ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Feb. 6: Hamas demand for permanent ceasefire in hostage talks unacceptable — Israeli source

Biden chides terror group’s ‘over the top’ reply to Paris outline * Israel evaluating response * Qatar ‘optimistic’ * Death of Maj. David Shakuri brings ground op toll at 226

  • Families of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza protest outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, February 6, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Families of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza protest outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, February 6, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
  • Maj. David Shakuri with his wife and daughter. Shakuri was killed during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2024, (Courtesy)
    Maj. David Shakuri with his wife and daughter. Shakuri was killed during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip on February 6, 2024, (Courtesy)
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at Lusail Palace, in Doha on February 6, 2024, during his Middle East tour, his fifth urgent trip to the region since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted in October. (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)
    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at Lusail Palace, in Doha on February 6, 2024, during his Middle East tour, his fifth urgent trip to the region since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted in October. (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)
  • Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment on the southern Lebanese village of Hula near the border with Israel on February 6, 2024 amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (RABIH DAHER / AFP)
    Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment on the southern Lebanese village of Hula near the border with Israel on February 6, 2024 amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. (RABIH DAHER / AFP)
  • Israeli troops operating on the northern border in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli troops operating on the northern border in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Palestinians who fled their homes seen near their tents in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 5, 2024. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
    Palestinians who fled their homes seen near their tents in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 5, 2024. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
  • Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

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

Israel ‘studying details’ of Hamas response, ‘if and how’ to move on negotiations – report

Sources familiar with the hostage release talks tell Channel 12 that Hamas delivered a “detailed” response to the Paris outline for a release of the abductees taken on October 7 and held by Hamas in Gaza

“It is a detailed document with reference to all sections of the proposed outline. We are studying the details and checking if and how we can move towards negotiations,” the unnamed sources say.

Hamas is demanding an end to the war as part of the negotiations, in addition to the release of Palestinian security prisoners, and the rebuilding of the enclave — non-starter conditions for Israel.

A senior Israeli official tells Channel 12 that “the meaning of Hamas’s answer is a refusal to deal.”

Syria media outlets report apparent Israeli airstrike in Homs area

Syrian media outlets report an apparent Israeli airstrike in the area of Homs, in northern Syria.

The pro-government Sham FM radio says air defenses are engaging “hostile missiles” over the area.

It says some missiles impacted areas near al-Qusayr, south of Homs, causing a fire.

There are no immediate reports of casualties as a result of the strike.

The IDF does not comment on the reports.

Israel is reported to have ramped up strikes on targets belonging to Iran and Iran-backed groups in Syria in recent months, amid the war in the Gaza Strip.

Israel sending Eden Golan, 20, to represent country at Eurovision 2024 in Sweden

Eden Golan. (Shai Franco)
Eden Golan. (Shai Franco)

Israel chooses to send Eden Golan, 20, from Tel Aviv, to represent the country at the 2024 Eurovision, as contest organizers continue to face widespread calls to bar the Jewish state from taking part amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

At the finale of a war-delayed and altered season of “Hakochav Haba” (Rising Star), Golan beats out finalists Or Cohen, Mika Moshe and Dor Shimon to take the top prize and be able to compete on the grand stage in Malmo, Sweden, later this year.

For her final song tonight, Golan sang “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith, which she said is dedicated to all those longing for their loved ones to be home, including the hostages remaining in Gaza. Wearing a yellow hostage pin, Golan performed the song surrounded by empty chairs on stage as a tribute to those missing.

“I want to stand in front of all of Europe and raise up our nation,” says Golan during the show. “I was born in Israel and I only feel truly at home here. There is nothing that would make me more excited in the world than to represent our nation this year at Eurovision.”

Golan lived in Russia with her family for 13 years, returning to Israel around two years ago.

The song for this year’s competition will be selected next month, and the Kan public broadcaster, which is responsible for Israel’s participation, says that this year the song must include some Hebrew lyrics, “in light of the complicated period.”

As Israel faces criticism around the world over its ongoing campaign against Hamas in Gaza, some have called to bar the country from the competition, although the European Broadcasting Union, which runs the contest, has repeatedly stated that Israel will still be allowed to compete.

Senior Hamas official says group wants release of largest number of Palestinian prisoners possible

Ghazi Hamad, a member of Hamas's political bureau, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Beirut, Lebanon, October 26, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
Ghazi Hamad, a member of Hamas's political bureau, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Beirut, Lebanon, October 26, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad tells Reuters that the terror group intends for the release of the largest number possible of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Hamad’s comments come after Hamas earlier announced that it delivered a response to a framework agreement devised by Egypt and Qatar that aims to at least pause the fighting in Gaza and see the release of hostages.

But Hamas is demanding a complete end to the war and a permanent ceasefire — non-starters for Israel, which is looking for temporary pauses and a phased release of hostages.

“Netanyahu is trying to make everyone believe that he has or will achieve victory to preserve his coalition government,” Hamad tells Reuters.

He adds that it took Hamas some time — over a week — to issue a response because “many of [the agreement’s] issues were unclear and ambiguous.”

Spanish PM meets with families of hostages held by Hamas

In this handout photograph taken and released by the Spanish Prime Minister's office La Moncloa on February 6, 2024, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez talks with relatives of hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas, at La Moncloa Palace in Madrid. (Borja Puig de la Bellacasa/La Moncloa/AFP)
In this handout photograph taken and released by the Spanish Prime Minister's office La Moncloa on February 6, 2024, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez talks with relatives of hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attacks by Hamas, at La Moncloa Palace in Madrid. (Borja Puig de la Bellacasa/La Moncloa/AFP)

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met Tuesday in Madrid with families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza by Hamas and called for their “immediate and unconditional release,” his office says.

Eight parents of hostages met Sanchez at his official residence in Madrid, as well as a former hostage who was released in November during a truce in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, the prime minister’s office says in a statement.

A video released by the office showed Sanchez and the relatives of the hostages, some of them holding large photos of their family members, sitting around a glass table.

“We demand their immediate and unconditional release. There is no justification for violence,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter, after the meeting.

“The two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, coexisting in peace and security, is the only way to definitively resolve the conflict,” he added.

Spain, along with Ireland and Belgium, is one of the most critical voices in Europe of Israel’s offensive against Hamas, triggered by the terror group’s October 7 massacre in which thousands of terrorists killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages to Gaza.

Relations between Israel and Spain have soured over Madrid’s position.

Israel recalled its top diplomat in Madrid in November after Sanchez expressed doubts about the legality of Israel’s war in Gaza. She returned in January.

“Spain is, I believe, on the right side of history,” Sanchez said Monday during an interview with private television La Sexta.

“The right side of history is to respect human rights, to establish a permanent ceasefire, to let in humanitarian aid” into Gaza in the proportion that it is needed, he added.

Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre was ‘a coordinated attack on our shared values,’ says US speaker

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana appears next to US House Speaker Mike Johnson in Washington as he gives a statement to reporters, February 6, 2024. (Anang Mittal/Press Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives)
Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana appears next to US House Speaker Mike Johnson in Washington as he gives a statement to reporters, February 6, 2024. (Anang Mittal/Press Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives)

Hamas’s October 7 shock assault on Israel was “a coordinated attack on our shared values,” says US House Speaker Mike Johnson, following a meeting with an Israeli parliamentary delegation led by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana.

Noting that both Israeli and American citizens are being held hostage in Gaza, Johnson says that both countries “are in a war of civilizations against the enemies of freedom itself.”

“Israel is our closest ally. And when they threaten Israel – they actually threaten freedom itself,” he adds.

“Our countries share the same threats from the dark forces of the world – the Ayatollah regime. Iran must not come out of this war the way it entered it,” Ohana says after the meeting with Johnson, which also included the families of several Israelis held hostage by Hamas.

Ohana kicked off his visit to the US capital on Monday with a meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, whom he told that Israel “appreciates the support of the US from the beginning of the war, particularly the efforts that are being made to bring back the hostages, including US citizens.”

Ohana’s delegation is slated to meet with other pro-Israel lawmakers, including Senator Lindsey Graham, Senate Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer, and Representatives Ritchie Torres and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, among others.

Mossad: Hamas response to hostage deal outline delivered via Qatar, will be evaluated

The Mossad in a statement carried by the Prime Minister’s Office says Hamas’s response to a potential hostage deal has been delivered via Qatar.

The statement says the response is being evaluated by the relevant authorities.

Israel will not accept Hamas conditions for permanent ceasefire, says source

Israel will not accept Hamas’s conditions for a permanent ceasefire as part of hostage release negotiations, an Israeli government source tells the Kan public broadcaster.

“We will not accept any conditions for ending the war,” says the source.

After over a week of waiting, Hamas finally delivered its response today to an outline hammered out in Paris last weekend with Qatari and Egyptian mediators and with UN and Israeli negotiators. It demanded a “comprehensive and complete ceasefire, and ending the aggression against our people, and guaranteeing relief, shelter, [and] reconstruction, [and] lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and completing a prisoner exchange” — non-starter terms for Israel.

Kan reports that Hamas’s response is interpreted in Israel as a rejection of the proposed outline.

The terror group has doubled down on its demand that the hostage talks must include a permanent ceasefire, an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza, the reconstruction of the enclave, and the release of Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for 136 remaining hostages, at least 31 of whom are dead. This tally includes two soldiers who were killed in 2014 and whose bodies have been held by Hamas since then.

The NYT reported earlier that the military fears at least 20 more hostages may have been killed.

Hamas’s condition for a permanent ceasefire has been repeatedly rejected by Israel, which has vowed to destroy the terror group following its October 7 massacre across southern communities.

Israel has tentatively agreed to short pauses to the fighting and a phased hostage release agreement.

Qatar earlier touted Hamas’s “positive response” without elaborating. US President Joe Biden called Hamas’s response “over the top” but indicated that negotiations were ongoing.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected in Israel tomorrow.

Hagari says IDF confirmed deaths of 31 hostages; tally includes bodies of 2 soldiers held since 2014

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari responds to a report in The New York Times this evening, claiming that the military has confirmed the deaths of 32 hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and is assessing “unconfirmed intelligence” that at least 20 more may have also been killed.

“We are working in all ways to return [the hostages] home, and exhausting all information about them and their conditions,” Hagari says in an evening press conference.

“The IDF is accompanying the families of the hostages in these complex and difficult days, and our representatives are providing the families with any confirmed information on their loved ones,” he says.

He says the IDF has so far notified the families of 31 hostages that their loved ones are confirmed to have been killed.

They include 29 hostages kidnapped by terrorists on October 7 — all of which have been announced over the past months — and soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed and abducted by Hamas in 2014.

“To the rest of the families, we provided the accurate information about their fates and conditions,” he says.

Ultra-Orthodox protesters clash with police in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh; 5 arrested

Protests break out in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh with hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews blocking roads and clashing with police.

The demonstrations were sparked by the announcement that the body of a 13-year-old boy who died this morning under unclear circumstances in Beit Shemesh would undergo an autopsy — a procedure considered taboo by Orthodox Jews.

According to police, the demonstrators “started fires, damaged bus windows, threw eggs and bottles and attacked police officers,” leading to at least five arrests as of this afternoon.

The protests continue through the evening with protesters blocking buses at a major intersection on Yirmiyahu Street in Jerusalem.

Mounted police attempt to move the crowds back, coming close to trampling them. One officer whips an ultra-Orthodox protester with his reins while others on foot grapple with people blocking buses who respond by screaming “Nazi” and “Hamas.”

The protesters also scream at ultra-Orthodox women who get off one of the blocked buses to demand to be allowed to pass, calling them “gentiles” and “whores.”

Gantz says Gaza aid must be coordinated via international bodies not linked to Hamas like UNRWA

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz says Israel “wasted precious time” on its mission to dismantle Hamas in Gaza because of “foot-dragging,” especially in the northern part of the enclave.

In an evening press conference, Gantz says, “Now, as a matter of urgency, we must advance an outline under which food will be delivered to Gaza through international entities that are not connected to Hamas, such as UNRWA, even if this requires stopping or reducing quantities [of aid],” he says.

On the future civil administrator of Gaza, Gantz says “all options are on the table… All except Hamas. Our goal is 100% security control – 0% civilian control.”

“For this to happen, the world must also be engaged. Only then will more aid reach the residents and not go through the terrorists,” he says.

Gantz also again appears to criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and those “who are conducting divisive discourse in the Knesset, who turn the cabinet meetings into attacks on the military, who compare the TV studios to our enemies.”

At a press conference on January 18, Netanyahu accused Israeli media of spreading pessimism about the progress of the war, saying that the idea that Israel cannot win the war was being circulated “in the TV studios.” He told one reporter: “I’ll continue to fight Hamas, and you’ll continue to fight me… That’s the division of work.”

Gantz calls “on everyone from all sides of the political map, [to take] a moment before you speak – think about the fighters and the hostages, think about how we got here and why. The citizens of Israel deserve more from us.”

“There are no instant victories,” says Gantz, who joined Netanyahu for an emergency unity government days after the October 7 massacre. “We will win because we have to, we will win because we have no other country,” he says, adding that the fight may be “complicated and long.”

“The return of the hostages is an integral part of the victory and does not come at the expense of our duty to remove the threat of Hamas,” he says.

Gantz also indicates that he intends to move to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai near the Gaza Strip. The community came under attack on October 7, among some 20 communities in the south, but security teams were able to thwart the attacks.

IDF says troops find material in Gaza tunnel showing direct links, coordination with Iran

Cash uncovered by IDF troops in a Hamas tunnel in the Gaza Strip, in footage released by the IDF on February 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Cash uncovered by IDF troops in a Hamas tunnel in the Gaza Strip, in footage released by the IDF on February 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari says the military has uncovered documents and other materials from a tunnel in the Gaza Strip, indicating Hamas’s direct links and coordination with Iran.

“We found official documents of Hamas from 2020, including the details of the funds transferred from Iran to Hamas and [Yahya] Sinwar, between 2014 and 2020. More than 150 million dollars were transferred from Iran to Hamas,” he says.

“This is another example of how Iran exports terror across the Middle East. This is a global problem,” Hagari says.

He says the intelligence information is given to Israel’s allies to be verified.

Hagari says that in the same underground complex, troops located a safe and additional bags containing more than NIS 20 million ($5.5 million) in cash.

He says that troops have found millions more dollars in Hamas sites across the Gaza Strip.

In images released by the IDF, several envelopes of cash are addressed to Sinwar.

Biden: Hamas response ‘over the top’ but talks on hostage deal ongoing

US President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the White House on February 6, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
US President Joe Biden addresses the nation from the White House on February 6, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

US President Joe Biden says Hamas’s response to the hostage deal framework was “a little over the top,” but that negotiations are ongoing.

Asked by reporters for a status update on the talks at the end of a press conference regarding the supplemental funding bill stuck in Congress, Biden confirms that Hamas has responded to the framework proposal and that there’s been “some movement.”

“There’s been a response from the opposition… from Hamas, but it seems to be a little over the top. We’re not sure where it is. There’s a continuing negotiation right now,” he adds.

During his prepared remarks, Biden slams Republican lawmakers for refusing to back a bipartisan spending package, noting that the bill “also provides Israel with what it needs to protect its people and defend itself against Hamas terrorists, and it will provide the necessary life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.”

“By opposing this bill, they’re denying aid to the people who are really suffering and desperately need help,” Biden adds.

Blinken: Riyadh wants end of war, ‘time-bound’ path to Palestinian state in exchange for normalization

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler reiterated an interest in ties with Israel during their meeting in Riyadh yesterday but wants an end to the Gaza conflict and a pathway to a Palestinian state.

“With regard specifically to normalization, the crown prince reiterated Saudi Arabia’s strong interest in pursuing that,” Blinken tells reporters during a press conference in Doha.

“But he also made clear what he had said to me before, which is that in order to do that, two things will be required — an end to the conflict in Gaza, and a clear, credible time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Blinken adds.

Argentina’s Milei meets with Herzog, says Buenos Aires working to declare Hamas a terror group

Argentinian President Javier Milei meets with President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, February 6, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Argentinian President Javier Milei meets with President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, February 6, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog meets with President Javier Milei of Argentina in Jerusalem, and tells his counterpart that Israel “cannot wait any longer” to bring the hostages home.

“You will be visiting a country that was attacked brutally on 7 October by a brutal terrorist organization, which carried out a barbaric and sadistic attack on the people of Israel, and has taken hostage hundreds of people,” says Herzog in a public statement alongside Milei. “Now we have 136 hostages in Gaza, we are praying and working tirelessly to bring them back home as soon as possible.”

“And I know that you’re supporting this fight, and I’m delivering the message through you to the entire world as well: We want them home as soon as possible,” continues Herzog. “This cannot wait any longer. Their suffering is immense. And this is against any rules of human values.”

Milei responds that he sent a bill to Argentina‘s Congress, demanding the release of all hostages, including the 11 Argentinian citizens.

He also says Argentina is working to declare Hamas a terror organization.

Argentinian President Javier Milei visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, on February 6, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Milei arrived in Israel this morning, and went to the Western Wall earlier today.

IDF apologizes for drill simulating kidnapping of Palestinians by settlers

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi apologizes for a drill the military carried out yesterday, in which troops simulated a kidnapping attack carried out by settlers in the West Bank.

“The IDF fights in all arenas, and in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], forces face brutal terrorism in a complex environment. The exercise carried out yesterday was designed to prepare the forces to deal with a wide variety of scenarios, with the aim of improving their readiness,” Halevi says during a visit to the Gaza Strip today.

“However, the scenario in question should not have been practiced and is an error,” Halevi says.

“We will investigate and learn, and we are sorry to anyone who was hurt by this,” he continues.

He says troops in the West Bank, led by Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, “work around the clock while risking their lives for the security of the residents.”

Halevi’s remarks come following harsh criticism by far-right lawmakers and activists against the drill they described as “unrealistic,” despite such acts by Jewish extremists occurring in the past, most notably the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2014.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded an IDF probe into the exercise.

Hamas doubles down on demand for permanent ceasefire in hostage release talks

Palestinian terror group Hamas has given its answer to the hostage release framework worked out in Paris last weekend, and is still demanding a permanent end to the war, the end of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza, the reconstruction of the enclave, and the release of Palestinian security prisoners.

These terms have been non-starters for Israel, which is seeking shorter pauses in fighting for a phased hostage release.

Hamas says in a statement that the terror group “engaged with the proposal in a positive spirit” and was demanding a “comprehensive and complete ceasefire, and ending the aggression against our people, and guaranteeing relief, shelter, [and] reconstruction, [and] lifting the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and completing a prisoner exchange.”

Qatar earlier said Hamas’s answer was a “positive response” and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the US will review Hamas’s answer and he will discuss the developments with Israel tomorrow when he arrives on a visit, following trips to Cairo and Doha.

Blinken: US reviewing Hamas response to hostage deal framework, will discuss with Israel

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Washington is reviewing a response from Hamas to a framework on a deal that would see Hamas release hostages in exchange for an extended pause in fighting in Gaza and the release of Palestinian security prisoners.

Blinken said at a news conference in Qatar that he would discuss Hamas’s response with Israeli officials when he visits the country tomorrow.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we continue to believe that an agreement is possible, and indeed essential,” Blinken says.

IDF announces death of soldier killed in north Gaza; ground op death toll climbs to 226

Maj. David Shakuri. (Courtesy)
Maj. David Shakuri. (Courtesy)

The IDF announces the death of an officer killed during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 226.

He is named as Maj. David Shakuri, 30, the deputy commander of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 601st Battalion, from Rehovot.

Qatar says Hamas delivered ‘positive response’ on hostage deal framework

Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani speaks at a press conference in Doha with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on February 6, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani speaks at a press conference in Doha with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on February 6, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Qatar has received a “positive response” from Hamas to the framework for a hostage deal with Israel, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani announces.

“We have received a reply from Hamas to the general framework of the [hostage] agreement,” Thani says. “The reply includes some comments, but in general it is positive.”

Speaking at a press conference alongside visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Qatari premier says Hamas’s response has been delivered to Israel.

He declines to elaborate further but says Qatar is “optimistic.”

Energy minister speaks with Italian counterpart on possible export of liquefied natural gas to Italy

Energy Minister Eli Cohen speaks with his Italian counterpart Gilberto Pichetto Fratin by phone, and discusses the possibility of exporting liquefied natural gas to Italy.

The two also discuss cooperating in the development of maritime renewable energies, a field in which Italy has significant experience compared to Israel.

Cohen thanks Pichetto Fratin for his support for Israel during its war against Hamas.

“Italy is a key ally in our region,” says Cohen, according to the Israeli readout, “and the energy agreement between the countries that will be signed this year will strengthen Israel’s energy stability and independence and increase Israel’s connectivity to Europe.”

Israel and Italy are both members of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum.

Canada slaps sanctions on top Hamas, Islamic Jihad officials

Canada on Tuesday imposed sanctions on top Hamas officials including Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif over the Palestinian terror group’s attack on Israel on October 7.

Canada’s sanctions target 11 individuals, also including Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders, for the attack and “the threat that Hamas and its affiliates pose to regional security,” the Canadian foreign ministry says in a statement.

Blinken wraps up Qatar visit, heads to Israel tomorrow

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has wrapped up his meeting with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha, during which the two discussed efforts to secure the release of the hostages through an extended humanitarian pause in Gaza.

“Blinken and the Emir agreed to continue close coordination to increase humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and to urge the protection of civilians consistent with humanitarian law,” the US readout says.

Blinken “reiterated the US rejection of any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and underscored the US commitment to establishing durable peace in the Middle East, including the establishment of a Palestinian state that ensures security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Qatar is Blinken’s third stop of five during this week’s Middle East tour after Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He’ll be in Israel and the West Bank tomorrow and Wednesday before returning home.

Kirby says US received ‘positive feedback’ on Israel-Saudi normalization talks

The Biden administration has received positive feedback that Saudi Arabia and Israel are willing to continue to have normalization discussions, White House National Security spokesman John Kirby tells reporters today.

Kirby says the White House was also still working toward a longer humanitarian pause in Gaza and a hostage release deal separately.

Halevi says IDF has begun probe into actions surrounding Gaza war

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks at a military conference, February 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks at a military conference, February 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi confirms the military has begun to investigate its actions amid the war in the Gaza Strip, although he does not elaborate on the scope of the probes.

“Why have we not yet investigated? We are in a very intense war, with attention given to many arenas,” Halevi says during a conference summarizing recent Israeli Air Force activity.

“An investigation requires time, an investigation requires inquiries, and we all understand that difficult investigations also require emotional space. They need to be done in the right way. And that is why we waited until now,” he says.

“On the other hand, our intention is very clear. To explore, learn, and dive to the bottom of the well, and leave no stone unturned. We want to learn, understand what worked, understand what didn’t work, and what we could have done differently. And in a very simple sentence, to be better,” Halevi adds.

Hamas ‘strongly condemns’ Argentina’s Jerusalem embassy plans

Palestinian terror group Hamas says it “strongly condemns” Argentinian President Javier Milei after he announced plans to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem on a visit to Israel today.

The terror group, which triggered a war with Israel following its October 7 massacre, says it views the move “an infringement of the rights of our Palestinian people to their land,” and a “violation of the rules of international law.”

Argentina would become one of only a handful of countries to have its main diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv. The United States made the move in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump after he recognized the city as Israel’s capital.

Hostages forum says IDF confirmed 31 abductees in Gaza are dead, not 32 as NYT reported

In the wake of today’s New York Times article that Israeli intelligence assesses that at least 32 hostages of the 136 held in Gaza are dead, the Hostage and Missing Families Forum says that they were told by the IDF ahead of the article’s publication that 31 of the hostages have died.

“According to the official data we have, there are 31 victims,” the Forum says in a statement. “Before the article was released, an official message was given to all the families of the abductees by the liaison officers that there is no change in the situation assessment.”

The military has previously said it had confirmed the deaths of 29 of the remaining 132 hostages taken on October 7, during the shock Hamas assault in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took 253 hostage.

Hamas freed 105 hostages in late November in a temporary truce deal. In addition to the 132 remaining hostages, Hamas is also holding onto four more: the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Of the 136 remaining hostages, at least 32 are dead and most were killed during the October 7 onslaught, NYT reported earlier. It is unclear if the tally of dead hostages includes the two soldiers killed in 2014, but it appears likely.

The NYT report added that the IDF was looking into unconfirmed intelligence that 20 more hostages may have been killed.

In Cairo, Blinken reiterates US opposition to any forced displacement of Gazans

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is welcomed by the Second Secretary for Egypt's  Ministry of Foreign Affairs protocol Sarah Henry second from left, and US Ambassador to Egypt Herro Mustafa Garg, third from left, upon arrival at Cairo East Airport in Cairo on February 6, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is welcomed by the Second Secretary for Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs protocol Sarah Henry second from left, and US Ambassador to Egypt Herro Mustafa Garg, third from left, upon arrival at Cairo East Airport in Cairo on February 6, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated US opposition to the forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza during his meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi in Cairo earlier today, the State Department says.

The US readout of their meeting is a repeat of administration talking points on the war: appreciation for Egypt’s mediation role and efforts to deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, support for regional coordination to combat the threat of the Houthis in the Red Sea, and backing for a two-state solution.

US opposition to the forced displacement of Palestinians is not new either but is highlighted just over a week after a conference attended by nearly a third of the Israeli cabinet where organizers called for encouraging Palestinians to emigrate from Gaza.

There is no immediate Egyptian readout on the meeting, which is on Blinken’s second stop of five in the region this week after Saudi Arabia. Up next is Qatar, followed by Israel and the West Bank.

IDF hits Hezbollah targets in south Lebanon following rocket attacks on north

The IDF says it carried out strikes on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon today.

Sites hit by fighter jets in Labbouneh, Jabal Blat, and Houla included observation posts and other infrastructure used by the terror group, the IDF says.

Several rockets and missiles were fired by Hezbollah in the last few hours on northern Israel, causing no injuries.

The IDF says it struck the launch sites with artillery.

The IDF also says the suspected drone infiltration alarm earlier in northern Israel was a false alarm.

At least 32 of 136 remaining hostages in Gaza are dead — report

At least 32 of the 136 hostages still in Gaza are dead, according to a new report by the New York Times, citing four anonymous military officials.

The military has previously said it had confirmed the deaths of 29 of the remaining 132 hostages taken on October 7, during the shock Hamas assault in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took 253 hostage.

Hamas also holds four other hostages: 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.

It is unclear if the tally of 32 dead includes the two soldiers killed in 2014.

According to the NYT report today, the officials say the military is also assessing “unconfirmed intelligence” that at least 20 more hostages may have also been killed.

The military told NYT that most of the hostages who are confirmed dead were killed on October 7 during the devastating Hamas onslaught.

The families of the 32 hostages have been informed, according to the report.

Houthi leader says Iran-backed group will escalate attacks if Gaza war continues

The leader of Yemen’s Houthis, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, says the group “will further escalate” if Israel’s war against Hamas does not stop. Israel is four months into a war with the terror group triggered by its October 7 massacre across southern Israel.

Iran-aligned Houthis have been targeting commercial vessels with drones and missiles in the Red Sea since mid-November, in what they describe as acts of solidarity with Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Herzog meets with TikTok officials amid sharp rise of antisemitic, anti-Israel content on platform

President Isaac Herzog meets with senior officials from China-owned social media company TikTok, in Jerusalem, February 6, 2024. (President's Spokesperson)
President Isaac Herzog meets with senior officials from China-owned social media company TikTok, in Jerusalem, February 6, 2024. (President's Spokesperson)

Israeli President Isaac Herzog met today with senior officials from Chinese-owned social media giant TikTok in Jerusalem to discuss the proliferation of anti-Israel and antisemitic content across the platform, specifically since the October 7 Hamas massacre.

Herzog hosted Michael Beckerman, VP for Public Policy for the Americas at TikTok, and Theo Bertram, VP for Government Relations and Public Policy for Europe at TikTok, at his office in Jerusalem “against the background of the significant increase in cases of antisemitism and the spread of anti-Israel hatred throughout the platform, notably since the beginning of the war with Hamas,” his office says.

“We must fight lies and hatred wherever we find them: on the streets and online on social networks in order to prevent the manipulation of and negative impact on public opinion among the next generation around the world,” Herzog told them, according to a readout provided by his office.

“I thank the executives from TikTok for this honest and open conversation, and for their willingness to face this vital challenge.”

At the meeting, Israeli social media researcher Tom Divon, from the Institute of Communications at the Hebrew University, presented the TikTok officials with findings of his research on antisemitism on the platform.

There were no details on the findings but the president’s office said the TikTok executives “were presented with examples of hate-filled conspiracy theories and false information uploaded to the platform, among other things regarding the barbaric attack of 7 October, as well as shocking and graphic content, distinctly antisemitic expressions and narratives, denial and disdain for the Holocaust, and more.”

President Isaac Herzog meets with senior TikTok representatives visiting Israel to discuss spread of antisemitic, anti-Israel content on the platform, February 6, 2024. (President’s Spokesperson)

According to Divon’s research, some of the content he highlighted had been removed, but only after an extended period. Some was also still circulating.

Herzog’s office said the representatives were “deeply disturbed by the findings of the research and evidence presented during the meeting, and pledged to continue working with the President’s Office and Israeli officials to do everything in their power to eradicate this phenomenon from the platform.”

The TikTok reps told the president that more than 160 million “fake accounts” had been identified and removed since October 7, including ones spreading anti-Jewish and anti-Israel rhetoric.

The meeting comes about a week after the resignation from TikTok of Barak Herscowitz, the company’s government relations official in Israel, who announced he was leaving the company last Monday in a post on X: “We are living in a time where our very existence as Jews and Israelis is under attack and in danger. In such an unstable period, people’s priorities become sharper. Am Yisrael Chai.”

“I did my best as long as I was there,” added Herscowitz. “There are wonderful people at TikTok Israel who are doing their best.”

TikTok has come under fire following a major report in December that said the company had a lackluster approach to combating antisemitism on the video social media platform and that Jewish employees have spoken out against an increasingly toxic work environment since October 7 and the subsequent war in Gaza.

Unnamed TikTok workers told Fox Business that colleagues have freely expressed antisemitic and anti-Israel views on Lark, their internal chat system, and said that the company’s 40,000 moderators have allowed anti-Israel and antisemitic misinformation to run rampant on the platform.

A TikTok source told Jewish Insider this week that Herscowitz was behind a memo in late December to senior TikTok officials warning that the social media platform had adopted an unequal policy regarding Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza and was allowing content with graphic violence and incitement against Israelis to be featured.

Netanyahu demands IDF probe into drill simulating settlers kidnapping Palestinians

Soldiers wearing "enemy forces" vests are seen in a video from an IDF exercise that included a simulation of Israeli settlers kidnapping Palestinians. (Screenshot/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Soldiers wearing "enemy forces" vests are seen in a video from an IDF exercise that included a simulation of Israeli settlers kidnapping Palestinians. (Screenshot/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

After right-wing ministers and local leaders express their anger over an IDF drill simulating a kidnapping attack carried out by Israeli settlers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu releases a statement demanding “answers and an IDF investigation” into the exercise.

“This fictitious scenario is disconnected from reality, inappropriate and does injustice to an entire and precious community of settlers at a time when many of them are fighting fiercely and even falling for the defense of Israel,” says Netanyahu. “I’m not willing to accept such heartlessness towards our brothers and sisters in Judea and Samaria.”

Suspected drone infiltration alarm sounds in northern Israel

A suspected drone infiltration alarm is sounding in the Galilee region.

Alerts are activated in Kibbutz Dan, Snir, Ghajar, Dafna, Hagoshrim, and She’ar Yeshuv, all close to the Lebanon border.

The IDF is investigating the cause of the alarms.

The Hezbollah terror group has carried out several attacks on northern Israel using explosive-laden drones, though there have also been numerous false alarms.

WeWork founder Adam Neumann said trying to buy back struggling company

File: Co-founder and CEO of WeWork Adam Neumann onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 at Pier 36 on May 15, 2017 in New York City.   (Noam Galai /Getty Images via AFP)
File: Co-founder and CEO of WeWork Adam Neumann onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 at Pier 36 on May 15, 2017 in New York City. (Noam Galai /Getty Images via AFP)

Adam Neumann, the Israeli-American entrepreneur who co-founded co-working outfit WeWork, is reportedly trying to buy back the embattled company, some four months after it filed for bankruptcy.

The New York Times’ Dealbook broke the story today, reporting that Neumann’s new real estate company, Flow, has sought to buy WeWork and/or its assets and provide bankruptcy financing to keep the company running.

WeWork, which was headed by Neumann until late 2019, filed for bankruptcy in November.

WeWork has faced significant problems for several years, following a botched attempt to go public in 2019 that led to Neumann’s ouster amid reports of erratic behavior and exorbitant spending that spooked early investors.

Japan’s SoftBank stepped in to keep WeWork afloat, acquiring majority control over the company and going public in October 2021.

Despite efforts to turn the company around since Neumann’s departure — including significant cuts to operating costs and rising revenue — WeWork has struggled in a commercial real estate market that has been rocked by the rising cost of borrowing money, as well as a shifting dynamic for millions of office workers now checking into their offices remotely.

IDF troops find UN vest, machine gun in search of Khan Younis home

The IDF says the Egoz commando unit discovered a home in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis where, in one room, troops found a United Nations vest and in another a machine gun.

An Egoz team commander gives a video tour of the home, showing where the soldiers found the UN vest and the gun.

“You can see a clothes closet here… and here is a UN vest,” the lieutenant says.

Heading upstairs, the commander enters a bedroom he says troops scanned, and opens another closet, pulling out the machine gun.

“Right here we spotted the machine gun, a PK machine gun used by Hamas,” he says.

Israeli intelligence has allegedly shown that 12 staff members of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, in Gaza were involved in the brutal October 7 attacks and that hundreds more employees are directly linked to Hamas and other terror groups.

Argentina’s new president arrives in Israel, reiterates pledge to move embassy to Jerusalem

Foreign Minister Israel Katz (R) welcomes Argentinian President Javier Milei (L) at Ben Gurion Airport, February 6, 2024. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
Foreign Minister Israel Katz (R) welcomes Argentinian President Javier Milei (L) at Ben Gurion Airport, February 6, 2024. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomes Argentinian President Javier Milei upon his arrival to Israel at Ben Gurion Airport. Milei, who assumed office in December, reiterates his pledge to move Argentina’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Katz thanks Milei, who made Israel his first bilateral overseas destination as president, for his support for Israel against Hamas and for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“You are a person of values ​​who is committed only to the truth,” Katz tells Milei, speaking through a translator, “and it is no wonder that you chose to come to Israel right away to support us in the just struggle for the defense of the Jewish people against the murderers of Hamas.”

Milei will visit the Western Wall and meet President Isaac Herzog later today, and is slated to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow.

He brought Argentina’s Foreign Minister Diana Mondino and his personal Rabbi Shimon Axel Wahnish along with him on the three-day trip. Wahnish is expected to become Argentina’s ambassador to Israel. While Milei is not Jewish, he has expressed an interest in Judaism and has talked about potentially converting to the religion.

Milei heads for Italy and the Vatican on Thursday, where he will meet with Pope Francis and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

IDF says armed Palestinian shot dead after approaching army post near Nablus

The IDF says a Palestinian gunman who approached an army post near the West Bank city of Nablus was shot dead by reservists of the 8109th Battalion.

There are no injuries in the attack, the IDF says.

The Palestinian apparently approached the post with at least one weapon drawn. His weapons were seized and handed over to security authorities for investigation.

Contrary to initial reports, the IDF says the gunman only approached the army post, and did not manage to open fire.

Israeli envoy summoned to Russia foreign ministry for ‘unacceptable comments’

Israel’s ambassador to Russia, Simona Halperin, has arrived at the Russian foreign ministry, state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reports, a day after authorities said she would be summoned over “unacceptable comments” in an interview.

In the interview with the Kommersant newspaper, Halperin accused Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of playing down the importance of the Holocaust and said Russia was being too friendly with Palestinian terror group Hamas.

TASS says among other criticisms of Russia, Halperin was “disrespectful” of Moscow’s efforts to help secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.

Halperin took up her posting last month.

Iranian pair suspected of working for Guard Corps deported over alleged plot to kill Swedish Jews – report

STOCKHOLM — Swedish radio reports that an Iranian couple, believed to be working for Iranian intelligence, was deported after being suspected in a plot to kill Swedish Jews.

According to an investigative report by Swedish Radio (SR), the couple, Mahdi Ramezani and Fereshteh Sanaeifarid, had applied for and been granted asylum in Sweden posing as Afghans.

Suspected of plotting to kill Swedish Jews, the couple were arrested in April 2021 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a terrorist crime, SR reports.

Due to a lack of evidence, the two were never charged but they were reportedly deported in 2022 for posing a security risk.

“We have strong belief that they were here on a mission on behalf of Iran. They were seen here in Sweden as a very severe security threat. And that’s the reason why they were expelled, even if we couldn’t prosecute them,” deputy chief prosecutor Hans Ihrman tells the broadcaster.

While the investigation was classified, SR cited sources saying that the two were working on behalf of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC.

The couple of alleged agents reportedly identified three targets, gathering addresses and photographs.

One of the suspected targets was believed to be Aron Verstandig, chair of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish communities, who tells SR that he had received a call from the Swedish Security Service in 2021, informing him that he was believed to be a target.

Explosion reported near ship off Yemeni coast; no injuries

DUBAI — An explosion was reported near a merchant vessel off the coast of the Yemeni port city of Aden on Tuesday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency and British maritime security firm Ambrey says.

Ambrey says a Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier was targeted while heading through the Maritime Security Transit Corridor southbound about 53 nautical miles southwest of Aden. The vessel was traveling from the US to India.

The vessel and crew were safe, both Ambrey and UKMTO say.

Palestinian opens fire at military post near Nablus, is shot by troops – reports

A Palestinian gunman who opened fire at a military post near the West Bank city of Nablus was shot by troops, according to initial reports.

Hebrew-language media say the suspect arrived at one of the entrances to Nablus, at a junction near the town of Beit Furik, and opened fire.

Troops stationed at the army post returned fire. The gunman’s condition is not immediately clear.

Reports say he was also armed with a knife.

There are no other injuries in the incident.

https://twitter.com/carmeldangor/status/1754843653980242184

Blinken meets Sissi in Cairo to discuss Gaza humanitarian pause, hostage deal

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on February 6, 2024 (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on February 6, 2024 (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi as the United States works to advance a humanitarian pause in Gaza that will include a hostage deal mediated by the Egyptians and Qataris.

The top US diplomat departed Riyadh shortly after sunrise for what is set to be a marathon day visiting Egypt and Qatar before flying to Israel to discuss hostage negotiations, postwar Gaza plans and the prospect of Arab countries and Israel normalizing ties.

Blinken’s fifth trip to the region since October comes as the United States presses ahead with strikes against Iran-aligned militias that last month killed three US troops in a military outpost in Jordan.

IDF releases footage of drone strikes on Hamas gunmen in Khan Younis

The IDF releases footage showing close air support provided to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis in recent days.

The first clip shows an Israeli Air Force drone identifying a Hamas operative nearing forces of the Paratroopers Brigade.

The drone operators notify the soldiers of the threat, as the operative enters a building a few dozen meters away.

As the operative exits the building, he is struck by the drone, with the footage showing a large explosion, indicating he was armed with explosives.

The second clip shows the moment Hamas gunmen opened fire from a building at troops of the Givati Brigade.

The IDF says the soldiers directed an attack helicopter to the area, and within moments, it struck the Hamas position, killing the operatives.

British maritime agency says it received report of incident near Yemen

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency says it received a report of an incident 50 nautical miles south of Yemen’s Aden.

UKMTO added that authorities were investigating the incident and no further details were provided.

Police officer arrested on suspicion of sexual offenses against two minors in Modi’in

A police officer was arrested Saturday on suspicion of committing sexual offenses against two minors, the Department of Internal Police Investigations (DIPI) announces.

The police officer is suspected of committing indecent acts and sodomy on the minors, DIPI says.

The statement says the alleged offenses were committed at the apartment of a friend of the officer in the central city of Modiin.

The officer’s detention was extended until Thursday.

The investigation is ongoing.

UNRWA says report into allegations staffers took part in Oct. 7 onslaught due early March

The 12 staffers at UNRWA alleged to have been involved in the October 7 onslaught. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
The 12 staffers at UNRWA alleged to have been involved in the October 7 onslaught. (Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees expects its preliminary report into Israeli allegations that a dozen of its employees took part in the Oct. 7 onslaught on Israel to be ready by early next month, its representative in Lebanon says.

Dorothee Klaus tells reporters in Lebanon that the agency expects donors who suspended their funding after the claims emerged to review their decisions based on the probe.

One of the 12 men reportedly implicated was an UNRWA teacher accused of being armed with an anti-tank missile, while another teacher was accused of filming a hostage being taken captive during the onslaught.

Another of the staffers, also an elementary school teacher, allegedly served as a Hamas commander and participated in the massacre in Kibbutz Be’eri, while a man employed by UNRWA as a social worker was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of an IDF soldier’s body on that day.

Of the 12 UNRWA workers accused of participating in the October 7 massacre, seven were reportedly teachers, two were educational consultants and others were humanitarian aid warehouse managers.

Rocket sirens in Misgav Am near Lebanon border

Rocket sirens sound in Misgav Am, close to the Lebanon border.

There has been sporadic rocket fire throughout the day, with Hezbollah claiming responsibility for an earlier rocket attack in which two soldiers were lightly injured.

The towns close to the northern border 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.

Haredi men block Jerusalem road to protest autopsy for teen who died hours after bar mitzvah

Haredi men block a Jerusalem road during a protest against the autopsy of a young boy who died, February 6, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Haredi men block a Jerusalem road during a protest against the autopsy of a young boy who died, February 6, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Dozens of Haredi protesters block roads in Jerusalem in protest of a planned autopsy for a Beit Shemesh teen who died suddenly.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the boy celebrated his bar mitzvah yesterday and felt unwell immediately after. He was found dead this morning.

Additionally, police say that one person was arrested near the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv, where autopsies are carried out.

Halacha, or Jewish law, generally opposes autopsies on the grounds that the human body is sacred and thus should not be tampered with after death, and urges that funerals be held as quickly as possible after a person dies.

Lebanon: Army doesn’t have capacity to deploy on Israel border in potential Hezbollah deal

This picture taken on December 31, 2023, from southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing across the border in northern Israel in the vicinity of a military facility in Metula, after the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah launched a barrage of rockets. (Hasan Fneich/AFP)
This picture taken on December 31, 2023, from southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing across the border in northern Israel in the vicinity of a military facility in Metula, after the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah launched a barrage of rockets. (Hasan Fneich/AFP)

Lebanon’s interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib says in an interview that the Lebanese army does not have the capacity to deploy on the border with Israel, Al Arabiya reports.

Bou Habib cites “a shortage of equipment” as reason for his opposition to the idea, which is reportedly part of the diplomatic solution the US is pushing to keep the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah from expanding into a full-blown war.

The plan, according to Hebrew-media reports, would see Hezbollah withdraw 8-10 kilometers from the border, and would have UN and Lebanese forces move into the area in greater numbers.

Bou Habib says that he is against the withdrawal of Hezbollah to the Litani River, as Israel has demanded, “as this will lead to the renewal of war.”

The foreign minister has said that he is against “partial solutions” and will only accept a final settlement with Israel that solves all border disputes.

US special envoy Amos Hochstein was in Israel over the weekend to discuss an emerging diplomatic solution with Israeli officials.

Activists block Kerem Shalom crossing to prevent entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza

Protesters are blocking the Kerem Shalom crossing to prevent the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Channel 12 estimates that a few hundred activists are at the crossing, despite the IDF announcing last week that it is a closed military zone, meaning it is illegal for civilians to be in the area or on nearby roads.

Activists, including the families of some of the hostages held by terrorists in Gaza, have been blocking the Kerem Shalom crossing for several days, to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to reopen the crossing for the entry of aid into the Strip amid a growing humanitarian crisis there.

Ministers say the aid is necessary to enable Israel to continue operating freely against Hamas amid intense international pressure.

2 soldiers lightly wounded in Hezbollah rocket attack from Lebanon

Israeli troops operating on the northern border in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops operating on the northern border in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

Two soldiers are lightly wounded in a rocket attack from Lebanon on an area near the northern community of Margaliot this morning, the IDF says.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack at around 8 a.m., saying it targeted a military position.

The IDF says it shelled the launch sites, and carried out additional airstrikes against Hezbollah targets today and overnight.

Fighter jets hit a building used by Hezbollah in the village of Marwahin this morning, and overnight hit another site belonging to the terror group in Mays al-Jabal, the IDF says.

The IDF says it also shelled areas in southern Lebanon with artillery to “remove threats.”

Hezbollah also claims additional missile and rocket attacks against army positions near Rosh Hanikra and Margaliot in the last few hours. There are no reports of injuries.

The terror group has been carrying out daily missile, rocket, and drone attacks on northern Israel amid the war in Gaza.

Lawmakers hear of increasing challenges of evacuees living in hotels since Oct. 7

Lawmakers are hearing about the increasing difficulties surrounding the housing of tens of thousands of evacuees in hotels for some four months since the start of the war.

“They let a husband and wife into the same complex even though the husband had a restraining order,” Shai Kahan, the deputy head of the government’s program for evacuees, tells the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality.

“Youths are sitting in the hotel in Eilat or in Haifa and it creates a bad feeling,” he says in response to a question from National Unity MK Pnina Tamano-Shata about women feeling harassed by groups of men in hotel lobbies.

“Struggles between the hotel management and the evacuees at the hotel who feel — and it’s important not to underestimate the difficulties — feel like they are at home, and are violating the hotel’s rules,” he says.

“There are children who are waking up in the morning and simply not going to school,” he says.

Smotrich: IDF drill simulating settlers kidnapping Palestinians ‘reminiscent of blood libels’

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, Jerusalem, January 29, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich says a recent IDF drill simulating Israeli settlers kidnapping a Palestinian child was “reminiscent of blood libels.”

“There has never been a case of a settler abducting an Arab child,” Smotrich tells Army Radio.

“It’s a bit reminiscent of the blood libels that alleged that Christian children were taken and slaughtered to make matza,” the far-right minister says. “There has never been a case of abduction like that.”

“We don’t need to dress troops with a vest saying that they are the enemy, and calling them settlers,” he says. “There is unfortunately confusion, and I see it in all sorts of places.”

Soldiers wearing “enemy forces” vests are seen in a video from an IDF exercise that included a simulation of Israeli settlers kidnapping Palestinians. (Screenshot/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Far-right ministers have slammed the Israeli military for carrying out the drill simulating settlers abducting a Palestinian in response to a terror attack.

Footage from the drill showed that several soldiers were wearing vests marking them as the “enemy force,” a common practice in military exercises.

The IDF apologized for marking the soldiers pretending to be settlers in the drill as the opposing force.

There has been substantial documentation and reporting on rising settler violence — at times deadly — in recent months. The vast majority of cases go unprosecuted, according to rights groups.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

Hamas-run health ministry says Gaza death toll has passed 27,500

Palestinians transport their relatives said killed in Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip in Deir al Balah, February 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinians transport their relatives said killed in Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip in Deir al Balah, February 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

At least 27,585 Palestinians have been killed and 66,978 have been wounded in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 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.

Palestinian gunmen open fire from West Bank at Kibbutz Meirav; no injuries

Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank opened fire at the nearby northern Israeli community of Kibbutz Meirav, the IDF says.

There are no injuries in the attack, but slight damage was caused to one of the homes.

The IDF says security forces in the area returned fire, and troops have launched a manhunt for the terrorists.

Meirav lies very close to the Green Line, which separates Israel from the West Bank. While Palestinians periodically carry out shooting attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, shooting attacks from the West Bank into Israel are less common.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis say they fired naval missiles at two ships in Red Sea

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis say they fired naval missiles at two ships, Star Nasia and Morning Tide, in the Red Sea, the group’s military spokesman Yahya Saree says in a televised speech.

Saree says they were US and British ships, but records from shipping trackers show they are flagged to the Marshall Islands and Barbados.

Rocket sirens sound in Rosh Hanikra near Lebanon border

Rocket sirens sound in Rosh Hanikra, close to the border with Lebanon.

It is the second round of sirens this morning signaling incoming rocket fire from Lebanon.

Ben Gvir’s son implies Biden has Alzheimer’s, suffers cognitive decline; far-right minister apologizes

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads an Otzma Yehudit faction meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads an Otzma Yehudit faction meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The son of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir causes a storm after he likens US President Joe Biden to an Alzheimer’s patient, implying that he is suffering cognitive decline.

Shuvael Ben Gvir tweets a photo of Biden, writing “in these difficult times it is important to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s, a degenerative brain disease that is the most common cause of cognitive decline and dementia.”

“A serious disease that affects a person’s functions and ability,” he writes.

The far-right minister later apologizes for his son’s post, writing that it was a “serious mistake with a tweet I deeply disapprove of.”

“The United States of America is our great friend and President Biden is a friend of Israel. Even if I have a disagreement with his conduct, there is no room, God forbid, for a disparaging style,” Ben Gvir writes. “I apologize for my son’s words.”

US President Joe Biden attends the dignified transfer of the remains of three US service members killed in the drone attack on the US military outpost in Jordan, at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, on February 2, 2024. (Roberto SCHMIDT / AFP)

A couple of minutes later, the minister’s son also apologizes, tweeting a picture of Biden with the sentence “Mr President, sorry!”

The tweet and subsequent apologies come two days after an interview with Ben Gvir was published by the Wall Street Journal, in which the Otzma Yehudit leader harshly criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Gaza, accusing it of benefitting Hamas and arguing that Israel would have been better off dealing with a second Trump administration.

The interview was not the first time Ben Gvir has criticized Biden and the US. He recently declared that Israel was “not another star in the American flag.”

IDF says troops battling Hamas above, below ground in Gaza, killed several Oct. 7 terrorists

Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 6, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says troops continue to battle Hamas operatives above and below ground in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, as well as carry out raids in the northern and central parts of the Strip.

Meanwhile, an overnight airstrike in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah killed a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist who participated in the attack on Nir Oz during the October 7 onslaught, the IDF says.

In western Khan Younis, the IDF says the 98th Division is moving to clear out new areas, both above and below ground, from Hamas operatives and infrastructure, and is encountering numerous operatives moving around in civilian clothing.

The IDF says that over the last day, troops killed dozens of operatives and captured some 80 terror suspects in western Khan Younis, including several who participated in the October 7 massacre.

During the operations, the IDF says snipers of the Givati Brigade killed more than 15 operatives; troops of the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade spotted and eliminated a Hamas lookout; and troops of the Paratroopers Brigade and elite Egoz unit located a cache of weapons, including assault rifles, RPGs, and anti-tank explosive devices.

Meanwhile, in northern Gaza, the IDF says observation soldiers of the Border Defense Corps’ 414th unit spotted four Hamas operatives placing surveillance equipment in the Beit Hanoun area, in what appeared to be an attempt by the terror group to restore its capabilities. The cell was struck by an attack helicopter, the IDF says.

During raids, ambushes, and battles in northern and central Gaza, the IDF says the Nahal Brigade killed dozens of Hamas operatives, and the 401st Armored Brigade killed some 15 operatives.

In one incident, a Navy missile boat spotted a Hamas cell close to the Nahal troops on the coast of central Gaza. The IDF says the cell was then struck by the Navy, Israeli Air Force, and the ground troops.

The 401st Brigade, with the IAF, also struck a building used by Hamas to fire at troops and store weapons, the IDF adds.

Yemen’s presidential council ousts PM as US-led coalition strikes Houthi rivals

This Dec. 12, 2018 file photo shows Yemen Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed in Aden, Yemen (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File)
This Dec. 12, 2018 file photo shows Yemen Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed in Aden, Yemen (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File)

Yemen’s internationally recognized presidential council sacks the prime minister in an unexpected move that comes at a time when a US-led coalition has been striking targets of the government’s rivals, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

A decree from the council appoints Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak the new prime minister. Bin Mubarak, who is close to Saudi Arabia, replaces Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, who was Yemen’s premier since 2018.

The council doesn’t give a reason behind the reshuffle.

Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north.

A Saudi-led coalition intervened months later and has been battling the rebels since 2015 to try and restore the internationally recognized government to power.

The war has devastated Yemen, already the poorest Arab country, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. More than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, have been killed.

In recent months, the Houthis engaged in negotiations with Saudi Arabia, which has sought an exit from the stalemated war. The two sides said they have achieved positive results to revive an expired ceasefire. The Houthi-Saudi talks have been part of broader efforts to find a political settlement to the conflict.

The peace efforts have been hampered since the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October after the Gaza-based terror group’s devastating onslaught. The Houthis have attacked shipping routes in the Red Sea as part of what they say is their response to Israel’s campaign against the Palestinian terrorists, who are — like the Houthis — backed by Iran.

The Houthi attacks have prompted the US and Britain to launch waves of strikes on rebel-held areas in Yemen.

Rocket sirens sound in Margaliot near Lebanon border

Sirens sound in Margaliot near the border with Lebanon, warning of incoming rocket fire.

The towns close to the northern border 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.

UN: Israel’s evacuation orders now cover 2/3 of the Gaza Strip

Palestinians who fled their homes seen near their tents in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 5, 2024 (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
Palestinians who fled their homes seen near their tents in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 5, 2024 (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Israel’s evacuation orders in the Gaza Strip now cover two-thirds of the territory, or 246 square kilometers (95 square miles), United Nations humanitarian monitors say.

The affected area was home to 1.78 million Palestinians, or 77% of Gaza’s population, before the Israel-Hamas war erupted on Oct. 7, triggered by the devastating Hamas attack on southern Israel.

Early in the war, Israel’s military began telling Palestinians in the northern half of the territory to leave their homes to get out of the way of eventual ground combat.

Over the course of the war, evacuation orders eventually expanded to parts of the south, including the city of Khan Younis and surrounding areas, the current focus of Israel’s ground offensive.

Tens of thousands of people have fled and continue to flee from there, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says in its latest daily report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people is now crammed into the town of Rafah on the border with Egypt and surrounding areas, OCHA says.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Tribunal rules UK professor unfairly fired for ‘anti-Zionist beliefs’ when he called Jewish students ‘pawns’

University of Bristol sociologist David Miller in a video uploaded February 15, 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)
University of Bristol sociologist David Miller in a video uploaded February 15, 2020. (Screen capture/YouTube)

An employment tribunal rules that a British sociology professor was unfairly dismissed when he was fired for calling Jewish students “pawns,” and that his “anti-Zionist beliefs qualified as a philosophical belief and as a protected characteristic” under the Equality Act.

In remarks during a February 2021 lecture at the University of Bristol, David Miller called Israel “a violent, racist, foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing” and referred to Jewish students who protested against his previous comments about Israel as Israel’s “pawns.”

Firing him a few months later, the university said that it did not find Miller’s comments to be “unlawful speech,” but that he was sacked because he “did not meet the standards of behavior we expect from our staff.”

In comments to The Guardian, Miller’s legal representatives say the tribunal’s ruling is a “landmark decision,” noting that it “establishes for the first time ever that anti-Zionist beliefs are protected in the workplace.”

In a statement, the Union of Jewish Students decries the “dangerous precedent” of the ruling.

“This will ultimately make Jewish students less safe,” the organization says.

JTA contributed to this report.

Security firm reports UK cargo ship damaged in drone attack off Yemen

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A British-owned cargo ship has been damaged in a drone attack off rebel-held Yemen, a maritime security firm says, the latest in dozens of incidents in the Red Sea.

The Barbados-flagged ship “reportedly incurred minor damage on the port side,” British firm Ambrey says, adding that there are no injuries.

Blinken heads to Egypt in next stop on Mideast tour seeking ‘enduring end’ to Gaza war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken disembarks from the plane upon his arrival at King Khalid International Airport in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 5, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein/Pool/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken disembarks from the plane upon his arrival at King Khalid International Airport in the Saudi capital Riyadh on February 5, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to fly to Egypt today as part of a Middle East crisis tour seeking a new truce and “an enduring end” to the Israel-Hamas war.

In Cairo, Blinken is scheduled to met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the day after holding talks in Riyadh with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The trip, Blinken’s fifth to the region in the nearly four-month-long war, will later include stops in Israel and Qatar.

US military says it struck two Houthi drones that posed ‘imminent threat’

The US military says that its forces conducted a strike in self-defense against two Houthi drones in Yemen.

“US forces identified the explosive USVs in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” US Central Command says in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

White House says Biden would veto House GOP’s standalone Israel aid bill

US President Joe Biden speaks with reporters while visiting the No. 1 Boba Tea shop in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 5, 2024. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks with reporters while visiting the No. 1 Boba Tea shop in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 5, 2024. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

The Biden administration strongly opposes a plan by US House Republicans for a standalone bill to provide aid to Israel and President Joe Biden will veto it if it reaches his desk, the White House says Monday as it pushes for legislation that includes support for Israel, Ukraine and border security.

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