ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Feb. 1: Hamas pours cold water on ‘incorrect’ Qatari claim of initial okay for hostage deal

Netanyahu: No need for ‘drastic’ US sanctions against settlers * Washington says West Bank violence dropped since first penalties announced * Gallant vows army will push into Rafah

  • Demonstrators block a main road demanding an immediate deal for the release Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorists, during a protest near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on February 1, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
    Demonstrators block a main road demanding an immediate deal for the release Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorists, during a protest near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on February 1, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
  • Israeli activists block the exit of Ashdod port to stop trucks they claim are carrying humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, Israel, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Leo Correa)
    Israeli activists block the exit of Ashdod port to stop trucks they claim are carrying humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, Israel, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Leo Correa)
  • US President Joe Biden arrives at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
    US President Joe Biden arrives at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
  • An officer of the 55th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade guards a tunnel entrance in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published February 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
    An officer of the 55th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade guards a tunnel entrance in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published February 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Rubble from buildings destroyed in the Gaza Strip are seen from southern Israel, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
    Rubble from buildings destroyed in the Gaza Strip are seen from southern Israel, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
  • Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
    Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

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

Turkish hostages freed by police while assailant in bathroom

A local official says Turkish police freed a group of hostages taken by a pro-Palestinian gunman at a plant near Istanbul owned by US consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble.

“When he went out for a bathroom break, our security forces carried out an operation without harming the hostages,” local governor Seddar Yavuz tells reporters, adding that the assailant had been detained.

Qatari claim Hamas gave initial okay to deal ‘rushed and wrong,’ Palestinian source says

A senior Palestinian source tells Lebanese news outlet Al-Mayadeen that Qatar jumped the gun in appearing to announce that Hamas had given initial approval to a ceasefire proposal.

The statement “was rushed and is incorrect,” the source says, claiming that Hamas’s leadership has yet to schedule meetings in Cairo to discuss the proposal with Egyptian mediators.

A similar quote is carried by AFP from a source close to Hamas: “There is no agreement on the framework of the agreement yet — the factions have important observations — and the Qatari statement is rushed and not true.”

In Al-Mayadeen, the source claims that the positive signals are a plot by the Israeli media to stir up public expectations about the nascent deal.

Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari earlier said that a proposed deal “has been approved by the Israeli side and now we have an initial positive confirmation from the Hamas side.”

The comments at Johns Hopkins University in Washington briefly triggered some celebrations in Gaza, including celebratory gunfire, and a drop in the price of crude oil.

But a Qatari official in Doha tells Reuters there is no ceasefire deal yet, and that Hamas had “received the proposal positively” but not responded yet.

Taher Al-Nono, media adviser to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, tells Reuters: “We have received the proposal that was put together in Paris but we haven’t yet given a response to any of the parties.”

“We can’t say that the current stage of negotiation is zero and at the same time we can’t say that we have reached an agreement,” Al-Nono says.

‘Go and fight in Palestine’: Relatives of Turkey hostages angered over attacker’s supposed pro-Gaza protest

Turkey’s DHA now reports that only one assailant took hostages at a Proctor and Gamble plant in Turkey.

AFP reporters say anti-riot police were seen moving closer to the plant as the crisis stretched into the night.

The attacker posted repeatedly on Instagram, including claiming that he offered to free one hostage, who refused to leave in solidarity with the others.

Relatives who gathered outside the factory had followed the Instagram account before it became accessible. They expressed anger that the attacker would choose to protest Israel’s war on Hamas by targeting workers in Turkey — a country strongly supportive of the Palestinian cause.

“He supposedly does this for Islam, but they are the ones who harm Islam the most,” Sedat Degirmenci, whose son-in-law was taken hostage, tells AFP.

“If you do this for Palestine, go and fight there,” adds Cigdem Aydemir, the mother of a 26-year-old woman taken hostage at the plant.

“What does my daughter have to do with this?” says Aydemir. “I can only pray.”

Senate to vote next week on bill funding Israel aid, border security — Schumer

The US Senate will vote next week on a bipartisan bill that would strengthen border security and also provide more aid to Ukraine and Israel, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says.

“We cannot simply shirk from our responsibilities just because the task is difficult,” Schumer says on the Senate floor, adding that the text of the package will be released by Sunday, with the initial vote taking place no later than Wednesday.

Senate negotiators have been in the talks on the package for months. Former US president Donald Trump has urged lawmakers to reject the deal and Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has also voiced skepticism about the talks.

Johnson is set to meet early next week with Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, freed hostage Emily Hand and relatives of some still held in the Strip.

Pro-Palestinian protesters march outside Biden visit, promise to withhold votes

Hundreds of protesters are marching in Warren, Michigan, outside Detroit seeking to pressure visiting US President Joe Biden to end support for Israel as it fights Hamas in Gaza.

“We won’t vote on election day,” marchers chant, driving home Democratic concerns of how the administration’s stance could affect Biden’s chances of carrying the key swing state in November, home to the US’s largest concentration of Arab-Americans.

Signs accuse Israel of war crimes and repeat the “from the river to the sea” mantra viewed by many Jews as a call for the elimination of Israel.

Activists with the “Abandon Biden” movement said earlier that demonstrators are “on standby” and that protests will be held at the president’s events once they determine the locations.

“Eventually we will find out and we will make sure to give him a proper reception,” said Khalid Turaani, co-chair of the Abandon Biden campaign in Michigan.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre tells reporters that senior administration officials will travel to Michigan later in February to hear from community leaders on the conflict in Israel and Gaza.

Top UK diplomat Cameron: No recognition of Palestinian state until Hamas out of Gaza

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)

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron says his country could officially recognize a Palestinian state after a ceasefire in Gaza without waiting for the outcome of what could be years-long talks between Israel and the Palestinians on a two-state solution.

UK recognition of an independent state of Palestine, including in the United Nations, “can’t come at the start of the process, but it doesn’t have to be the very end of the process,” Cameron, a former British prime minister, tells The Associated Press.

“It could be something that we consider as this process, as this advance to a solution, becomes more real,” Cameron says. “What we need to do is give the Palestinian people a horizon towards a better future, the future of having a state of their own.”

That prospect is “absolutely vital for the long-term peace and security of the region,” he says.

Cameron says the first step must be a “pause in the fighting” in Gaza that would eventually turn into “a permanent, sustainable ceasefire.”

He adds that in order for his country to recognize a Palestinian state, the leaders of the Hamas terror group would need to leave Gaza “because you can’t have a two-state solution with Gaza still controlled by the people responsible for October 7,” referring to the deadly Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the war in Gaza.

Hamas has so far taken the position that its leaders would not leave the enclave as part of a ceasefire deal.

Houthis fire missiles at Bermuda-owned cargo ship in Red Sea

Two anti-ship ballistic missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, likely towards the M/V KOI ship in the Red Sea, the US Central Command says.

“The missiles impacted in the water without hitting the ship,” it says, adding there were no injuries and no damage reported to the Liberian flagged, Bermuda-owned cargo vessel M/V KOI, nor to the coalition ships in the area.

The Houthis claim to have targeted a “British merchant vessel” in the Red Sea.

Hamas: Talks are moving, but not yet inked

A Hamas official tells Reuters that talks on a truce deal with Israel have advanced, but are short of the finish line.

“We cannot say the current stage of negotiation is zero and at the same time we cannot say that we have reached an agreement,” the official says.

The official says the matter is still being studied, and no answer has been given to any party.

State Department: Settler violence has dropped since first sanctions imposed

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller says the US has seen a reduction in settler violence since it last imposed sanctions over the issue, but does not think Israel is doing enough to address the issue.

“We have seen the level of extremist settler violence come down somewhat, not come down enough, we want to see more, but the interventions we have made have made a difference,” he says.

Noting that Israel has its own laws against violence, Miller says that “we have seen them take some steps to reign in settler violence but we don’t think those steps have been sufficient.”

Miller says “dozens” of settlers have been hit with visa bans since sanctions were first announced in December, though he is unable to detail how many or if the four individuals sanctioned Thursday are also banned.

He says the sanctions on the four will have an impact on them whether or not they have assets in the US, given the wide reach of the US financial system.

Miller says the US will take additional steps if necessary, but refuses to detail if sanctions on dual US-Israeli citizens will be considered.

“We think it’s important that those involved in [settler violence] be dealt with regardless of nationality,” he says.

Two hostage-takers reported at Turkish P&G factory as new details emerge

Turkish news agency DHA says two gunmen are holding seven workers at a Proctor and Gamble plant outside Turkey hostage.

Police have sealed off surrounding roads at the factory and are said to be trying to negotiate with the hostage-takers.

P&G’s head office in Cincinnati confirms an ongoing incident. “Earlier today, we evacuated our Gebze facility and are working with local authorities to resolve an urgent security situation,” it says.

A photograph of the suspect carried in the Turkish media shows him with a black-and-white Arabic headscarf covering his face and a gun in his hand. He is standing next to a graffitied wall showing the Turkish and Palestinian flags with the slogan, “The gates will open. Either musalla or death for Gaza.”

https://twitter.com/ImtiazMadmood/status/1753121622477722060

A musalla is an open prayer area for Muslims, usually used for funeral rites.

It identifies one of the attackers as a painter and says he posted on social media “From now on, the only thing my loved ones will do is pray for me like they pray for Palestine.”

DHA also publishes photographs of some of the hostages celebrating a birthday. It reports that the staff had brought a cake into work for one of their colleagues and the hostage-takers allowed them to celebrate.

Protesters block road outside Kirya military HQ to rally for hostage deal

Protest calling for a hostage deal outside Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Protest calling for a hostage deal outside Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Traffic on Begin Boulevard in Tel Aviv has resumed after protesters blocked the major thoroughfare outside Defense Ministry headquarters to rally for a deal that would free hostages held in Gaza.

Traffic on the road was stopped for about an hour.

Hundreds are taking part in the protest, which occurs as the War Cabinet meets at the headquarters, known as the Kirya, presumably regarding a deal seemingly coming together to cease fighting to free civilian hostages.

Army chief says northerners can only return home when it’s safe

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi toured the Lebanon border earlier today to hold an assessment on ongoing skirmishes with the Hezbollah terror group, the army says.

“We will return the residents only when it is safe here,” Halevi says in remarks provided by the IDF, referring to some 80,000 Israelis displaced by Hezbollah’s daily attacks.

“It requires professionalism, readiness, and patience from us,” he adds.

Netanyahu downplays settler violence, calls sanctions drastic

Reacting to US President Joe Biden’s executive order sanctioning settler extremists, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says in a statement that “the vast majority of residents of Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are fighting right now in active and reserve duty to protect Israel.”

“Israel acts against all violators of the law in all places,” the PMO statement continues, “and therefore there is no place for drastic steps on this matter.”

Four sanctioned settlers named

David Chai Chasdai appears at a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on July 2, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)
David Chai Chasdai appears at a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on July 2, 2013. (Yossi Zeliger/FLASH90)

The US State Department said in a statement that the four individuals being designated for sanctions in the first round of penalties against violent settlers are:

  • David Chai Chasdai, who the US says initiated and led the rampage of the northern West Bank village of Huwara last year, during which a Palestinian was killed.
  • Eitan Tanjil, who was involved in assaulting Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists by attacking them with stones and clubs, resulting in injuries that required medical treatment, according to the State Department.
  • Shalom Zicherman, who assaulted Israeli activists and their vehicles in the West Bank, according to the US, blocked them on the street and attempted to break the windows of passing vehicles with activists inside.
  • Yinon Levi, who Washington says regularly led groups of settlers from the Meitarim Farm outpost who assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields, and destroyed their property.

Multiple forms of corroborating evidence are required in order for an individual to be sanctioned, and they can include public reporting, court documents and intelligence, said a senior US official briefing reporters ahead of Thursday’s announcement.

Gallant says army will push south to Rafah as Khan Younis offensive wraps up

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vows that the Israeli military will reach and dismantle Hamas’s Rafah Brigade, just as it is currently working to do to its battalions in the Khan Younis area of southern Gaza.

“Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade boasted that it would stand against the IDF, it is dismantled, and I am telling you here, we are completing the mission in Khan Younis and we will also reach Rafah and eliminate everyone there who is a terrorist who is trying to harm us,” says Gallant to troops of the IDF’s 98th Division, during a visit to Khan Younis today.

He says the IDF’s operations in Khan Younis are “progressing with impressive results,” and that it is “much more difficult for Hamas.”

“They don’t have weapons, they don’t have ammunition, they don’t have the ability to treat the wounded, they have 10,000 dead terrorists and another 10,000 wounded who are not functioning,” Gallant says.

“It’s a blow that is eroding their ability [to fight], but you have to reach all the places,” he says.

Gallant tells the troops that their actions, both above ground and underground in Khan Younis, “brings the return of the hostages closer, because Hamas only understands power.”

Qatar says Hamas has given ‘initial positive confirmation’ to hostage-truce deal

Women march for a deal to release Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Women march for a deal to release Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, February 1, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry announces that Hamas has given its “initial positive confirmation” to a proposed deal that would see hostages freed and fighting in Gaza stop for a period of time.

It says Israel has agreed to the proposal, confirming reports that Jerusalem okayed the deal at negotiations in Paris on Sunday.

“The meeting in Paris succeeded in consolidating the proposals… That proposal has been approved by the Israeli side and now we have an initial positive confirmation from the Hamas side,” Majed al-Ansari said referring to meetings between Qatari, US, Israeli and Egyptian officials in the French capital.

Israel’s War Cabinet is meeting right now.

Channel 13 News quotes a senior Israeli official denying that anything was approved by Jerusalem.

Channel 12 says Israel has yet to receive any formal response from Qatar to the proposed deal.

Biden signs executive order allowing him to sanction four settlers over violence

A Palestinian man inspects the damage in the village of Huwara in the West Bank on October 6, 2023, after an overnight attack by Israeli settlers. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)
A Palestinian man inspects the damage in the village of Huwara in the West Bank on October 6, 2023, after an overnight attack by Israeli settlers. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

US President Joe Biden has signed an executive order allowing him to implement new measures to combat settler violence, including sanctions that have been announced against four Israeli extremists who carried out acts of violence in the West Bank.

“This executive order will allow the United States to issue financial sanctions against those directing or participating in certain actions, including acts or threats of violence against civilians, intimidating civilians to cause them to leave their homes, destroying or seizing property or engaging in terrorist activity in the West Bank,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says in a statement that was issued in tandem with the notification of the measure that Biden sent to Congress.

The sanctions will block designated individuals from access to the US financial system, blocking them from any type of property in the US and freezing any property that they might already own. The sanctions will also include a ban on entry to the US.

The four individuals being designated in the first round of sanctions will be identified later today, says a senior administration official briefing reporters ahead of the announcement. One of them initiated and led the rampage of the northern West Bank village of Huwara last year, which resulted in the death of one of the Palestinian residents. Another designated individual assaulted a Palestinian farmer as well as Israeli activists assisting him in the West Bank. Another vandalized cars and intimidated Palestinians in the West Bank and the fourth individual assaulted Palestinian Bedouin civilians and threatened them with additional violence in addition to preventing them from leaving their homes and destroying their property, the senior US official says.

The text of the executive order states that the administration “find[s] that the situation in the West Bank — in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction — has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security, and stability of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, and the broader Middle East region.”

The announcement follows visa restrictions that were announced in December by the US State Department against violent extremists in the West Bank. However, those sanctions did not include a financial component. The number of individuals designated and the identities of those individuals were also kept private.

“This is an important step to directly address the threats to US national security and regional security arising from extremist violence in the West Bank and underscores the extent to which the administration takes this threat seriously,” the senior US official says.

General touts army’s ability to bring fight back to Gaza City

Chief of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman (right) and Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, the commander of the 162nd Division, in northern Gaza, February 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Chief of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman (right) and Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, the commander of the 162nd Division, in northern Gaza, February 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The chief of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, holds an assessment in the northern Gaza Strip today, telling troops that the army will continue to battle Hamas in the area, despite having focused on other areas recently.

“Our ability to operate here, in the heart of Gaza City again, after we left to attack in other areas, our ability to return here and operate powerfully against the important targets, while striking many dozens of terrorists in recent days, is an important ability, and we will continue to do it,” Finkelman says.

The IDF has said it largely dismantled Hamas’s fighting force in northern Gaza, and is now carrying out smaller raids against the terror group’s remaining operatives and infrastructure.

Blinken to visit Israel Sunday, US confirms

A senior Biden administration official confirms that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be heading back to the Middle East on Sunday.

The visit was reported earlier this week in Hebrew media, but the US held off on confirming the travel until now.

The senior official confirms the trip during a briefing with reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The visit is expected to center around the hostage agreement being negotiated between Israel and Hamas, expanding humanitarian aid into Gaza, and an additional US push for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to begin engaging on plans regarding who will govern Gaza after the war.

The Kan news network reports that White House senior envoy Amos Hochstein, who serves as US President Joe Biden’s point man for Israel-Lebanon issues, will also be in Israel next week.

Smotrich accuses Biden of licensing attacks on settlers

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is accusing US President Joe Biden of making common cause with antisemites and legitimizing attacks on Israeli settlers by putting fresh sanctions on Israeli extremists who attack West Bank Palestinians.

In a statement to reporters, Smotrich denies that settler violence is a problem, calling it a “lie spread by Israel’s enemies to slander settlers and pioneers and the settler movement and to harm them.”

“This is an immoral BDS campaign that turns victims into attackers and sanctions the spilling of settler blood. It’s too bad the Biden administration is cooperating with these actions,” the far-right minister adds.

Army eases crowd size restrictions in most communities near Gaza

The IDF Home Front Command is easing restrictions in most communities near the Gaza Strip border for the first time since the war began on October 7.

From this evening, gatherings of up to 100 people outdoors and 300 people indoors will be permitted in communities within seven kilometers of the Strip, though 10 communities closest to the Strip are excluded.

Schools will be allowed to operate provided they have an adequate bomb shelter.

The IDF says the new policy is aimed at finding a “balance between saving lives and maintaining routine in an emergency setting.”

In 10 communities — Nirim, Kerem Shalom, Nir Oz, Kissufim, Ein Hashlosha, Sufa, Holit, Netiv Haasara, Kfar Aza, and Nahal Oz — stricter instructions will remain, including capping outdoor gatherings at 50 participants and indoor ones at 100 people.

US official tersely denies report of arms supply slowdown

A senior US official flatly denies a recent report that the Biden administration is considering slowing down the supply of weapons to Israel to put pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid growing disagreements over Jerusalem’s prosecution of its war against Hamas.

Asked whether the Sunday NBC News report was accurate, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf plainly responds, “No.”

War, Security cabinets set to meet in Tel Aviv

The War Cabinet will convene at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv at 7:00 p.m., followed by a meeting of the larger national security cabinet around 9:00 p.m., an Israeli official says.

The possibility of a hostage deal and temporary ceasefire with Hamas is expected to dominate much of the proceedings.

Jerusalem hospital breaks own delivery record with 1,926 babies in single month

Newborn babies at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem, December 31, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Newborn babies at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem, December 31, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Somebody is being fruitful and multiplying.

Shaare Zedek Medical Center, the hospital with the highest annual newborn delivery rate in the country, says it has beaten its record for the number of births in a single month.

The 122-year-old Jerusalem hospital managed 1,900 deliveries, yielding the birth of 1,926 babies in January. This tops the former monthly record of 1,856 babies born at Shaare Zedek in December.

The hospital serves much of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox population, which historically has high birth rates.

“We are starting 2024 with the same trend with which we closed out 2023. I want to thank all our midwives and the women who rely on us during this happy moment for them and their families,” says Shaare Zedek director Prof. Ofer Merin.

Merin emphasizes that obstetric and maternity staff from all backgrounds work together at the hospital 24/7 to provide the best possible care for pregnant and birthing women.

French October 7 memorial will be broadcast at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv

People walk past posters of the hostages still held captive in Gaza at a 24-hour rally marking 100 days since October 7, at 'Hostages Square' in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
People walk past posters of the hostages still held captive in Gaza at a 24-hour rally marking 100 days since October 7, at 'Hostages Square' in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A French national ceremony on February 7 remembering the French victims of the Hamas attack four months before will be broadcast in the Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, where French family members of hostages who did not fly to Paris will be present.

French President Emmanuel Macron will preside over the event at Les Invalides in Paris.

Pentagon head says war between Israel and Hezbollah unlikely

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the Pentagon does not “see an all-out conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah” breaking out.

Austin is asked at a press conference about US strikes on Iran-backed groups enflaming the region.

“Our goal is to make sure that we contain this crisis in Gaza and that we prevent things from spreading to a wider conflict. There’s a lot of activity in the region, but there’s always been a lot of activity in the region,” he says.

He says that management of tensions between Israel and Hezbollah “has been artfully done.”

“We don’t see Israel engaged in a conflict with other countries in the region,” he adds. “We are not at war with Iran.”

Nonetheless, he says the Middle East is at a “dangerous moment.”

Austin also confirms plans for a “multi-tiered” response to a deadly attack on US troops, saying the US can strike multiple times if needed.

Haredi lawmaker says IDF needs more troops

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Meir Porush, center, in Jerusaelm on May 21, 2023.  (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Jewish Heritage Meir Porush, center, in Jerusaelm on May 21, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Meir Porush, of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, says the Israel Defense Forces needs more troops “to be able to fulfill its missions” and to uphold its operations.

Porush, whose party has long demanded legislation exempting members of the ultra-Orthodox community from military service, speaks a day after the Defense Ministry announced plans to draft some 1,300 service members in March, several months earlier than planned.

He notes that 850 of the early recruits will come from pre-army and community service programs, and another 450 from yeshiva programs that combine Torah study and military service.

According to a report in the Haaretz daily, the number of yeshiva students being enlisted early originally stood at 150 but was raised to 450 after protests from parents and program directors, who said the large difference in yeshiva numbers and pre-army and community service programs meant the burden was being shared unequally.

 

 

Armed man takes hostages at P&G factory in Turkey over Gaza war — reports

Some staff at a Procter & Gamble factory in northwestern Turkey have been taken hostage by an armed man, who is apparently protesting against Israel’s military operation in Gaza, according to Turkish reports.

Reports indicate that seven people are being held hostage.

US approves plans for major round of strikes in Syria, Iraq — report

A satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. The damage caused by the drone strike can be seen in the center-left of the photo. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
A satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan on Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. The damage caused by the drone strike can be seen in the center-left of the photo. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

US plans have been approved for multi-day strikes in Iraq and Syria against multiple targets, including Iranian personnel and facilities, CBS News reports, citing American officials.

Officials tell CBS that the timing of the strikes will largely be determined by the weather. Washington wants clear skies to make sure it does not accidentally hit civilians as it strikes targets, CBS reports.

The strikes are intended to respond to a drone attack over the weekend by an Iran-backed group that killed three US troops in Jordan, the first deadly assault following scores of attacks on US soldiers stationed in Syria and Iraq.

Rain clouds over the region in recent days are expected to clear out overnight, according to forecasts.

US concludes drone that killed American troops was made in Iran

The United States has assessed that Iran manufactured the drone that slammed into a US base in Jordan over the weekend, killing three US soldiers and wounding more than 40, four US officials tell Reuters.

Washington has blamed the attack — the first to kill US troops in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October — on Iran-backed militias. But it has also said it ultimately holds Iran responsible, given its support for the organizations.

While the initial indications were that the drone was likely Iranian, a formal assessment was made only recently after recovering fragments of the drone.

The officials, who speak on condition of anonymity, do not disclose details of the model of the drone.

Knesset subcommittee head says UNRWA a key part of Hamas rule in Gaza

The head of a Knesset subcommittee on foreign policy and public relations accuses the UN agency for Palestinian refugees of having a central role in the Hamas terror group, ratcheting up Israeli attacks on UNRWA.

MK Ze’ev Elkin makes the accusation in a statement following a closed-door meeting of the subcommittee to discuss the agency, which has vowed to investigate Israeli allegations that staffers participated in the October 7 onslaught of southern Israel.

“In every meeting of the committee we’ve been exposed again and again to data that proves that UNRWA has become a central part of Hamas’s civilian governance arm,” he says, according to a Knesset statement.

Elkin adds that he is demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others involved “not miss the current window of opportunity to end UNRWA activities in the Gaza Strip as a tool in the service of Hamas.”

The panel will hold another meeting on the agency next week, which will be open to the public.

Biden to slap new sanctions on violent West Bank settlers — report

US President Joe Biden arrives at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
US President Joe Biden arrives at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

US President Joe Biden will issue an executive order introducing new sanctions against Israeli settlers who have used violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, POLITICO reports, citing “documents seen by POLITICO, a US official and a congressional aide.”

In December, the Biden administration imposed a visa ban on violent settlers, and US officials have been vocal about the problem in public statements.

The news comes as Biden is set to visit Michigan later today for meetings with auto workers. The state’s large Arab-American population has expressed dissatisfaction with the administration’s policies on Israel and Gaza.

The president’s Michigan schedule does not include any meetings with Arab Americans.

Demonstrators held a community rally in Dearborn on Wednesday night to protest administration policies backing Israel.

The AP contributed to this report.

Biden says he is working to free hostages, bring ‘enduring peace’ to Israel and Gaza, ‘with two states for two peoples’

President Joe Biden speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
President Joe Biden speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

US President Joe Biden says he is working “day and night” to free hostages held in Gaza and bring peace to the region, opening a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC.

“Not only do we pray for peace, we are actively working for peace, security, dignity for the Israeli people, and the Palestinian people,” he says.

“I’m engaged in this day and night… to find the means to bring the hostages home, to ease the humanitarian crisis, to bring peace to Gaza and Israel, an enduring peace with two states for two peoples,” he adds.

Norway says countries that pulled UNRWA funding looking to restore donations

A worker rests as displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024. (AFP)
A worker rests as displaced Palestinians receive food aid at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) center in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2024. (AFP)

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide says he is “reasonably optimistic” some countries that paused funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees will resume payments.

“Many countries” are realizing that the current situation cannot last very long, he tells Reuters, without naming specific countries.

“They’re looking for a way out. And maybe if now UNRWA comes up quickly with a good response, which is accepted as serious, they will then happily restart,” says the minister.

“Because I think we hear from several governments, and also governments, who have been vocal publicly about the need to suspend, that they understand the very, very serious consequences.”

UNRWA says its entire operations in the Middle East, not only in Gaza, will most likely be forced to shut down by the end of February if its funding remains suspended, after top donors froze commitments in light of Israeli information showing that at least a dozen staffers actively took part in the October 7 massacre.

The Nordic country says it will not freeze funding to UNRWA, which has promised to probe the allegations.

Russia says it’s watching Red Sea crisis closely over energy policy

Illustrative: A Maersk container ship at Aqaba, Jordan, on the Red Sea on October 3, 2019. (eugenesergeev/iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A Maersk container ship at Aqaba, Jordan, on the Red Sea on October 3, 2019. (eugenesergeev/iStock by Getty Images)

Russia says it is closely following the spillover of tensions in the Red Sea onto the global energy market.

Alexander Novak, Russia’s deputy prime minister who oversees the country’s energy policy, says the situation in the Red Sea has “significantly” affected “trading relations and logistics chains.”

“It is important that there is constant monitoring of the situation, so that at any moment joint decisions can be made to adjust our joint actions designed to correct and balance the market,” he says on state TV.

Russia is part of the OPEC+ oil alliance — an agreement between some of the world’s top producers, led by Saudi Arabia, to manage oil output and exports to support prices on the global market.

Global oil prices have risen about 10 percent since early December, partly fueled by attacks on Red Sea shipping lanes by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Israel strikes southern Lebanon after rocket fire on Kiryat Shmona, Metula

The IDF says it carried out an airstrike against a building used by Hezbollah in the southern Lebanese village of Tayr Harfa, in response to attacks on the border today.

Several rockets were launched from Lebanon at the northern cities of Kiryat Shmona and Metula today, causing no injuries, according to the IDF.

The IDF says it also struck the launch sites.

State attorney closes cases against Walla, Yedioth; Netanyahu trial not affected

The State Attorney’s Office closes the investigations against the Walla news company and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper connected to criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the Bezeq telecommunications company, which had been controlled by former Walla chairman Shaul Elovitch, will pay a small fine of some NIS 800,000 as part of an agreement reached with the State Attorney’s Office owing to administrative violations related to one of the cases.

Under the agreement with the State Attorney’s Office, Bezeq will admit to offering misleading information about a procedure that had not been performed as was required by law.

The State Attorney’s Office says the decision to close the cases was made “after examining the allegations in a hearing and considering the totality of the circumstances, including those relating to the public interest – the complexity resulting from conducting the central case [against Netanyahu and Elovitch], and the delay until a decision is made on that matter.”

Netanyahu trials on charges of fraud, breach of trust and bribery are not impacted by the decisions regarding Bezeq, Walla and Yedioth, and are continuing as usual, the State Attorney’s Office said.

Elovitch’s trial on charges of bribing Netanyahu with favorable coverage from Walla will also not be affected by today’s developments, nor will that of Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes, who also been indicted for allegedly offering Netanyahu a quid pro quo for positive coverage.

Walla and Bezeq came under suspicion of criminal violations in the context of Case 4000, in which the prime minister is suspected of having provided regulatory benefits to Bezeq shareholder and former chairman of the board Elovitch worth hundreds of millions of shekels, and in return received favorable media coverage from the Walla news site, also owned by Elovitch at the time. He was charged with bribery in the case, as well as the lesser charges of fraud and breach of trust, which he faces in two other cases.

Yedioth came under suspicion in Case 2000, in which Netanyahu is accused of attempting to obtain more favorable coverage from the news outlet in return for passing legislation which would weaken Yedioth’s rival newspaper Israel Hayom.

IDF pulls 55th Brigade from Gaza, amid scaling back of reserve forces

An officer of the 55th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade guards a tunnel entrance in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published February 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
An officer of the 55th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade guards a tunnel entrance in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published February 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF has withdrawn the 55th Brigade from the Gaza Strip and it has been replaced with other forces in the Khan Younis area, the military says.

Troops of the reserve paratroopers brigade operated in Khan Younis in recent weeks, killing numerous Hamas operatives and locating and demolishing some 70 tunnel shafts, the IDF says.

The IDF says the brigade also located two rocket launching sites used by Hamas to fire projectiles at Israel.

The IDF shares footage from a battle in December between the brigade’s troops and Hamas gunmen in the Khan Younis area, during which a soldier, Sgt. Major (res.) Gideon Ilani, was killed.

The IDF has been withdrawing much of its reservist forces from the Gaza Strip in recent weeks, leaving the standing army to continue the fighting against Hamas.

Military officials say the IDF aims to release reservists to help bounce back Israel’s economy and give them a break before they are likely called up again, as the fighting in Gaza is expected to last all year, and there are fears of an escalation in the north amid daily attacks by Hezbollah.

Report: US hopes hostage deal could stop Israel’s military momentum, lead to lasting truce

Citing a draft of the deal read by “officials involved in the talks,” The Wall Street Journal reports that the US is “pushing for a ceasefire deal that could stop the war in Gaza long enough to stall Israel’s military momentum and potentially set the stage for a more lasting truce.”

The three-part deal being considered in Cairo would start with a six-week ceasefire in which Israel ends all military operations, including drone surveillance, according to the reported draft. Civilian hostages would be freed, and Gazan civilians would move around the Strip freely.

Female IDF soldiers would be released in the second phase, and hospitals, water services and bakeries would reopen, according to the report.

Hamas is demanding that Israel free 150 Palestinian security prisoners for each released female soldier hostage, the report says, adding that that ratio is one of the sticking points in the talks.

The third stage would see male IDF soldiers and the bodies of dead hostages released.

UNRWA is ‘Hamas with facelift,’ has ‘lost its legitimacy,’ Gallant tells visiting UN envoys

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hosts a delegation of countries' envoys to the UN, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant hosts a delegation of countries' envoys to the UN, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, is “Hamas with a facelift” and has “lost its legitimacy to exist in its current form,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tells a visiting delegation of ambassadors to the United Nations.

“Funds from countries all over the world have been funneled through UNRWA and used to strengthen terror infrastructure, and to pay terrorists,” Gallant says.

The delegation is led by Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry that fails to detail who the international members of the delegation are or what countries they represent, as well as where the meeting took place.

The statement says Gallant told the envoys that “the IDF will continue operating until it achieves its goals — dismantling the military and governing capabilities of Hamas, and returning the hostages to Israel.”

The minister also warned that the diplomatic window for negotiating a Hezbollah withdrawal from the Israel-Lebanon border area — in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701 — “is shrinking.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (C) hosts a delegation of countries’ envoys to the UN, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

IDF: Troops shoot, arrest Palestinian who attempted car-ramming attack in West Bank

The IDF says troops have shot and arrested a Palestinian suspect who allegedly attempted to carry out a car-ramming attack near the West Bank city of Hebron.

According to the IDF, the suspect allegedly tried to ram his vehicle into troops carrying out “proactive activity” near Hebron.

The soldiers returned fire, injuring the driver. He was then detained and taken to be questioned.

No soldiers are hurt, the IDF says.

Blast reported near vessel off Yemen coast; residents say Houthis fired a missile

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) says an explosion has been reported at a distance off a vessel’s starboard side west of Yemen’s Hodeidah.

UKMTO says the vessel and crew are safe.

Residents say the Houthis fired a missile from a camp in the Houthi-controlled Ibb city in central Yemen toward the sea.

Hamas said unlikely to reject hostage deal offer but will demand Israeli withdrawal

Hamas is unlikely to reject a Gaza hostage deal proposal it received from mediators this week, but will not sign it without assurances that Israel has committed to ending the war, a Palestinian official close to the talks says.

Qatari and Egyptian mediators presented Hamas this week with the first concrete proposal for an extended halt to fighting in Gaza, agreed on with Israel and the United States at talks in Paris last week. Hamas has said it is studying the text and preparing a response.

The Palestinian official says the Paris text envisions a first phase lasting 40 days, during which fighting would cease while Hamas frees remaining civilians from among 136 hostages believed to be held by the Palestinian terror group. Further phases would see the release of Israeli soldiers and the handover of bodies of dead hostages.

“I expect that Hamas will not reject the paper, but it might not give a decisive agreement either,” says the Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Instead, I expect them to send a positive response, and reaffirm their demands: for the agreement to be signed, it must ensure Israel will commit to ending the war in Gaza and pull out from the enclave completely.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

US House overwhelmingly passes bill barring PLO, Hamas, PIJ members from entering country

The US House of Representatives last night overwhelmingly approved a bill that, if approved next by the Senate, would bar all members of Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad from entering the United States, as well as anyone who had a part in the October 7 onslaught and, notably, all members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

The bill, known officially as the No Immigration Benefits for Hamas Terrorists Act, passes with a remarkable 422 lawmakers supporting it, one abstention — Illinois Democrat Delia Ramirez — and only two voting against it — Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib and Missouri Democrat Cori Bush.

Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh, the PLO Executive Committee secretary general and a top presidential aide, slams the vote.

It is a “dangerous decision” and a “violation of the UN’s position that has recognized the organization as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” he writes on his X account.

Al-Sheikh further demands a clarification from the US administration.

Air raid alerts blare in northern communities

Several rounds of air raid sirens sound in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanon border, and in the nearby towns of Metula and Margaliot, all of which have been largely evacuated.

Hebrew media reports that several impacts have been identified in open areas near Metula, without damage or casualties caused.

Report says Haniyeh is heading Hamas delegation in talks in Cairo

This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on December 20, 2023, shows Qatar-based Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh speaking to journalists as he welcomes the Iranian foreign minister (not in the picture), in Doha. (Photo by Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP)
This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on December 20, 2023, shows Qatar-based Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh speaking to journalists as he welcomes the Iranian foreign minister (not in the picture), in Doha. (Photo by Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP)

The Qatari news channel Al Araby reports that Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh is heading the Hamas delegation that met in Cairo today with the head of Egyptian intelligence, Major General Abbas Kamel.

The TV network cites an unnamed Egyptian source.

Hezbollah-aligned outlet denies Iran is pulling its senior officers out of Syria

The Lebanese al-Mayadeen news channel, affiliated and aligned with the Hezbollah terror group, denies the Reuters news agency’s report that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria.

Quoting “reliable sources,” the outlet says Iranian “advisers” have been asked to remain in Syria, but without their families.

Reuters reported earlier today that the officers’ pullout has been decided on following a spate of deadly alleged Israeli strikes against the IRGC in Syria.

Since December, alleged Israeli strikes have killed more than half a dozen of IRGC members, among them one of the Guards’ top intelligence generals.

Hamas-run health ministry claims Gazan death toll from war has passed 27,000

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims in a statement that at least 27,019 Palestinians have been killed and 66,139 injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, including 118 killed and 190 injured in the past 24 hours.

The terror group’s figures are unverified, don’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, and list all the fatalities as caused by Israel — even those believed to have been caused by hundreds of misfired rockets or otherwise by Palestinian fire.

Israel has previously said it has killed some 10,000 Hamas members, in addition to some 1,000 killed in Israel in the aftermath of the terror group’s October 7 invasion and onslaught.

British military says report received of incident off Yemen’s Hodeidah

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) says it has received a report of an incident 57 nautical miles west of Yemen’s Hodeidah port.

Authorities are investigating, the UKMTO advisory note says.

Pro-Israel British MP says he won’t seek reelection due to relentless threats, attacks

Conservative MP Mike Freer in an interview to Sky News outside his constituency office in North London, December 26, 2023. (Screen capture: Sky News. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law.)
Conservative MP Mike Freer in an interview to Sky News outside his constituency office in North London, December 26, 2023. (Screen capture: Sky News. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law.)

A British lawmaker who represents a mainly Jewish area and holds pro-Israel views has announced he will not seek reelection, because of a spate of threats and an arson attack on his office.

Mike Freer’s decision comes as antisemitic incidents surge in the UK in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas.

Freer, 63, is not Jewish but his Finchley and Golders Green constituency in north London is one of the biggest Jewish areas in the country.

The Conservative MP wrote to his local constituency group on Sunday to inform them of his decision not to contest the next election later this year.

In his letter, published by the group last night, he says he has had “several serious threats” to his personal safety.

Since he was first elected in 2010, Freer has been targeted by Muslims Against Crusades, which the UK government has banned as a terror organization. That, and the 2021 murder of fellow Conservative MP David Amess, had placed “intolerable stress” on his husband and wider family, he writes.

Amess’s killer Ali Harbi Ali, an Islamic State group follower, had visited Freer’s constituency office but he was not there.

Freer tells the Daily Mail in an interview that the arson attack on December 24 was “the final straw.”

“Obviously your husband or your family’s views have to carry a lot of weight. And when someone worries that, ‘are you going to come home at night,’ you have to take that seriously,” he says.

Freer tells the Mail that hostility toward MPs is “par for the course” but adds: “You shouldn’t really have to think, am I going to survive the day?”

UK judge throws out Trump ‘Russia file’ claim

A UK judge dismisses a claim by Donald Trump against a former spy who compiled a salacious dossier containing allegations of the former US president’s links to Russia.

Trump took legal action against Christopher Steele’s company Orbis Business Intelligence, but High Court judge Karen Steyn says there are “no compelling reasons” to allow the claim to proceed to trial.

In ruling, US federal judge says Israel plausibly committing genocide, Biden must reexamine approach

A federal court in the United States has said that Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza “is intended to eradicate a whole people and therefore plausibly falls within the international prohibition against genocide.”

The petition was filed by Defense for Children International – Palestine and charged the US government, on behalf of Palestinian rights groups and Palestinians in Gaza and in the US, with “failure to prevent and complicity in the Israeli government’s unfolding genocide against them, their families, and the 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza.” It urges the government to block aid to Israel.

While dismissing the petition on jurisdictional grounds, Wednesday’s ruling by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California urges US President Joe Biden’s administration “to examine the results of their unflagging support of the military siege against the Palestinians in Gaza.”

Judge Jeffrey S. White (Berkeley Law)

Judge Jeffrey White bases the decision on “uncontroverted” testimonies by seven Palestinian relatives of people killed during the war, as well as “expert opinion proffered at the hearing on these motions as well as statements made by various officers of the Israeli government.”

It also leans on the recent decision by the International Court of Justice to not reject outright South Africa’s case accusing Israel of “genocide.”

“It is every individual’s obligation to confront the current siege in Gaza,” the judge writes.

Police arrest motorcycle thief on way to Jerusalem, discover he’s a resident of Gaza’s Khan Younis

Police say they stopped and arrested a suspected motorcycle thief overnight on Route 1 on the way from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, only to discover that the suspect is a Palestinian resident of the Gazan city of Khan Younis.

It is unclear how the 27-year-old man has entered Israel from his home city, which is currently the main battle zone between IDF troops and Hamas terrorists in the Strip.

Police say the suspect, who doesn’t even have a driver’s license, has been taken for questioning, while the motorcycle has been returned to its owner.

Hezbollah claims to target IDF positions in Mount Hermon area

The Hezbollah terror group claims to have targeted an Israeli military position on the Lebanon border this morning.

In a statement, Hezbollah says it hit “spy equipment” at the site in the Mount Hermon region, using unspecified weapons.

An image shared by a reporter for the Hezbollah-linked al-Manar outlet purports to show the aftermath of the attack.

There is no immediate comment from the IDF on the incident.

Power failure sees hundreds of Palestinians enter West Bank industrial zone unchecked

Chaos erupts at a West Bank crossing near the Mishor Adumim industrial zone, as an electricity failure causes extreme congestion in the inspection line for Palestinian workers and leads hundreds to breach the fence to reach work.

“Hundreds of laborers entered the Mishor Adumim industrial zone en masse without a security check this morning,” the municipality of the nearby Maale Adumim settlement-city says in an attempt to calm local fears of a mass infiltration resembling Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

“The stream of entrants has been partially blocked and police and Border Police forces have been called in and begun individual checking,” it adds.

The area is one of few in which the employment of Palestinians has partially resumed following the October 7 massacre in a limited, government-approved capacity.

Despite authorities’ attempts to downplay the incident, Avi Rachamim, the top security official in the Maale Adumim Municipality, resigns in protest, saying in a Facebook post that the current situation “can’t go on” and saying he has repeatedly warned against letting Palestinian workers back in to the industrial zone.

He says he has been demanding a civil guard or other expanded security measures but these have been rejected, and accused the government and the security establishment of abandoning Maale Adumim’s residents.

Barred from blocking aid to Gaza at crossings, activists stop trucks from leaving Ashdod Port

Activists for hostages block aid trucks from leaving the Ashdod Port during a protest against aid reaching the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, February 1, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Activists for hostages block aid trucks from leaving the Ashdod Port during a protest against aid reaching the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, February 1, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Continuing a game of cat-and-mouse with the army, activists for hostages’ rights are at the Ashdod Port, blocking trucks from leaving to deliver aid to Gaza.

After the IDF designated the areas of both the Kerem Shalom and the Nitzana border crossings as closed military zones to prevent further disruptions following days in which aid was blocked from going through, dozens of protesters have found a new method.

They’re blocking the exit of the aid trucks from the Israeli port from which the trucks have been heading to the crossings.

The activists have been demanding that humanitarian aid to Gaza be contingent on the Hamas terror group releasing the 136 hostages it is holding.

Activists for hostages block aid trucks from leaving the Ashdod Port during a protest against aid reaching the Gaza Strip, in Ashdod, February 1, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Jerusalem, Cairo said nearing agreement on postwar arrangement for Egypt-Gaza border

Illustrative: Egyptian soldiers patrol on a road parallel to the Philadelphi Corridor, a buffer zone that separates Egypt from Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, March 19, 2007. ( Cris Bouroncle/AFP)
Illustrative: Egyptian soldiers patrol on a road parallel to the Philadelphi Corridor, a buffer zone that separates Egypt from Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, March 19, 2007. ( Cris Bouroncle/AFP)

Israel and Egypt are nearing an agreement regarding the sensitive question of postwar control of the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, Army Radio reports.

Talks have been held for weeks amid disagreements about the extent of Israeli control over the border area, known as the Philadelphi Corridor.

The report cites unnamed officials familiar with the details as saying that Israel has promised not to act militarily in the area of the Gaza city of Rafah, near the Egypt border, before the population staying there — currently around 1 million people — is given adequate time to evacuate to other parts of the Strip.

Cairo’s main concern is reportedly that if not given an opportunity to move elsewhere, waves of Palestinians will instead stream into Egypt, creating a refugee crisis for the country.

Israel hasn’t decided where it wants the population to move, with the options either northern Gaza — requiring a government decision to allow Gazans to go back there — or Khan Younis, after the current phase of intense fighting there is over, the report says.

After that happens, the reportedly emerging deal would see Israel have a “certain influence” over the Philadelphi Corridor — possibly via unspecified technological means — but without a physical presence along the border.

An unnamed Gulf state will likely fund the construction of a subterranean wall along the border to counter cross-border tunnels, but will only do so if Egypt agrees to the whole outline, Army Radio adds.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards pull officers from Syria after alleged Israeli strikes

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to a spate of deadly alleged Israeli strikes and will rely more on allied Shiite militia to preserve their sway there, five sources familiar with the matter tell Reuters.

The Guards have suffered one of their most bruising spells in Syria since arriving a decade ago to aid President Bashar Assad in the Syrian war. Since December, strikes blamed on Israel have killed more than half a dozen of their members, among them one of the Guards’ top intelligence generals.

As hardliners in Tehran demand retaliation, Iran’s decision to pull out senior officers is driven partly by its aversion to being sucked directly into a conflict bubbling across the Middle East, three of the sources say.

While the sources say Iran has no intention of quitting Syria, a key part of Tehran’s sphere of influence, the rethink underscores how the consequences of the war ignited by Palestinian terror group Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel are unfolding in the region.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Hamas reps reportedly in Cairo for more hostage deal deliberations

Hamas representatives are in Cairo for another day of talks with Egyptian and Qatari mediators to discuss the parameters of a hostage deal, Channel 12 reports.

The unsourced report doesn’t say if among the representatives is Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh, who has said this week that he will travel to Cairo for talks on a potential deal. Haniyeh lives in Qatar.

If the representatives choose to move forward, they will then turn to Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar for his approval.

According to Channel 12, the process could take until the end of the week.

Bus carrying some 30 people overturns southwest of Jerusalem, 2 trapped

A bus has overturned with some 30 people inside on Route 375, near the town of Mevo Beitar, southwest of Jerusalem.

Two people are trapped on the vehicle, Hebrew media reports citing the Magen David Adom anmbulance service.

The rest have made their way out and are being examined by medics, with reports saying many of them are lightly injured.

Arab Israeli indicted for firebombing police station in pro-Hamas gesture

An Arab Israeli man has been indicted for allegedly attempting to torch a police station on December 24 for a terror-related motive, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet say in a joint statement.

The statement says the suspect, 20-year-old Razi Hamada from Shfaram, threw a firebomb at the city’s police station out of identification with the Hamas terror group.

A few weeks earlier, he allegedly planned to set fire to the commercial area around Haifa’s oil refineries.

The statement says Hamada decided to act due to the war against Hamas in Gaza, after watching various media outlets, including Qatar’s staunchly anti-Israel Al Jazeera.

He acted alone, the investigation has revealed.

The indictment was filed today at the Haifa District Court.

Likud MK Barkat said to revive his bill to oust UNRWA from East Jerusalem

Nir Barkat, minister of economy and industry, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Nir Barkat, minister of economy and industry, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Against the backdrop of numerous countries suspending funds for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, Likud MK Nir Barkat has reportedly revived his years-long plan to expel UNRWA from the capital and have the municipality provide education, health, welfare and sanitation services in its place.

Barkat, who served as mayor of Jerusalem until 2018, has repeatedly accused UNRWA over the past few years of failing those under its purview and instead inciting terror activity.

He originally unveiled his plan when he was ending his term as mayor and joining national politics, and he tried to advance legislation on the matter in the previous Knesset, when Likud was in the opposition.

Now, according to the Israel Hayom daily, Barkat and several other lawmakers have filed the bill again, hoping to take advantage of the current momentum against UNRWA. The report says the bill will be discussed by the Knesset in an expedited process ahead of a preliminary reading in the plenum.

The bill would bar UNRWA from holding any direct or indirect activities or providing any service in Israeli sovereign areas. This includes East Jerusalem, which was annexed in 1980 in a move not recognized by most of the international community.

MK: Likud offered Smotrich’s, Ben Gvir’s portfolios to Yesh Atid but insisted parties stay in government

Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari speaks at the Knesset on November 28, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben-Ari speaks at the Knesset on November 28, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s repeated remarks this week that he is willing to enter the government to provide a “safety net” for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bypass opposition from his far-right allies, a member of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party says the ruling Likud has made a concrete offer on the matter.

MK Merav Ben-Ari tells Radio 103FM that she has met Likud’s Justice Minister Yariv Levin and received an offer for Yesh Atid to get the ministerial portfolios currently held by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

However, Levin insisted that Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party and Smotrich’s Religious Zionism stay in the government, Ben-Ari says.

“I didn’t even go to Lapid after that offer,” she adds. “I said there’s no chance Lapid will sit in a government with Ben Gvir and Smotrich.”

IDF kills Hamas operatives in Gaza’s south, north, strikes long-range rocket launcher

An IDF tank operates in Gaza in this undated handout photo released February 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
An IDF tank operates in Gaza in this undated handout photo released February 1, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

During fighting in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, forces of the 98th Division  spotted a long-range rocket launcher and directed a fighter jet to strike it, the IDF says.

The IDF says the division’s Paratroopers Brigade, meanwhile, killed several gunmen during a number of close-quarters encounters over the past day.

The Paratroopers Brigade and the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade both directed airstrikes on other Hamas operatives in Khan Younis, the IDF says.

Meanwhile, the 162nd Division is continuing operations against Hamas in northern and central Gaza.

The IDF says the division’s forces — the 401st Armored Brigade in northern Gaza and Nahal Infantry Brigade in central Gaza — have killed dozens of Hamas operatives over the past day and raided the terror group’s sites.

Australia stalling on responding to Israeli military export requests due to war — report

Australia is stalling on processing requests related to military exports to Israel, fearing that either approving or rejecting such motions will draw backlash, Australia’s ABC News reports.

Though the country rarely exports arms to Israel and hasn’t for at least five years, several requests have been made for Australian-made military technology since the ongoing war erupted with Hamas’s October 7 massacre, the report says.

“There appears to be a deliberate ‘go slow’ happening on anything to do with Israel while the war in Gaza continues,” ABC quotes an unnamed Australian defense industry insider as saying. “Nobody in the government wants to be seen to be either approving or rejecting Israeli military sales.”

The report says Foreign Minister Penny Wong is believed to be partly responsible for the delays.

Netanyahu may be toughening rhetoric to cause Hamas to end hostage deal talks — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might be toughening his public rhetoric about his red lines for a potential hostage deal with the aim of causing Hamas to halt the negotiations, which would let Israel go on with the war while casting the blame for the talks’ collapse on the terror group, Haaretz cites an unnamed official involved in the talks as saying.

Netanyahu has repeated in recent days — under intense pressure from his far-right political allies — that no hostage deal will bring about the end of the war, the exit of IDF troops from Gaza, or the release of thousands of Palestinian security prisoners.

Hamas has insisted that any deal end the war and not be negotiated under fire.

Haaretz says Netanyahu’s recent rhetoric has surprised some negotiation officials.

Biden developing new Mideast doctrine bent on forming Palestinian state — NYT’s Friedman

Tom Friedman leaves a session at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 12, 2023 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images via AFP)
Tom Friedman leaves a session at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 12, 2023 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images via AFP)

US President Joe Biden’s administration is homing in on a new doctrine involving an unprecedented push to immediately advance the creation of a demilitarized but viable Palestinian state, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman says.

The plan, Friedman writes, “would involve some form of US recognition of a demilitarized Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would come into being only once Palestinians had developed a set of defined, credible institutions and security capabilities to ensure that this state was viable and that it could never threaten Israel.”

What is termed the new “Biden Doctrine” would also include boosting ties with Saudi Arabia alongside a normalization of ties between Riyadh and Jerusalem, and maintaining a tough military stance against Iran and its proxies.

Hamas’s October 7 mass onslaught in Israel is “forcing a fundamental rethinking about the Middle East within the Biden administration,” Friedman writes.

“If the administration can pull this together — a huge if — a Biden Doctrine could become the biggest strategic realignment in the region since the 1979 Camp David treaty,” he contends.

CENTCOM says US forces destroyed 10 Houthi attack drones, control station in Yemen

WASHINGTON — US forces conducted strikes in Yemen against 10 attack drones and a ground control station belonging to Iran-backed Houthi rebels, the US military says.

The strikes targeted a “Huthi UAV ground control station and 10 Huthi one-way UAVs” that “presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region,” the Central Command (CENTCOM) says in a statement, using an abbreviation for unmanned aerial vehicle.

US military says warship shot down 3 Iranian drones, Houthi missile in Gulf of Aden

In this image obtained from the US Department of Defense, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney in the Middle East region, on December 6, 2023. (Aaron Lau / US Department of Defense / AFP)
In this image obtained from the US Department of Defense, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney in the Middle East region, on December 6, 2023. (Aaron Lau / US Department of Defense / AFP)

WASHINGTON — An American warship shot down three Iranian drones and a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Tehran-backed Houthi rebel, the US military says.

“Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired one anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Gulf of Aden. The missile was successfully shot down by the USS Carney,” the Central Command says in a statement, referring to a US Navy destroyer.

Less than an hour later, “the USS Carney engaged and shot down three Iranian UAVs in its vicinity,” CENTCOM says, without specifying whether the drones were armed or just for surveillance.

Dissident Russian rock band confirms it’s headed to Israel after ‘safely’ leaving Thai custody

Aleksandr 'Shura' Uman, left, and Egor Bortnik perform during the Bi-2 rock band concert in Moscow, Russia, December 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)
Aleksandr 'Shura' Uman, left, and Egor Bortnik perform during the Bi-2 rock band concert in Moscow, Russia, December 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

BANGKOK — Members of dissident Russian-Belarusian rock band Bi-2 held in Thailand on immigration charges have left the kingdom to fly to Israel, according to a post on the group’s official Facebook page.

“All musicians of the Bi-2 group have safely left Thailand and are heading to Tel Aviv,” reads the post, ending fears that Thailand might deport them to face persecution in Russia.

US reportedly strikes 10 drones in Yemen that were readying to launch

WASHINGTON — The United States struck 10 unmanned drones in western Yemen that were preparing to launch, a CBS News journalist posts on social media, citing a senior defense official in Bahrain.

“A senior defense official in Bahrain just told us that 10 minutes ago, the F-18 super hornets bombed 10 unmanned drones in western Yemen that were preparing to launch,” CBS Evening News Managing Editor Norah O’Donnell writes on X, formerly called Twitter.

Meeting at Pentagon, US and British defense chiefs discuss Mideast threats

WASHINGTON — US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with his British counterpart Grant Shapps at the Pentagon Wednesday for talks on security threats in the Middle East, the Pentagon says.

They discussed issues including “the escalating attacks by Iran-aligned militia groups on US troops in the Middle East” and “the illegal Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea,” as well as humanitarian assistance for Gaza and support for Ukraine, Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder says in a statement.

“Secretary Austin thanked Secretary Shapps for the United Kingdom’s steadfast support and leadership in coalition efforts to stave off further Houthi aggression, while defending naval and international commercial vessels exercising navigational rights and freedoms,” Ryder says, referring to attacks on shipping by the Iran-backed Yemeni rebels.

Shapps also met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. The White House says the two discussed the prevention of conflict escalation in the Middle East and defending against Houthi attacks.

The pair also reaffirmed support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, the readout adds.

Georgia governor signs bill codifying IHRA definition of antisemitism in state law

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signs the antisemitism bill HB 30 at the Capitol in Atlanta, on January 31, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signs the antisemitism bill HB 30 at the Capitol in Atlanta, on January 31, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA — Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signs a law defining antisemitism in state law, proclaiming support for Jewish residents despite concerns the measure will hamper people opposing the actions of Israel.

The Republican governor says by enacting the law, he is “reaffirming our commitment to a Georgia where all people can live, learn and prosper safely, because there’s no place for hate in this great state.”

Kemp likens it to when he signed a measure in 2020 that allows additional penalties to be imposed for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors. That hate crimes law was spurred by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man pursued and fatally shot while running near Brunswick, Georgia.

The antisemitism definition measure had stalled in 2023, but was pushed with fresh urgency this year amid the Israel-Hamas war and a reported surge in antisemitic incidents in Georgia. Sponsors say adopting the 2016 definition put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance will help prosecutors and other officials identify hate crimes and illegal discrimination targeting Jewish people. That could lead to higher penalties under the 2020 hate crimes law.

The definition, which is only referred to in the bill, describes antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Kenneth Stern, the author of IHRA’s definition, told The Associated Press that using such language in law is problematic, because an increasing number of Jews have adopted an antizionist position in opposition to Israeli actions.

White House: Iran-backed militias in Iraq launched deadly drone attack on US troops

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the the White House in Washington, on January 31, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the the White House in Washington, on January 31, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The White House says the Islamic Resistance in Iraq militia grouping was behind the weekend drone attack that killed three American soldiers at a base in Jordan.

The “attribution that our intelligence community is comfortable with is that this was done by the umbrella group” Islamic Resistance in Iraq — a coalition of Iranian-backed militias — says National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

In addition to the three deaths in the drone blast on Sunday at the remote base, about 40 more troops were injured, the Pentagon says.

US President Joe Biden says he has already decided on the nature of the US response to the deadly bombing, but has not detailed the plans in public — or the timing.

Kirby repeats the administration’s insistence that “we will respond in a time and in a manner of our choosing, on our schedule.”

“Just because you haven’t seen anything in the last 48 hours, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to see anything,” he says, adding: “The first thing you see won’t be the last thing.”

One of the factions in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq grouping, Kataeb Hezbollah, announced on Tuesday that it was suspending attacks on US troops.

Kirby says “you can’t take what a group like Kataeb Hezbollah says at face value.”

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