ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Feb. 2: US launches strikes on Iran’s IRGC in Iraq, Syria as response to deadly drone attack

IDF intercepts Houthi missile shot at Eilat * Israeli official: 50/50 on a deal * Troops fight gunmen across Gaza, raid underground Hamas bank vault * IRGC adviser dies in Syria strike

  • In this photo released by the US Air Force, a US Air Force F-22 Raptor arrives at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 12, 2022. (Tech Sgt. Chelsea E. FitzPatrick/U.S. Air Force via AP)
    In this photo released by the US Air Force, a US Air Force F-22 Raptor arrives at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 12, 2022. (Tech Sgt. Chelsea E. FitzPatrick/U.S. Air Force via AP)
  • This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting with soldiers in the IDF's Alpine Unit at Mount Hermon, February 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
    This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting with soldiers in the IDF's Alpine Unit at Mount Hermon, February 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
  • Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 2, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 2, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Smoke rises over buildings in Khan Yunis during Israeli strikes on February 2, 2024 (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
    Smoke rises over buildings in Khan Yunis during Israeli strikes on February 2, 2024 (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
  • Troops of the 99th Division operate in central Gaza, in a handout image published February 2, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Troops of the 99th Division operate in central Gaza, in a handout image published February 2, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Palestinians line up for free food distribution in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Feb. 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
    Palestinians line up for free food distribution in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Feb. 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

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

Hamas leaders reportedly at odds over proposed hostage release deal

Yahya Sinwar (R) the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh attend the funeral of Hamas official Mazen Faqha in Gaza city on March 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Yahya Sinwar (R) the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh attend the funeral of Hamas official Mazen Faqha in Gaza city on March 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Internal divisions among Hamas leaders are preventing the Palestinian terror group from backing a proposed hostage release deal that would include a pause to the fighting in the Gaza Strip, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the report, the prevailing dynamic within Hamas has flipped, with the terrorist organization’s chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar backing a temporary truce while its leaders outside of the Strip are pushing for further Israeli concessions.

Unnamed officials familiar with the hostage negotiations tell the newspaper that Sinwar wants a six-week halt to the war so Hamas operatives can regroup and more aid can enter Gaza. Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh, however, is pushing for a permanent ceasefire with international guarantees and a plan for rebuilding the enclave.

US says strikes in Iraq and Syria hit over 85 targets linked to Iran’s IRGC

The US military issues a statement confirming American aircraft have carried out strikes in Iraq and Syria, following a deadly drone attack blamed on an Iran-backed militia group.

According to a CENTCOM statement, American forces — including long-range bombers that flew from the United States — hit over 85 targets linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps

“The facilities that were struck included command and control operations, centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aired vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against US and Coalition forces,” the statement says.

Syrian state media reports ‘American agression’ on sites in desert and along Iraqi border

Syrian state media says that an ‘American aggression’ on number of sites on Syria’s desert areas and the Syrian and Iraqi border resulted in a number of casualties and injuries.

The Associated Press, quoting unnamed officials, reports the initial US strikes by manned and unmannded aircraft are hitting command and control headquarters, ammunition storage and other facilities.

American officials tell Reuters that US striking in both Iraq and Syria

WASHINGTON — The United States has started carrying out retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria, three US officials say, after deadly attack in Jordan that killed three US troops and injured some 40 others.

Military says it struck Hezbollah truck used to store weapons

The IDF says it struck a truck used to store weapons for Hezbollah in the southern Lebanon village of Kfarchouba earlier today.

Fighter jets also struck a Hezbollah site in Blida, the IDF says.

The strikes come following attacks on the border today, including projectiles fired from Lebanon at Avivim and Yir’on.

There are no injuries in the Hezbollah attacks, the IDF says.

US begins launching strikes in Syria as response to deadly drone attack — reports

In this photo released by the US Air Force, a US Air Force F-22 Raptor arrives at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 12, 2022. (Tech Sgt. Chelsea E. FitzPatrick/U.S. Air Force via AP)
In this photo released by the US Air Force, a US Air Force F-22 Raptor arrives at Al-Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, February 12, 2022. (Tech Sgt. Chelsea E. FitzPatrick/U.S. Air Force via AP)

Days after a drone attack killed three American soldiers at a base in Jordan, the US has started launching retaliatory strikes in Syria, according to US media reports.

The Pentagon does not immediately comment on the reports from Fox and ABC news networks. Fox News cites an unidentified Defense Department official saying the strikes were launched from multiple platforms.

The US has blamed the drone attack on Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

Biden on hand as remains of troops killed in Iran-backed drone attack returned to US

US President Joe Biden, third left, and first lady Jill Biden, right, stand as an Army carry team moves the transfer case containing the remains of US Army Sgt. Kennedy Ladon Sanders at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, February 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
US President Joe Biden, third left, and first lady Jill Biden, right, stand as an Army carry team moves the transfer case containing the remains of US Army Sgt. Kennedy Ladon Sanders at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, February 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Delaware — US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden join grieving families at Dover Air Force Base on a gray, chilly day to honor the three American service members killed in a drone attack in Jordan.

The Bidens met privately with the families before the roughly 15-minute solemn ritual, called a dignified transfer, that has become relatively uncommon in recent years as the US has withdrawn from conflicts abroad.

Biden holds his hand over his heart as he watches members of the Army carry team transfer the cases holding the remains of the fallen soldiers from a C-5 Galaxy military transport aircraft to a waiting vehicle.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are among the Defense Department and administration officials who joined the Bidens for the proceedings.

The service members killed Sunday were all from Georgia — Sgt. William Jerome Rivers of Carrollton, Sgt. Kennedy Sanders of Waycross and Sgt. Breonna Moffett of Savannah. Sanders and Moffett were posthumously promoted to sergeant rank.

The deaths were the first US fatalities blamed on Iran-backed militia groups, who for months have been intensifying their attacks on American forces in the region following the onset of the Israel-Hamas war in October. Separately, two Navy SEALs died during a January mission to board an unflagged ship that was carrying illicit Iranian-made weapons to Yemen.

After interception, Yemen’s Houthis say they shot ballistic missiles at Eilat

Yemen’s Houthis say they have carried out a military operation toward Eilat with ballistic missiles, the Iran-backed rebel group’s military spokesperson says.

The Israel Defense Forces earlier said the Arrow missile defense system successfully intercepted a surface-to-surface missile fired at Israeli territory in the area of the Red Sea.

US says Blinken to visit Mideast next week, his fifth trip amid Israel-Hamas war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane leaving Crete for Amman, on January 6, 2024, as part of the first leg of a trip that includes visits to both Israel and West Bank. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane leaving Crete for Amman, on January 6, 2024, as part of the first leg of a trip that includes visits to both Israel and West Bank. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP)

The US State Department announces Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s travel to the Middle East next week, his fifth regional tour since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war nearly four months ago.

Blinken will start his five-day trip in Saudi Arabia on Sunday before proceeding to Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the West Bank, the State Department says.

Blinken “will continue diplomatic efforts to reach an agreement that secures the release of all remaining hostages and includes a humanitarian pause that will allow for sustained, increased delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” the US readout says.

“He will continue to work to prevent the spread of the conflict, while reaffirming that the United States will take appropriate steps to defend its personnel and the right to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea,” the State Department statement continues.

Blinken “will also continue discussions with partners on how to establish a more integrated, peaceful region that includes lasting security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” it adds.

Israel said wary UN reporting on damage in northern Gaza could hurt war effort

This picture taken from the Israeli border with the northern Gaza Strip shows Israeli soldiers watching Gaza City from a position on January 1, 2024 (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
This picture taken from the Israeli border with the northern Gaza Strip shows Israeli soldiers watching Gaza City from a position on January 1, 2024 (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

As a UN delegation visits northern Gaza to assess the effects of the war, Israeli officials fear unflattering reports on the vast destruction there could have a detrimental effect on its war effort, Channel 12 news reports.

The network’s reporter Nir Dvori speaks of a US team but likely misspoke. Israel approved the UN team’s visit after American pressure. It toured southern Israel in recent days to see the results of Hamas’s deadly attacks on October 7 before entering Gaza to view the conditions there.

US sanctions billion-dollar oil trafficking network allegedly financing Iran’s Guards

Illustrative: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat moves in the Persian Gulf while an oil tanker is seen in background, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
Illustrative: An Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboat moves in the Persian Gulf while an oil tanker is seen in background, July 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

The US Department of Justice announces terrorism and sanctions-evasion charges and seizures linked to a billion-dollar oil trafficking network that it says finances Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

“The Department of Justice’s actions are critical to stemming the flow of money that Iran uses to engage in activities that threaten people inside the United States, as well as our interests across the world,” a senior Justice Department official tells reporters in a call before the unsealing of the charges in two federal courts.

The Justice Department seized more than $108 million that it says China Oil & Petroleum Company Limited, which it calls an IRGC front company, attempted to launder through accounts at US financial institutions. The department says more than 500,000 barrels of Iran’s sanctioned oil were also seized.

Seven defendants, including Morteza Rostam Ghasemi, who is the son of an IRGC commander and Iranian oil minister, and an Iranian shipping official are charged in connection with those seizures.

Iran’s crude exports and oil output hit new highs in 2023 despite US sanctions. In January, China’s oil trade with Iran stalled as Tehran withheld shipments and demanded higher prices from its top client, tightening cheap supply for the world’s biggest crude importer. Iranian oil makes up some 10% of China’s crude imports.

“The cases that we’re announcing are targeting players on both sides, both the supply and demand side” of sanctioned Iranian oil,” the Justice Department official says.

US envoy to UN warns Algeria’s ceasefire resolution could jeopardize hostage talks

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during the Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, December 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during the Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, December 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

UNITED NATIONS — The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, says that a draft Security Council resolution put forward by Algeria could jeopardize “sensitive negotiations” aimed at brokering a deal for the release of hostages held by Hamas in return for a pause in fighting in Gaza and the freeing of Palestinian security prisoners.

Algeria shared the draft with the 15-member council on Wednesday. It would demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“This draft resolution could put sensitive negotiations in jeopardy — derailing the exhaustive, ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure the release of hostages, and secure an extended pause that Palestinian civilians and aid workers so desperately need,” Thomas-Greenfield tells reporters.

Proposal shown to ministers said to provide for 142-day truce while all hostages are freed

A proposal for Hamas to free all Israeli hostages in Gaza, including the 132 remaining hostages it kidnapped in the October 7 terror onslaught, would see the hostages released over a 142-day period, during which the IDF campaign against Hamas in Gaza would be halted, according to the Haaretz daily.

Sources who took part in last night’s security cabinet meeting tell the newspaper that the proposal presented to ministers calls for the initial release of 35 women, elderly and sick hostages, with a day-long pause in fighting for each freed hostage.

There would then be a week to negotiate the return of the other 100 hostages, who if a deal is reached would be freed over 100 days, again with the fighting paused.

There is no confirmation of this report. Many versions of the unfinalized framework hostage deal have been reported in recent days, with several reports claiming that some 35 hostages would be freed in a first phase, with a corresponding one-day pause in the fighting for each release.

British FM Cameron: Netanyahu has not ‘comprehensively’ ruled out two-state solution

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (right) meets with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron in Jerusalem, January 24, 2024 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with British Foreign Secretary David Cameron in Jerusalem, January 24, 2024 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

BEIRUT — British Foreign Secretary David Cameron says he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “start talking about the things a Palestinian state can be rather than the things it can’t be,” reiterating British support for a two-state solution.

In an interview with Lebanese broadcaster LBCI aired today, Cameron says part of British policy is to say there will be a time when Britain will look to recognize a Palestinian state, including at the United Nations.

“That can’t be at the start of the process. The process needs to get going. But it doesn’t have to be at the end of the process,” he says.

Cameron, speaking during a visit to Lebanon as part of a regional tour, says Netanyahu had “not ruled out comprehensively a two-state solution.”

“My message to him was start talking about the things that a Palestinian state could be rather than the things it can’t be. So that’s what we should be working towards,” he says.

Blinken and Saudi FM discuss Gaza war during phone call

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday Oct. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, pool)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday Oct. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, pool)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan about the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, according to the Saudi foreign ministry.

The Saudi readout on the call says the conversation addressed “the efforts made to deal with the security and humanitarian consequences” of the war.

There is no immediate statement from the State Department on the call.

Following US, Trudeau says Canada examining sanctions for violent Israeli settlers

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau awaits the arrival of Slovak President Zuzana Caputova on January 30, 2024 on the front steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP)
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau awaits the arrival of Slovak President Zuzana Caputova on January 30, 2024 on the front steps of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP)

OTTAWA, Ontario — Canada is looking at imposing sanctions on “extremist” settlers in the West Bank, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says on Friday, a day after US action against four Israeli men accused of being involved in violence there.

“We are looking into how to make sure that those responsible for extremist violence or extreme settler violence in the West Bank are held to account for it,” Trudeau tells reporters in Waterloo, Ontario.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders speak, say any hostage deal must end the war in Gaza

Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists shake hands after handing over hostages to the Red Cross in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 28, 2023. (AFP)
Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists shake hands after handing over hostages to the Red Cross in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 28, 2023. (AFP)

Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh held a phone call with Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhaleh to discuss the Israel-Hamas war, the Gaza-ruling terror group announces.

According to a statement from Haniyeh’s office, the two agreed any deal with Israel for the release of hostages must be accompanied by a complete halt to the fighting, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, ending the blockade, reconstruction of the Strip and the freeing of Palestinian security prisoners.

Shipping giant CMA CGM halts transit through Red Sea amid repeated Houthi attacks

PARIS — Shipping group CMA CGM suspends until further notice all crossings by its vessels of the Bab al-Mandab Strait in and out of the Red Sea due to security risks, a source familiar with the matter says.

The decision is taken after the latest attacks on vessels by the Houthi militia in Yemen, including the targeting this week of a convoy that included CMA CGM-operated ships, the source says.

Gallant warns Hezbollah that pause in Gaza fighting won’t apply to northern border

This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting with soldiers in the IDF's Alpine Unit at Mount Hermon, February 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting with soldiers in the IDF's Alpine Unit at Mount Hermon, February 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Touring the north, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warns that a pause in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza will not apply to the ongoing hostilities with Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.

“If Hezbollah thinks that when there is a ceasefire in the south it will hold fire and we’ll stop, it’s making a big mistake,” Gallant says after meeting troops from the IDF’s Alpine Unit on Mount Hermon, according to a statement from his office.

He adds: “I say here explicitly: Until we reach a situation in which it’s possible to restore security for residents of the north, we will not stop. When get reach this through a [diplomatic] arrangement or military means, we can be calm.”

US Treasury hits Iran with new sanctions relating to its weapons and cyber programs

WASHINGTON — The US Treasury says it’s imposed sanctions on four Iran- and Hong Kong-based companies for providing materials and technology to Iran’s ballistic missile and drone programs and on a Hong Kong-based firm for selling Iranian commodities.

The Treasury also says it’s imposed sanctions on six officials of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Cyber Electronic Command for malicious cyber activities against critical infrastructure in the United States and elsewhere.

As a result of the sanctions, all property of the designated entities and individuals that are in the United States or fall under US control are blocked. As a general rule, US individuals or companies are barred from transactions involving the property of those designated.

IDF says it intercepted missile headed toward Israel over Red Sea area

The IDF says it has intercepted a surface-to-surface missile heading toward Israel over the Red Sea area.

The ballistic missile, apparently launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen at Israel’s southernmost city of Eilat, was downed using the long-range Arrow air defense system, the IDF says.

Footage circulating online shows a trail of smoke from the Arrow missile launch.

The Houthis have fired several ballistic missiles and drones at Eilat amid the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, all of which were intercepted or missed their target. An Iran-backed group in Syria also launched drones at Eilat, hitting a school in November.

Likud minister likens UK’s backing for Palestinian state post-war to Nazi appeasement

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli speaks at a Knesset committee meeting, on December 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli speaks at a Knesset committee meeting, on December 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli of Likud rails at British Foreign Secretary David Cameron for saying Britain could recognize a Palestinian state after the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, comparing the UK’s top diplomat to the prime minister who led its appeasement policy toward Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler before World War II.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Chikli shares a photo of Cameron waving alongside a picture of former premier Neville Chamberlain holding up a copy of the 1938 Munich Agreement that let Germany annex parts of Czechoslovakia in an effort to avoid another major war in Europe. Chamberlain famously declared that “peace for our time” had been secured upon his return from the negotiations in Munich.

“Hello to David Cameron, who wants to bring ‘Peace in Our Time’ and grant the Nazis who committed the atrocities of October 7th a prize in the form of a Palestinian state as a token of recognition for murdering babies in their cribs, mass rape and abducting mothers with their children. ‘The march of Folly,'” writes Chikli.

The Likud minister’s post comes a day after Cameron reiterated the UK could recognize a Palestinian state once the fighting is over but clarified it would not do so until the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group is out of the enclave.

US bolsters defenses at Jordan base as it readies response to deadly drone attack

A satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan on January 29, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
A satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan on January 29, 2024. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

WASHINGTON — The US has bolstered defenses at a base in Jordan that was attacked by Iran-backed militants as it prepares for a wider US response to a drone attack that killed three service members, a US official says.

While previous US responses have been more limited, the attack on Tower 22, as the Jordan outpost is known, and the deaths of the three service members has crossed a line, the official says. The base was struck by an Iranian-made drone fired from Iraq, the official says.

In the days since the attack, the US has bolstered the defenses around Tower 22, which houses about 350 US troops and sits near the demilitarized zone on the border between Jordan and Syria. The Iraqi border is only 6 miles (10 kilometers) away.

In response, the US is weighing response options to include striking militia leaders. The US options under consideration include targets in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, where the Iranian-made drone that killed the service members was fired from, the official says.

The US has blamed the Jordan attack on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias.

IDF releases body cam footage from Hamas fighter, moments before he was killed by commandos

The IDF releases footage obtained from the body camera of a Hamas operative, moments before he was killed by troops of the Commando Brigade in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis.

The Commando Brigade has continued operations in west Khan Younis, an area the IDF describes as a Hamas stronghold.

The IDF says troops have encountered many Hamas cells in the area, killing them in close-quarters combat.

In one incident this week, the IDF says troops of the Maglan commando unit encountered and killed three Hamas gunmen, and later found a camera on the body of one.

Maglan troops also raided a Hamas site in a mosque recently, locating a tunnel shaft inside, the IDF says. Near the mosque the soldiers found a cache of weapons.

The IDF also shares footage of the Maglan and Egoz commando units operating in Khan Younis.

Civil servants from US, EU pen anonymous letter decrying support for Israeli op in Gaza

A group of civil servants from the United States and EU member nations releases an unsigned letter declaring their governments’ policies concerning the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza are “wrong.”

The letter, which The New York Times says has over 800 supporters, complains that concerns the officials privately expressed “were overruled by political and ideological considerations” and they therefore “are obliged to do everything in our power on behalf of our countries and ourselves to not be complicit in one of the worst human catastrophes of this century.”

The missive goes on to accuse Israel of showing “no boundaries in its military operations in Gaza” and ignoring “all important counterterrorism expertise gained since 9/11.”

“Israel’s military operations have not contributed to its goal of releasing all hostages and is putting their well-being, lives and release at risk,” the letter states. “The operation has not contributed to Israel’s goal of defeating Hamas and instead has strengthened the appeal of Hamas, Hezbollah and other negative actors.”

The letter’s supporters call to hold Israel “accountable to international humanitarian and human rights standards applied elsewhere,” and to “use all leverage available — including a halt to military support — to secure a lasting ceasefire and full humanitarian access in Gaza and a safe release of all hostages.”

“Develop a strategy for lasting peace that includes a secure Palestinian state and guarantees for Israel’s security, so that an attack like 7 October and an offensive on Gaza never happen again,” they add.

According to the letter, the officials that endorsed it hail from 12 different countries and EU institutions.

IDF says fighter jets struck Hezbollah cell, sites in south Lebanon

The IDF says it struck a cell and Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon today.

The cell was struck by a fighter jet in the southern Lebanese village of Aitaroun, the IDF says.

The IDF says fighter jets also hit several Hezbollah sites in Khiam, Qana and Jabal Blat, and artillery shelled areas in Jebbayn, Atta ash-Shab and Aitaroun to “remove threats.”

Earlier today, two rockets were fired from Lebanon at Kiryat Shmona, and a short while ago, one projectile was fired at the Mount Dov area.

The IDF says it is shelling the launch sites.

IDF says recovered docs show in detail how Hamas, Islamic Jihad use Gaza mosques for terror

This image released by the Israel Defense Forces on February 2, 2024, shows what the military says was a rocket launch site at a cemetery near a mosque in the northern Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)
This image released by the Israel Defense Forces on February 2, 2024, shows what the military says was a rocket launch site at a cemetery near a mosque in the northern Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces says troops fighting in Gaza have recovered documents detailing the use by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad of mosques for terror purposes.

According to a military statement, dozens of mosques across the Gaza Strip have arms dumps and tunnel entrances, and also serve as “operational gathering points”.

This image released by the Israel Defense Forces on February 2, 2024, shows what the military says was a tunnel entrance near a mosque in the northern Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF adds that documents recently found in Khan Younis show the extent of Hamas’s influence on religious leaders in Gaza and “infiltration into local religious leadership positions with the intent of promoting hate speech, instigating violence and encouraging civilians to join terrorist groups.”

“The exploitation of religious leaders and mosques by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip for promoting terrorism, storing explosives and carrying out attacks represents the grave misuse of religious institutions for military operations, effectively turning worshippers into human shields,” the statement charges.

Hamas demands release of Fatah terror chief Barghouti, PFLP leader in hostage deal; seeks permanent ceasefire

Fatah terror chief Marwan Barghouti, serving five life terms for murder during the Second Intifada, appears in a Jerusalem court, January 25, 2012. (Flash90)
Fatah terror chief Marwan Barghouti, serving five life terms for murder during the Second Intifada, appears in a Jerusalem court, January 25, 2012. (Flash90)

A senior Hamas figure says his terror group is still studying a proposed multi-stage deal to free Israeli hostages it took in the October 7 onslaught, in exchange for a prolonged pause in Israel’s offensive against Hamas and the release of Palestinian security prisoners, but at the same time appears to rule out key components of the proposal.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, says the Gaza-ruling terror group remains committed to its initial demands for a permanent ceasefire. Israel is ready to pause the fighting in order to secure the release of hostages, but insists it will not end its military campaign until Hamas is destroyed.

Hamdan also says Hamas seeks the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners being held for acts related to the conflict with Israel, including those serving life sentences.

He mentions two by name, including Fatah terror convict Marwan Barghouti, who is seen as a top future candidate to lead the Palestinian Authority. Barghouti was arrested by Israel in 2002 and is serving five life terms for planning three terror attacks during the Second Intifada that killed five Israelis.

In addition to Barghouti, Hamdan names Ahmad Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, as well as Hamas prisoners and those from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization. Saadat is serving a 30-year sentence for his role in the 2001 assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi.

PFLP Secretary-General Ahmad Saadat at the Jerusalem’s Magistrate Court in September 2012. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

Hamdan tells Lebanon’s LBC TV that Hamas insists on a permanent ceasefire, rejecting the proposal’s staged approach, with several pauses in fighting.

“There is no way that this will be acceptable to the resistance,” he says.

“We have tried temporary truces and it turned out that the Israelis don’t respect these truces but always violate them,” Hamdan says in an apparent reference to a weeklong truce in November that ended after Hamas failed to provide a new list of hostages for release that met previously agreed criteria and fired rockets at Israel.

UN warns Gaza’s Rafah becoming a ‘pressure cooker of despair’

Children stand atop a small hill near tents at a make-shift shelter for Palestinians who fled to Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
Children stand atop a small hill near tents at a make-shift shelter for Palestinians who fled to Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

GENEVA — The United Nations warns that Rafah is becoming a “pressure cooker of despair” as thousands of people flee into the city from Khan Younis and other parts of southern Gaza as the Israel-Hamas war grinds on.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also says the situation in Rafah is “not looking good” amid concerns that the city may be a new focus of Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

“Rafah is a pressure cooker of despair and we fear for what comes next,” he tells a regular UN briefing in Geneva. “It’s like every week we think, you know, it can’t get any worse. Well, go figure. It gets worse.

“It’s very important for us and for OCHA to put on record today our deep concern about what’s happening in Khan Yunis and Rafah in the southern part of the strip because it’s really not looking good,” Laerke adds.

The war was sparked on October 7 when Hamas-led terrorists stormed the border and rampaged through southern Israel communities, killing some 1,200 and taking 253 hostages amid acts of brutality and sexual violence.

In response, Israel launched a war against Hamas, with the stated aims of toppling the terror group’s rule in Gaza, and the return of all the hostages.

Head of criminal organization shot dead in north — reports

The head of a criminal organization in the north was shot dead near the entrance to Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Hebrew-language media reports.

The man is not publicly named but is reportedly around 45-years-old.

The Ynet news site says the man was killed on Route 6.

There is no immediate comment from police.

Belgium summons Israeli envoy over ‘completely unacceptable’ destruction of Gaza development agency

Belgium summoned Israel’s ambassador to condemn the bombing of the country’s development agency in Gaza, the Belgian foreign ministry says.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib and Development Cooperation Minister Caroline Gennez spoke to Israeli Ambassador Idit Rosenzweig-Abu in Brussels.

“The ministers strongly condemned the bombing and destruction of the offices,” the Belgian ministry says.

“The destruction of civilian infrastructure is absolutely unacceptable and does not comply with international law,” it adds.

Brussels says the offices of Enabel, the Belgian development agency, had been destroyed in northern Gaza. An official told AFP it took place on Wednesday. There were no employees in the building at the time.

The Israel Defense Forces says it is looking into the claims.

The Foreign Ministry confirms that the ambassador was summoned, and says it is checking the matter.

Lazar Berman and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

Hamas-run health ministry says Gaza death toll has passed 27,100

At least 27,131 Palestinians have been killed and 66,287 have been wounded in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct. 7, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says.

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 Gaza fighting, in addition to some 1,000 killed in Israel in the aftermath of the terror group’s October 7 invasion and onslaught.

New Health Ministry protocols for released hostages include training to treat sexual abuse, torture

An Israeli military helicopter with released Israeli hostages arrives at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, November 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
An Israeli military helicopter with released Israeli hostages arrives at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital, November 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Amid negotiations for a potential deal that would see the release of more hostages from Gaza, the Health Ministry shares updated guidelines for their treatment upon return to Israel.

The ministry’s protocols, published yesterday, have been sharpened and improved based on the treatment and experiences of the hostages released during a pause in fighting in late November.

The updates are the results of joint consultations of representatives from the Health Ministry, hospitals, community health systems, sexual assault organizations, police and IDF.

The improved protocols include a recommended minimum of four-day stays in hospitals’ special areas for returned hostages, where all physical and psycho-social testing and care can be provided. The tests will include those for infectious diseases.

The four-day period also allows sufficient time for planning for ongoing individualized care in the community. Each returned hostage will be assigned a nurse who will support them on an ongoing basis, as well as a social worker who will help them with interfacing with the social insurance system.

The protection of the returned hostages’ privacy will be upgraded in terms of guarding against access to their medical information. Access to the returnees by the media will be curtailed and only designated medical staff, relevant security apparatus personnel and family members will be allowed access.

Medical staff at the hospitals where the newly released hostages will be brought are undergoing additional training on treating cases of sexual abuse and torture, only with the permission of the victim.

Hostages’ families to rally Saturday night: ‘120 days underground with no air, the hostages are in mortal danger’

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

The families of the hostages held by terrorists in Gaza call on the public to rally with them tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, under the banner “120 days underground with no air: The hostages are in mortal danger!”

Most, if not all, of the hostages kidnapped during the onslaught on October 7 are believed to be held captive in Hamas’s labyrinth of tunnels beneath Gaza.

Speakers at the event will include ⁠Lishay Miran-Lavie, whose husband Omri Miran was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Hadasa Lazar, whose brother Shlomo Mansour was kidnapped from Kibbutz Kissufim, and ⁠Carmit Palty Katzi, whose brother Elad Katzir was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

Former spokespeople from the Israel Defense Forces will also speak at the rally.

The rally comes amid advanced negotiations for a new deal that would see the release of hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting, increased humanitarian aid for Gaza, and the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

IDF: Troops seized cash, intelligence documents from underground Hamas bank vault in Gaza

Troops of the 99th Division operate in central Gaza, in a handout image published February 2, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the 99th Division operate in central Gaza, in a handout image published February 2, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF releases footage and details recent operations carried out by the 99th Division in the central Gaza Strip.

The division’s main objective is to hold a “corridor” splitting Gaza in two, preventing Hamas operatives and weaponry from crossing from the southern part of the Strip to its north.

The IDF says the division has also killed many Hamas gunmen and raided the terror group’s sites in the area.

In one operation, carried out by the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade, the IDF says troops discovered a rocket manufacturing plant in the Nuseirat area.

In another operation, reservists of the Yiftah Brigade raided a Hamas bank in central Gaza, where some NIS 100,000 in cash and intelligence documents were seized from an underground vault, according to the IDF.

The IDF says the division’s 179th Reserve Armored Brigade killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen in recent weeks, destroyed several major Hamas tunnels, seized weapons, and demolished the terror group’s sites.

Israeli official: It’s ’50/50′ if new Gaza hostage deal will be agreed

Israeli women demand the immediate release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group at a protest in Tel Aviv, Feb. 1, 2024 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli women demand the immediate release of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group at a protest in Tel Aviv, Feb. 1, 2024 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

A senior Israeli official tells NBC that it is unclear if a proposal for a pause in fighting in Gaza and the release of hostages will come to fruition.

“I don’t think it’s more than 50/50 it will materialize,” the unnamed senior official says.

Unnamed ministers also tell Channel 12 news that a deal is far from certain.

The war cabinet is currently waiting for Hamas’s response to the proposal.

According to some reports, the outline offers the possibility of a six-week pause in fighting in Gaza for the first time since late November, and the release of all 136 hostages still in Gaza, not all of whom are alive. Other reports, however, have said the framework provides for the release of only 35 hostages — women, the elderly and the sick — during a 35-day initial truce, with the potential for another week’s pause in fighting during which negotiations could be held on further releases. Other reports have cited differing terms in the unconfirmed framework deal.

Hamas and other terror factions are holding onto 132 of the 253 hostages taken on October 7 during the unprecedented shock onslaught, following a weeklong November truce deal that saw the release of 105 civilians, mostly women and children.

The IDF has said 29 of the 132 are dead, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

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

Some 3,000 soldiers examined by IDF’s mental health services since Oct.7, with most returning to their units

Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 2, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 2, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

Most of the soldiers who have been treated by mental health officers since October 7 are returning to their units, according to the IDF.

The IDF spokesperson’s office confirmed to The Times of Israel the statistics reported by the Kan public broadcaster.

Around 3,000 soldiers in compulsory service or the reserves have been checked by the military’s mental health system, with 82% returning to battle.

Three-quarters of those treated for post-trauma symptoms at a designated center at the IDF’s Tzrifin base have returned to duty, following a mutual decision made by the soldier and the mental health professional who worked with them.

“The fact that they return to their role or the army, in general, is very protective and helps prevent the development of a long-term disorder,” Lt. Col. Dr. Michal Lifshitz, head of the clinical division of the IDF’s mental health service, tells Kan.

Lifshitz attributes the positive outcomes to good preparedness, sufficient mental health staffing, and an approach that has put mental health at the forefront with support available to soldiers not only within Israel but also in combat areas.

Sweden investigating explosive device found at Israeli embassy as suspected terror

Sweden is investigating a foiled attack on the Israeli embassy in Stockholm earlier this week as a “suspected terror crime.”

Embassy staff notified police of a suspicious object on Wednesday, triggering a large response from law enforcement.

The daily Aftonbladet reported, citing unnamed sources, that the object thrown over the embassy fence was believed to be a hand grenade and that it landed close to the building.

The device was later detonated in a controlled manner.

Hamas official says terror group will respond ‘very soon’ to proposal for truce, hostage release

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

BEIRUT — A senior Hamas official says the terror group will respond “very soon” to a proposal that includes extended pauses in Gaza fighting, and phased releases of Hamas-held hostages in the Strip and Palestinians jailed in Israel.

The official tells The Associated Press a lasting ceasefire is the most important component for Hamas, and that everything else can be negotiated.

The multi-stage proposal was drafted several days ago by senior officials from the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt, and is awaiting a Hamas response.

In Cairo, a senior Egyptian official with direct knowledge of the contacts says Hamas has not submitted a formal response but that it has sent positive signals.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the indirect talks are still ongoing.

Revolutionary Guards adviser killed in Israeli strike near Damascus – Iranian report

An adviser to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed in an Israeli strike near Damascus, a semi-official Iranian news agency says.

Syria’s state-run SANA broadcaster said Israel carried out airstrikes near Damascus early this morning.

The report, citing a military source, said the Israeli aircraft launched their missiles from over the Golan Heights at the targets south of the capital at around 4:20 a.m.

It was reported yesterday that the Revolutionary Guards have scaled back the deployment of their senior officers in Syria due to a spate of deadly strikes blamed on Israel.

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

Since the Gaza war erupted, Israel has stepped up a years-long campaign of air strikes aimed at rolling back Iran’s presence in Syria, attacking both the Guards and Hezbollah, which has been firing at northern Israel towns and military bases since October 8.

Ship carrying livestock for Israeli company returns to Australia after month-long ordeal due to Red Sea attacks

A ship carrying thousands of livestock that has been stranded at sea for almost a month has finally docked in Australia, where welfare concerns mean some of the animals are expected to be offloaded.

About 16,500 sheep and cattle have been stowed on the MV Bahijah since January 5, when it sailed for the Middle East from the Western Australian port of Fremantle before it was ordered by the government, two weeks into its journey, to turn around due to the ongoing Yemen Houthi rebels attacks in the Red Sea.

Since Monday the vessel had been sitting off the Western Australian coast as concerns grew for the welfare of the animals on board. It finally docked at Fremantle on Thursday, 25 days after it had set off from the same port.

Authorities are now rushing to form contingency plans for how to safely offload and quarantine at least some of the livestock with heatwave conditions in the region adding to the challenge.

On Wednesday, authorities sent two veterinarians onto the vessel to inspect the animals, but they found no significant health or welfare issues among the livestock.

“That provides additional confidence that the livestock are in good condition and have appropriate care and supervision,” said Beth Cookson, Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer. “It also confirmed that there were no signs of exotic disease present in the livestock on board the vessel.”

The reprieve for the animals may be short-lived as authorities currently assess an application to re-export the livestock. It will likely see them at sea for another month as the MV Bahijah avoids the Red Sea by sailing around Africa to access the Suez canal ports, adding thousands of miles and more than a week to the trip.

The MV Bahijah sails under the flag of the Marshall Islands and is carrying the livestock for Israeli-based export company Bassem Dabbah, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Jordan briefly detains four Israelis said to have mistakenly crossed border

Jordanian border guards briefly arrested four Israelis who had mistakenly crossed the border, Jordanian state TV reports, citing a military source.

Investigations showed they crossed by mistake and were later returned to the Israeli authorities via official channels, the report says.

Raisi: Iran will not start a war, but ‘anyone wants to bully us will receive a strong response’

This handout picture taken and released by the Iranian Presidency shows Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi praying at the tomb of the Islamic Republic's late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran on January 31, 2024 (Iranian Presidency / AFP)
This handout picture taken and released by the Iranian Presidency shows Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi praying at the tomb of the Islamic Republic's late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran on January 31, 2024 (Iranian Presidency / AFP)

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi says that his country will not start a war, but it will “respond strongly” to anyone who bullies it.

“We will not start any war, but if anyone wants to bully us they will receive a strong response,” Raisi says in a televised speech.

Raisi’s comments came after days of speculation about how Washington might retaliate after three US soldiers were killed in a strike on their base in Jordan by an Iranian-backed group.

It was the first killing of American troops in a wave of attacks by Iran-backed groups against US forces in the region since the Oct. 7 Hamas onslaught on Israel.

The Wall Street Journal reports that US strikes in Iraq and Syria against multiple targets, including Iranian personnel and facilities in those countries, could begin this weekend.

Activists block Nitzana border crossing to prevent entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza

Protesters block the area around the Nitzana border crossing with Egypt, preventing aid destined for Gaza from entering Israel to be checked by authorities.

According to the Ynet news site, the activists said they arrived in the area on foot so that they could circumnavigate roadblocks.

Earlier this week, the IDF announced a closed military zone in the area. The order meant it is illegal for civilians to be in the area of the crossing, as well as the nearby Route 211.

Activists, including the families of some of the Gaza hostages, had blocked the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza crossing for several days to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the Strip. The protests prompted the IDF to declare the Kerem Shalom crossing a closed military zone.

Following that order, protesters moved to block Nitzana Crossing.

At Nitzana, aid enters Israel from Egypt to be checked, before it is sent back to Egypt to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing.

Turkey arrests 7 on suspicion of selling information to Mossad

Turkish police arrested seven people on suspicion of selling information to the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, the state-run Anadolu news agency says.

The suspects, who allegedly passed details to Mossad via private detectives, were detained in a joint operation with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, or MIT.

Acting on warrants issued by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, police anti-terror and intelligence branch officers carried out raids in Istanbul and the west coast city of Izmir, Anadolu reports.

Two other suspects in the investigation are thought to have been detained earlier.

Last month, 34 people were detained by Turkish police on suspicion of spying for Israel. They were accused of planning to carry out activities that included reconnaissance and “pursuing, assaulting and kidnapping” foreign nationals living in Turkey.

At the time, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said most of the suspects were charged with committing “political or military espionage” on behalf of Israeli intelligence.

Mossad is said to have recruited Palestinians and Syrian nationals in Turkey as part of an operation against foreigners living in Turkey.

Following the Jan. 2 arrests, Anadolu cited a prosecution document as saying the operation targeted “Palestinian nationals and their families … within the scope of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The head of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency said in December that his organization was prepared to target Hamas anywhere, including in Lebanon, Turkey and Qatar.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Israel of “serious consequences” if Israel pressed ahead with its threat to attack Hamas officials on Turkish soil.

Israel carried out airstrikes on targets near Damascus, Syria says

Syria’s state-run SANA broadcaster says Israel carried out airstrikes near Damascus early this morning, causing damage.

The report, citing a military source, says the Israeli aircraft launched their missiles from over the Golan Heights at the targets south of the capital at around 4:20 a.m.

It says Syrian air defenses responded to the Israeli incursion, downing some of the missiles.

SANA says that “material damage” was caused to the sites that were targeted, but does not elaborate further.

Rocket sirens sound in towns close to Lebanon border

Sirens sound in four communities close to the Lebanon border, warning of two waves of incoming rocket fire.

Alerts are heard in Kiryat Shmona, Tel Hai, Kfar Yuval and Ma’ayan Baruch.

The communities have been largely evacuated of civilians since October 8, when Hezbollah-led forces began launching daily attacks on Israeli communities and military posts along the border. The terror group says it is doing so to support Gaza amid Israel’s war with the Hamas terror group, triggered by its October 7 massacre.

IDF says troops fighting Hamas in all areas of Gaza; Iron Dome intercepts ‘suspicious aerial target’ from Strip

Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 2, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 2, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says troops killed dozens of Hamas operatives in the Khan Younis area over the past day, as fighting continues in all areas of the Gaza Strip.

In west Khan Younis, the Paratroopers Brigade killed some 20 gunmen, mostly in close-quarters fighting, according to the IDF. The paratroopers also raided several Hamas sites in the area, seizing weapons.

Also in west Khan Younis, the IDF says the Givati Brigade directed airstrikes on several buildings used by Hamas, as well as a cell that fired anti-tank missiles at forces.

In another incident, Givati soldiers killed another Hamas cell and seized a cache of RPGs.

Meanwhile, in central Gaza, the Navy carried out strikes along the Strip’s coast, aiding ground forces of the Nahal Brigade which is operating in the area, the IDF says.

In northern Gaza’s Shati camp, the IDF says the 401st Armored Brigade killed more than ten gunmen over the past day.

Separately, in an unusual incident overnight, the IDF says the Iron Dome intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” that infiltrated Israeli airspace from Gaza. An alert had sounded on the Home Front Command’s mobile app in open areas, not in any towns.

3 arrested over theft of dozens of laptops used in schooling kids evacuated from Sderot

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of stealing dozens of computers from a Dead Sea hotel that were used in the schooling of children who were evacuated from their Sderot homes after the Hamas-led October 7 onslaught.

Police say the suspects are aged in their 30s and are from Dimona and Beersheba.

Yesterday the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court ordered the suspects’ continued detention amid the investigation.

New Jersey man pleads guilty to series of violent assaults in antisemitic attack spree

Dion Marsh, the suspect in an alleged antisemitic crime spree in New Jersey, in a photo released by the Lakewood police on April 8, 2022. (Courtesy/Lakewood Township Police Department)
Dion Marsh, the suspect in an alleged antisemitic crime spree in New Jersey, in a photo released by the Lakewood police on April 8, 2022. (Courtesy/Lakewood Township Police Department)

A New Jersey man pleads guilty to a series of attacks on Jews in a violent crime spree in April 2022, the US Attorney’s Office in the District of New Jersey says.

Dion Marsh, 27, pleaded guilty to five counts of violating the federal Hate Crimes Prevention Act, as well as carjacking.

Marsh was charged with willfully causing bodily injury to five people, and attempting to kill and injure four of them because they were Jewish, the US Attorney says.

“This defendant is being held accountable for his series of depraved, antisemitic assaults against members of the Orthodox Jewish community,” says Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“Hate-filled acts of violence, intended to harm, intimidate and isolate communities, have no place in our society,” Clarke says. “The Justice Department will continue to aggressively prosecute perpetrators of antisemitic violence across our country.”

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 11.

The attacks critically injured two Jewish men, and seriously injured a third.

The rampage started at 1:18 p.m. in the town of Lakewood, when Marsh forced an identifiably Jewish man out of his car, assaulting and injuring him, and driving off in the vehicle.

At 6:06 p.m. on the same day, Marsh rammed another Orthodox Jewish man while driving a different vehicle. He was attempting to kill the victim and broke several of his bones, prosecutors said.

At 6:55 p.m., driving the stolen vehicle, Marsh rammed another Orthodox Jewish man, then got out of the vehicle and stabbed the victim in the chest with a knife, prosecutors said.

At 8:23 p.m., during Shabbat, Marsh rammed another Orthodox Jewish man in the nearby Jackson Township, attempting to kill him and causing several broken bones and internal injuries.

Law enforcement arrested Marsh at his home that night.

Amid outcry from southern residents, local official says most Darom Adom events cancelled

Soldiers drive by anemones at a forest near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, on January 21, 2024 (Liron Moldovan/Flash90)
Soldiers drive by anemones at a forest near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, on January 21, 2024 (Liron Moldovan/Flash90)

Amid growing opposition from residents of the Gaza border towns and the family members of those killed or kidnapped on October 7, most of the events for the Darom Adom festival are canceled.

“Yesterday we decided to cancel most of the events that were announced,” Shaar Hanegev Regional Council Acting Chairman Yossi Keren tells Army Radio.

Keren replaced Ofir Libstein, the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev local council who was killed defending Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7 and was one of the founders of Darom Adom.

Keren says the walk in memory of Libstein will still take place “even if I have to march alone.”

Yesterday Sharon Kalderon, a resident of Kibbutz Sufa whose brother Ofer was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz with his two children (who were freed on November 27 as part of a temporary ceasefire deal) while he remains a hostage in Gaza, told the outlet why she believed the festival was inappropriate.

“This year’s anemones are redder than ever — not from the rain, but from the blood of our murdered. The residents of the south have no life. There is no reason for everyone else to be able to sit and have a picnic by the anemones,” she said.

The festival, which usually sees tens of thousands of Israelis flocking to the region over the weekends of February, was already organized to be held in a more limited fashion.

When it was announced, a spokesperson said the festival was taking place to help dozens of small, local businesses earn money.

Saudi Arabia, pushing for US defense pact, would accept Israeli commitment to Palestinian state – report

(L) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. (Saudi Press Agency via AP); (C) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90); (L) US President Joe Biden on November 2, 2022 in Washington, DC (Michael A. McCoy / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
(L) Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 19, 2023. (Saudi Press Agency via AP); (C) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90); (L) US President Joe Biden on November 2, 2022 in Washington, DC (Michael A. McCoy / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Saudi Arabia would be willing to accept a political commitment from Israel to create a Palestinian state, rather than anything more binding, in a bid to get a defense pact with Washington approved before the US presidential election, three sources say.

Months of US-led diplomacy to get Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel and recognize the country for the first time were shelved by Riyadh in October in the face of mounting Arab anger over the war sparked by the October 7 onslaught by the Hamas terror group.

But Saudi Arabia is increasingly keen to shore up its security and ward off threats from rival Iran so the kingdom can forge ahead with its ambitious plan to transform its economy and attract huge foreign investment, two regional sources say.

To create some wiggle room in talks about recognizing Israel and to get the US pact back on track, Saudi officials have told their US counterparts that Riyadh would not insist Israel take concrete steps to create a Palestinian state and would instead accept a political commitment to a two-state solution, two senior regional sources tell Reuters.

Such a major regional deal, widely seen as a long-shot even before the Israel-Hamas war, would still face numerous political and diplomatic obstacles, not least the uncertainty over how the war between Israel and Hamas will unfold.

Pentagon: Austin and Gallant discussed Gaza war, Lebanon border tensions and ‘stability in West Bank’

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin shake hands while delivering joint statements at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on October 13, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin shake hands while delivering joint statements at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on October 13, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin has held another phone call with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, according to the Pentagon.

A readout from the US Defense Department says the two discussed “Israel’s shift to low-intensity operations in Gaza, support for a diplomatic solution along the Israel-Lebanon border, and stability in the West Bank.”

The Pentagon says Austin also stressed “the importance of ensuring the uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza” and that he and Gallant talked about “regional threats to US forces.”

There is no immediate statement from Gallant’s office on the call.

Belgium to summon Israeli envoy after its development agency in Gaza ‘completely destroyed’

The Belgian foreign ministry says it will summon the Israeli ambassador after the Gaza offices of Belgium’s development agency were “completely destroyed” in a strike.

Egypt said wary Israeli op along ‘Philadelphi Route’ could cause Gazans to flee Strip

A shepherd leads a flock of sheep in Rafah near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on January 16, 2024, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (AFP)
A shepherd leads a flock of sheep in Rafah near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on January 16, 2024, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (AFP)

Jerusalem has given explicit assurances to Cairo that any military operation along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt will not result in the mass migration of Palestinians to Egyptian territory, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Citing an Egyptian source familiar with the matter, the broadcaster reports that Egypt’s concerns over the so-called Philadelphi Route are not over an Israeli operation itself, but the prospect that it could cause large numbers of Gazans to flee into the Sinai Peninsula.

After numerous coalition lawmakers attended a conference this week backing the reestablishment of settlements in Gaza, the report says Egypt is increasingly suspicious of the Israeli government’s intentions regarding the migration of Palestinians and is therefore demanding guarantees and not settling for verbal promises.

Aussie police: Pro-Palestinian protesters chanted antisemitic slogans, but not ‘gas the Jews’

FILE - Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered at the Sydney Opera House, which was planned to be illuminated in the colors of the Israeli flag following the weekend Hamas massacres in Israel, while police advised the Jewish community to stay away, in Sydney, New South Wales, on October 9, 2023. (AP/Rick Rycroft)
FILE - Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered at the Sydney Opera House, which was planned to be illuminated in the colors of the Israeli flag following the weekend Hamas massacres in Israel, while police advised the Jewish community to stay away, in Sydney, New South Wales, on October 9, 2023. (AP/Rick Rycroft)

SYDNEY — Australian police say a forensic analysis did not find evidence pro-Palestinian protesters chanted “gas the Jews” outside the Sydney Opera House last year, but the investigation found some used antisemitic slogans.

Around 1,000 pro-Palestinian supporters marched through downtown Sydney in October to the city’s iconic Opera House, which the government had illuminated in the colors of the Israeli flag following the October 7 attack by Hamas.

Unverified footage on social media platforms showed a small group lighting flares and chanting some words with the subtitle “gas the Jews.” Police had engaged an independent expert in biometric science to examine the audio-visual files.

“The phrase chanted during that protest … was ‘Where’s the Jews?’ not another phrase as otherwise widely reported,” New South Wales state police Deputy Commissioner Malcolm Lanyon says during a media briefing.

Lanyon says there’s evidence of other “offensive and completely unacceptable” antisemitic statements used by protesters.

“But I think the major contention has been about the phrase that was chanted,” Lanyon says, adding the audio and visuals inspected by the police were not doctored.

People who gave statements to the police that they heard offensive slogans could not source it to any particular individual. Police will continue to investigate if offenses were committed during the protests, Lanyon says.

Russia jokes at hostages’ expense after Israel welcomes band opposed to Ukraine invasion

Russia’s foreign ministry decides to make fun of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, to get back over a Russian-Belarusian band that denounces Moscow’s Ukraine invasion being welcomed in Tel Aviv after they were held in Thailand on immigration charges that had sparked fears they could be deported to Russia and face prison.

Several members of Bi-2 have dual nationalities, including Israeli and Australian.

“We understand the attempts of Israeli diplomats to show that they can free, if not the hostages, then musicians,” the Russian Foreign Ministry writes on Facebook.

Over 130 hostages, mainly civilians, have been held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza for nearly four months. Some have been killed in captivity.

The quip comes at the end of a long post in which Moscow denies having had Thailand do its bidding by detaining the band for a week.

Russian independent media had reported that Moscow’s diplomats were demanding the band be sent to Russia.

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