ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Dec. 7: Biden official says US hasn’t given Israel deadline for end of Gaza military op

IDF: Hamas firing rockets from humanitarian zones * Police prevent far-right march in Jerusalem * WHO director: Gaza health system ‘on its knees’ * IDF ground op toll at 87

  • Palestinians displaced by the Israeli ground offensive on the Gaza Strip set up a tent camp in the al-Mawasi area Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
    Palestinians displaced by the Israeli ground offensive on the Gaza Strip set up a tent camp in the al-Mawasi area Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
  • Gal Eisenkot (L) with his father, then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot. (Courtesy)
    Gal Eisenkot (L) with his father, then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot. (Courtesy)
  • IDF troops operate inside Gaza in this handout photo released on December 7, 2023. (IDF)
    IDF troops operate inside Gaza in this handout photo released on December 7, 2023. (IDF)
  • Staff Sgt. Amit Bonzel, left, and Staff Sgt.Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, right, both 22, were killed in action during fighting in Gaza. Bonzel was killed on December 6, 2023. Feleke died of wounds sustained in fighting on December 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Staff Sgt. Amit Bonzel, left, and Staff Sgt.Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, right, both 22, were killed in action during fighting in Gaza. Bonzel was killed on December 6, 2023. Feleke died of wounds sustained in fighting on December 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A Gaza resident (left) tells an Al Jazeera reporter (right) about Hamas taking humanitarian aid, in a clip aired on December 7, 2023 (X screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the copyright law)
    A Gaza resident (left) tells an Al Jazeera reporter (right) about Hamas taking humanitarian aid, in a clip aired on December 7, 2023 (X screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the copyright law)
  • People search through the rubble of a building, following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023. (Photo by Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
    People search through the rubble of a building, following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023. (Photo by Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
  • IDF troops operate inside Gaza in this handout photo released on December 7, 2023. (IDF)
    IDF troops operate inside Gaza in this handout photo released on December 7, 2023. (IDF)
  • Displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Younis set up camp in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, on December 6, 2023. (MAHMOUD HAMS / AFP)
    Displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Younis set up camp in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, on December 6, 2023. (MAHMOUD HAMS / AFP)
  • Labor Party chair MK Merav Michaeli announces that she will step down from the party leadership, at a press conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Labor Party chair MK Merav Michaeli announces that she will step down from the party leadership, at a press conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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

Two soldiers lightly hurt in Hezbollah anti-tank missile attack; IDF hits terror group’s posts in response

The IDF strikes a Hezbollah site in southern Lebanon on December 7, 2023. (Screen capture/X)
The IDF strikes a Hezbollah site in southern Lebanon on December 7, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

The IDF says two soldiers are lightly hurt in a Hezbollah anti-tank missile attack near the community of Shtula on the Lebanon border earlier.

In response, the IDF says it struck a series of Hezbollah sites, including a position used to fire projectiles at Israel earlier.

Jon Finer: ‘Aspects of IDF campaign in north didn’t show sufficient care for civilian life’

A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing following Israeli strikes in Khan Younis on the southern Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing following Israeli strikes in Khan Younis on the southern Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer says there “there are many legitimate military targets that remain” in south Gaza, including much of Hamas’s leadership.

He reiterates the US expectation that Israel learn and apply lessons from its fighting in north Gaza to its ongoing operations in the southern Strip.

“There have been aspects of how the conflict was conducted in the north that we think did not show sufficient care for civilian life and those aspects should be ameliorated in the south,” Finer tells the Aspen Security Forum, adding that Israel has a particular responsibility to protect civilians in the lower half of Gaza since it directed roughly one million Gazans to migrate there so that the IDF could operate more easily in the north.

Pressed whether Israel has heeded these warnings, Finer begins by arguing that US power is limited.

“It’s important to understand what the role is of the United States. We have influence — no doubt — over how this war is conducted. We do not have complete control,” he says.

However, he notes progress on humanitarian aid delivery, the exit of thousands of foreign nationals out of Gaza along with a seven-day truce during which over 100 hostages were released.

“I don’t think any of those developments would have taken place without the direct intervention of the United States,” Finer says.

He adds that “there should be significantly more humanitarian assistance going into Gaza than is currently.”

This should include not just basic humanitarian goods, but also commercial goods, which haven’t entered the Strip since the war’s outbreak.

Thought to have been among the hostages, kibbutz says resident Dror Kaplun was murdered on Oct. 7

Dror Kaplun is presumed to have been taken captive on October 7, 2023 by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be'eri. (Courtesy)
Dror Kaplun is presumed to have been taken captive on October 7, 2023 by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be'eri. (Courtesy)

Kibbutz Be’eri announces in a statement that 68-year-old resident Dror Kaplun, who was presumed to have been among the hostages in Gaza, was actually murdered during the October 7 terror onslaught.

His DNA matched the bones uncovered by the fence of Kibbutz Be’eri by archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

His wife Marcelle Frailich Kaplun was also murdered during the massacre.

US official: If war ended today, Hamas would still pose threat, so we’re not calling for ceasefire

US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer speaks during a joint statement with Colombia's President-elect Gustavo Petro, in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)
US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer speaks during a joint statement with Colombia's President-elect Gustavo Petro, in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, July 22, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer is asked during an on-stage interview at the Aspen Security Conference what the Biden administration thinks of Israel’s military objectives for its war in Gaza.

“They have said that Hamas can no longer govern, can no longer be in charge of Gaza. We think that is a very legitimate objective, given what has happened on October 7 and since,” Finer says.

Israel’s second main objective is that Hamas will no longer be allowed to pose the type of threat that it posed to Israel on October 7.

“Frankly, if the war were stopped today, it would continue to pose [such a threat], which is why we’re not in place yet of asking Israel to stop or for a ceasefire,” Finer says.

“Those two objectives are legitimate. We think they’re working in that direction, but they have not achieved them yet,” he says.

Finer is then pressed on a third objective that Netanyahu has taken to stressing — that Gaza be demilitarized and de-radicalized.

“The details will matter here,” the senior Biden aide begins.

“Hamas would certainly need to not have the military capability it was able to demonstrate on October 7 when more than 1,200 Israeli civilians were brutally massacred.”

“That is not something that any government would allow to continue on its borders, so the extent of demilitarization would mean that that is no longer possible, that is a very legitimate objective,” Finer says.

US hasn’t given Israel deadline for when it must end Gaza military op — senior Biden official

Israeli soldiers from the Caracal Battalion working near their tank near the Israeli border with Egypt and Gaza, in southern Israel, November 13, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers from the Caracal Battalion working near their tank near the Israeli border with Egypt and Gaza, in southern Israel, November 13, 2023. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer says the Biden administration has not given Israel a deadline to wrap up its military operation in Gaza.

“We’re not in the business of being that prescriptive with a core partner and ally who has suffered such an egregious, appalling terrorist attack and who is responding in our view with what is absolutely necessary in their responsibility to reduce the threat to their own civilian population,” Finer says in response to a question on the matter during a fireside chat at the Aspen Security Forum.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did, however, tell the war cabinet last week that Israel has weeks, not months, to prosecute its war against Hamas at the high intensity it has been since it launched its ground operation on October 27, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

“We have not given a firm deadline to Israel — not really our role. This is their conflict,” Finer says.

“That said, we do have influence, even if we don’t have ultimate control over what happens on the ground in Gaza,” he clarifies.

“We are trying to use our influence to steer that conflict in the most constructive… way possible,” he continues, referring to the need to abide by international law.

“But in terms of telling them ‘you must stop at this moment’ — that’s not the way we conduct our business.

IDF says two rockets from Syria triggered sirens in Golan Heights

Israeli tanks fire rounds during a drill in the Golan Heights on November 9, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Israeli tanks fire rounds during a drill in the Golan Heights on November 9, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The IDF says two rockets were fired from Syria earlier this evening, setting off sirens in the Golan Heights town of Buq’ata.

Both projectiles landed in open areas, causing no damage.

Several more rockets were fired from Lebanon at the communities of Shtula, Malkia and Zar’it, according to the IDF.

It says troops are shelling the sources of the fire with artillery.

US officials meet with head of Israeli civil commission on Oct. 7 sexual violence

Protestors gather outside the UN headquarters in New York City on December 4, 2023, to protest the international community's perceived silence on sexual violence committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women during the October 7 massacre. (Carli Fogel)
Protestors gather outside the UN headquarters in New York City on December 4, 2023, to protest the international community's perceived silence on sexual violence committed by Hamas terrorists against Israeli women during the October 7 massacre. (Carli Fogel)

A group of Biden administration officials met yesterday with the head of Israel’s Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children, the White House says.

During the meeting, commission head Cochav Elyakam-Levy “spoke about her work to gather testimony and document evidence of the events of October 7 and develop a comprehensive accounting of gender-based violence committed by Hamas,” reads a White House readout.

“The group discussed the imperative to unequivocally denounce sexual violence by Hamas, and the need for broad commitment across the international community to hold perpetrators accountable and support survivors,” it continues.

US presidential adviser Jennifer Klein reiterated US President Joe Biden’s “commitment to exercising all financial, diplomatic and legal tools to address sexual violence in conflict, and the ongoing efforts by the Administration to secure the release of the women and girls that continue to be held as hostages by Hamas.”

Meanwhile, US Vice President Kamala Harris joins Biden in condemning the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas on October 7.

“We’ve seen horrific reports of sexual assault by Hamas on October 7th. It is reprehensible and must be condemned,” she tweets.

“Rape can never be used as a weapon of war. I’ve spent my career protecting women and girls from heinous crimes of sexual violence and will continue to do so.”

Foreign minister reportedly issued diplomatic passports to fellow Likud members against counsel of professional staff

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, November 18, 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the copyright law)
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, November 18, 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the copyright law)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen reportedly ordered diplomatic passports to be issued to prominent members of his Likud party, acting against the advice of counsel from professional staff in his office.

A panel adjudicating Cohen’s requests for the diplomatic passports ruled against issuing them but Foreign Ministry director-general Ronen Levi overruled the committee, informing members that he was doing so on specific instructions from Cohen, Haaretz reports.

Diplomatic passports are supposed to be used by very high-ranking government officials to travel abroad with more ease.

Among the Likud members who received a diplomatic passport was Binyamin Regional Council chairman Yisrael Gantz — a prominent settler leader. Gantz also serves as head of the foreign affairs desk for the Yesha umbrella council of settler mayors.

Other Likud members who received diplomatic passports were Dimona mayor Benny Biton, Sdot Negev Regional Council chairman Tamir Idan and Merhavim Regional Council chairman Shay Hajaj.

Responding to the report, Cohen’s office tells Haaretz, “the foreign minister doesn’t order the issuance of passports. Requests that are submitted are considered and approved in accordance with the ministry’s regulations.”

J Street says it’ll withdraw support for IDF’s Gaza op sans ‘meaningful changes’

Palestinians inspect the damage in a residential building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes early on December 4, 2023.(Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Palestinians inspect the damage in a residential building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes early on December 4, 2023.(Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The dovish Mideast lobby J Street says it will withdraw support for Israel’s military operation in Gaza against Hamas unless major changes are made.

“If we do not see evidence soon that the government of Israel is, in fact, making meaningful changes to its conduct of the war and its attitudes regarding post-war arrangements, then J Street will no longer be able to provide our organizational support for the current military campaign,” J Street says in a statement.

“While J Street maintains support of Israel’s right – and the country’s moral obligation – to respond to this attack, to defend itself and to ensure that Israeli civilians never again come under threat from Hamas’s terror stronghold in Gaza, it is very concerned with the actions of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s government since fighting resumed last week.”

“Since fighting restarted last week, Israeli forces have resumed large-scale bombing and again cut or significantly reduced vital aid flows. Areas designated as ‘safe’ for civilians have been bombed, and rising levels of disease, hunger and death have become both strategically and morally unacceptable,” the left-wing pro-Israel group adds.

Police say they blocked far-right march after participants violated terms with inflammatory signs, chants

Participants hold up signs at a far-right march in Jerusalem December 7, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)
Participants hold up signs at a far-right march in Jerusalem December 7, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

The police say the ultranationalist march which had been approved to go through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem was stopped because the protestors violated the terms of the agreement with the police not to have inflammatory signs and chants.

On display at the beginning of the march were signs saying, “We demand vengeance,” “A bullet in the head of every terrorist,” “Coexistence with the enemy is impossible” and “A D9 [bulldozer] on the Temple Mount is the true victory,” implying that the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine should be demolished.

IDF says troops probing those left in Jabaliya and Shejaiya for ties to Hamas

Palestinian men said to have surrendered to the IDF in northern Gaza on December 7, 2023. (Social media: used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Palestinian men said to have surrendered to the IDF in northern Gaza on December 7, 2023. (Social media: used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari comments on the photos showing Israeli troops detaining dozens of Palestinian men in the Gaza Strip today.

“Jabaliya and Shejaiya are ‘centers of gravity’… for terrorists, and we are fighting them. They are hiding underground and come out and we fight them. Whoever is left in those areas, they come out from tunnel shafts, and some from buildings, and we investigate who is linked to Hamas, and who isn’t. We arrest them all and interrogate them,” Hagari says in response to a question at a press conference.

Police block march of Jewish radicals from entering Old City’s Muslim Quarter as planned

Police block a far-right march from entering the Old City on December 7, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)
Police block a far-right march from entering the Old City on December 7, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/Times of Israel)

A far-right march organized by Kahanists and Jewish ultranationalists is stopped in its tracks by a large police force, water cannon and mounted police.

The police had approved the march, which was supposed to have gone through the Muslim Quarter, and it is unclear why the march was stopped at the last moment.

Marchers brought along inflammatory signs including one calling for a bulldozer to be brought to the Temple Mount, alluding to the protest’s declared goals of destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine at the holy site.

Police confiscated many of the posters and arrested one demonstrator before blocking the route of the protest down the northern side of the Old City of Jerusalem and towards the Damascus Gate where the marchers had been slated to enter.

Longtime ultranationalist political figure Baruch Marzel rejects claims that the march could have sparked inter-communal violence and unrest, saying the October 7 atrocities “took place during the quietest period in Israel,” regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in many years.

Marzel also criticizes the police for stopping the march, saying, “There’s democracy in Israel for the left, not the right.”

Biden holds calls with Netanyahu, Jordan’s Abdullah to discus Israel-Hamas war

US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just got off the phone with US President Joe Biden, the White House says, adding that they discussed the latest developments in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

They have spoken on the phone at least 16 times since the war’s outbreak.

Biden also held a phone call on the war with Jordan’s King Abdullah, the White House says, adding that readouts on both conversations will be issued shortly.

Footage from Hamas fighter’s bodycam shows cell in Jabaliya struck by IDF in north Gaza

IDF footage obtained from the bodycam of a Hamas operative during fighting in northern Gaza's Jabaliya shows armed members of the terror group crawling on the ground inside a building on December 7, 2023. (Screen capture/X)
IDF footage obtained from the bodycam of a Hamas operative during fighting in northern Gaza's Jabaliya shows armed members of the terror group crawling on the ground inside a building on December 7, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

The IDF releases footage obtained from the bodycam of a Hamas operative during fighting in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, showing armed members of the terror group crawling on the ground inside a building.

The IDF says the Nahal Brigade encountered the operatives, who had fired anti-tank missiles at the troops. The cell was struck by a drone.

Another member of the cell was killed by the troops, and on his body, the camera was found, the IDF says.

US sanctions network financing Houthis amid uptick in group’s attacks since Oct. 7

This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows a Houthi forces helicopter approaching the cargo ship Galaxy Leader on Nov. 19, 2023 in the Red Sea. (Houthi Media Center via AP)
This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows a Houthi forces helicopter approaching the cargo ship Galaxy Leader on Nov. 19, 2023 in the Red Sea. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

The US Treasury Department announces sanctions against 13 individuals and entities it says are responsible for funds generated from the sale and shipment of Iranian commodities to the Houthis in Yemen.

The rebel group has fired several ballistic missiles and drones at Eilat since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war in October, all of which were intercepted or missed their targets. The latest attack came Wednesday when Israel shot down a ballistic missile over the Red Sea.

“The Iranian regime’s support to the Houthis has enabled unprovoked attacks on civilian infrastructure in Israel and on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden,” the US State Department says. “Attacks launched from Houthi-controlled areas have also threatened US warships operating in international waters.”

“Such attacks disrupt maritime security and impede freedom of navigation for commercial vessels, increase regional instability and risk broadening the conflict between Israel and Hamas,” it adds.

US envoy refrains from offering stance on Guterres’s invocation of rare UN charter clause aimed at Gaza ceasefire

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, addresses members of the UN Security Council at United Nations headquarters, on October 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, addresses members of the UN Security Council at United Nations headquarters, on October 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield twice balks on offering a position regarding UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s decision to invoke a rare clause in the UN charter to urge Security Council intervention in bringing about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“We’re aware of the Secretary-General’s letter. And as has been the case from the start of this conflict, we have remained closely engaged with the United Nations and other partners in the region,” Thomas-Greenfield tells NPR.

“We’ve supported the humanitarian pause, which ended a few days ago, but we’re also continuing to work with the parties in the region… to find a path forward, to continue to get humanitarian assistance, to get hostages out and to move toward a process that will lead to a two-state solution,” the US envoy adds.

Guterres has repeatedly called for a ceasefire in the unfolding war, and on Wednesday he wrote to the 15-member Security Council under Article 99 of the UN Charter for the first time since he took the helm of the 193-member world body in 2017.

It is also the first time any secretary-general has made use of it since 1989. The article allows the secretary-general to bring to the council’s attention any matter that he believes threatens international peace and security.

The interviewer tries pressing Thomas-Greenfield a second time regarding the US stance on Guterres’s decision, but she doesn’t budge.

“The Secretary-General has the authority to issue these letters, and we’re going to continue to work with the UN to find a path to address concerns that he and others have raised,” she says.

IDF says its jets struck Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon in response to repeated attacks

This picture taken from southern Lebanon shows smoke rising after an Israeli strike between the villages of Qaouzah and Ramia near the border with Israel on December 4, 2023. (AFP)
This picture taken from southern Lebanon shows smoke rising after an Israeli strike between the villages of Qaouzah and Ramia near the border with Israel on December 4, 2023. (AFP)

The IDF says its fighter jets struck a number of Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon earlier, including a command center, in response to repeated attacks on northern Israel today.

Several more rockets were fired from Lebanon at the north a short while ago, and the IDF says it is targeting the source of the fire.

CAIR director: I was happy to see Gazans ‘breaking the siege’ on Oct. 7

File: Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national executive director Nihad Awad speaks during a news conference, Jan. 30, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
File: Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national executive director Nihad Awad speaks during a news conference, Jan. 30, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The founder and executive director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations said last month that he was “happy” to see Gazans “break the siege” on October 7 when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst through the enclave’s border with Israel and massacred 1,200 people and took another roughly 240 hostage.

“The people of Gaza only decided to break the siege — the walls of the concentration camp — on October 7,” Nihad Awad said in a speech during the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) convention in Chicago last month.

“And yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land, and walk free into their land, which they were not allowed to walk in,” he adds.

“And yes, the people of Gaza have the right to self-defense, have the right to defend themselves, and yes, Israel, as an occupying power, does not have that right to self-defense.

“Gaza transformed many minds around the world, including people who are not Muslim. What kind of faith do these people have? They are thankful, they are not afraid.

“Israel did not scare them because they knew their heaven is in Gaza, and if they would like to die, they will go to another heaven.

“That is the faith of the people of Gaza. That is why Gaza and the people of Gaza were able to transform everyone who is watching.

“They have learned from these people. Those who felt bad for Gaza. They don’t understand the equation. Those who thought that Gazans are less than those who can help them, they are mistaken. They are mistaken. The Gazans were victorious.”

Four days after October 7, CAIR issued a statement saying that “targeting civilians is wrong, whether they are Palestinian, Israeli, American or any other nationality.”

3-year-old Cunio twins, mother discharged from hospital 10 days after release from Hamas captivity

Three-year-old twins Emma and Yuli Cunio and their mother Sharon Aloni Cunio leave Schneider Children’s Medical Center on December 7, 2023. (Courtesy of Schneider Children’s Medical Center)
Three-year-old twins Emma and Yuli Cunio and their mother Sharon Aloni Cunio leave Schneider Children’s Medical Center on December 7, 2023. (Courtesy of Schneider Children’s Medical Center)

Just in time for the first light of Hanukkah, three-year-old twins Emma and Yuli Cunio and their mother Sharon Aloni Cunio, 34, were discharged from Schneider Children’s Medical Center

Seized from their home in Kibbutz Nir Oz by terrorists on October 7, the three were held hostage in Gaza by Hamas until they were released on November 27 as part of a temporary ceasefire deal brokered by Qatar and the United States between Hamas and Israel. The twins’ father David, 34, is still held in Gaza.

Sharon’s sister Danielle Aloni, 44, and her daughter Emilia, 5, were also held hostage and were released on November 24.

War cabinet minister, ex-IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot’s son killed in Gaza, along with 2nd soldier

Master Sgt. (res.) Gal Meir Eisenkot (left) and Sgt. Maj. (res.) Jonathan David Deitch, who were killed in the Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023. (Courtesy)
Master Sgt. (res.) Gal Meir Eisenkot (left) and Sgt. Maj. (res.) Jonathan David Deitch, who were killed in the Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

The IDF announces the deaths of two reserves soldiers during fighting in the Gaza Strip, bringing the toll of slain soldiers in the ground offensive to 89.

The first is Master Sgt. (res.) Gal Meir Eisenkot, 25, of the 551st Brigade’s 699th Battalion, from Herzliya. He is the son of former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot. Eisenkot, a minister in the current emergency government on behalf of Benny Gantz’s National Unity party, is an observer on the high-level war cabinet leading the decision-making in the Gaza campaign.

Eisenkot received the news while touring the IDF’s Southern Command alongside Gantz earlier today.

Gal Eisenkot was killed after a bomb exploded in a tunnel shaft near soldiers in the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza. He was rushed in grave condition to a hospital in Israel, where he died of his injuries.

The second soldier killed is Sgt. Maj. (res.) Jonathan David Deitch, 34, of the 55th Brigade’s 6623rd Reconnaissance Battalion, from Harish. He was killed in a firefight in the Strip’s south.

IDF says it killed pair of senior Hamas intel official in airstrike this week

Abed al-Aziz Rantisi (L) and Ahmed Ayush. (IDF)
Abed al-Aziz Rantisi (L) and Ahmed Ayush. (IDF)

The IDF says that a few days ago it killed two senior officials in Hamas’s intelligence division, in an airstrike in the Gaza Strip.

It says one of the officials, Abed al-Aziz Rantisi, was responsible for Hamas’s observation capabilities, and was involved in the planning of the October 7 attacks.

He was killed in a strike on a Hamas intelligence command room, along with Ahmed Ayush, who the IDF says is a senior operative in the terror group’s observation array in the al-Qarara battalion.

The IDF says the command room that was hit in the strike was a center for all of Hamas’s observation capabilities, and it “served as a significant strategic asset for the management of the fighting.”

IDF footage shows strike on armed Hamas operatives in northern Gaza

IDF footage showing troops unit identifying a group of Hamas operatives in the northern Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023. (Screen capture/X)
IDF footage showing troops unit identifying a group of Hamas operatives in the northern Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

The IDF releases footage showing the Border Defense Corps’ 636th Combat Intelligence Collection unit identifying a group of Hamas operatives, armed with RPGs, approaching troops of the Golani Infantry Brigade in the northern Gaza Strip.

The operatives are seen opening fire at the forces in the clip.

The unit called in an airstrike, killing all members of the cell, according to the IDF.

California cafe staff seen barring woman from bathroom where she wanted to film anti-Israel graffiti

Employees at Farley's East cafe and a neighboring shop in Oakland, California, who sought to block a customer from entering the store's bathroom to film anti-Israel graffiti inside on December 6, 2023. (Screen capture/X)
Employees at Farley's East cafe and a neighboring shop in Oakland, California, who sought to block a customer from entering the store's bathroom to film anti-Israel graffiti inside on December 6, 2023. (Screen capture/X)

Employees at a cafe in Oakland, California, were filmed in recent days denying a customer said to be Jewish from using the bathroom at their shop.

The female patron of Farley’s East was said to have complained to the staff about anti-Israel messages graffitied inside the bathroom and then wanted to go inside again to film the messages but was blocked from doing so by a staff member with blue hair.

“We’ve given you all of your food… I know Israel loves taking private property and saying it’s their own, but we got ahead,” a second employee is heard telling the female patron filming the interaction on her phone. “We have a right to refuse service.”

“Currently, this is a private property,” says a third staff member. “You’re also misgendering them, so I need you to leave.”

“You’re not going to let me go into the restroom?” the customer asks repeatedly.

A fourth employee then tells the customer that she is allowed to use another restroom in the cafe if she would like.

The customer insists on using the bathroom with graffiti inside. “I should not be excluded when other people are allowed,” she says.

“All you’re going to get is a video of us saying that ‘Zionism is antisemitism’ because it is,” says the third employee.

“If you agree with [the graffiti], why are you afraid that I take a picture of it?” the customer responds.

The staff then acquiesce and allows the patron into the bathroom.

She films herself walking inside where the phrase “Zionism = fascism” is daubed on the mirror and “neutrality… is enabling genocide. Free Palestine” is graffitied on the baby changing station.

“History didn’t start in 1948, lady,” says the second employee, apparently referring to the year in which Israel was established.

“Free Palestine. Now please go,” the third staffer chimes in.

As the incident began going viral, Farley’s East issued a statement on social media in which it apologized for the incident, characterized the graffiti in the bathroom as “hate speech,” said that it had been removed, that the chain is not antisemitic and that “corrective measures would be taken.”

Oakland made headlines last week when some participants at a city council meeting on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza voiced denials of the October 7 atrocities committed by Hamas while others backed the terror group’s right to use violence against Israel.

Footage shows dozens of Gaza men said to have surrendered to IDF; reportedly may be Hamas suspects

Palestinian men said to have surrendered to the IDF in the Jabaliya area of northern Gaza on December 7, 2023. (Social media: used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Palestinian men said to have surrendered to the IDF in the Jabaliya area of northern Gaza on December 7, 2023. (Social media: used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Several clips filmed in Gaza uploaded onto social media over the last several hours show how the IDF has rounded up dozens of Palestinians — said in Hebrew media reports to be possible Hamas suspects — who have surrendered themselves to Israeli troops in Jabaliya and other areas in the northern Strip.

The young Palestinian men are seen stripped down to their underwear, blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs.

In one clip, a group of them are seen being transported in the back of an Israeli military vehicle.

The IDF has not yet commented on the apparent mass arrests.

Palestinian men said to have surrendered to the IDF in the Jabaliya area on December 7, 2023. (Screem capture/screenshot, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Palestinian men said to have surrendered to the IDF in the Jabaliya area on December 7, 2023. (Screem capture/screenshot, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Israeli civilian killed by anti-tank missile fire from Lebanon

Smoke rises during an exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah on the border between Israel and Lebanon, December 3, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
Smoke rises during an exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah on the border between Israel and Lebanon, December 3, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon struck and killed an Israeli civilian in the northern border town of Mattat.

The man, in his 60s, was treated by Magen David Adom medics who were forced to declare his death.

The IDF confirms the strike and says its forces identified where it originated from and returned fire with combat helicopters, tank and artillery fire. The army adds that it also returned fire to several other locations in southern Lebanon where strikes at Israel originated  from earlier this afternoon.

Organs of fallen soldier Alemnew Emanuel Feleke donated to save four lives

Staff Sgt. Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, 22, who was killed in action during fighting in Gaza. (Courtesy)
Staff Sgt. Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, 22, who was killed in action during fighting in Gaza. (Courtesy)

The National Transplant Center reports that the family of fallen soldier Staff Sgt. Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, 22, has donated his organs to save the lives of others.

Feleke, of the Commando Brigade’s Duvdevan unit, was wounded December 5 during fighting in southern Gaza and succumbed to his wounds the following day. Despite the medical staff’s efforts to save his life at Soroka Medical Center, they were forced to declare him brain dead.

His heart and lungs went to a patient of undisclosed age and gender at Beilinson Hospital and his liver to a 53-year-old woman, also at Beilinson. One of his kidneys and his pancreas were transplanted into a 45-year-old woman at Ichilov Hospital, and his other kidney went to a 58-year-old man at Hadassah Ein Kerem.

Feleke’s brother Noam said that the family’s decision to donate his organs was a way of continuing his spirit of giving.

Feleke’s family made aliya to Israel from Ethiopia in 2004 and lived for a year in an absorption center in Beersheba. From there, they moved to Bat Yam, where Feleke graduated from a yeshiva high school. The family moved to Kiryat Gat four years ago.

While volunteering with the fire and rescue service and guiding in the Bnei Akiva youth movement, Feleke participated in a program that combined Torah study with preparation for army service. He followed that up with additional Torah study in Safed.

According to his brother, Feleke wanted to be drafted into the Commando Brigade but did not initially make it. He was accepted by the paratroopers, and when he tried out again for the Commando Brigade, he made it into the elite Duvdevan unit.

“He had recently finished the training course for that and received a company excellence award. He was supposed to go to officers’ training, but because of the war that got delayed and he stayed where he was to fight,” his brother Noam says.

Noam Feleke said he and the rest of the family were sure that his brother would have wanted his organs donated.

“He was always modest and very much liked to help. He gave of himself all the time, over and over,” he said.

Anti-tank missile fired at Israeli civilian vehicle near Lebanese border — reports

An anti-tank missile is fired at an Israeli civilian vehicle in the Upper Galilee near the Lebanese border, Hebrew media reports.

There is no immediate comment from the IDF and no word on possible casualties.

UK says Russian intelligence behind sustained attempts to meddle in British democracy

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on December 5, 2023, after attending a cabinet meeting. (Ben Stansall/AFP)
Britain's Foreign Secretary David Cameron leaves from 10 Downing Street in central London on December 5, 2023, after attending a cabinet meeting. (Ben Stansall/AFP)

Russia’s intelligence services targeted high-profile British politicians, civil servants and journalists with cyberespionage and “malicious cyberactivity” as part of sustained attempts to interfere in UK political processes, Britain’s government says.

The Foreign Office said Russia’s FSB agency was responsible for a range of cyberespionage operations in the UK, including targeting British parliamentarians from multiple parties and “high-profile individuals and entities” from at least 2015, and selectively leaking and amplifying sensitive information to serve Russian interests.

Foreign Office minister Leo Docherty tells lawmakers that a cybergroup known as “Star Blizzard,” which British cybersecurity officials believe to be “almost certainly subordinate” to an FSB unit, created false identities to impersonate legitimate contacts and compromise email accounts in the public sector.

“Russia’s attempts to interfere in UK politics are completely unacceptable and seek to threaten our democratic processes,” Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement. “Despite their repeated efforts, they have failed.”

Israel to open Kerem Shalom Crossing for Gaza aid inspections for first time since war started

Illustrative: A fuel truck enters the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel, in Rafah in the southern Palestinian enclave following a truce, on August 8, 2022.(SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Illustrative: A fuel truck enters the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel, in Rafah in the southern Palestinian enclave following a truce, on August 8, 2022.(SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Israel will open the Kerem Shalom Crossing with Gaza for the inspection of humanitarian aid trucks for the first time since the outbreak of the war, a senior Israeli official announces.

The move, slated to be implemented in the coming days, is meant to facilitate an increase in the number of aid trucks that can enter Gaza each day. Israel currently inspects the trucks at the smaller Nitzana crossing between Israel and Egypt before they are sent to Rafah.

While Israel will use the Kerem Shalom facilities to inspect the trucks, they will still need to enter Gaza through Rafah.

The Biden administration and the broader international community have been pressuring Israel for weeks to open Kerem Shalom, previously Gaza’s main goods crossing. Since the start of the war, all aid has been entering Gaza through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing, which is meant to be primarily for pedestrians.

But the Israeli government has taken steps to disconnect from Gaza following Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught and is also limiting the scope of aid it is allowing into Gaza so long as the hostages aren’t released or visited by the Red Cross.

Israel has also sought to limit the amount of fuel it allows into Gaza amid fears that it will be diverted by Hamas. Still, the cabinet voted last night to allow in “minimal” amounts each day to prevent a further humanitarian crisis following US pressure.

While the decision to open Kerem Shalom to inspections doesn’t go as far as the Biden administration is aiming, a US official tells The Times of Israel that it is a step in the right direction and that Washington will continue pushing Israel to reopen the crossing for the entry and exit of aid trucks.

Col. Elad Goren, from Israel’s COGAT military liaison to the Palestinians, tells reporters in a briefing that even without Kerem Shalom, Israel is capable of facilitating the entry of up to 250 aid trucks each day through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing into Gaza.

Trucks arrive first in the Egyptian coastal town of El Arish, from where they are driven through Israel’s Nitzana Crossing to be inspected there by Israeli authorities. Nitzana is not designed for this purpose, though, leading to a slowed inspection process and bottlenecks of aid at this and other stages, which is why the US pushed for the use of Kerem Shalom.

Goren insists that the procedures currently in place are sufficient to allow up to 250 trucks in, and that opening Kerem Shalom is aimed at facilitating the entry of a larger number of trucks, which he says that Israel supports.

He suggests that international agencies are to blame for the limited distribution of aid.

“The problem is the capability of the UN agencies [ability] to collect all of the international assistance” after it is inspected and ensure that it makes it through Rafah, Goren says.

“We’re allowing hundreds of trucks to enter Gaza [each day]. It’s just a matter of logistics and what the UN can take and distribute inside Gaza, and we will continue to work with all the international organizations in order to increase their capabilities,” he adds.

UN officials have rejected the Israeli charge, saying the IDF’s ongoing military campaign has all but handcuffed its ability to distribute aid and arguing that a long-term humanitarian ceasefire is essential.

Before the war started, roughly 500 trucks entered Gaza each day, largely through Kerem Shalom but also from Egypt’s Salah a-Din Crossing, which was believed to have been less closely inspected.

Since the war, the number of trucks entering Gaza each day has been well under 100. During a recent seven-day truce, roughly 200 trucks entered each day. That number has fallen since, with just 80 trucks and several fuel trucks entering yesterday.

IDF shows receipts it says show Haniyeh’s son bought thousands of dollars of jewelry

The IDF publishes receipts found during raids on Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip that it says shows that a son of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh bought jewelry in recent years worth thousands of dollars while many in Gaza were going hungry.

The post from IDF Arabic language spokesman AvichaynAdraee purport to show receipts from both Gaza and Qatar for purchases made by Moaz Haniyeh.

The five receipts total some $25,000.

The post notes that the “amount of just one receipt is equivalent to approximately two years’ wages for a Gaza resident.”

Ichilov first hospital outside US to treat Alzheimer’s patients with new drug Lecanemab

Patient Ophira Barkan with Dr Noa Bergman (center) and Dr Tamara Shiner  at Ichilov Hospital, which becomes the first outside of the US authorized to administer new Alzheimer’s drug Lecanemab in a photo released December 7, 2023 (Jenny Yerushalmi/Ichilov)
Patient Ophira Barkan with Dr Noa Bergman (center) and Dr Tamara Shiner at Ichilov Hospital, which becomes the first outside of the US authorized to administer new Alzheimer’s drug Lecanemab in a photo released December 7, 2023 (Jenny Yerushalmi/Ichilov)

Ichilov Hospital announces that this week it began treating patients with Alzheimer’s drug Lecanemab.

Ichilov is the only medical center outside the United States authorized by drugmaker Eisai to administer the medication, which is newly approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The medication, sold under the brand name Leqembi, is produced by the Japanese company Eisai and its US partner Biogen.

Leqembi is an antibody intravenous infusion therapy that targets and removes beta-amyloid plaques from the brain. The FDA approved its use in treating early Alzheimer’s disease, including people living with mild cognitive impairment or mild dementia due to Alzheimer’s disease who have confirmation of elevated beta-amyloid in the brain.

Dr. Tamara Shiner, a neurology specialist and head of Ichilov’s service for frontal neurological syndromes and dementia with Lewy bodies, says that the hospital has set up a system to identify patients with early-stage Alzheimer’s who could benefit from this treatment.

Among the first Israelis to receive a Leqembi infusion this week is 76-year-old Ophira Barkan.

“I am very excited to be among the first patients to get this medication. I hold out a lot of hope for it. This is the first time that there is a drug to treat Alzheimer’s and it’s providing me some light,” she says.

WATCH: Gaza woman tells Al-Jazeera Hamas stealing all the aid

A Gaza resident (left) tells an Al Jazeera reporter (right) about Hamas taking humanitarian aid, in a clip aired on December 7, 2023 (X screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the copyright law)
A Gaza resident (left) tells an Al Jazeera reporter (right) about Hamas taking humanitarian aid, in a clip aired on December 7, 2023 (X screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the copyright law)

In a rare display of public criticism, a Gaza resident tells the Al-Jazeera TV channel that the lack of aid to residents of the Strip is due to Hamas stealing it.

Asked about the supposed trickle of aid coming into Gaza, the woman, says there is plenty of aid, but “all aid goes down (into Hamas tunnels).”

“The aid does not reach the nation, all the people,” she says.

When the journalist from the pro-Palestinian Qatari channel tells her that only a small amount of aid is coming in and it is all being distributed, she shakes her fingers at him and says: “All of it goes into their houses. They take it and will even shoot me or do whatever they want, Hamas.”

Family of Mohammad Alatrash, missing since Oct. 7, told he is captive in Gaza

Mohammad  Alatrash, who has been missing since the October 7, Hamas assault on southern Israel, has been confirmed to be among the hostages being held captive by Hamas, the IDF says.

Military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari says that intelligence information indicates Alatrash is in Gaza, bringing the number of confirmed hostages currently held to 138.

Alatrash, 40, is a father of 13 from the Bedouin village of Sawa in the Negev. Family members say they have had no word on him since the assault.

“Only about two days ago we started receiving details that he might be among the hostages. We are waiting to know about his condition and to hopefully hear his voice, and to bring him back to the family,” his father tells the Ynet news site.

Labor MKs call for temporary collective leadership after Michaeli announces plan to quit

Labor leader Merav Michaeli, center, with Labor party MKs Gilad Kariv, second from right, and Naama Lazimi, left, after the results of the Labor party primaries were announced, in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Labor leader Merav Michaeli, center, with Labor party MKs Gilad Kariv, second from right, and Naama Lazimi, left, after the results of the Labor party primaries were announced, in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Merav Michaeli did not inform her fellow Labor lawmakers that she was planning to resign the party leadership ahead of her announcement, say party sources, adding that the decision was not surprising.

Labor MK Gilad Kariv tells Army Radio her decision to step down was “a necessary step,” given his view that “we need a refresh of leadership on the left.”

A spokesperson for Kariv confirms that he and fellow Labor MKs Naama Lazimi and Efrat Rayten will ask that all decisions made in the next four months, leading up the newly announced Labor leadership primaries, should be taken collectively.

Kariv’s spokesperson adds that is unclear who will run for the leadership.

Michaeli does not give reason for decision to quit politics

Labor party chief Merav Michaeli casts her ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv on November 1, 2022 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Labor party chief Merav Michaeli casts her ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv on November 1, 2022 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Labor leader Merav Michaeli does not offer an explanation for why she decided to quit her ailing opposition party’s leadership now, only saying that she hopes the internal primary will presage a broader general election in 2024.

“The State of Israel is currently in a major crisis. Out of this terrible rupture, Israel needs to have a new beginning, a restart. And for that to happen, elections must be held, and I am convinced that Israel will go to elections in 2024,” Michaeli says in a statement to the press in Tel Aviv.

Although recent polling shows a marked decrease in public support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government amid its failure to prevent Hamas’s brutal October 7 terror attack and the war it triggered, the government can only be brought down by defection from within the coalition.

“I have no intention of running in the primaries for party leadership and I will not run for a place on the Labor list for the next Knesset either. I will, though, be here to do everything to hand over the steering wheel to the next leader of the party in the best way, for the good of rebuilding the party and our beloved country,” she says.

Labor shrank to the Knesset minimum of four seats in the November 2022 election. Michaeli is also widely blamed for the collapse of Israel’s political left after she steadfastly refused to merge election slates with the Meretz party.

IDF announces the death of soldier in Gaza fighting, bring ground op toll to 87

Sgt. First Class (res.) Maor Gershoni, 24, killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023 (Courtesy)
Sgt. First Class (res.) Maor Gershoni, 24, killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023 (Courtesy)

The IDF announces the death of a soldier killed during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday, bringing the toll of the ground offensive against Hamas to 87.

He is named as Sgt. First Class (res.) Maor Gershoni, 24, of the 6th Brigade’s 8173rd Battalion, from Yokne’am Illit.

IDF jets hit Hezbollah sites after attacks from Lebanon

The IDF says it carried out airstrikes against a series of Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, including rocket launch sites, observation posts, and other infrastructure belonging to the terror group

Separately, several projectiles were fired from Lebanon at northern Israel. The IDF says it struck the launch sites.

Hezbollah claims to have targeted a number of IDF positions along the northern border.

Labor’s Michaeli to quit politics, party to hold leadership vote in April

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2023.  (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Labor party chief Merav Michaeli announces her planned resignation from political life and her intention to step down as leader of the left-wing party.

Labor will hold early leadership primaries in April, Michaeli will not run for its leadership, and she will quit Knesset at the end of her current term, she says in a statement to the press in Tel Aviv.

Her move comes a year after being blamed for the failure of the left in recent elections.

Commentators on Channel 12 react to the news by saying her decision came “too late,” a year after her refusal to join forces with left-wing Meretz led to Meretz narrowly missing the vote threshold necessary to enter Knesset, helping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put together a hard-right coalition.

Since then Labor has consistently failed to cross the election threshold in polling.

US said to ask Israel not to respond to attacks from Iran-backed Houthis

Forces loyal to Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis take part in a mass funeral for fighters killed in battles with Saudi-backed government troops, in Yemen's capital Sanaa, on April 8, 2021. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)
Forces loyal to Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis take part in a mass funeral for fighters killed in battles with Saudi-backed government troops, in Yemen's capital Sanaa, on April 8, 2021. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

The US has reportedly told Israel not to respond to missile and drone attacks from the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US has told Israel to let the American military respond to the Houthis. The US has warships in the area and has shot down several of the missiles fired at Israel, while Israel has intercepted others.

Citing US and other government officials, the report says the US is concerned that an Israeli response could widen the current conflict.

IDF: Hamas launching rockets from within Gaza humanitarian zones at Israel

The Israel Defense Forces say that Hamas has been launching rockets from within humanitarian zones in Gaza at Israeli civilians.

“Yesterday, at 15:59, Hamas terrorists launched 12 rockets toward Israeli civilians in the city of Beersheba in southern Israel. The rockets were launched from near tents of evacuated Gazan civilians in Rafah in southern Gaza and from next to United Nations facilities,” the IDF says.

It also said that “at 12:52 yesterday, Hamas launched a rocket from inside a humanitarian zone. The rocket misfired, putting many Gazan civilians at risk.”

 

Watchdogs say IDF strike that killed a journalist in Lebanon merits a ‘war crime’ probe

Civil Defense workers remove the body of Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah who was killed by shelling, at Alma al-Shaab border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Friday, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
Civil Defense workers remove the body of Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah who was killed by shelling, at Alma al-Shaab border village with Israel, south Lebanon, Friday, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

An Israeli strike in Lebanon that killed one journalist and injured six others on October 14 merits a “war crime” investigation, rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch tell AFP.

Issam Abdallah, 37, was killed instantly in the strike. The others present — two other Reuters journalists, two from Al Jazeera, and two from AFP — were all injured. AFP photographer Christina Assi, 28, was seriously wounded, later had a leg amputated and is still in hospital.

The Israeli military has said it was sorry for the death of a Reuters journalist killed when caught up in cross-border shelling along the frontier with Lebanon, but has not acknowledged responsibility, saying it was investigating the incident.

The AFP news agency says a probe it conducted points to the death being caused by a tank shell only used by the Israeli army.

Cohen said to press Foreign Ministry to give diplomatic passports to Likud bigwigs, Yair Netanyahu

File: Foreign Minister Eli Cohen seen during an interview in Jerusalem, June 12, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
File: Foreign Minister Eli Cohen seen during an interview in Jerusalem, June 12, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen pressured ministry officials to hand out diplomatic passports to senior Likud officials and Yair Netanyahu, the adult son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Haaretz daily reports.

The report says that Cohen pressed to give the passports to Likud members who are seen as influential in the party and could affect the ranking that politicians get in party primaries. Among those who got diplomatic passports were the head of the Mateh Binyamin regional council Yisrael Gantz and Dimona Mayor Benny Biton.

The report says the ministry officials complained to Director General Ronen Levy, noting these recipients were ineligible under the current criteria, but were overruled.

Cohen also secured a passport for Yair Netanyahu even though the son of a prime minister is only eligible up to age 18, claiming that he needed a diplomatic passport because he was protected on travels overseas by the Shin Bet and the agents had diplomatic passports, Haaretz said.

 

IDF tells public firing ranges will remain closed to hikers during Hanukkah festival this year

Illustrative: An IDF soldier during training in the Golan Heights on December 15, 2014. (Matan Portnoy/IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)
Illustrative: An IDF soldier during training in the Golan Heights on December 15, 2014. (Matan Portnoy/IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)

The Israel Defense Forces announces that it will not open its firing ranges to hikers over the Hanukkah festival.

“The IDF will continue to carry out exercises in training areas (firing ranges) throughout the country during the weekend. We emphasize that entering the training areas is prohibited and poses a danger to life and harms the activities of the forces,” the military says in a statement.

It also warns residents living near such ranges that they could hear gunfire and explosions.

Ordinarily, the military opens up its vast training areas to the public during holidays and in the spring.

The eight-day Hanukkah festival starts tonight.

Rockets fired at Sderot, Gaza border communities

Rocket warning sirens sound in the town of Sderot and in other Gaza border area communities.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

IDF releases footage of drone strike on RPG-wielding Hamas operatives

The IDF releases footage showing a drone strike on Hamas operatives in the Khan Younis area yesterday.

According to the IDF, the operatives came out of a tunnel under a collapsed building, one of them carrying an RPG.

It says troops of the 55th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade’s 71st Battalion directed the drone strike.

Later, troops of the Combat Engineering Corps’ elite Yahalom unit destroyed the tunnel shaft.

Lapid slams planned far-right march in Jerusalem Old City

Long time Kahanist political operative Baruch Marzel speaks at the launch of the far-right 'Otzma Yehudit' party campaign, ahead of the Israeli elections, in Jerusalem on February 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)
Long time Kahanist political operative Baruch Marzel speaks at the launch of the far-right 'Otzma Yehudit' party campaign, ahead of the Israeli elections, in Jerusalem on February 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid slams the planned far-right march scheduled to take place tonight through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and says it should be canceled.

“The march in Jerusalem this evening is a blatant Kahanist attempt to set ablaze additional fronts and cause more death and destruction,” says Lapid in a post on X, referring to the followers of the late Jewish extremist Meir Kahane.

“As prime minister, I approved marches in Jerusalem but not violent provocations,” he continues and alleges that the cabinet is dysfunctional for not banning the march.

The march is being organized by two ultranationalist groups, one of which is explicitly a Kahanist movement led by longtime far-right political figure Baruch Marzel, and will call for “full Jewish control” on the Temple Mount and for the authority of the Jordanian Waqf which administers the Temple Mount to be revoked.

IDF launches program to better equip civilian defense teams

Defense Ministry officials supply weapons to civilian defense team's near the Gaza Border on December 12, 2023 (Defense Ministry)
Defense Ministry officials supply weapons to civilian defense team's near the Gaza Border on December 12, 2023 (Defense Ministry)

The Israel Defense Forces and Defense Ministry launch a program to better equip civilian community defense teams.

The local teams are made up of residents of communities and are often the first to respond to infiltrations and attacks. On October 7 several of the teams in communities near the Gaza border were overwhelmed as they took on dozens of Hamas terrorists, sometimes without adequate arms and equipment.

In a statement, the military says it will start with Gaza-adjacent communities, supplying equipment to 12 teams every week.

The program will eventually be expanded to all communities across the country.

US envoy says hope not lost for normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia

US special envoy Amos Hochstein (C) arrives for a meeting with Lebanon's parliament speaker in Beirut on November 7, 2023. (AFP)
US special envoy Amos Hochstein (C) arrives for a meeting with Lebanon's parliament speaker in Beirut on November 7, 2023. (AFP)

US energy envoy Amos Hochstein says that the Biden administration has not lost hope that normalization can be achieved between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

US-mediated talks between the two countries were frozen amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The Reuters news agency quotes Hochstein as saying that he did not think hope should be lost and that the normalization goal remains.  He adds that the US remains committed to regional integration but it has to be broader than Saudi-Israel.

IDF pushes further into Khan Younis

IDF troops operate inside Gaza in this handout photo released on December 7, 2023. (IDF)
IDF troops operate inside Gaza in this handout photo released on December 7, 2023. (IDF)

The IDF says the 98th Division continues to advance in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, as the Air Force carries out strikes on dozens of Hamas targets.

The IDF says that in one incident, two Hamas operatives popped out of a tunnel and opened fire at forces of the Duvdevan unit, who responded by killing the gunmen and destroying the tunnel shaft.

In northern Gaza, the 460th Brigade has advanced in the Jabaliya camp, capturing a main Hamas outpost in the area and killing several operatives in the process, the IDF says. Tunnels and weapons were found in the area.

The IDF says the Navy has continued to assist the ground forces, carrying out strikes and shelling of Hamas sites along the coast.

As part of its deception, Hamas gave Israel intel on Islamic Jihad — report

A picture shows a building housing the apartment (top floor) of an Islamic Jihad leader, which was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis, early on May 11, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A picture shows a building housing the apartment (top floor) of an Islamic Jihad leader, which was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis, early on May 11, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

As part of its long-term plans to lull Israel into thinking it did not want conflict, the Hamas terror group even gave Israel intelligence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, The Washington Post reports.

The report, citing an unnamed Israeli security official, says that Hamas “provided Israel with intelligence on PIJ to reinforce the impression that they were interested in collaboration.”

The cooperation reportedly came during May’s Operation Guardian of the Walls clash between Israel and PIJ.

Hamas sat out the fighting and saw increased economic incentives after, leading many in Israel to believe it was not interested in conflict with Israel and enabling the surprise October 7 assault.

Poll finds Democratic support for Biden ticks up on handling of Israel-Hamas war

US President Joe Biden walks to the podium to deliver remarks on the war between Israel and Hamas after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
US President Joe Biden walks to the podium to deliver remarks on the war between Israel and Hamas after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Democratic views on how US President Joe Biden is handling the conflict between Israel and Hamas have rebounded slightly, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The shift occurs during a time in which Biden and top US officials expressed increased concern about civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip, emphasized the need for a future independent Palestinian state and helped secure the release of hostages held by Hamas during a temporary truce. Biden’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself has remained steadfast.

Fifty-nine percent of Democrats approve of Biden’s approach to the conflict, up from 50% in November. His latest standing is roughly equivalent to Democrats’ 57% approval rating for him on the issue in an August poll, conducted well before the war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked Israel, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians and took some 240 hostage.

Still, the issue remains divisive among Democrats, who are less enthusiastic about Biden’s handling of the war than his overall job performance. Seventy-five percent of Democrats says Biden is doing well as president, also up slightly from 69% last month. His approval rating among US adults stands at 41%.

Rocket alarm blares in northern town

Rocket sirens have sounded in the northern community of Margaliot, near the border with Lebanon.

There is no immediate word on injuries or damage from the apparent attack.

IDF announces deaths of two soldiers, bringing Gaza ground op toll to 86

Staff Sgt. Amit Bonzel, left, and Staff Sgt.Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, right, both 22, were killed in action during fighting in Gaza. Bonzel was killed on December 6, 2023. Feleke died of wounds sustained in fighting on December 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Staff Sgt. Amit Bonzel, left, and Staff Sgt.Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, right, both 22, were killed in action during fighting in Gaza. Bonzel was killed on December 6, 2023. Feleke died of wounds sustained in fighting on December 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF announces the deaths of two soldiers killed during fighting in Gaza, bringing the toll of slain soldiers during the ground offensive against Hamas since late October to 86.

They are:

Staff Sgt. Amit Bonzel, 22, of the Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, from Shoham.

Staff Sgt. Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, 22, of the Commando Brigade’s Duvdevan unit, from Kiryat Gat. Feleke was wounded Dec. 5 during fighting in southern Gaza and succumbed to his wounds yesterday.

The IDF adds that three more reservists of the Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance unit were seriously wounded in the battle in which Bonzel was killed.

Another soldier of the 551st Brigade’s 7008th Battalion was seriously wounded during a separate battle yesterday in Gaza.

UK defense secretary to visit Israel this week, push for faster aid to Gaza

British Defense Secretary Grant Shapps will visit Israel this week to push for faster humanitarian aid to Gaza, his office says.

“My visit this week is an important opportunity to discuss efforts to accelerate the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance into Gaza and efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages,’ says Shapps of the roughly 137 hostages still in the hand of Hamas and allied terror groups since October 7

“We are working to find the best way to get aid and support to those in desperate need in the quickest and most direct route. That includes options by land, sea and air,” he says.

The UK has deployed “an extra 1,000 military personnel in the Middle East and our forces are there to support the humanitarian aid effort and help in stabilizing the area,’ says the defense secretary.

Shapps will meet with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to “address the current security situation and Israel’s next steps” and with Palestinian Authority Minister General Ziad Hab Al-Reeh, “to address the urgent need for measures to improve security for Palestinians in the West Bank.”

“The UK has made clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against terror, restore its security and bring the hostages home, but it must abide by international humanitarian law and take all possible measures to protect civilians,” says Shapps in the statement.

Penn president says she was ‘not focused’ during Congress hearing on campus antisemitism

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill reads her opening statement during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Dec. 5, 2023 in Washington. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein)
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill reads her opening statement during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Dec. 5, 2023 in Washington. (AP/Mark Schiefelbein)

Amid furious backlash to the presidents of three of the top US universities refusing to explicitly say that calls for genocide of Jewish people violate campus rules on harassment during a high-profile congressional hearing Tuesday, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill appears to walk back some of her controversial comments.

“In that moment, I was focused on our university’s longstanding policies aligned with the US Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable,” she says in a video posted tonight (Wednesday). “I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate. It’s evil — plain and simple.”

“I want to be clear, a call for genocide of Jewish people is threatening—deeply so. It is intentionally meant to terrify a people who have been subjected to pogroms and hatred for centuries and were the victims of mass genocide in the Holocaust. In my view, it would be harassment or intimidation,” she adds.

She says the university would “initiate a serious and careful look at our policies.”

“In today’s world, where we are seeing signs of hate proliferating across our campus and our world in a way not seen in years, these policies need to be clarified and evaluated,” she says.

The president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay, who also appeared at the hearing yesterday, earlier issued a statement signaling that people have misunderstood her widely-panned remarks, when she said that calls on campus for genocide against Jews are not necessarily harassment.

In widely circulated video of parts of the hearing Tuesday, New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik asks Magill, Gay, and MIT president Sally Kornbluth directly if “calling for the genocide of Jews” is against the codes of conduct of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, and all three presidents said the answer depended on the context.

“It is a context-dependent decision,” Magill responded at the hearing, leading Stefanik to reply, “Calling for the genocide of Jews is dependent on the context? That is not bullying or harassment? This is the easiest question to answer ‘yes,’ Ms. Magill.”

Responding to the same question, Gay said, “When speech crosses into conduct, we take action.”

Kornbluth said that such language would only be “investigated as harassment if pervasive and severe.”

After US, Belgium announces travel ban on violent Israeli settlers

Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo speaks during the High-Level Segment for Heads of State and Government session at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 2, 2023. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)
Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo speaks during the High-Level Segment for Heads of State and Government session at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 2, 2023. (Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announces that violent Israeli settlers who attack Palestinians in the West bank will be banned from Belgium, a day after the US made a similar announcement.

De Croo writes that “violence against civilians will have consequences” and “extremist settlers in the West Bank will be banned from entering Belgium.”

“We will work with the US on sanctions targeting individuals involved in actions that undermine peace, security, and stability in the West Bank,” he writes on X in a post accompanied for a video of an address he gave at Ghent University earlier today.

“Since the atrocious [October 7] attacks, the Belgian government has defended Israel’s right to defend its own population, the core task of every government. But since day one, we have also asked for restraint, for the release of all hostages ,and for the respect of international humanitarian law and unhindered humanitarian access,” he says in the address.

“When innocent civilians in Kyiv or Gaza are killed, we should speak up if we want our voices to be credible,” he says, adding that it’s “not just words that count.”

De Croo says “extremist settlers in the West Bank will be banned from entering Belgium” and promises that Belgium will work with the US “on these sanction measures” and “push the European Union to follow suit.”

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel last month that the government has stepped up its activities to combat settler violence, which it argues is being perpetrated by a “nucleus” of several hundred extremists at most. Several arrests have indeed been made in recent weeks.

Based on military estimates, the vast majority of the 200 Palestinians killed in the West Bank since October 7 were shot dead during clashes amid arrest raids. Around 60 percent of them, according to data seen by The Times of Israel, were armed with either a firearm or an explosive device.

The IDF is aware of at least three cases of uninvolved Palestinians being killed by troops in recent weeks, and a handful of cases of settlers killing Palestinians, which are still under investigation.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

Germany wants EU discussions on Israeli settler sanctions

Germany wants the European Union to consider sanctions on extremist Israeli settlers behind a wave of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, a foreign ministry spokesman says.

In a rare move, the US said Tuesday it will impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers implicated in a rash of recent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as on Palestinians involved in attacks on Israelis.

The German foreign ministry spokesman, Sebastian Fischer, says Berlin welcomed the fact that the US “will now take concrete measures in the form of entry restrictions.”

It was “important to drive this debate forward at European level too”, the spokesman said.

Berlin is “actively contributing” to discussions on the topic ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, he added.

In early November, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo called on the EU to consider barring “extremist” Israelis who call for violence against Palestinians from visiting Europe.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

WHO director says Gaza health system ‘on its knees,’ backs UN chief’s call for ceasefire

The health system in the Gaza Strip is “on its knees” and nearing total collapse, says the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In a tweet expressing support for UN chief Antonio Guterres’ calls for a ceasefire, Ghebreyesus says Gaza’s health system, run by terror group Hamas, is “on its knees and near total collapse. We need peace for health.”

Guterres raised Israel’s ire today (Wednesday) after he invoked a rare clause in the UN charter in a letter to the UN Security Council calling for action on Gaza.

Arab nations ready draft Security Council resolution calling for Israel-Hamas ceasefire

Arab nations at the United Nations are fine-tuning a proposed UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the two-month Israeli-Gaza war.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, said Wednesday that it’s essential that the UN’s most powerful body demand a halt to the war following the resumption of fighting in Gaza after the end of a weeklong humanitarian truce on December 1.

Surrounded by members of the 22-nation Arab Group, Mansour also told reporters that a ministerial delegation from Arab nations and the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation headed by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister will be in Washington on Thursday to meet with US officials.

“On top of the agenda is this war has to stop,” he said. “A ceasefire has to take place and it has to take place immediately.”

Mansour said the national security adviser to US Vice President Kamala Harris contacted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday morning and that Abbas pressed for an immediate ceasefire and more humanitarian aid.

The US, Israel’s closest ally, has veto power in the Security Council and has not supported a ceasefire.

On Tuesday, US deputy ambassador Robert Wood told reporters that the role of the Security Council in the Israeli-Hamas war “is not to get in the way of this important diplomacy going on on the ground … because we have seen some results, although not as great results as we want to see.”

A Security Council resolution at this time, he said, “would not be useful.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Putin hails ‘friendly relations’ on rare visits to Saudi Arabia, UAE

This pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attending a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in Abu Dhabi on December 6, 2023. (Sergei SAVOSTYANOV / POOL / AFP)
This pool photograph distributed by Russian state agency Sputnik shows Russia's President Vladimir Putin and President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan attending a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in Abu Dhabi on December 6, 2023. (Sergei SAVOSTYANOV / POOL / AFP)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Saudi Arabia today after visiting the United Arab Emirates, making a rare trip abroad as Moscow seeks to reassert itself on the global stage.

It is only the third trip the Russian leader has taken since he invaded Ukraine, following visits to Iran and China, and comes as Moscow seeks to bolster its influence in the Middle East.

Putin was seen greeting the country’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, before the two briefly sat down for televised talks.

“Nothing can prevent the development of our friendly relations,” Putin told the crow prince, inviting the Saudi royal to visit Moscow.

“It is very important for all of us to exchange information and assessments with you on what is happening in the region. Our meeting is certainly timely,” Putin said.

Prince Mohammed said bilateral cooperation had “helped remove many tensions in the Middle East and contributed to enhancing security” — and would continue to do so in the future.

The Kremlin said ahead of the meeting that the two would discuss oil markets, as well as ways to promote de-escalation in the war in Gaza.

Since March, Putin has been wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court over the invasion of Ukraine. He skipped the BRICS summit in August in South Africa, which recognizes the ICC, to avoid causing a “political show”, and missed the G20 summit in India in September.

But neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia have signed the ICC’s founding treaty, meaning they are not obliged to arrest him.

The Russian leader was earlier welcomed with a full cavalry escort and motorcade in the UAE, where he met President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

A national air show team drew a Russian flag with colored fumes in the sky.

“Today, thanks to your posture, our relations have reached unprecedented levels,” Putin told his counterpart at the presidential palace, saying the UAE was “Russia’s main trading partner in the Arab world”.

Bilateral trade hit a record $9 billion last year, according to the Kremlin, and Putin said “a number of projects” were underway in the oil and gas sector.

The UAE is currently hosting the COP28 UN climate talks, but the Kremlin did not specify whether Putin attended any related events.

Putin is next set to host Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for talks in Moscow on Thursday, as the two countries strengthen economic and military ties in the face of Western sanctions.

Riyadh urges restraint in US response to Iran-backed Houthi attacks in Red Sea — report

This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows a Houthi forces helicopter approaching the cargo ship Galaxy Leader on Nov. 19, 2023 in the Red Sea. (Houthi Media Center via AP)
This photo released by the Houthi Media Center shows a Houthi forces helicopter approaching the cargo ship Galaxy Leader on Nov. 19, 2023 in the Red Sea. (Houthi Media Center via AP)

Saudi Arabia has urged the United States to show restraint in responding to continued attacks on vessels in the Red Sea by the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, Reuters reports.

Two sources familiar with Riyadh’s messaging say the kingdom is seeking to limit spillover from Israel’s war against Hamas following the terror group’s October 7 massacres in southern Israel.

This week, an hours-long missile assault by the Houthis on three commercial vessels in the Red Sea marked a significant escalation in a series of maritime attacks in the Middle East linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

A US warship shot down three drones in self-defense during the assault Sunday, the US military said. A day later, the US said it may establish a naval task force to escort commercial ships in the Red Sea

The Houthis have also fired several ballistic missiles and drones at Israel’s southern city of Eilat since the beginning of the war in October, including earlier today (Wednesday). All such attacks were intercepted or missed their targets.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital Sanaa in 2014 and control large swaths of the country, are “part of the axis of resistance” against Israel along with Hamas — which is also sponsored by Tehran.

Senate Republicans block Ukraine, Israel aid from advancing amid demands for border policy changes

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on funding for Ukraine from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden delivers remarks on funding for Ukraine from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans block the advance of a $110 billion package of wartime funding for Ukraine and Israel as well as other national security priorities as they tried to force President Joe Biden to include changes to US border policy.

The vote, a 49-51 tally that fell short of the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for moving ahead, came just hours after Biden said it was “stunning” that Congress has not yet approved tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance for Ukraine. His administration warned of dire consequences for Kyiv — and a “gift” to Russia’s Vladimir Putin — if lawmakers don’t act.

Speaking at the White House, Biden said Republicans who are insisting on border policy changes as a condition for voting for the aid “are playing chicken with our national security,” even as he expressed openness to some policy changes.

“Republicans in Congress are willing to give Putin the greatest gift he could hope for,” Biden said, saying American credibility was on the line both with other would-be aggressors and with its allies. “Any disruption in our ability to supply Ukraine clearly strengthens Putin’s position.”

“If we don’t support Ukraine, what is the rest of the world going to do?” he added.

Biden’s address comes hours after he huddled with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and leaders of the Group of Seven advanced democracies, which have staunchly supported Ukraine against Russia’s ongoing invasion.

Biden has asked Congress for nearly $106 billion to fund the wars in Ukraine, Israel and other security needs, but has faced stiff resistance on Capitol Hill. Some Republicans have grown tired of providing support to Ukraine after the US has already sent $111 billion, and other GOP lawmakers are insisting on stiff changes to US border policy as a condition of voting for the measure.

Biden said he supports more funding for border security. “I am willing to make significant compromises on the border,” he said. “We need to fix the broken border system. It is broken.” He added that he’s ”ready to change policy as well,” but accused Republicans of wanting a political issue more than bipartisan compromise.

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