ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Feb. 8: Hezbollah fires 30 rockets at Upper Galilee town in response to deadly IDF drone strike

Sinwar ‘out of contact’ for 10 days * War cabinet meets on hostage deal * US intel says Israel not close to eliminating Hamas * Israel said to promise W. Bank economic help for Ramadan

  • Rockets fired from southern Lebanon are intercepted above a position across the border near Kibbutz Dan in northern Israel on November 7, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
    Rockets fired from southern Lebanon are intercepted above a position across the border near Kibbutz Dan in northern Israel on November 7, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
  • The scene of a strike on a vehicle in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
    The scene of a strike on a vehicle in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
  • Troops operating on the northern border in a photo released by the military for publication on February 8, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
    Troops operating on the northern border in a photo released by the military for publication on February 8, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
  • President Isaac Herzog and Argentinian President Javier Milei tour Kibbutz Nir Oz on February 8, 2024. (Maayan Toaf / GPO)
    President Isaac Herzog and Argentinian President Javier Milei tour Kibbutz Nir Oz on February 8, 2024. (Maayan Toaf / GPO)
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd-L), accompanied by deputy chief of staff Tom Sullivan (3rd-L) and US Ambassador to Israel Jacob Lew (L), meets with Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid (3rd-R), in Tel Aviv on February 8, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein / AFP)
    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd-L), accompanied by deputy chief of staff Tom Sullivan (3rd-L) and US Ambassador to Israel Jacob Lew (L), meets with Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid (3rd-R), in Tel Aviv on February 8, 2024. (Mark Schiefelbein / AFP)
  • Palestinians mourn at Al-Najjar hospital after relatives were killed in overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024 (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
    Palestinians mourn at Al-Najjar hospital after relatives were killed in overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024 (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

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

Hezbollah says barrage launched in response to ‘Zionist aggression’ in Nabatieh

The scene of a strike on a vehicle in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/Telegram)
The scene of a strike on a vehicle in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/Telegram)

Hezbollah issues a statement taking responsibility for the barrage of dozens of rockets fired at the Upper Galilee earlier tonight, saying it was “in retaliation for the Zionist aggression…on Nabatieh.”

Earlier today, the IDF carried out a drone strike in the southern Lebanese towns in which two Hezbollah operatives were killed.

The Hezbollah statement claims that its barrages targeted an IDF base in Ein Zeitim after it targeted an air traffic control military base in Meron earlier tonight.

Hezbollah barrage consisted of 30 rockets; no immediate reports of injuries; IDF responding with artillery fire

A photo taken from the area of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing from the Israeli village of Metula after being targeted by shelling from Lebanon on January 31, 2024. (AFP)
A photo taken from the area of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing from the Israeli village of Metula after being targeted by shelling from Lebanon on January 31, 2024. (AFP)

Hebrew media reports that the sirens in the northern town of Meron were triggered by a barrage of at least 30 rockets fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon.

There are no immediate reports of injuries.

The IDF is responding with artillery fire at the sites from which the rockets were launched.

Reports of dozens of rockets fired at Upper Galilee town of Meron from Lebanon

Rockets fired by terrorists in southern Lebanon are intercepted above a position across the border near Kibbutz Dan in northern Israel on November 7, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Rockets fired by terrorists in southern Lebanon are intercepted above a position across the border near Kibbutz Dan in northern Israel on November 7, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Red alert sirens have been triggered in the Upper Galilee town of Meron amid reports that Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets into Israel.

In an apparent escalation, Meron is located further south than most of the northern towns that have been impacted by Hezbollah rocket fire since October 7.

The rocket fire comes hours after Israel carried out a drone strike in the southern Lebanese town of Nebetia in which two Hezbollah operatives were killed.

That strike was reportedly in retaliation for an earlier Hezbollah launch at a military base that seriously injured an Israeli soldier stationed there.

White House welcomes exoneration of Biden, slams special council’s ‘inappropriate’ comments on his memory

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

The White House says it is “pleased” by the Justice Department’s decision to not charge Joe Biden over keeping classified documents, but criticized what it called inappropriate comments in the report.

“We disagree with a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments in the Special Counsel’s report,” Biden’s White House lawyer Richard Sauber says in a statement, after Biden was described as coming across as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

After exoneration, Biden says he agreed to 5 hours of questioning in midst of Israel crisis

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)
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)

US President Joe Biden issues a statement after the Justice Department’s special council exonerated him in a classified documents case.

“I was pleased to see they reached the conclusion I believed all along they would reach – that there would be no charges brought in this case and the matter is now closed,” he says.

“This was an exhaustive investigation going back more than 40 years, even into the 1970s when I was a young senator. I cooperated completely, threw up no roadblocks, and sought no delays.”

“In fact, I was so determined to give the Special Counsel what they needed that I went forward with five hours of in-person interviews over two days on October 8th and 9th of last year, even though Israel had just been attacked on October 7th and I was in the middle of handling an international crisis. I just believed that’s what I owed the American people so they could know no charges would be brought and the matter closed.”

UN chief says it won’t be possible to replace UNRWA: ‘No other group has meaningful presence in Gaza’

Palestinian men and children gather for a demonstration in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024, calling for continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. (AFP)
Palestinian men and children gather for a demonstration in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024, calling for continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA. (AFP)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns that his organization’s Palestinian refugee agency cannot be replaced, even as it faces criticism after 12 staffers were implicated in Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught on Israel.

“No other organization has a meaningful presence inside Gaza — and nothing compared with this situation. So there is no other organization that would be able now to replace” it, Guterres tells a media briefing.

UNRWA says it has acted promptly over allegations by Israel — which Guterres called “credible” — that 12 of its staff were involved in the Hamas attacks, adding that cuts in funding would affect ordinary Palestinians.

Guterres pointed to the cost-effectiveness of UNRWA as he defended why it was the best-placed organization to continue to deliver aid to Gaza.

“The costs with UNRWA are much lower than the costs with other agencies for historical reasons. The salaries paid by UNRWA are one-third of the salaries paid by UNICEF or WFP or other UN organizations,” Guterres says, singling out the UN’s children’s fund and its World Food Program.

“So any attempt of replacement, that is not possible.”

US Senate advances $95 billion Ukraine, Israel aid bill after failed border deal

US Republican Senator from Arkansas Tom Cotton (R) speaks as Republican Senator from Louisiana John Kennedy (C) and Republican Senator from North Carolina Thom Tillis (L) look on during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing 'Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis' in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2024. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
US Republican Senator from Arkansas Tom Cotton (R) speaks as Republican Senator from Louisiana John Kennedy (C) and Republican Senator from North Carolina Thom Tillis (L) look on during the US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing 'Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis' in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2024. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

A $95.34 billion bill that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan has advanced in the US Senate on Thursday after Republicans blocked compromise legislation that included a long-sought overhaul of immigration policy.

Senators backed a procedural motion by 67-32, exceeding the 60-vote threshold to advance the bill. Seventeen Republicans voted in favor, in a surprising shift after they blocked the broader bill on Wednesday.

“This is a good first step. This bill is essential for our national security, for the security of our friends in Ukraine, in Israel, for humanitarian aid for innocent civilians in Gaza, and for Taiwan,” Schumer says in the Senate after the vote.

There was no immediate word on when the 100-member chamber would consider final passage, as some senators said they expected to remain in session during the weekend if necessary.

“We are going to keep working on this bill until the job is done,” Schumer says.

The Democratic-led Senate took up the security aid bill after Republicans on Wednesday blocked a broader measure that also included reforms of border security and immigration policy that a bipartisan group of senators had negotiated for months.

The security aid bill includes $61 billion for Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion, $14 billion for Israel in its war against Hamas and $4.83 billion to support partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, and deter aggression by China.

It also would provide $9.15 billion in humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine and other populations in conflict zones around the globe.

The Senate is expected to take days to agree on a final version of the security aid package, with some Republicans continuing to push for amendments. Supporters of Ukraine have been struggling for much of the past year to find a way to send more money to help Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government.

Even if the aid bill eventually passes the Senate, it faces uncertainty in the House of Representatives. Dozens of Republican House members, particularly those most closely allied with former US president Donald Trump, have voted against Ukraine aid, including Speaker Mike Johnson.

While lawmakers have approved more than $110 billion for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, Congress has not passed any major aid for Kyiv since Republicans took control of the House in January 2023.

Special counsel dismisses classified docs case against Biden, calling him ‘well-meaning, elderly man with poor memory’

US President Joe Biden meets with UAW members during a campaign stop at a phone bank in the UAW Region 1 Union Hall, in Warren, Michigan, February 1, 2024. (Evan Vucci/AP)
US President Joe Biden meets with UAW members during a campaign stop at a phone bank in the UAW Region 1 Union Hall, in Warren, Michigan, February 1, 2024. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Joe Biden “willfully retained” classified documents after serving as vice president but no charges are merited, the Justice Department announces.

“We conclude that no criminal charges are warranted in this matter,” says special counsel Robert Hur, with Biden coming across as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

US intelligence officials reportedly tell Congress that Israel not close to defeating Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) meets with IDF soldiers in Latrun on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) meets with IDF soldiers in Latrun on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

US intelligence officials told members of Congress earlier this week that Israel had damaged Hamas’s combat abilities, but is not close to achieving its war aim of eliminating the terrorist organization militarily, The New York Times reports, citing “American officials.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted throughout the war that destroying Hamas’s military and political capabilities, and bringing back all the hostages, are the primary aims of the ongoing war.

Arab ministers begin meeting in Riyadh aimed at rallying around unified stance on Gaza war

Ministers from the Palestinian Authority, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt hold a meeting on the Gaza war in Riyadh on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Ministers from the Palestinian Authority, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt hold a meeting on the Gaza war in Riyadh on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Top ministers from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority have begun their “consultative” meeting in Riyadh aimed at rallying around a unified stance regarding the war in Gaza as well as political initiatives for when the fighting ends.

The Arab ministers are slated to discuss efforts to expand pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza, leveraging their willingness to take part in the Strip’s rehabilitation after the war in addition to further integrating Israel into the region, on the condition that Jerusalem agrees to take steps creating an irreversible pathway to an eventual Palestinian state, two senior Arab diplomats told The Times of Israel yesterday.

The gathering is the latest example of the united front that Israel’s Arab partners and potential allies are building, one that is increasingly at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which expects the war to continue for many more months until “total victory” is secured. On the other hand, the grouping of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia is offering Israel a partnership that could be used to more effectively combat Iran, which Netanyahu has long sought.

Ireland shuns pre-match courtesies in basketball match against Israel over accusations of antisemitism

Ireland women’s team shuns normal pre-match courtesies while facing Israel in a EuroBasket qualifying game after being outraged by accusations of antisemitism by an Israeli player.

The accusations by Israeli player Dor Saar on the Israeli Basketball Association’s official channels prompted Basketball Ireland to report them to the governing body FIBA Europe. Forfeiting the match was rejected because Ireland would have faced sanctions.

Instead, there are no handshakes or other pleasantries before the qualifier in Riga, Latvia, an alternative venue because of the war in Gaza.

“Basketball Ireland informed FIBA Europe yesterday that as a direct result of recent comments made by Israeli players and coaching staff — including inflammatory and wholly inaccurate accusations of antisemitism, published on official Israeli federation channels — that our players will not be partaking in traditional pre-match arrangements with our upcoming opponents,” a statement reads.

“This includes exchanging of gifts, formal handshakes before or after the game, while our players will line up for the national anthem by our bench, rather than center court. Basketball Ireland fully supports our players in their decision.”

While Ireland defies pressure to boycott the match — the federation said it was not feasible — several players opted not to travel to Riga.

Meta pulls Instagram and Facebook accounts belonging to Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei

Meta pulls Facebook and Instagram accounts belonging to Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei for violating the company’s “Dangerous Organizations & Individuals policy,” a Meta spokesperson says.

Khamenei’s Persian-language Instagram account had more than five million followers, while his English-language account had more than 200,000.

All four of his accounts on X, formerly Twitter, are still live, and the most recent post on the English-language account is from seven hours ago.

Blinken says he never intended to visit Kerem Shalom amid reports of canceled trip

Activists set up tents to block trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
Activists set up tents to block trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned visit to the Kerem Shalom Crossing, Hebrew daily Haaretz reports, despite Blinken telling a Channel 13 journalist during a press briefing last night, “There was no planned visit to Kerem Shalom, so there was nothing to cancel.”

According to Haaretz, the visit to the Israel-Gaza border crossing was canceled after Israel failed to ensure the US official that the entry of humanitarian aid into the war-torn Gaza Strip would not be interrupted by protests amid his visit.

For the last two weeks, the right-wing Israeli protest group Tzav 9 has held protests close to the border crossing on a near-daily basis in an attempt to prevent trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Strip, as it believes no support should be given to Gaza while hostages remain in the enclave.

Channel 12 reports that the protesters were forcibly removed by the police this evening after preventing all aid from entering Gaza, but they have vowed to return next week.

US aware of reports that Israel detained two Americans in Gaza, State Dept says

A group of Palestinians detained by the IDF in northern Gaza on January 8, 2024. (Screen capture/12)
A group of Palestinians detained by the IDF in northern Gaza on January 8, 2024. (Screen capture/12)

The United States is aware of reports that two Americans in Gaza were detained by Israeli forces in a raid early on Thursday and is seeking more information, the State Department says.

The department does not identify the two US citizens, citing privacy concerns.

But the family of US-Palestinian dual nationals Hashem Alagha, 20, and Borak Alagha, 18, say the two brothers were detained in a raid on a home west of the city of Khan Younis on Thursday morning.

Four other relatives were detained, including the brothers’ Canadian father and an uncle who is mentally disabled, according to the brothers’ cousin, Yasmeen Elagha, who lives near Chicago.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Department says it was “aware of reports of [the] detention of two U.S. citizens in Gaza and [was] seeking additional information.”

The Israeli military has no immediate comment.

Israel has arrested or detained hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza since October 7, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club advocacy group.

The two brothers, born in the Chicago area, have not yet been cleared to leave Gaza, Elagha said. Americans listed by the US as wanting to leave Gaza at the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing must be approved by both Israel and Egypt.

US warns Israel that Rafah operation without proper planning risks ‘disaster’

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)

The United States warns Israel that staging a military push into the southern Gaza city of Rafah without proper planning would run the risk of becoming a “disaster.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last night that he has ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah, and air strikes have been stepped up.

State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel says Washington has “yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,” adding: “To conduct such an operation right now with no planning and little thought in an area” where one million people are sheltering “would be a disaster.”

El Al says flight from Prague diverted to Greece over violent passenger incident

File: An El Al airplane on the tarmac at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, October 4, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
File: An El Al airplane on the tarmac at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, October 4, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Israel’s national airline El Al says in a statement that a flight from Prague had to be diverted to Greece after a passenger behaved in a violent manner on Thursday.

The circumstances behind the incident are being investigated, according to the statement.

In meet with Blinken, hostages’ families lament Israeli campaign aimed at demonizing them

Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza hold signs and photos of their loved ones at a protest calling for their return, outside a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Isaac Herzog, in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2024. (AP/Oded Balilty)
Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza hold signs and photos of their loved ones at a protest calling for their return, outside a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Isaac Herzog, in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2024. (AP/Oded Balilty)

During their meeting earlier today with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, several relatives of the hostages in Gaza lamented what they described as a “terrible campaign” being advanced against them in Israel.

“The feeling is that those who are supposed to be overseeing the return of the hostages are not really interested in doing so,” one of the representatives told Blinken, according to Channel 12.

“We feel dreadful. We feel that there’s a campaign designed to torpedo the deal and to create public opinion against it. We are told to use pressure abroad, but at home, where we ought to be embraced, there’s an effort to change the public perception at our expense,” the representative is quoted as having said.

They went on to show Blinken online materials showcasing how the campaign against them is being waged.

Several thousand rallying in Jerusalem, calling on government to continue the war in Gaza

Protesters demonstrate against stopping the war in Jerusalem on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Protesters demonstrate against stopping the war in Jerusalem on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Several thousand Israelis are currently demonstrating in Jerusalem, urging the government to resident international pressure for a ceasefire and to continue the war until Hamas is defeated.

Many of the participants are holding posters with pictures of fallen soldiers and the message that in their deaths they willed that Israel continue to victory.

The demonstration appears to represent a foil to more prominent ones held in recent weeks that have pressured the government to make concessions necessary to secure a hostage deal before it is too late.

Tonight’s demonstration aims to strengthen the stance voiced repeatedly by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to continue fighting until “total victory.”

Israel reportedly rebuffs Egyptian request to send representatives to Cairo for hostage talks

Israelis block a highway as they demand the release of the hostage from Hamas captivity during a rally in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israelis block a highway as they demand the release of the hostage from Hamas captivity during a rally in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Egypt pressured Israel to send representatives to discuss a hostage deal while Hamas was in Cairo, Channel 12 reports, but Israel refused to do so.

An Israeli official tells The Times of Israel that “the main target now is to create pressure from the Americans and other countries on Qatar, and from there on Hamas, in addition to the military pressure to bring them down from their delusional demands.”

Sinwar said ‘out of contact’ for past 10 days, leading Hamas to respond to Qatari framework without him

Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The security establishment reportedly believes that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has been “out of contact” for the past ten days, not making any contact with Qatari and Egyptian mediators during that period.

Channel 12 says the reason for the disconnect is not clear and could be because he is on the run, engaged in a tactical ruse or simply unable to make contact due to the ongoing communications problems in Gaza.

Several decisions were made by Hamas in the past few days without him, though not necessarily ones relating to the hostages deal, Channel 12 says.

Kan reports that the Israeli security establishment’s assessment is that Sinwar was not involved in the issuing of Hamas’s response to the Qatari hostage deal framework earlier this week, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed yesterday as “delusional.”

The Hamas response included a clause stating that the deal would be “subject to the approval of the Hamas leadership in Gaza.”

Arab ministers begin arriving in Riyadh for Gaza summit revealed by ToI

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrives in Riyadh for an Arab summit on the Gaza war on February 8, 2024. (Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry/X)
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrives in Riyadh for an Arab summit on the Gaza war on February 8, 2024. (Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry/X)

Arab foreign ministers have begun arriving in Riyadh for a summit that Saudi Arabia is hosting in order to advance a united Arab stance regarding the war in Gaza as well as political initiatives for when the fighting ends.

The existence of the meeting was first reported yesterday by The Times of Israel.

The Arab ministers are slated to discuss efforts to expand pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza, leveraging their willingness to take part in the Strip’s rehabilitation after the war in addition to further integrating Israel into the region, on the condition that Jerusalem agrees to take steps creating an irreversible pathway to an eventual Palestinian state, according to two senior Arab diplomats.

The gathering is the latest example of the united front that Israel’s Arab partners and potential allies are building, one that is increasingly at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which expects the war to continue for many more months until “total victory” is secured. On the other hand, the grouping of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia is offering Israel a partnership that could be used to more effectively combat Iran, which Netanyahu has long sought.

The meeting will also be attended by Hussein al-Sheikh, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as Riyadh continues to expand its cooperation with Ramallah, assuaging concerns that Saudi Arabia will abandon the Palestinian cause while working to boost its regional and global stature, the two diplomats said.

Joining Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Sheikh will be the top diplomats from Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Zelensky’s axes army chief Zaluzhny in biggest shake-up of military leadership since invasion

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny attends an event for marking Statehood Day in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv, July 28, 2023. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, File)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny attends an event for marking Statehood Day in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv, July 28, 2023. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, File)

Ukraine’s top commander Valery Zaluzhny has been removed from his post, in the biggest shake-up of Kyiv’s military leadership since Russia’s invasion almost two years ago.

The popular general had led the Ukrainian army since the start of the war, pushing back a vastly more powerful invading force in the first months of the conflict.

But the failure of a much-vaunted counteroffensive last summer and public disagreement with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky tarnished his reputation in the president’s office.

“Today we had a frank discussion about what needs to change in the army. Urgent changes,” Zelensky says in a statement on social media.

“I have offered General Zaluzhny to continue to be part of the team of the Ukrainian state. I would be grateful for his consent,” Zelensky writes.

Oleksandr Syrsky, who commanded Ukraine’s lightning Autumn 2022 counter-offensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region, will take Zaluzhny’s place, Zelensky says.

After over a year of deadlocked trench warfare, with Russia’s army relentlessly pressing against outmanned Ukrainian soldiers across the sprawling front, Kyiv has sought urgent changes.

Zelensky called on his new military leadership to devise a strategy to beat back Russian forces.

“The year 2024 can be successful for Ukraine only if we make effective changes in the basis of our defense, which is the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Zelensky says.

Shipping giant Maersk’s profit sinks, warns of Red Sea risk

A Maersk container ship near Sir Abu Nuair island off Dubai on June 4, 2022. (Karim Sahib/AFP)
A Maersk container ship near Sir Abu Nuair island off Dubai on June 4, 2022. (Karim Sahib/AFP)

Shares in shipping giant Maersk have plummeted after it warned of an uncertain 2024 earnings outlook linked to an oversupply of container vessels and Yemeni rebel attacks in the Red Sea.

The downbeat forecast came after its 2023 earnings were hit by overcapacity in the shipping sector, which caused a drop in freight rates.

The group reported a more than sevenfold drop in its net profit last year to $3.8 billion, compared to $29.2 billion in 2022.

Its revenue fell to $51 billion from $81.5 billion the previous year.

Maersk’s stock price closed almost 15 percent lower on the Copenhagen stock exchange today, also hurt by the company’s announcement it was suspending its share buyback plan.

Freight rates had soared in 2022 due to capacity shortages amid high demand following the end of COVID pandemic restrictions.

“The high demand eventually started to normalize as congestions eased and consumer demand declined leading to an inventory overhang,” Maersk says in its earnings report.

This “correction” resulted “in rapid and steep declines in shipped volumes and rates” starting at the end of the third quarter of 2022, it adds.

The “oversupply challenges” in the maritime shipping industry are expected to “materialize fully” over the course of 2024, Maersk says.

The group lowered its 2024 forecast for its core profit — earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization — to a range of between $1.0 billion and $6.0 billion.

“High uncertainty remains around the duration and degree of the Red Sea disruption, with the duration from one quarter to full year reflected in the guidance range,” Maersk says.

Chairman Robert Maersk Uggla and CEO Vincent Clerc say in the earnings report that “2023 ended with multiple distressing attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.”

They note that two of the company’s ships had been targeted.

“We are horrified by the escalation of this unfortunate conflict,” they say.

Maersk and other shipping companies have redirected ships away from the Red Sea, taking the longer and costlier route around the southern tip of Africa.

The Red Sea usually carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

Top humanitarian official says UN’s northern Gaza assessment mission in early stages

Israeli troops in a Humvee drive in northern Gaza's Salatin, close to Jabaliya, December 7, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
Israeli troops in a Humvee drive in northern Gaza's Salatin, close to Jabaliya, December 7, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

A senior UN official tells The Times of Israel that his office has begun the earlier stages of an assessment mission in northern Gaza aimed at determining the conditions necessary to allow Palestinians to return to those areas.

In recent days, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has carried out three “reconnaissance” or “recce” missions in Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun and Jabaliya, while the UN waits for approval from the IDF to carry out a final reconnaissance mission in Gaza City, says Andrea De Domenico, who heads OCHA’s office in the Palestinian territories.

These “recce” missions include only half a dozen people tasked with carrying out an initial assessment of the conditions on the ground before much larger rapid assessment missions of 20 to 30 people can be dispatched, with representatives from various sectors.

Before the rapid assessments can move forward, the UN staffers typically return to the area in order to distribute aid to the residents.

There are an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 Palestinians still living in northern Gaza, which the IDF ordered be evacuated at the beginning of the war.

Once some aid is distributed to these residents, the UN can move forward with the rapid assessment missions.

Andrea De Domenico, head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Palestinian territories is interviewed by The Times of Israel on February 6, 2023. (Screen capture/Zoom)

De Domenico says that if multiple rapid assessment teams are sent out to different locations at the same time, they would still likely need more than a day to complete the mission.

Once it has been executed, the UN can then move forward with providing its response in the form of food, water, health services and shelter to the remaining residents in northern Gaza.

Such assessments aren’t needed in southern Gaza because humanitarian agencies still have access to those areas and have a better understanding of what is needed, even if the aid coming in has been insufficient.

The overall UN assessment mission has been delayed for weeks, with Israel saying the resurgence of Hamas fighters in northern Gaza has made it unsafe for humanitarian workers to access those areas.

IDF soldiers operate in northern Gaza’s Salatin, close to Jabaliya, December 7, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Asked whether he trusts Israel’s prognosis, De Domenico indicates that he doesn’t completely.

“Trust in people who have systematically shot at us is a bit complicated,” he says, citing what he claims were over 300 times in which Israeli forces opened fire on humanitarian workers in roughly 150 locations throughout Gaza since the start of the war.

“There are times when they are absolutely right that it’s not safe because we are also in the area, and see what’s happening. But there are other times when I’m not sure what their reasoning is for not letting us in because it’s not about safety. They use other excuses,” De Domenico says.

The OCHA office chief acknowledges that the lack of trust goes both ways. “They see us as with all the biases they think we have,” De Domenico says in an interview days after UNRWA sacked several employees over their participation in the October 7 terror onslaught.

Regardless, he says OCHA will continue engaging with Israel because the sides need each other in order to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

IDF says it carried out strikes on Hezbollah targets following reports of attack on terror operatives in Lebanon

An IDF airstrike in Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
An IDF airstrike in Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The IDF says it carried out a new wave of strikes on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon today, including a truck ferrying weapons.

Fighter jets also hit a building used by the terror group and other infrastructure in the towns of Khiam, Nabatieh and Kfar Hamam.

Several projectiles were also fired from Lebanon earlier, and the IDF says it shelled the launch sites with artillery.

The IDF also says air defenses intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” that entered Israeli airspace earlier, setting off drone infiltration alarms in a number of towns.

Earlier today, it was reported that an Israeli drone strike targeted two Hezbollah operatives, reportedly including a senior commander, in Nabatieh.

War cabinet currently huddling to discuss hostage negotiations

Israelis rally to demand securing the release of hostages held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis rally to demand securing the release of hostages held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The war cabinet is currently meeting in Tel Aviv to discuss ongoing hostage negotiations with Hamas.

Negotiations appeared to hit a snag after Hamas responded to the Qatari framework earlier this week with demands that US President Biden said were “over the top” and Prime Minister Netanyahu called “delusional.”

But Netanyahu did not say he formally rejected the proposal and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Hamas’s response still left room for talks to continue.

IAF chief warns Hezbollah: Hundreds of our fighter jets are ready to strike at moment’s notice

IAF chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar speaks at a military conference, February 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IAF chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar speaks at a military conference, February 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The chief of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, issues a warning to the Hezbollah terror group, saying hundreds of Israeli fighter jets are ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

“Hezbollah will continue to pay with the loss of its systems. Dozens of aircraft are now operating in the skies of southern Lebanon, and as soon as the order is given, the dozens will turn into hundreds that will perform the missions within minutes of being scrambled,” Bar says at an internal IAF conference.

During the conference, senior officers summarized the IAF’s recent activities amid the war in the Gaza Strip, and presented the plans for 2024, which is expected to be a year of fighting.

Hezbollah has been carrying out daily rocket, missile and drone attacks on northern Israel.

The IDF has in response been targeting the terror group’s sites, killing nearly 200 of its operatives.

US Senate to vote on $95b Ukraine, Israel aid bill after failed border deal

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., discusses next steps for the foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel on the day after the bipartisan Senate border security bill collapsed, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., discusses next steps for the foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel on the day after the bipartisan Senate border security bill collapsed, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The US Senate is due to vote later today on a $95.34 billion bill that includes aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific, after Republicans blocked compromise legislation that also included a long-sought overhaul of immigration policy.

Democrats and Republicans spent hours discussing next steps on Wednesday after the broader effort failed, until Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent lawmakers home with plans to consider on Thursday a revised package that strips out the immigration provisions but leaves the foreign aid intact.

“We will be coming back tomorrow at noon and, hopefully, that will give the Republicans the time they need,” Schumer said on Wednesday. “We will have this vote.”

The security aid bill includes $61 billion for Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion, $14 billion for Israel in its war against Hamas and $4.83 billion to support partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, and deter aggression by China.

Supporters of Ukraine have been struggling for much of the year to find a way to send more money to help Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. While lawmakers have approved more than $110 billion for Ukraine since the invasion began in February 2022, Congress has not passed any major aid for Kyiv since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in January 2023.

It’s unclear whether the new bill would win the support of House Republicans.

“If we fail in this moment, if we abandon our friends in Ukraine to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, history will cast a shameful and permanent shadow on Senators who block funding,” Schumer told the Senate on Wednesday.

“It is a matter of the highest national urgency that we get this right,” he said.

UN calls for mental health support for Palestinian children impacted by Israel-Hamas war

A woman and children sit outside tents sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
A woman and children sit outside tents sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

A United Nations committee appeals for “massive psychosocial support” for children traumatized by violence in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, and said it would review Israel’s treatment of children later this year.

Children and women make up the bulk of the nearly 28,000 people killed during the offensive, according to the authorities in Gaza. That figure cannot be independently verified and includes some 10,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Hamas’s October 7 rampage into Israel killed about 1,200 people and saw another 253 taken hostage.

“The rights of children living under the state of Israel’s effective control are being gravely violated at a level that has rarely been seen in recent history,” said Ann Skelton, chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

“We call for massive psychosocial support for children and families to relieve the traumatic and long-lasting impact of war, including Israeli children who were victims of, or witnesses to, the [October 7] attacks and those whose family members have been taken hostage,” she tells a news conference.

The Israeli diplomatic mission in Geneva says it will issue a statement on the UN committee’s comments shortly.

UNICEF said last week that nearly all children in Gaza were thought to require mental health support.

Skelton says Israel had postponed its participation in a planned dialogue on child issues and that it was now scheduled to take place in September.

“The committee deeply regrets that it did not have the opportunity to review Israel when time is of the essence,” she says.

Hezbollah operative killed in alleged Israeli strike said to have helped Iran establish air defense system in Syria

The scene of a strike on a vehicle in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
The scene of a strike on a vehicle in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Arabic media reports that one of the Hezbollah operatives killed earlier this afternoon in an alleged Israeli drone strike on a car traveling in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh was Abbas Al-Debs.

Al-Debs was tied to the Islamic Revoolutionary Guard Corps and was helping Iran set up air defenses in Syria, Arabic media reports.

Army Radio reports that Al-Debs was also the commander of the area from which anti-tank fire was launched at the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona.

It says the strike was carried out in response to that tank fire striking an IDF base nearby and seriously injuring one of the soldiers there.

Reports: Two Hezbollah operatives killed in apparent drone strike on their vehicle in south Lebanon

The scene of a strike on a vehicle in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
The scene of a strike on a vehicle in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Reports are coming in of an apparent drone strike that killed two Hezbollah operatives who were driving in a vehicle in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh.

Commander from elite Hamas unit being interrogated by Shin Bet urges comrades to surrender

Muhammad Nasser Suleiman Abu Namer is interrogated by the Shin Bet in a photo released on February 8, 2024. (Shin Bet)
Muhammad Nasser Suleiman Abu Namer is interrogated by the Shin Bet in a photo released on February 8, 2024. (Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet has released footage from the interrogation of a commander in Hamas’s elite Nukhba unit who calls on operatives in the terror group to surrender.

“I advise everyone to surrender, because your fate otherwise is death,” Muhammad Nasser Suleiman Abu Namer is heard saying.

Abu Namer was arrested by Shin Bet and IDF fighters deep in a tunnel under the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis.

The suspect is later heard saying that he was arrested with two other Hamas fighters but that they did not try to resist when the IDF busted through the door of their tunnel.

“We made a decision that we don’t want to fight and as soon as the army comes we will turn ourselves in,” says Abu Namer.

“We sat in the room, we put all the weapons outside the room… We sat and waited. When the army arrived, we raised our hands and surrendered.”

Destroying ‘wantonly’ to create Gaza buffer zone is ‘war crime,’ UN rights chief says

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (left) meets with the chief of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman in northern Gaza, Feburary 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (left) meets with the chief of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman in northern Gaza, Feburary 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel’s reported ongoing destruction of all buildings along the border inside Gaza with the aim of creating a “buffer zone” is a war crime, the UN rights chief warns.

Israel’s “extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a war crime,” Volker Turk says in a statement.

Four rockets from Lebanon land in open areas near northern kibbutz; no injuries

Footage of rocket fire from Lebanon landing near Kibbutz Snir on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Footage of rocket fire from Lebanon landing near Kibbutz Snir on February 8, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Rocket sirens have been triggered in Kibbutz Snir near the northern border after launches were identified from Lebanon, Hebrew media reports.

The projectiles all fell in open areas, so there are no reports of injuries or damage.

Gantz urges integrating Haredim, amid fury over IDF plans to lengthen troops’ service

A ceremony commemorating fallen ultra-Orthodox soldiers at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem on April 24, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)
A ceremony commemorating fallen ultra-Orthodox soldiers at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem on April 24, 2023. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

An IDF plan to increase the amount of time conscripts and reservists serve in the military as it faces a long war in the Gaza Strip generates a fierce backlash among coalition lawmakers, with many complaining that the increased burden will fall on the general public while members of the ultra-Orthodox community remain largely exempt from conscription.

The proposed changes to the security service and reserve service laws, which will need to be approved by lawmakers, include lengthening male mandatory army service to three years, as it had been until 2015, and extending the terms of female soldiers in combat and other special roles to three years as well.

The IDF also plans to raise the age for retirement from reserve duty to 45 for regular reservists, 50 for officers and 52 for those serving in special roles. The amount of time required by reservists to serve per year would also change under the plans.

While far-right lawmakers were quick to defend the ultra-Orthodox camp, National Unity chair Benny Gantz indicates that he backs expanding Haredi citizens’ service.

“On October 7, many Israelis stood up and volunteered without asking questions. Among them were ultra-Orthodox Jews who sought to enlist in the IDF,” he says, calling for “an Israeli service law, which will gradually include ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens.”

’21st century Nazism’: Argentinian president tours massacred Gaza border kibbutz with Herzog

President Isaac Herzog and Argentinian President Javier Milei tour Kibbutz Nir Oz on February 8, 2024. (Maayan Toaf / GPO)
President Isaac Herzog and Argentinian President Javier Milei tour Kibbutz Nir Oz on February 8, 2024. (Maayan Toaf / GPO)

President Isaac Herzog and Argentinian President Javier Milei tour Kibbutz Nir Oz on the Gaza border, a community that saw a quarter of its residents killed or kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. The kibbutz includes many immigrants from Argentina and their descendants.

“We shall rebuild this place,” says Herzog. “We shall bring back the community. And we shall protect Israelis and we hopefully will create a different future for us and for our neighbors.”

Making sure to label it a “terrorist group,” Milei calls Hamas “21st century Nazism.”

“It was the indifference of the free world that made the Nazi Holocaust possible,” says the Argentinian. “And as President Herzog said, the free world can’t remain indifferent in this case, as we see clear examples of terrorism and antisemitism and what I would describe as 21st century Nazism.”

The two leaders and first ladies visit several houses on the kibbutz, including that of Ofelia Roitman, an Argentine immigrant to Israel who was released from Hamas captivity in November and who accompanied the group. It was the first time she had been in her home since the October 7 attack.

Biden to host King Abdullah at White House next week, as Jordanian monarch lobbies for ceasefire

US President Joe Biden (R) greets Jordan's King Abdullah (L) and Prince Hussein at the Oval Office on February 2, 2023. (White House)
US President Joe Biden (R) greets Jordan's King Abdullah (L) and Prince Hussein at the Oval Office on February 2, 2023. (White House)

Jordan’s King Abdullah will meet with US President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday.

The two leaders will “discuss the ongoing situation in Gaza and efforts to produce an enduring end to the crisis. Towards that end, the two leaders will discuss the US effort to support the Palestinian people, including through enhanced humanitarian assistance into Gaza and a vision for a durable peace to include a two-state solution with Israel’s security guaranteed,” the White House says.

The visit will also celebrate 75 years of diplomatic relations between the US and Jordan, while working to deepen those ties, the US readout adds.

The US stop is one of four Abdullah is making along with Canada, France and Germany, as Amman seeks to drum up support for a ceasefire in Gaza, his office says.

Five US Marines confirmed dead after California helicopter crash

A US Marine carries rescue gear at a command center Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Kitchen Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
A US Marine carries rescue gear at a command center Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Kitchen Creek, Calif. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Five US service members missing after their helicopter crashed this week in southern California have been confirmed dead, the US Marine Corps says.

“It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that I share the loss of five outstanding Marines from 3d Marine Aircraft Wing and the ‘Flying Tigers’ while conducting a training flight” on Tuesday night, Major General Michael Borgschulte, commander of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, says in a statement.

The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed while flying from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, the military says.

Rocket sirens sound in communities close to Lebanon border

Sirens sound in a number of towns close to the Lebanon border, warning of incoming rocket fire.

Alerts are heard in Zarit, Arab al-Aramshe and Shomera.

Videos apparently show Israeli jets flying over Beirut

Videos circulating on social media apparently show Israeli jets flying low over Beirut.

The Kan public broadcaster notes that the reports of Israeli aerial activity over the Lebanese capital come as General Hassan Awde is named as the new chief of staff of Lebanon’s military.

The Hezbollah terror group has fired multiple rounds of anti-tank missiles from southern Lebanon toward northern Israel today, injuring three soldiers and hitting a house.

Anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon hits house in Metula

An anti-tank missile has hit a house in Metula, close to the northern border with Lebanon, Hebrew-language media reports.

There are no reports of casualties.

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.

Earlier today, three soldiers were injured — one seriously — by an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah toward Kiryat Shmona.

Egypt concerned Gazans may storm border when IDF widens Rafah operation

A shepherd herds sheep near the border fence with Egypt in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip near a makeshift tent camp for displaced Palestinians, on January 24, 2024 (AFP)
A shepherd herds sheep near the border fence with Egypt in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip near a makeshift tent camp for displaced Palestinians, on January 24, 2024 (AFP)

A spokesperson for Egypt’s foreign ministry says Cairo is concerned at the potential for a mass effort by Gazans to escape across the border when the Israel Defense Forces expands its operations in Rafah.

In an interview with the Egyptian news channel al-Ghad, Ahmed Abu Zeid says that Egypt sees the situation Gaza’s southern Rafah region as “unbearable and catastrophic.”

“Continuing Israeli strikes on densely populated areas will create an unlivable reality. The scenario of mass displacement is a possibility. The Egyptian position on this has been very clear and straightforward: We are against this policy, and we will not allow it,” he says.

Images in recent weeks circulating on social media have shown Egypt apparently fortifying its defenses at the border, with additional barbed wire and walls.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering in the Rafah area, amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

Israel is continuing to hunt Hamas’s leadership in the southern Strip, believed to be hiding deep within the vast tunnel network the terror group dug under the Strip, which military officials assess runs for hundreds of miles.

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

War erupted between Israel and Hamas with the terror group’s October 7 massacre. Some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists slaughtered 1,200 people in southern Israel that day — most of them civilians, massacred amid brutal atrocities — and seized 253 hostages.

Vowing to destroy the terror group, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Gafni comes out against Goldknopf: ‘We all bear responsibility. The situation is not good’

MK Moshe Gafni, right, and MK Yitzhak Goldknopf speak during a meeting of the United Torah Judaism party at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 5, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
MK Moshe Gafni, right, and MK Yitzhak Goldknopf speak during a meeting of the United Torah Judaism party at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 5, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A top Haredi lawmaker came out against comments made by Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, saying that the members of the government bear responsibility for the situation the country is in amid the war against Hamas.

“We all bear responsibility, even today,” MK Moshe Gafni says. “Whoever says the situation is good — the situation is not good! I, like my colleagues in the government, bear responsibility.”

Gafni says the matter of the hostages held by terrorists in Gaza should keep elected officials busy day and night until they are all home, the Ynet news site reports. Gafni is the head of the Degel Hatorah faction in Goldknopf’s United Torah Judaism.

At a ceremony for the laying of a cornerstone at an educational institution in the northern town Karmiel, Gafni also pushes back against recent calls by ministers and lawmakers from the government for the resettlement of Gaza.

“I don’t think at all that we should go to settle in Gaza,” says Gafni, according to Ynet. “We should build here in the Galilee, in Karmiel.”

Goldknopf attended a recent conference on the resettlement of Gaza and called for the reconstruction of Jewish settlements there.

Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf attends a United Torah Judaism faction meeting at the Knesset on July 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Gafni’s comments come a day after Goldknopf told the ultra-Orthodox news outlet Kikar Hashabbat that no government members will resign at the end of Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

“I don’t see anybody resigning, who is it bad for? There are 64 [government] members, there are government ministries, everything is working and there is an organized budget,” Goldknopf said.

“What, the day after a war the government has to fall?” he asked. “What does the government have to do with the war?”

The housing minister evaded two questions on the matter of responsibility for the October 7 terror onslaught carried out by Hamas in southern Israel, saying the matter will be investigated by a committee “that will finish its work in 2028, maybe 2027.”

US strikes 2 Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles ready to fire at ships in Red Sea

US Central Command forces conducted self-defense strikes against two Houthi mobile anti-ship cruise missiles prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea, a statement says.

“Later that day, at 11:30 p.m. (Sanaa time), CENTCOM forces conducted a second strike against a Houthi mobile land attack cruise missile prepared to launch,” the statement adds.

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.

Early IDF draft orders sent to more recruits than agreed upon, sparking ‘crisis of faith’

Israeli youth take part in pre-army preparatory program at the beach in Nahariya, September 8, 2022 (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Israeli youth take part in pre-army preparatory program at the beach in Nahariya, September 8, 2022 (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Students in pre-army programs who were not designated for early conscription have unexpectedly received call-up notices, sparking anger.

Hundreds of students enrolled in pre-army, volunteer service programs and yeshivas began receiving their early military draft orders yesterday afternoon, after the IDF had previously said it would send out some 1,300 notices. These post-high school students would have otherwise finished their programs in June and then enlisted sometime after.

However, notices were sent out to more students than had been agreed upon, and to students who weren’t on agreed-upon lists, officials and students say. It is unclear how many extra notices have been sent in total.

At some pre-army academies, more than double the agreed-upon number of students received recruitment notices, an academy official says, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The agreement regarding the early recruitment was changed “without consulting us,” resulting in a “crisis of faith” between staff and students, and between the pre-army academy administration and the Defense Ministry, the official adds.

The official adds that he has confirmed that Religious Zionist yeshivas received “the exact” number of notices that were agreed upon.

It’s “a very clear division” between how the IDF and Defense Ministry are treating the yeshivas as opposed to the pre-army academies and volunteer year programs, the official stresses.

The IDF and Defense Ministry announced previously that about 850 trainees will be drafted from the pre-army and community service year programs, and about 150 more from Religious Zionist yeshivas, with an emphasis on those already slated to enlist this year. The number of yeshiva students to be drafted early was raised to 450 after protests.

In a statement, the IDF says “all of the recruits to be drafted were from a list of names that was sent in advance to the organizations. There was no change in the number of planned inductions, which took into account the recommendations of the organizations.”

Rocket sirens sound in Sderot, Gaza border communities

Sirens sound in a number of communities close to the Gaza border, warning of incoming rocket fire.

Alerts are heard in Sderot, Ibim and Nir Am.

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

It is the first time in three days that rocket fire from the Strip has triggered sirens.

Hamas-run health ministry says Gaza death toll passed 27,800

Palestinians mourn at Al-Najjar hospital after relatives were killed in overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024 (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
Palestinians mourn at Al-Najjar hospital after relatives were killed in overnight Israeli strikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024 (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

At least 27,840 Palestinians have been killed and 67,317 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.

Report: Israel open to allowing Sinwar to go into exile in return for all hostages, end of Hamas’s Gaza rule

Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel is open to allowing Hamas leader and October 7 mastermind Yahya Sinwar to go into exile in exchange for the release of all hostages and the end of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, NBC reports.

Citing six “Israeli officials and senior advisers,” NBC says the plan has been discussed since November.

“We don’t mind if [Sinwar] will leave like Arafat left Lebanon,” a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells NBC, referring to PLO leader Yasser Arafat being allowed to sail from Beirut to Tunis in 1982. “We will allow it to happen as long as all of the hostages are released.”

Israel had previously pledged that all the leaders of the Hamas terror group in Gaza would be killed or captured.

Israel reportedly told US negotiators in Paris last week that it has a list of six Hamas leaders, including Sinwar and senior military Mohamed Deif, that it wants to see out of the Gaza Strip. NBC says the plan never reached Hamas, because the terror group has already said it would not countenance exile.

Israeli troops demolish home of terrorist who perpetrated deadly November attack

The home of a Palestinian who carried out a terror attack after it was demolished by Israeli security forces, in the West Bank city of Hebron, February 8, 2024 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90 *)
The home of a Palestinian who carried out a terror attack after it was demolished by Israeli security forces, in the West Bank city of Hebron, February 8, 2024 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90 *)

The Israel Defense Forces says troops along with Border Police officers destroyed the Hebron home of one of the perpetrators of a deadly November shooting attack by terrorists who targeted the “tunnels” checkpoint on the West Bank’s Route 60, south of Jerusalem.

The military says in the statement that the homes of two of the other perpetrators have already been demolished.

Cpl. Avraham Fetena, 20, a Military Police soldier from Haifa, was critically wounded in the attack and later succumbed to his wounds.

Police said the three gunmen had planned to carry out a much larger massacre in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem defends the practice of razing the family home of attackers as a deterrent against future assaults. Over the years, a number of Israeli defense officials have questioned the efficacy of the practice, and human rights activists have denounced it as unfair collective punishment.

Hamas’s Haniyeh heading to Cairo for fresh round of talks on hostage, truce proposal – report

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

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh will reportedly head to Cairo today to start a new round of talks with Egyptian mediators on a potential agreement for a hostage deal and truce.

The Palestinian al-Quds newspaper reports that a Hamas delegation headed by Haniyeh is expected in the Egyptian capital for discussions based on the proposal formulated in Paris last week.

Representatives of the terror group are slated to sit down with Abbas Kamel, head of Egyptian intelligence, and with Egyptian officials in the coming days, who will present them with a fresh proposal on the phase after the “suspension” of hostilities, al-Quds reports.

Haniyeh’s visit was reportedly delayed so that he could consult with other Palestinian factions.

Hamas has proposed a ceasefire plan that would see a four-and-a-half-month truce during which hostages would be freed in three stages, and which would lead to an end to the war, in response to a proposed outline sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators and backed by the United States and Israel. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the terror group was making “delusional demands.”

Jordan’s Abdullah starts international tour to mobilize support for ‘immediate ceasefire’

Jordan's King Abdullah II addresses a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (not in image) after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on October 17, 2023. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)
Jordan's King Abdullah II addresses a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (not in image) after a meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on October 17, 2023. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

Jordan’s King Abdullah II heads off for an international tour to the United States, Canada, France, and Germany, the Hashemite Royal Court announces.

Jordan’s ruler will be working to “mobilize international support for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” according to Amman.

Family of Manny Godard, killed Oct. 7, told his body is being held in Gaza

Ayelet and Manny Godard (Courtesy)
Ayelet and Manny Godard (Courtesy)

The family of Manny Godard has been informed that he was murdered and his body is being held by terrorists in Gaza, Kibbutz Be’eri announces.

According to the Ynet news site, while it had already been assessed that Godard had been murdered on October 7, there had not been a formal announcement on the location of his body until now.

Godard’s wife Ayelet called one of their children on Oct. 7 and told them that he had been killed. She was also later murdered.

They are survived by four children and six grandchildren.

Officer seriously wounded, 2 troops lightly hurt in Hezbollah anti-tank missile attack

This picture taken from a position near the border in northern Israel shows smoke billowing during Israeli strikes on the village of Khiam in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024 in response to Hezbollah anti-tank missile fire (Jalaa Marey / AFP)
This picture taken from a position near the border in northern Israel shows smoke billowing during Israeli strikes on the village of Khiam in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024 in response to Hezbollah anti-tank missile fire (Jalaa Marey / AFP)

A non-commissioned officer was seriously wounded and two more soldiers were lightly hurt by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile attack in the Kiryat Shmona area this morning, the IDF announces.

The IDF says fighter jets carried out strikes on a building and other infrastructure used by Hezbollah in the south Lebanon town of Khiam, from which the projectiles were fired at Kiryat Shmona.

The IDF says projectiles were also fired from Lebanon at the Biranit base and Mount Hermon.

It says troops also shelled the launch sites with artillery.

Maersk reports massive drop in net profits, warns of uncertainty due to Houthi attacks in Red Sea

Containers of Danish shipping and logistics company Maersk are seen in Copenhagen, Denmark, on September 14, 2023. (Sergei Gapon/AFP)
Containers of Danish shipping and logistics company Maersk are seen in Copenhagen, Denmark, on September 14, 2023. (Sergei Gapon/AFP)

COPENHAGEN — Shipping giant Maersk reports a massive drop in net profit in 2023 and warns of “uncertainty” in 2024 due to Yemeni rebel attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.

An oversupply of container shipping last year caused prices to drop after they had soared in 2022 due to capacity shortages amid high demand following the end of Covid pandemic restrictions, the Danish group says.

“The high demand eventually started to normalize as congestions eased, and consumer demand declined leading to an inventory overhang,” Maersk says in its annual earnings report.

This “correction” resulted “in rapid and steep declines in shipped volumes and rates starting” at the end of the third quarter of 2022, it adds.

Maersk says its net profit reached $3.8 billion last year, slightly more than forecast by analysts but down sharply from the $29.2 billion logged in 2022.

Its revenue was also slightly above forecasts, reaching $51 billion compared to $81.5 billion the previous year.

The “oversupply challenges” in the maritime shipping industry is expected to “materialize fully” over the course of 2024, Maersk says.

The group lowered its 2024 forecast for its core profit — earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation — to a range of between $1 billion and $6 billion.

“High uncertainty remains around the duration and degree of the Red Sea disruption with the duration from one quarter to full year reflected in the guidance range,” Maersk says.

Maersk and other shipping companies have decided to redirect shifts away from the Red Sea, making them take the longer and costlier route around the southern tip of Africa.

The Red Sea normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have targeted ships crossing the Red Sea since last year, saying their campaign was in solidarity with Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Iraq says US strikes on Iran-backed groups pushing Baghdad toward ending coalition’s mission

Civil defense members gather at the site of a burned vehicle targeted by a US drone strike in east Baghdad, Iraq, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Civil defense members gather at the site of a burned vehicle targeted by a US drone strike in east Baghdad, Iraq, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Repeated US strikes against Iran-backed armed groups in Iraq are pushing the Iraqi government to end the mission of the US-led coalition in the country, the prime minister’s military spokesman Yahya Rasool says.

The US military said a strike yesterday killed a commander from Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed armed group in Iraq that the Pentagon has blamed for attacking its troops.

Rasool says in a statement that the US-led coalition “has become a factor for instability and threatens to entangle Iraq in the cycle of conflict.”

The US-led international military coalition in Iraq was set up to fight Islamic State. The United States has 2,500 troops in Iraq, advising and assisting local forces to prevent a resurgence of the group.

Since the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began with the terror group’s October 7 onslaught, there have almost daily attacks by hardline Iran-backed armed groups on US forces stationed in the region.

Prosecutors charge man for Tel Aviv tourist’s murder, say he stabbed her 31 times and set fire to apartment

Investigators at the scene of a fire in an apartment in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Israel Police)
Investigators at the scene of a fire in an apartment in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Israel Police)

A man is charged for the murder of a woman who was found dead after an apartment fire on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv last month.

According to the indictment reported by Ynet, Ilana Azgadyan, 36, knew her alleged killer, 33-year-old Daniel Margoshin.

Prosecutors say he entered the apartment from the balcony and stabbed her 31 times while she was in bed. He then allegedly set her body and the apartment on fire, then went to Jerusalem to pray at the Western Wall.

Later that evening he was shot by police near Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station as he attempted to stab officers who had stopped and questioned him as he was covered in blood.

Palestinian opens fire at troops in West Bank, is shot dead — IDF

A Palestinian gunman who opened fire at troops near the West Bank town of Dayr Sharaf was shot dead, the military and medics say.

The IDF says reservists of the 7037th Reserve Battalion operating at an army post near the town fired back at the gunman. According to the Rescuers Without Borders emergency service, he was killed by the gunfire.

The service says two more Palestinians were wounded in the same incident, possibly by the assailant’s gunfire.

No soldiers were hurt, the IDF says. The service says a bullet hit the helmet of one of the troops, but he was unharmed.

IDF says troops captured terrorists who participated in Oct. 7 onslaught, killed dozens of gunmen

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 8, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a photo released by the military for publication on February 8, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says troops of the Commando Brigade captured dozens of suspected terror operatives in western Khan Younis over the past day, including two terrorists who participated in the October 7 onslaught and another member of Hamas’s elite Nukhba force.

Also during the operations in Khan Younis, the IDF says the Maglan commando unit killed two gunmen from close range and then spotted and killed a third operative on the roof of a school.

During a Maglan raid on the home of a Hamas operative, the IDF says troops found an RPG launcher, diving equipment, and ammunition.

Also in Khan Younis, the Paratroopers and Givati brigades killed more than 20 Hamas operatives during an offensive against the terror group’s sites, the IDF says.

Meanwhile, in northern Gaza, the IDF says the 401st Armored Brigade killed at least ten gunmen during several encounters. The troops also called in an airstrike against a Hamas cell that fired missiles at a tank, the IDF says.

Also in northern Gaza, the IDF says the Border Defense Corps’ 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit spotted a cell trying to deliver “technological systems” to Hamas, and struck them with a drone.

In central Gaza, the Nahal Brigade killed several more Hamas operatives over the past day, as well as destroyed Hamas infrastructure, the IDF adds.

Projectiles fired from Lebanon hit Kiryat Shmona; no reports of casualties

A number of projectiles fired from Lebanon hit the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, local authorities say.

No sirens sounded in the city, indicting the projectiles may have been anti-tank missiles and not rockets.

There is no immediate information on damage or casualties in the attack.

Report: Eisenkot says PM won’t make decisions on Gaza, so 60% of aid ends up in Hamas’s hands

Minister Gadi Eisenkot, a war cabinet observer, attends a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, on February 6, 2024 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Minister Gadi Eisenkot, a war cabinet observer, attends a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, on February 6, 2024 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Minister Gadi Eisenkot, an observer in the war cabinet, reportedly attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a faction meeting of his National Unity party, saying the premier was not making decisions on the future of Gaza, to the benefit of Hamas.

“Netanyahu is not deciding who will replace Hamas and this leads to the fact that about 60% of the aid ends up in the hands of Hamas,” Eisenkot said, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

“When a prime minister takes their time and does not make decisions on the important issues, Hamas restores some of its capabilities, returns to the north of the Gaza Strip, and takes over the humanitarian aid,” he said.

“I keep bringing up the issue of distributing humanitarian aid, but there are no results,” he reportedly told the meeting.

The military establishment has warned political leaders that Hamas has begun reestablishing its capabilities for civil governance in parts of northern and central Gaza where some Israeli forces have been withdrawn.

Security sources have told Kan in the past that the government’s refusal to deliberate “the day after” in Gaza was helping create the space for Hamas to restore civil rule in parts of Gaza. The matter has reportedly been raised during at least one meeting of the security cabinet, but no decisions were made.

European official: Antisemitic, anti-Muslim hate crime have ‘exploded’ in EU since Oct. 7

A man walks next to a building the façade of which was covered with Stars of David painted during the night, in the Alesia district of Paris, on October 31, 2023. (VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)
A man walks next to a building the façade of which was covered with Stars of David painted during the night, in the Alesia district of Paris, on October 31, 2023. (VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

Antisemitic and anti-Muslim hate crime have “exploded” in the EU since the devastating October 7 Hamas onslaught and the subsequent war, a European Commission vice president says.

“Many Jews and Muslims living in Europe are fearing for their own safety,” with firebombs being thrown at synagogues, Jewish shops destroyed and swastikas and anti-Muslim “slurs” painted on mosques and homes, Margaritis Schinas tells the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

Online, anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim messages have “exploded,” he says, including slogans calling for Israel’s destruction and Jews to be killed, and for Muslim migrants “to be killed or expelled, and Muslim women raped.”

“This is simply unacceptable,” Schinas says, calling for EU member countries to get behind national and European efforts to stamp out antsemitism and racism.

He also underscores the role of a new EU law cracking down on illegal online content, the Digital Services Act, and increased funding for fact-checkers to help battle antisemitism in social media posts.

Woman found dead in Ashdod apartment; man living with her arrested

A woman was found dead in an apartment in Ashdod, police say.

According to the statement, a man living with her called emergency services to say that the woman was feeling unwell.

The medical team on the scene pronounced her death.

The woman in her 40s was not publicly named.

The man in his 60s was arrested amid the investigation into her death, police say.

He will appear in court later today for a hearing into his detention.

Blinken ‘discussed the benefits of revitalizing the PA’ during meet with Abbas, US says

PLO Secretary General Hussein al-Sheikh, centre, welcomes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)
PLO Secretary General Hussein al-Sheikh, centre, welcomes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “discussed the benefits of revitalizing the Palestinian Authority” during his meeting yesterday with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, the State Department says.

Washington has pushed for major PA reforms in order for it to be able to return to governing Gaza.

Blinken also reiterated US support for more humanitarian aid into Gaza, the US readout says, amid panic in UNRWA over the decisions by Washington and over a dozen other countries to suspend funding due to allegations that 12 staffers participated in the October 7 terror onslaught.

The US has said it will send its funding to other aid agencies if need be, but UNRWA officials warn that they are the only organization currently equipped to distribute aid in Gaza.

“Blinken reiterated the United States’ support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as the best pathway to enduring peace and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” the US readout adds.

Blinken to meet Gantz, Eisenkot, Lapid and hostages’ families on 2nd day of Israel visit

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv on November 3, 2023. (State Department)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv on November 3, 2023. (State Department)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will kick off the second day of his seventh wartime visit to Israel with a 9 a.m. meeting with war cabinet ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot.

An hour later, he will sit down with Opposition chair Yair Lapid, the State Department says.

Biden administration officials have worked to maintain close ties with Gantz and Lapid, as they’ve increasingly buttheads with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the premier’s handling of the war.

At 11:45 a.m., he will hold a meet and greet with US diplomats stationed in Israel.

Blinken said yesterday that he would also be meeting on Thursday with the families of some of the hostages being held in Gaza.

Israel promises some relief to hemorrhaging West Bank economy in covert meet with PA officials

Jamal Hemmou displays old record players in front of his shop in the West Bank city of Nablus, January 17, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)
Jamal Hemmou displays old record players in front of his shop in the West Bank city of Nablus, January 17, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Senior Israeli security officials held a covert meeting with their counterparts from the Palestinian Authority in Tel Aviv on Tuesday to discuss efforts to calm tensions in the West Bank ahead of Ramadan, which begins next month, an Israeli official and a senior diplomat familiar with the matter tell The Times of Israel.

Attending the sit-down were National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and COGAT head Ghassan Alian on the Israeli side and intel chief Majed Faraj and Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh on the PA side.

The sides discussed measures that Israel can take to help address Ramallah’s ongoing economic crisis, intensified by Jerusalem’s withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues; its ban on the return of roughly 150,000 West Bank Palestinian workers to jobs in Israel and the settlements since the October 7 terror onslaught; its wartime ban on Israeli Arabs entering Palestinian cities where many of them shop; and the installation of numerous additional checkpoints throughout the West Bank, which further limit movement and economic activity.

The Israeli officials told their PA counterparts that they would take a number of steps to address the situation, including reducing the number of checkpoints, reducing the number of arrest raids, allowing a subset of several thousand workers above the age of 45 to return to their jobs in Israel and reopening several Palestinian cities to Arab Israelis, the two sources told The Times of Israel.

The sources said the Israeli security officials expressed optimism that the pledged measures would be approved by the government, though they are likely to face pushback from its majority hardline members who have long equated the PA to the Hamas terror group.

As for the still unresolved tax revenue issue, the senior diplomat said the Israeli security officials indicated that Jerusalem would be willing to offer more flexibility on the issue.

Israel has been withholding NIS 275 million ($75 million) in tax revenues that it collects on Ramallah’s behalf. The figure amounts to the sum that the PA typically uses to pay services and employees in Gaza. The Israeli cabinet voted in November to withhold the Gaza portion from the monthly transfer on the grounds that the funds could be funneled to PA-rival Hamas.

PLO Secretary General Hussein al-Sheikh, centre, welcomes US Secretary of State Antony Blinken before his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)

The PA subsequently held talks with the United Arab Emirates and Norway about Abu Dhabi or Oslo offering Ramallah a monthly loan to compensate for the withheld funds, the diplomat told The Times of Israel last month.

However, Israel blocked the PA from advancing with the loan, threatening to withhold the entirety of the tax revenues, which make up the vast majority of the PA’s budget, the diplomat says.

While the Gaza portion of revenues typically makes up $75 million or 25 percent of the monthly transfer, those figures have been far lower since the outbreak of the war, given how the enclave’s economy has grounded to a halt.

The Israeli officials at the Tel Aviv meeting indicated that Jerusalem would be willing to lower the amount of the Gaza revenues it would withhold each month to be proportional to the current economic situation, the diplomat says.

A Palestinian man inspects the damage to a money exchange shop, after a raid by the Israeli army, in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank on December 28, 2023. (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)

While the PA would still be barred from using the tax revenues to pay for services in Gaza. Israel approved a framework last month under which the Gaza portion will be sent to Norway, which will hold onto the funds until far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich authorizes their funneling to the PA. Oslo hasn’t formally accepted the proposal.

In order to pay for Gaza services and employees in the meantime, the PA will use the smaller amount of tax revenues it collects independently in the West Bank, the diplomat says.

The US has blasted Israel’s withholding of the funds, effectively accusing Jerusalem of theft and highlighting that they belong to Ramallah.

However, it backed the framework adopted by the cabinet last month and urged the PA to accept it, even though Ramallah warned that it gave too much authority to Smotrich, who has called for dissolving the PA entirely.

Hillary Clinton: Netanyahu ‘has to go, is not a trustworthy leader’

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2016, file photo, Hillary Clinton pauses while delivering a speech conceding her defeat to Republican Donald Trump after the hard-fought presidential election. The AP reported on Nov.
 10, 2017, that an article claiming Clinton didn't give a concession speech was false. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2016, file photo, Hillary Clinton pauses while delivering a speech conceding her defeat to Republican Donald Trump after the hard-fought presidential election. The AP reported on Nov. 10, 2017, that an article claiming Clinton didn't give a concession speech was false. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton lays into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war and calls for his ouster.

“Netanyahu should go. He is not a trustworthy leader. It was on his watch that the attack happened. He needs to go, and if he’s an obstacle to a ceasefire, if he’s an obstacle to exploring what’s to be done the day after, he absolutely needs to go,” Clinton tells MSNBC’s “Alex Wagner Tonight.”

Asked about US President Joe Biden’s relationship with Netanyahu, the former Democratic presidential candidate and first lady says, “I think Biden has done everything that he could do to number one, respond to the legitimate concerns of the Israeli people following October 7, to ally himself with Israel in the face of a terrorist attack from a terrorist organization.”

“But I think it’s also clear that Biden is doing everything he can to influence Netanyahu.”

Clinton is also pressed on pro-Palestinian protests that have taken over many college campuses in the US, including Columbia University in New York City where she teaches.

“There’s a role for protest, and I think there should be rules set, guardrails set. You have to get a permit to have an event or a march here in New York. I’m not saying it’s easy because it’s not. People who violate the rules have to be held accountable. You can’t have a responsible debate about whatever your point of view is if you’re screaming at each other.”

Clinton defends Israel’s conduct in the war, noting that Hamas started it and that Israel has a right to defend itself within the laws of war.

Protesters at the ‘All out for Palestine’ rally at Columbia University in New York on February 2, 2024. (Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

“Look what Russia has done to Ukraine, destroying hospitals, schools, leveling whole cities, kidnapping children. It’s horrible. When you’re the aggressor, as Hamas was on October 7, or as Russia was in February of 2022, what do you do with an aggressor? You have to stop them,” she says.

“It’s fair to say Hamas cares nothing about the civilians who are being murdered or killed both by Hamas still in Gaza or through military operations by Israel. The Hamas leaders could not be clearer. Hamas is not doing anything to protect Palestinians,” Clinton adds.

Asked about Israel expanding its military operation into the southern Gaza city of Rafah where many Palestinians have fled, Clinton says, “That is horrible.

“We wish there was a ceasefire. If Hamas would agree to a ceasefire, there would be a ceasefire,” she says.

Hamas has, in fact, called for a ceasefire, but is refusing to unconditionally release the remaining 136 hostages or surrender and disarm, as Israel and the US are urging.

33 pro-Palestinians arrested in Chicago for blocking street outside company that sells to Israeli firms

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators block the road outside Woodward MPC in Chicago on February 7, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators block the road outside Woodward MPC in Chicago on February 7, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

NILES, Ill. (AP) — Police in suburban Chicago arrested 33 people Wednesday after they blocked streets for more than six hours outside a company protesters say has a role in the deaths of thousands of civilians in Gaza.

Seven men and 26 women were charged with misdemeanor unlawful assembly following the protest outside Woodward MPC, the Niles Police Department said in a news release. The company’s website says it makes products for the aerospace and industrial markets.

The protesters called on Woodward to cease sales to Israeli security firms.

The 33 protesters were released after being booked, police said, and there were no injuries.

About 100 people participated in the protest, WBBM-TV reported.

A call to Woodward MPC for comment was met with a receptionist saying “We have no comment” before she hung up.

Many of the far-left protesters covered their faces with COVID masks, even though they were outside in an apparent attempt to hide their identities.

Putin says Russia leveraging ties with Hamas political leaders to try and free hostages

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 14, 2023. (Aleksander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual news conference in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 14, 2023. (Aleksander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

President Vladimir Putin told leaders of Russia’s Jewish community that Moscow had achieved “specific results” in diplomatic efforts to free hostages taken captive by Hamas, Russian news agencies reports.

The agency says Putin made the comments at a meeting with Russia’s chief rabbi, Berl Lazar, and the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities, Alexander Boroda. Putin said Russia had made use of its contacts with the political wing of Hamas.

“You know, since the situation became more tense in the Middle East, Russia has been doing everything to help people who became hostages,” Putin is quoted as saying.

“As is known, our foreign ministry worked through the political wing of Hamas and, on the whole, there have been specific results.”

Putin does not elaborate, according to the reported comments, but indeed one of the hostages released in November — dual Russian-Israeli national Roni Krivoi — was framed as a gesture by the terror group to Putin.

Moscow’s efforts, though directed at helping Russian nationals, also sought to help others, the president said.

A Hamas delegation led by Moussa Abu Marzouk (second from L) meets with Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov (second from R) in Moscow on January 19, 2024. (Hamas)

“They include elderly people and their family members who survived the Holocaust,” he is quoted as saying.

“But I know, I understand, that it is vital to carry on with these efforts. And that is what we are doing.”

Russia, which has drawn closer to Israel’s arch-rival Iran since the outbreak of the nearly two-year-old Ukraine conflict, has restated its support for Palestinian statehood and criticized Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip.

Moscow also has said the violence in the Middle East is a reflection of US policy failures in the region.

Putin’s reference to Holocaust survivors comes a day after Russia’s foreign ministry told the Israeli ambassador, Simona Halperin, of its “negative reaction” to her criticisms of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian policy.

Authorities criticized her “unacceptable comments” in an interview with Russian newspaper Kommersant in which she said Lavrov had played down the importance of the Holocaust and that Russia was too friendly with Hamas.

US carried out drone strike in Baghdad that killed Kataeb Hezbollah members — CENTCOM

Civil defense members gather at the site of a burned vehicle targeted by a US drone strike in east Baghdad, Iraq, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Civil defense members gather at the site of a burned vehicle targeted by a US drone strike in east Baghdad, Iraq, February 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The US is responsible for the drone strike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad that killed at least three Kataeb Hezbollah members, one of whom was a high-ranking commander, the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) says.

The commander was “responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on US forces in the region,” CENTCOM says, adding that there are no reports of civilian casualties.

“The United States will continue to take necessary action to protect our people. We will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces’ safety,” it adds.

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