgt. Nir Rafael Kananian. (Courtesy)

The deaths bring the number of troops killed since the start of a ground operation in October to 152.

Man shot to death in Tiberias, woman found dead in Holon

Police are investigating two apparent murders overnight, both seemingly criminal in nature and unrelated to terror concerns.

In Tiberias, Bashar Zarani, 23, was shot to death in an apparent criminal dispute, though his family believes he was not the target, the Ynet news site reports.

The killing of Zarani, from the Galilee town of Tura’an, marks the 241st slaying in the Arab community this year, a massive uptick from 114 killed at this point last year, according to the Abraham Initiatives NGO, which tracks murders in Arab society.

In Holon, near Tel Aviv, police say a 57-year-old woman was found dead in her home. Authorities offer few details about the suspected killing.

US says Houthi drones attacked warship, tankers in Red Sea

FILE - The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon arrives in Rota, Spain, December 8, 2023. (US Navy/Elexia Morelos)
FILE - The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon arrives in Rota, Spain, December 8, 2023. (US Navy/Elexia Morelos)

The US military says a warship was targeted with four UAVs fired from Yemen, and says a tanker was hit by a suicide drone, with another nearly missing a second vessel.

No injuries are reported in any of the incidents.

In a statement, the US Central Command says the USS Laboon “shot down four unmanned aerial drones originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen that were inbound to” the frigate.

The ship is in the southern Red Sea as part of a US-led coalition meant to protect shipping lanes from attack by the Iran-backed rebels in the key Bab al-Mandeb strait.

It says the Laboon also responded to distress calls after attacks on the M/V BLAAMANEN, a Norwegian-flagged and owned tanker, which was nearly hit by an attack drone, and the M/V SAIBABA, a Gabon-owned, Indian-flagged crude tanker that did suffer a strike.

“These attacks represent the 14th and 15th attacks on commercial shipping by Houthi militants since Oct. 17,” it says.

In addition, CentCom says two ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas at the shipping lanes, but no vessels were impacted.

Sirens sound in north over suspected drone, rocket attacks

Alerts are sounding in three Israeli communities in northern Israel over a suspected enemy drone infiltration and rocket attack.

Residents of Sasa, Matat and Dovev are told to shelter over the suspected drone attack, while Dovev is also put under a rocket warning.

Police in Cologne, Vienna up security around churches amid reports of Islamist threat

Cologne police have searched Germany’s landmark cathedral with sniffer dogs Saturday and say worshippers attending Christmas Eve Mass will undergo security screening before being allowed in, amid reported fears of an Islamist attack.

In Austria, police in Vienna also say they are taking heightened security measures around churches and Christmas markets, deploying both uniformed and plainclothes officers.

The German daily Bild reports that officials in Austria, Germany and Spain all received indications that an Islamist group was planning several attacks in Europe, possibly on New Year’s Eve and Christmas.

According to the newspaper, the targets of these attacks could be Christmas masses in Cologne, Vienna and Madrid.

Michael Esser, head of the criminal investigation department of the Cologne police, says in a news release that the threat indications pointed to New Year’s Eve rather than Christmas, but added that “we are putting everything possible in motion for the security of cathedral visitors on Christmas Eve.”

Police and cathedral officials urge those attending Mass on Sunday evening to arrive early and not bring bags or purses.

The European Union’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, warned on December 5 that Europe faces a “huge risk of terrorist attacks” over the Christmas holidays due to fallout from the war between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

US says Iran attacked tanker off Indian coast with suicide drone

A picture of the oil tanker Chem Pluto as it appears on the website of the Port of Hamburg, Germany on December 23, 2023. (Courtesy of the Port of Hamburg)
A picture of the oil tanker Chem Pluto as it appears on the website of the Port of Hamburg, Germany on December 23, 2023. (Courtesy of the Port of Hamburg)

A chemical tanker struck Saturday off the coast of India was targeted “by a one-way attack drone fired from Iran,” the Pentagon says.

The attack took place around 10 a.m. local time and caused no casualties aboard the Japanese-owned vessel, it says, adding that a fire was extinguished.

The US military “remains in communication with the vessel as it continues toward a destination in India,” the Pentagon statement adds.

The Pentagon statement says the Chem Pluto ship flew under a Liberian flag and was operated by a Dutch entity. A private security firm has earlier said it was “linked” to Israel.

Jerusalem also believes Tehran was directly behind the attack, according to Hebrew media Saturday.

The drone strike occurred 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) off the coast of India, it notes, adding that no US Navy vessels were in the vicinity.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strike, which came amid a flurry of drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on a vital shipping lane in the Red Sea.

On Friday, Washington said Iran has been “deeply involved” in the planning of the attacks.

 

Drones explode near ships off Yemen, UK office reports

Ships near the Red Sea’s Bab al Mandeb Strait were attacked by drones, the UK’s Maritime Trade Operations office reports.

No injuries were reported in the two incidents, which occurred within half an hour of each other some 50 miles off the coast of Yemen.

In the first incident, an unmanned aircraft exploded near a vessel, which did not suffer any damage.

Some 20 minutes after that, a drone buzzed a vessel and then blew up some 1.5 miles away from it.

There is no immediate word on the identities of the vessels.

Ships have been repeatedly attacked in the area by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who seek to choke the vital shipping lane in response to Israel’s war in Gaza

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