ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Feb. 13: Report says PM dismissed hostage release outline put together by Mossad, Shin Bet, IDF

IDF chief says Gaza achievements ‘very high’ but still a ‘long way to go’ * IDF airs clip of Sinwar with wife, kids in tunnel days after Oct. 7 * Rescued hostages hail special forces

  • This combination of pictures created on February 13, 2024 shows (L to R) CIA Director William Burns, Mossad Director David Barnea, and Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. (AFP)
    This combination of pictures created on February 13, 2024 shows (L to R) CIA Director William Burns, Mossad Director David Barnea, and Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. (AFP)
  • Hamas's Gaza Strip leader Yahya Sinwar in a tunnel in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, October 10, 2023 (IDF Spokesman)
    Hamas's Gaza Strip leader Yahya Sinwar in a tunnel in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, October 10, 2023 (IDF Spokesman)
  • IDF Chief of Staff gives a press conference from the Gaza border, February 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF Chief of Staff gives a press conference from the Gaza border, February 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Rescued hostages Norberto Louis Har, second from left, and Fernando Marman, second from right, appear in a recorded video thanking the troops who saved them in a special IDF operation in Rafah, February 13, 2024. (Screenshot/Channel 12, Used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
    Rescued hostages Norberto Louis Har, second from left, and Fernando Marman, second from right, appear in a recorded video thanking the troops who saved them in a special IDF operation in Rafah, February 13, 2024. (Screenshot/Channel 12, Used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
  • IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on February 13, 2024. (IDF)
    IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on February 13, 2024. (IDF)

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

Cairo meeting on hostage talks ends with ‘keenness to continue consultation,’ Egypt says

Egypt says the meeting with senior officials from the United States, Egypt, Qatar and Israel on hostage talks has ended with “keenness to continue consultation and coordination” on the key issues, according to the country’s state information service.

The meeting focused on a framework hammered out in Paris last month by CIA Director Bill Burns, his Israeli counterpart David Barnea of the Mossad, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who also serves as foreign minister, and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

Barnea and Shin Bet director Ronen Bar attended the meeting, but the Egyptian statement made no mention of Israel.

“The meeting witnessed a review of the developments of the current situation,” according to the announcement, and “confirmed the continued consultation and intensive coordination to achieve the goals of the ceasefire, the protection of civilians and [work toward a] two-state solution, in a manner that enhances efforts to establish security and stability in the region.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi met with Burns and Al-Thani to discuss the potential truce, the release of the hostages and the delivery of more aid into the enclave, Egypt’s state information service says, noting that no breakthrough was made.

PM dismissed hostage release outline put together by Mossad, Shin Bet, IDF — report

The Mossad, together with the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces, put together a new framework for a truce deal to release the hostages that was dismissed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The details of the framework were not reported, but Kan says the proposal was put together by Mossad chief David Barnea, Shin Bet security agency chief Ronen Bar and Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, who is commanding intelligence efforts to find the abductees.

The proposal was discussed with Netanyahu a number of times, according to the report, and was most recently brought up during a preparatory meeting yesterday for the Cairo talks today with CIA head William Burns, head of Egyptian intelligence Abbas Kamel and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

The meeting was meant to resume negotiations on the three-phase hammered out in Paris last month.

Netanyahu rejected the new outline and instructed the trio to head to Cairo to “only listen” to the talks, without presenting new ideas or offering a formal answer to Hamas’s demands, which Netanyahu has termed “delusional.”

Following the conversation with Netanyahu, Alon decided not to attend the meeting in the Egyptian capital and sent his deputy instead.

Netanyahu also sent one of his political aides, Ophir Falk, to the meeting.

Israel has waffled on sending representatives to the Cairo talks this week, but came under US pressure to do so. Top US officials have said that regardless of some of the “nonstarters,” there is space to push for an agreement and that it was Washington’s intention to do so.

In a call on Sunday between US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu, Biden reportedly encouraged the Israeli premier to send a delegation to Cairo to join the talks.

Biden said Monday that the US was pushing for a six-week pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas as a stepping stone toward a longer ceasefire.

A political source told Kan that the problem was and remains “the unreasonable demands of Hamas to stop the war.”

The Palestinian terror group’s demands include a permanent ceasefire, a withdrawal of troops from Gaza, reconstruction of the enclave and some 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, among them terror masterminds, in exchange for the remaining hostages taken on October 7.

Israel has been willing to accept talks based on the original Paris framework from two weeks ago, which reportedly envisions a three-phase humanitarian pause, with 35 to 40 Israeli hostages — women, men older than 60 and those with serious medical conditions — released during the first six-week phase. Israeli soldiers and the bodies of killed hostages would be released in the second and third phases.

Details regarding the latter phases, as well as the number and identities of Palestinian security prisoners who would be released by Israel, were to be discussed in subsequent negotiations if the sides both agreed to the Paris proposal. Other reports presented different versions of the framework, which has not been officially published.

IDF strikes Hezbollah posts in south Lebanon

The IDF says it struck two Hezbollah posts in the south Lebanon towns of Ramyeh and Rachaya al-Foukhar, from which projectiles were fired at Israel.

Earlier today, two rockets were fired from Lebanon at the Mount Dov area, landing in open areas, according to the IDF.

The IDF says it struck the launch sites.

Moody’s downgrades deposit ratings of Israel’s five largest banks

Moody’s Investors Service downgrades the deposit ratings of Israel’s five largest banks and attaches a negative outlook, citing “potential further weakening of the sovereign’s capacity to provide support,” due to the ongoing war with the Hamas terror group.

The US credit ratings agency lowers the long- and short-term deposit ratings of Bank Leumi Le-Israel, Bank Hapoalim, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank Ltd., Israel Discount Bank Ltd., and First International Bank of Israel Ltd. (FIBI), by one notch to A3 from A2.

Moody’s says that the downgrade is “driven by a lower government support uplift incorporated in those ratings because of the downgrade of Israel’s sovereign ratings.”

The action comes after the rating agency on Friday downgraded Israel’s sovereign credit rating by one notch to A2 with a “negative” outlook as the “ongoing military conflict with Hamas, its aftermath and wider consequences materially raise political risk for Israel, as well as weaken its executive and legislative institutions and its fiscal strength, for the foreseeable future.”

The rating agency lowers its outlook on the long-term deposit ratings of the banks to “negative,” citing the “potential for a significantly more negative impact on the economy in the event of an escalation in the ongoing conflict, which could lead to the banks’ standalone fundamentals being impacted more severely than is currently assumed.”

At the same time, Moody’s states that it “continues to assume a very high probability of government support for the five large Israeli banking groups that it rates given their systemic importance and the Israeli government’s long-standing practice of supporting such systemically important banks, in case of need.”

IDF gives tour of Gaza tunnel where Sinwar, family hid with millions in cash

The IDF airs a clip showing troops giving a tour of a tunnel where Yahya Sinwar, his family and other senior Hamas officials hid amid the war.

The video shows that the tunnel has two bathrooms, a stocked kitchen, an area to sleep in and a separate room which the IDF says belongs to Sinwar himself, in which soldiers found a safe with millions of shekels and dollars in cash.

IDF airs footage of Hamas chief Sinwar in Khan Younis tunnel: ‘The hunt will not stop’

Hamas's Gaza Strip leader Yahya Sinwar in a tunnel in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, October 10, 2023 (IDF Spokesman)
Hamas's Gaza Strip leader Yahya Sinwar in a tunnel in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, October 10, 2023 (IDF Spokesman)

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari in a press conference airs footage showing Hamas’s Gaza Strip leader Yahya Sinwar in a tunnel in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis.

He says the video, obtained from a surveillance camera, was filmed on October 10, three days after the October 7 Hamas massacre.

The footage shows a man, Sinwar’s brother Ibrahim, leading the Hamas chief, along with his wife and children, through the tunnel passage.

The surveillance camera footage showed “the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the chief murderer Yahya Sinwar fleeing with his children and one of his wives through the network of tunnels,” he says.

“In the footage, which was taken on October 10, at the beginning of the war, he escaped with his family underground to one of the safe accommodation complexes he had built in advance,” Hagari says.

“We are determined to capture him – and we will capture him.”

“Following searches, we arrived at the compound where he was staying with other senior officials, hiding underground, while the war was going on above him.”

“Senior Hamas officials resided in the compound in good conditions. They have food and bathrooms, along with safes with personal funds of millions of shekels and dollars in cash.”

The tunnel is part of a major network of passages raided by the IDF under a cemetery in the Bani Suheila area of Khan Younis.

Hagari says the tunnels contained “bedrooms of senior Hamas officials and the office of the commander of the Khan Younis Brigade’s Eastern Battalion, from where he directed the attack on October 7.”

Hagari says the network also connects to tunnels where hostages were held, which the IDF published details on in recent weeks.

He says special forces raided another part of the tunnel, tens of meters below ground, where the footage was found.

“One video or another is not what really matters. What is important is the intelligence that will allow us to reach senior Hamas officials and the hostages. The hunt for Sinwar will not stop, until we catch him, dead or alive,” Hagari says.

He also says that earlier this month troops detained close relatives of senior Hamas military commanders and of Sinwar.

He says that among those detained are the father of Rafa’a Salameh, the commander of Hamas’s Rafah Brigade, and the son of Husni Hamdan, another senior Hamas commander.

“In the Shin Bet interrogations, they are providing us with a lot of intelligence,” Hagari says.

Hagari says the IDF was “close to dismantling the military framework of Hamas in Khan Younis. We continue to catch terrorists, interrogate them… and reveal more and more intelligence. The most important thing for us in intelligence is information about the hostages, in order to make decisions and prepare operations such as the rescue operation that we carried out last night.”

Meeting on hostage talks in Cairo ends; Israel delegation on way back

The Israeli delegation is on its way back from Cairo, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office tells The Times of Israel. They met with CIA director William Burns, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and Egyptian officials for talks on a truce framework.

Another official says that the Israeli delegation, led by Mossad head David Barnea and Shin Bet director Ronen Bar, was “there to listen,” and that they did not put a new offer on the table.

Lapid calls on Gantz, Eisenkot to push for ultra-Orthodox draft, vows to oppose IDF plan

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks in Tel Aviv, February 13, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks in Tel Aviv, February 13, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid calls on members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to oppose the government’s recently unveiled military service bill unless steps are taken to ensure “equality of the burden” of national service.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Lapid specifically appeals to National Unity Ministers Gadi Eisenkot and Benny Gantz, both former IDF chief of staffs, to push for the enlistment of the Haredi youth “that the army needs.”

“We need a lot more soldiers. [The army] is too small,” he declares, accusing Netanyahu of raising social benefits for the ultra-Orthodox so that they do not feel any economic pressure to further integrate into Israeli society.

An IDF plan backed by the government would see the amount of time conscripts and reservists serve in the military increased to make up manpower shortages without any concurrent moves to end the de facto exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox.

“We will oppose this law with all of our strength,” Lapid says, calling on “our ultra-Orthodox brothers” to enlist and decrying the “automatic response” of Haredi politicians who claim efforts to enlist yeshiva students come from a place of hatred.

While secular and national religious Israelis have to deal with the hardships of service and mourn their dead, those in the Haredi community do not, he continues, stating that this situation is “not right” and “needs to end.”

Addressing the argument that there is no way to force the ultra-Orthodox to enlist, Lapid argues that “you don’t need tanks in Bnei Brak,” you only need to create economic incentives by linking “rights and obligations.”

Asked how he can overcome the ultra-Orthodox parties’ key position as kingmakers in the coalition, Lapid tells The Times of Israel that “the entire country is changed.”

“We are not the same people that we were before. This is something larger than everyone. And we need to acknowledge the fact that we cannot go on the way it used to be because the challenges we have are different, the army we need is different, therefore we need to draft the Haredim. This is the number one priority now,” he says.

Halevi: If a truce to release hostages is reached, IDF ‘will know how’ to resume fighting afterward

Asked about how the IDF will respond if a truce-for-hostages deal is reached, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi says that if the political echelon decides on a deal, and if this agreement requires halting the fighting, the IDF will “know how to return” to the military campaign to dismantle Hamas when that pause is over.

Halevi also promises to restore security, and residents’ faith in their security, in the communities close to Gaza that were targeted on October 7.

He says the security situation is “far better” today than it was on October 7, and even than it was prior to October 7, and that the major difference is that the enemy is significantly less powerful because the IDF is destroying its capabilities.

“We are building a far safer reality,” says Halevi. Residents of the Gaza envelope area will be able to return with security, he promises.

Israel releases dramatic footage from hostage rescue operation in Rafah

Police release dramatic footage from the hostage rescue operation in southern Gaza’s Rafah early Monday morning.

The headcam video shows officers of the elite Yamam counterterrorism unit breaching into the building where Fernando Marman and Louis Har were being held.

The officers killed three Hamas terrorists guarding the pair and extracted the two hostages.

The two hostages were then taken by the forces in armored vehicles out of Rafah, then put in a military helicopter that brought them to Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan for examination, where both are listed in good condition.

Halevi: Military seeks troops ‘from all parts of Israeli society’

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi says in his press briefing tonight that the military has always sought conscripts and troops “from all parts of Israeli society.”

Regarding plans by the IDF to lengthen the amount of time conscripts and reservists serve in the army, but not force ultra-Orthodox men to be drafted, Halevi says that “in these challenging days, one thing is very clear: everyone should be drafted to protect the home.”

“This is a different period, and what was before needs to be examined a second time. We are now advancing immediate recruitment solutions, to fill our ranks, in light of the continuation of the fighting,” he says.

“The IDF has always sought to bring [troops] into its ranks from all parts of Israeli society. This war illustrates the need to change. We have a historic opportunity to expand the sources of recruitment for the IDF at a time when the necessity is very high,” says Halevi, possibly referring to the ultra-Orthodox and Arab sectors.

“We will know how to produce the solutions and the conditions — the right ones for each population that will join this noble mission,” he says.

IDF chief: Military will work to evacuate Rafah of civilians before offensive

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi in his press conference also says the IDF will work to evacuate civilians from south Gaza’s Rafah before it launches its offensive there.

“We know that it is more difficult for us to fight in an environment where there are over a million people and another 10,000 Hamas operatives,” he says in response to a question.

He says he has appreciation for other countries’ advice on the challenge, but that the IDF has shown that it is capable of targeting enemy forces in such complex environments.

“In previous parts of the war, we sought to isolate the population. We have the capabilities to do it. We did it in Gaza City. We did it in Khan Younis. We did it in the central camps [of Gaza],” Halevi says.

“I am saying here that the residents of Rafah will be allowed to evacuate the area. It is not right for the citizens, for the residents, for the families, to be in the area of ​​fighting. When will it happen? How will it happen? We will decide when the time comes,” he adds.

Halevi says IDF launches special op ‘every week’ to try and save hostages: ‘This time we were successful’

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi says the military did not know for certain that the daring rescue operation in southern Gaza’s Rafah to save two hostages early Monday morning would be successful.

“Every week we carry out special operations, while risking [troops’] lives in complex conditions with great uncertainty, to try and return hostages home. This time we were successful. There were more operations that did not succeed or failed. We will not stop trying, and we will do it with great responsibility,” he says.

Halevi says the rescue operation couldn’t have been carried out without the army’s ground offensive against Hamas.

“If we do not continue to attack Hamas with determination, it will be very difficult to end the war and return the hostages,” he says.

“We are very determined to bring home the 134 hostages. We continue to act wherever there is terror, and we have no intention of stopping. We have more work to complete in areas we have not been to, and also in those we have already visited,” Halevi says.

“We have plans, and we will choose the right time to carry them out, and of course also the right way,” he says, apparently referring to Israel’s expected ground offensive in Rafah.

A screenshot from footage from February 12, 2024, from an APC showing Shayetet 13 commandos asking Fernando Marman (left) and Louis Har (right) about their wellbeing, shortly after they were rescued after being held by Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip since October 7. (Israel Defense Forces)

Halevi says IDF still operating in north Gaza, seeing ‘terror activity nearly every day’ there

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi says troops are still operating in north Gaza and are seeing Hamas activity in that part of the enclave.

Responding to a question by The Times of Israel at his press conference on when Palestinian civilians could return to northern Gaza, after they were evacuated at the beginning of the ground offensive, Halevi says the IDF is still operating there against Hamas.

“It is true that at the beginning of the war, there were about 15,000 Hamas terrorists there. Today it is much less, the vast majority were killed, injured, and their infrastructure destroyed,” Halevi says.

But he warns that there is still Hamas activity in northern Gaza. “We see nearly every day, terror activity that occurs in the northern part of the Strip,” he says.

“From time to time rockets are launched from there, and from time to time, our forces are attacked. We don’t want to create a situation in which the residents of the Gaza Strip mix with the enemy, thus creating danger to their lives. That is why we are still isolating the north of the Strip to prevent danger to the citizens of Gaza,” he says.

“They will return to it when it is safe to return there, when acts of terror are not carried out there,” Halevi says, adding that “we are not just waiting for it to stop, we are the ones working to stop these terror acts. We are attacking the enemy there. We will continue to do it.”

IDF chief: Military achievements in Gaza ‘very high’ but still a ‘long way to go’

IDF Chief of Staff gives a press conference from the Gaza border, February 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff gives a press conference from the Gaza border, February 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi says the military’s achievements amid the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip are higher than it had expected at this stage, but that they are still not enough to complete the campaign’s goals as of yet.

“We have been fighting for about four months and there is still a way to go,” Halevi says in a press conference from the Gaza border.

“The war is changing its face, a difficult and painful beginning, we impeded [Hamas’s attack] at a high price, we came to our senses and launched a high-quality and powerful attack. We will continue it until the goals of the war are completed,” he says.

“In the past decades, there has not been an army that maneuvered in an area that is urban and dense, with high [buildings] and [tunnels] below the surface of the ground. IDF soldiers are dealing with this with great success and the military achievements are extraordinary. Unfortunately, there is also a price in casualties,” Halevi continues.

“We are progressing according to the plan. The achievements so far are higher than what we thought [they would be] at the start,” he says.

“The fighting, we are now continuing in different formations. In the north of the Strip, we return to wherever there is terror, we use the intelligence we find, the interrogations of the many terrorists we captured, and come back for the second and third time to targets, kill more enemies, destroy more terror infrastructures, and deepen the achievement,” Halevi says.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, Halevi says, “We are reaching places that the enemy did not imagine we would reach, destroying all the strategic assets of Hamas in a city that was considered the terror capital of the organization.”

“We have so far eliminated over 10,000 terrorists, including many commanders. This is what it means to dismantle Hamas,” he says.

“The military achievements, as I said, are very high, but between them and the realization of the goals of the war, there is a long way to go,” the army chief says.

“We need to attack the senior [Hamas] leadership, kill more of the enemy’s commanders and its operatives, return the [Gaza border] residents to their homes in safety, and bring all the hostages home,” Halevi says.

Israel denies report it received proposal from France on deal to push Hezbollah from border

An Israeli official denies a report that it received a proposal from France to move Hezbollah back from the northern border and possibly settle the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier.

“Israel has received no proposal,” the official tells The Times of Israel. “There is no change in the northern theater.”

Kirby says US has ‘not seen’ Israel’s plan for Rafah, praises IDF efforts to protect civilians

Speaking at a White House press briefing, National Security spokesman John Kirby says that the US has “not seen what the Israelis are thinking” on a plan to protect civilians in case of an operation in Rafah.

“Any credible plan that could be executable would have to take into account their physical movement, safe movement, as well as proper sustenance for them – food, water, medicine, access to healthcare,” says Kirby, amid US and international warnings to Israel ahead of an expected IDF operation in the Gaza border city.

Kirby, a retired naval officer, praises IDF conduct during the war on Hamas to this stage: “We have seen them take actions, sometimes actions that even I’m not sure our own military would take, in terms of informing civilian populations ahead of operations where to go, where not to go.”

Far-right MK demands leftwing activist be banned from Knesset after alleged ‘violent’ confrontation

Following a heated debate in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, far-right MK Limor Son Har-Melech of the Otzma Yehudit party accuses left-wing activist Moria Shlomot of physical assault and demands that she be banned permanently from the Knesset.

In a letter to Knesset speaker Amir Ohana and Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms Yuval Chen, Har-Melech (Otzma Yehudit) claims that the head of the Parents Against Child Detention NGO chased her outside the committee chamber, pushing her “violently.”

“I will request the immediate release of the videos from the security cameras at the scene so that the matter can be dealt with seriously and to make sure that the activist is permanently removed from the Knesset,” she demands.

“We left the committee and she started to act in a crazy way,” screaming at right-wing activist Shai Glick, Har-Melech claims, telling The Times of Israel that she responded by blaming left-wing activists like Shlomot for October 7.

“So she ran after me and placed a hand ahead of me and simply ran at me, and shouted so much I couldn’t get what she was saying. It was very violent. I thought she was going to hit me, she just pushed me,” the lawmaker alleges.

“She was really yelling at her in a really scary way,” Glick asserts, adding that the altercation was quickly broken up by Knesset ushers.

Shlomot, who was in the Knesset testifying against a proposed measure to allow minors under the age of 14 to be imprisoned on certain terror-related offenses, denies the allegations, stating that she gently tapped the lawmaker to “get her attention.”

“I didn’t push her. I didn’t hit her. There was no attack. It’s all garbage,” she says.

“MK Limor Son Har-Melech accused ‘people like me’ of the massacre, while she sits in the coalition that is responsible for the continuation of the war and the failure to maintain the security of the citizens of the State of Israel,” she says.

Nasrallah says border conflict with Israel will stop when ‘aggression’ in Gaza ends

Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah says the Iran-backed terror group’s cross-border shelling into Israel would only end when Israel’s “aggression” on the Gaza Strip stops.

He appears to deride the proposal delivered by France yesterday, aimed at ending hostilities with Israel and settling the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier, and insists that Hezbollah’s military activity against Israel has “proven to be successful, and has demonstrated Lebanon’s strength.”

Nasrallah says that all the foreign diplomats who have come to Lebanon over the past weeks in an attempt to achieve a negotiated solution to the conflict with Israel “have only one goal: to ensure Israel’s security, and the end of firing towards Israeli territory.”

“They take the Israeli roadmap, word for word, and transmit it to Lebanon,” says Nasrallah in his sixth speech since the start of the war, according to a report in the Lebanese daily L’Orient Today.

The latest proposal was put forward by France last week, and would see a ten-day de-escalation period and the withdrawal of the terror group’s forces behind a 10-kilometer (6-mile) buffer zone from the border with Israel. Hezbollah has rejected formally negotiating a de-escalation until the war in Gaza ends.

Vowing to continue attacks against the Jewish State, Nasrallah says that “all options are on the table.”

“We were hoping that once the ceasefire is declared in Gaza, the attacks would stop in Lebanon. However, [Defense Minister Yoav Gallant] said that this will not be the case, that even if they stop their attacks on Gaza, they will continue to strike Lebanon,” Nasrallah continues, referencing options currently being studied by the IDF to carry out a large-scale operation to dismantle the terror group’s capabilities.

“Gallant said he won’t stop, so don’t stop. We won’t stop either,” he warns, adding that Israel will have to evacuate “millions” of residents, and not just those in the north, if the conflict escalates.

Nasrallah insists that military pressure is an effective strategy, and that security along the border with Israel since the 2006 war has not been guaranteed by Resolution 1701, the UN Security Council decision that ended the 2006 conflict, but rather by Hezbollah’s armed deterrence.

“The enemy is not in a position to impose conditions on Lebanon. I call on Lebanese authorities to add new conditions to 1701 rather than implement it,” he says.

The terror leader urges Lebanese civilians in the border area to remain in their towns and villages, and to ignore calls from inside Lebanon to evacuate before a possible large-scale Israeli operation, describing such calls as “intimidation” and “psychological warfare.”

He asks residents of the border area to deactivate their home security cameras, to prevent Israeli forces from hacking them and monitoring the situation on the streets.

Nasrallah claims that “an overwhelming majority of people in southern Lebanon support the resistance effort, some even being part of it, and this transcends sectarian divides.”

According to UN data, 87,000 people have so far been displaced from southern Lebanon since the outbreak of the war.

Reuters contributed to this report.

IDF hits Hezbollah positions in Lebanon after rocket at Kiryat Shmona injures mom, son

The IDF says it carried out strikes on Hezbollah positions, including buildings where members of the terror group were operating.

Sites hit by fighter jets in the south Lebanon towns of Houla, Qalaat Debba, Yaroun, Meiss al-Jabal, Yarine, and Chihine included several buildngs, observation posts, and other Hezbollah infrastructure, according to the IDF.

Earlier today, another site used by Hezbollah was struck in the town of Ramyeh, and troops also shelled areas in south Lebanon with artillery, the IDF adds.

The strikes come after several Hezbollah rocket and missile attacks today, including a projectile that hit Kiryat Shmona, seriously wounding a mother and son.

Israel obtains video of Hamas leader Sinwar with wife, children in Gaza tunnel

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters during a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions at his office in Gaza City, April 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)
Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters during a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions at his office in Gaza City, April 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

Israel has obtained footage of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in a Gaza tunnel surrounded by his wife and “two or three” of his children, Channel 12 reports without airing the video.

Channel 12 says the footage was taken on October 10, just three days after the October 7 massacre, and obtained early on in the war. Its existence was cleared for publication today.

The footage, according to the report, shows Sinwar and the family members being led by an operative from one tunnel to another under Khan Younis. It shows the operative leading the family through a tunnel with a flashlight, according to the report.

The video of about a minute is from Hamas surveillance footage from the tunnels and was retrieved by IDF troops operating in the Gazan city.

The report says the IDF and the Shin Bet are analyzing the footage and that Israel is considering whether to release the footage.

Sinwar appears healthy, in one piece, carrying a bag and wearing Adidas flip flops, the report says.

Last week, Channel 12 reported that the security establishment believes Sinwar has been “out of contact” for some time, possibly over two weeks, not making any contact with Qatari and Egyptian mediators during that period as talks on a possible truce continue.

Biden hails passage of $95.3b aid package for Ukraine, Israel, urges House to move ‘with urgency’

US President Joe Biden says the Senate passage earlier of a $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan “is critical to advancing America’s national security interests and “will allow the United States to continue our vital work, together with our allies and partners all around the world.”

The bill, he says, will help the US “stand up for Ukraine’s freedom and support its ability to defend itself against Russia’s aggression,” and “provide Israel with what it needs to protect its people against Hamas terrorists.”

“Significantly, this agreement will provide life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people, the vast majority of whom have nothing to do with Hamas,” he says.

“I applaud the bipartisan coalition of Senators who came together to advance this agreement, and I urge the House to move on this with urgency. We cannot afford to wait any longer,” he adds.

‘No words to describe our joy’: Rescued hostages hail the forces who saved them

Rescued hostages Norberto Louis Har, second from left, and Fernando Marman, second from right, appear in a recorded video thanking the troops who saved them in a special IDF operation in Rafah, February 13, 2024. (Screenshot/Channel 12, Used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Rescued hostages Norberto Louis Har, second from left, and Fernando Marman, second from right, appear in a recorded video thanking the troops who saved them in a special IDF operation in Rafah, February 13, 2024. (Screenshot/Channel 12, Used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

The two hostages rescued in a daring overnight IDF operation in Rafah on Monday express their profound gratitude for the special forces that worked to free them, in a recorded message from the hospital aired on Channel 12.

Fernando Simon Marman, 61, and Norberto Louis Har, 70, were rescued in a complex overnight operation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, marking the second successful extraction of captives held by the terror group.

They have been treated at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan and have been listed in stable condition.

Har says he’s thankful for “every hug, every word you said to us… that wrapped us in affection and the feeling that we were home.”

“There are no words to describe the feelings of joy that you have brought us home to our grandchildren and children. We felt our nation in your hands,” he says.

“You called us diamonds, but you are the diamonds in the crown, a thousand thank yous,” Har says.

Marman appears to try to overcome emotion as he says: “I want to thank you. When I saw you, I felt the most safe in the world.”

Har and Marman were taken hostage from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak by Hamas terrorists on October 7, along with Clara Marman, 62, who is Marman’s sister and Har’s partner, their other sister Gabriela Leimberg, 59, and Gabriela’s daughter, Mia Leimberg, 17.

The women and teenager were freed on November 28 as part of the weeklong truce deal that secured the release of 105 of the 253 hostages taken on October 7.

Clara Marman and Gabriela Leimberg appear alongside Har and Marman in the video aired today.

Israel says UNRWA probe mandate into findings of staff participation in Oct. 7 too vague

Israel warns the mandate of an investigation into allegations that UN staff participated in Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attacks was too vague, but said it would cooperate.

Earlier this month, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres announced the creation of an independent panel to assess UNRWA, the UN agency tasked with helping Palestinian refugees.

The embattled agency had come under fire over accusations that 12 of its staff members were involved in the deadliest-ever attack inside Israel on October 7 last year.

“We plan to cooperate with the investigation,” Israeli ambassador Meirav Shahar tells reporters in Geneva.

But she warned that “the mandate as it stands right now is too wide.”

“This is not a mandate that helps to check to ensure how you don’t deploy terrorists in the future, how you don’t have… hundreds of tunnels under UNRWA schools, under their main headquarters.”

“The mandate needs to be more concise,” she says, calling for the probe to also include experts who can look into UNRWA’s counter-terrorism and vetting procedures.

The new independent panel, which will be led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna, is due to begin its two-month investigation on Wednesday.

Israel has called for UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini to step down following claims that a Hamas tunnel had been discovered under its evacuated Gaza City headquarters.

Lazzarini, who briefed member state representatives in Geneva on the situation today, has stressed that his agency had not operated from the compound since October 12, and has said he has no intention to resign.

Earlier today, he called for an independent investigation into both the Hamas tunnels and strikes on more than 150 of the UN agency’s installations in Gaza since the war erupted more than four months ago.

He also warned that dismantling UNRWA, as Israel has called for, would be a “disaster” at a time of crisis in the Palestinian territory.

Tamar Zandberg to head climate policy research center at Ben-Gurion University

Former MK Tamar Zandberg. (Dani Machlis/BGU)
Former MK Tamar Zandberg. (Dani Machlis/BGU)

Former environmental protection minister Tamar Zandberg, an ex-lawmaker and former leader of the Meretz party, has been appointed to head a new National Institute for Climate Policy Research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in southern Israel.

“We saw a real need to translate scientific findings, the result of years of research, into specific policy measures; hence the decision to establish the institute,” says Prof. Yaron Ziv, head of the Goldman Sonnenfeldt School of Sustainability and Climate Change, where the institute will be based.

“I am confident that we can maximize environmental impact while ensuring scientific innovation tailored to the needs of society. Now, the goal is to inform decision-makers about best practices,” he says.

Troops find dozens of Hamas operatives hiding in Khan Younis civilian shelter

Troops of the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade operate in Khan Younis, in a handout image published February 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade operate in Khan Younis, in a handout image published February 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says troops of the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade killed or nabbed dozens of Hamas operatives hiding in a civilian shelter southern Gaza’s Khan Younis.

Troops had established a corridor to allow thousands of Palestinian civilians to evacuated from the shelter, the IDF says.

“The shelter was used by the Hamas terror organization, which cynically exploited the civilian population as a shelter for terror,” it says.

Also amid the brigade’s operations, the IDF says, the reservists raided Hamas sites, uncovered tunnels, and seized weapons and equipment belonging to the terror group.

Yesterday, in the same area as the paratroopers operations, three soldiers of the 630th Battalion, including the battalion commander, were killed by an explosive device in a booby-trapped home.

UNRWA chief decries ‘short-sighted’ calls for closure, says it would be a ‘disaster’ for Gaza

UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini speaks to the press after a briefing to diplomats on the situation in Gaza, at the United Nations Offices in Geneva, on February 13, 2023. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini speaks to the press after a briefing to diplomats on the situation in Gaza, at the United Nations Offices in Geneva, on February 13, 2023. (Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini says calls to dismantle the agency are short-sighted and that terminating its mandate would weaken the world’s ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“I have talked to the member states about all these calls to have UNRWA dismantled, to be terminated. I have warned about the impact, I have said that these calls are short-sighted,” Lazzarini says after meeting member states at the United Nations in Geneva.

Major donors have suspended funding after allegations that 12 of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees took an active part in the October 7 Hamas massacre, and that hundreds have ties to terrorists, in findings revealed late last month.

The accusations are the latest in a long line of Israeli complaints about the UN agency, including that it allows anti-Israeli incitement to be taught in its hundreds of schools and that some of its staff collaborate with Hamas.

UNRWA strongly disputes this.

Prior to the grave allegations, some Israeli authorities had long argued for defunding the agency, saying that its near uniqueness in the world — granting refugee status not just to the first generation of refugees but to their descendants — perpetuated the conflict and a culture of dependence among Palestinians.

The Trump administration suspended funding to the agency in 2018, but US President Joe Biden restored it.

Over the weekend, Israel announced that troops found a subterranean data center for Hamas directly under the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City, complete with an electrical room and living quarters for the Hamas IT staff, and with electricity wiring from UNRWA offices leading directly underground.

The agency claimed it had no idea.

“There is absolutely no other UN agency or international NGOs which have been tasked over the last two decades to provide government-like services like education to hundreds of thousands of children,” Lazzarini says.

Closing UNRWA would not just impact the current humanitarian crisis, he adds. “If we want to give a chance to any future (post-conflict) transition to succeed, we need also to make sure that the international community has the tools, and one of the tools is UNRWA.”

Lazzarini calls for an independent investigation once the conflict between Israel and Hamas is over, looking into the tunnel allegations and the destruction of United Nations premises in the Gaza Strip.

“Maybe after this cataclysm which has hit the region in Gaza, it might be time now to genuinely find a political solution, and it would be a disaster that, just before it, we get rid of… UNRWA,” Lazzarini told reporters.

South Africa seeks World Court intervention to block Israeli offensive against Hamas in Rafah

South Africa once again appeals to the International Court of Justice, requesting that the court consider ordering Israel to refrain from attacking the Gazan city of Rafah.

The IDF is preparing to stage an operation in Rafah to attack four largely intact Hamas battalions situated in the city. Israel believes senior Hamas leaders are also present in Rafah or below it the Hamas tunnel system, along with some of the Israeli hostages the terror group is holding captive.

“The South African Government has made an urgent request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to consider whether the decision announced by Israel to extend its military operations in Rafah, which is the last refuge for surviving people in Gaza, requires that the court uses its power to prevent further imminent breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza,” reads a statement issued by a spokesperson for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The statement says South Africa is concerned that an Israeli military offensive against Rafah “has already led to and will result in further large scale killing, harm and destruction.”

Following an application to the ICJ by South Africa on charges of genocide, the court in January issued interim orders instructing Israel to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza and punish anyone inciting to genocide.

Earlier in January, Ramaphosa met with General Mohamed Dagalo, head of the Sudanese rebel militia Rapid Support Forces, which has been accused by the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor of committing war crimes, including systematic massacres in Darfur, in recent months.

Ramaphosa referred to Dagalo as “His Excellency President Mohamed Dagalo of Sudan” and was pictured shaking his hand and smiling, although the tweet was later deleted.

France announces sanctions against 28 ‘extremist Israeli settlers’

France announces sanctions against 28 Israelis who are accused of committing violent acts against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The “extremist Israeli settlers” are banned from French territory.

“These measures come as violence perpetrated by settlers against the Palestinian population has increased in recent months,” says a statement by the Quai d’Orsay, adding that it is Israel’s responsibility to stop such violence and prosecute the perpetrators.

France also its announces it is working with other European countries to adopt similar sanctions at the EU level.

In December, France’s then-foreign minister Catherine Colonna announced sanctions against some violent Israelis in the West Bank. In Israel earlier this month, current Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné said that “settler violence” in the West Bank must stop.

France’s announcement comes a day after the United Kingdom imposed sanctions on four Israeli nationals. The US slapped unprecedented financial and travel restrictions on Israelis it accused of violence in settlements earlier this month.

Al Jazeera journalist said to report from inside Nir Oz on Oct. 7 wounded in Gaza airstrike

Smoke billows during Israeli airstrikes over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Smoke billows during Israeli airstrikes over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Al Jazeera says two of its journalists have been wounded in an Israeli airstrike near Rafah in the Gaza Strip, with one having to undergo an amputation.

The pan-Arab broadcaster, funded by Qatar, reports the strike and identifies the wounded as cameraman Ahmad Matar and reporter Ismail Abu Omar.

The IDF has no immediate comment. According to unconfirmed Hebrew media reports, Abu Omar filmed from inside Kibbutz Nir Oz during Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

Al Jazeera quotes Dr. Muhammad al-Astal at the European Hospital in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip as saying that Abu Omar had his right foot amputated after suffering severe wounds, including shrapnel to his chest and head. The channel said doctors were trying to stop the bleeding and save his left leg.

Italy says Israeli bombing in Gaza is ‘disproportionate’ response to Oct. 7

Smoke billows during Israeli airstrikes over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Smoke billows during Israeli airstrikes over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani says Israel’s bombing of Gaza, where civilian deaths are rising, is “disproportionate.”

While strongly condemning the Hamas attack of October 7 and defending Israel’s right to defend itself, he tells RAI Radio 1 that “at this point Israel’s reaction against the Palestinian civilian population is disproportionate… there are too many victims who have nothing to do with Hamas.”

Top EU human rights court upholds bans on halal, kosher slaughter in Belgium

The building of the European Court of Human Rights in in Strasbourg, France, March 13, 2012. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)
The building of the European Court of Human Rights in in Strasbourg, France, March 13, 2012. (CC BY-SA Wikimedia commons)

The bans in Belgium on the slaughter of animals without stunning neither interfere with freedom of religion nor constitute discrimination, the European Court of Human Rights rules.

The ruling Tuesday by the tribunal in Strasbourg, France, is on a petition filed by Muslim groups against the bans introduced in 2019 in two out of three Belgian regions. The ruling is final as the Strasbourg court is the highest instance with jurisdiction to review the bans.

Jewish and Muslim groups in Belgium oppose the bans, which they view as an unreasonable infringement on religious freedoms. The bans cite the widespread view that slaughter without stunning is cruel to animals. Advocates of Jewish slaughter, or shechita, argue that when performed correctly, that technique does not result in excessive suffering for animals. Defenders of the Muslim variant, d’biha, argue the same.

Many observant Jews and Muslims do not consume meat that isn’t kosher or halal, respectively. For meat to be labeled as such, the animals from which it is produced must be healthy and conscious when their necks are cut.

Multiple countries in the European Union and beyond have laws limiting or outlawing slaughter without stunning.

“The implied determination of the distorted verdict is that the rights of these citizens to freedom of religion and worship are even less than that of animals,” says Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association.

He warns that the restrictions on Jews practicing their faith, as he defines them, will lead to “serious damage to the fabric of life throughout the continent.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, calls the ruling “a black day for Europe,” adding that “the Jewish and Muslim communities of Europe will continue to fight for religious freedoms and equality,” but “that task is now made all the harder.

Senior Hamas official nabbed in Jenin raid, says Shin Bet

Illustrative - Israeli soldiers check the documents of Palestinian approaching the entrance of the Jenin camp in the West Bank during a raid on December 13, 2023. (MARCO LONGARI/AFP)
Illustrative - Israeli soldiers check the documents of Palestinian approaching the entrance of the Jenin camp in the West Bank during a raid on December 13, 2023. (MARCO LONGARI/AFP)

A senior Hamas official was arrested during an operation in Jenin, according to a joint statement from the IDF, the Israel Police and the Shin Bet.

According to the statement, IDF reservists, Border Police officers and Shin Bet officers have arrested Omar Fayed, one of the heads of Hamas’s military infrastructure, during a joint operation.

Fayed has been involved in a number of recent shooting attacks on IDF soldiers and planning other attacks, the statement says.

Two members of the Israeli security forces were lightly wounded in the operation, the statement says.

Mother and son wounded in rocket attack in serious but stable condition, says hospital

Security forces at the scene where a rocket fired by Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon hit and injured two people in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, February 13, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
Security forces at the scene where a rocket fired by Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon hit and injured two people in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, February 13, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

The victims of the rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona earlier today, a mother and son, are in serious but stable condition according to Rambam Medical Center, where they were brought by helicopter.

Both were conscious upon arrival and none of their injuries are life-threatening, according to Dr. Hani Bachus, head of the hospital’s trauma and emergency department.

The 16-year-old boy suffered a chest injury and has been transferred to the intensive care unit.

His 47-year-old mother has stomach and orthopedic injuries from large pieces of shrapnel and is now in surgery.

Report: Meeting between CIA head, Mossad chief, Qatar PM underway in Egypt

Smoke billows during Israeli airstrikes over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Smoke billows during Israeli airstrikes over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

CIA director William Burns, Mossad chief David Barnea and Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani are meeting now with Egyptian officials in Cairo today “to discuss a truce in Gaza,” Egyptian media report.

Al-Qahera News, which has links to Egyptian intelligence, reports the “quartet meeting” as international pressure grows for a truce between Israel and Hamas. A proposal thrashed out with Israeli negotiators in Paris late last month has gone back and forth between the two sides.

“Hamas and the [other terror] factions are awaiting the outcome of the Cairo meetings, and Hamas is open to discussing any initiative that achieves an end to aggression and war,” a Hamas official tells AFP on condition of anonymity.

Measles cases in Israel climb to 18 after 4 more diagnosed, says Health Ministry

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are seen in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, New York, March 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are seen in a cooler at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, New York, March 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

A limited outbreak of measles in Israel continues to grow with the Health Ministry announcing that four more cases were diagnosed in recent days. In total, 18 people have been found to have the contagious and potentially life-threatening respiratory disease since December 2023.

The first newly detected case involves a tourist from Russia who was at the emergency room at Barzilai Medical Center on February 5 from 8:30 p.m. until February 6 at 1 a.m.

The second is a boy from Holon who returned from Azerbaijan and was in the emergency department of Wolfson Medical Center from February 9 at 5 p.m. until February 10 at 4 a.m.; he’d been vaccinated with one dose of the measles vaccine. The third contracted the disease from another person in the Haifa region who rode Egged bus 12 in Kiryat Yam on February 9, boarding at 12 p.m.

The fourth case is a toddler who was vaccinated with a single dose of the measles vaccine, which is appropriate for their age according to Health Ministry guidelines.

The ministry is carrying out an epidemiological investigation for each detected case. Anyone who suspects they were in proximity to a person with measles should call the ministry at 5400*. If someone develops symptoms, they should isolate themselves and be in touch with a doctor or hospital. The ministry urges Israelis to get the full set of measles vaccine shots.

Close to 2/3 of US Jews feel less safe than they did a year ago, says AJC study

FILE - Columbia students participate in a rally and vigil in support of Israel at the university on October 12, 2023 in New York City. (SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)
FILE - Columbia students participate in a rally and vigil in support of Israel at the university on October 12, 2023 in New York City. (SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

Nearly two-thirds of American Jews feel less secure in the US than they did a year ago, according to a new national survey.

The American Jewish Committee, a prominent advocacy organization, conducted the survey last fall just as the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7. The number of American Jews who say they feel less secure in the US jumped 22% from last year’s survey.

The survey finds a quarter of American Jews say they have been the target of antisemitism in the past year. Almost half of American Jews responding to the survey say they had altered their behavior during the past year to avoid antisemitism – changing what they wore, what they posted online or where they went so other people wouldn’t know they were Jewish.

This year’s primary survey collected data from 1,528 Jewish adults in the US, conducted by the polling firm SSRS, with a margin of error of 3.5%.

Jews between 18 and 29 were more likely to report being the victim of antisemitism. As universities grapple with antisemitism, around a quarter of Jewish college students or recent graduates reported hiding their Jewish identity or refraining from speaking about Israel on campus.

US Senate passes $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arrives at the Capitol in Washington, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer arrives at the Capitol in Washington, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The United States Senate passes a $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, pushing ahead after months of difficult negotiations and amid growing political divisions in the Republican Party over the role of the United States abroad.

The vote comes after a small group of Republicans opposed to the $60 billion for Ukraine held the Senate floor through the night, using the final hours of debate to argue that the US should focus on its own problems before sending more money overseas. But more than a dozen Republicans voted with almost all Democrats to pass the package 70-29, with supporters arguing that abandoning Ukraine could embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin and threaten national security across the globe.

Dollars provided by the legislation would purchase US-made defense equipment, including munitions and air defense systems that authorities say are desperately needed as Russia batters the country. It also includes $8 billion for the government in Kyiv and other assistance.

In addition, the legislation will provide $14 billion for Israel’s war with Hamas, $8 billion for Taiwan and partners in the Indo-Pacific to counter China, and $9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza.

Egyptian official says Cairo meeting to focus on ‘final draft’ of six-week truce deal

People stand around craters caused by Israeli strikes in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
People stand around craters caused by Israeli strikes in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Israel and Hamas are making progress toward a deal that aims to bring about a ceasefire and free hostages held in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the talks, as key meetings continue today between the sides in the Egyptian capital.

A senior Egyptian official says mediators have achieved what he describes as “relatively significant” progress in the negotiations between Israel and Hamas ahead of the scheduled meeting in Cairo today of representatives from Qatar, US and Israel.

The Egyptian official says the meeting will focus on “crafting a final draft” of a six-week ceasefire deal, with guarantees that the parties will continue negotiations toward a permanent ceasefire.

A Western diplomat in the Egyptian capital also says a six-week deal is on the table but cautions that more work is still needed to reach an agreement.

He says the meeting today will be crucial in bridging the remaining gaps to get the two sides to agree on a six-week truce and embark on talks for a final ceasefire deal.

Hamas health ministry says 133 people killed in Gaza in past day, 28,473 overall

Palestinians inspect the damage in the rubble of a building where two hostages were held before being rescued during an operation by Israeli security forces in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinians inspect the damage in the rubble of a building where two hostages were held before being rescued during an operation by Israeli security forces in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says the bodies of 133 people killed in Israeli strikes have been brought to hospitals in the war-wrecked territory over the past day.

Hospitals also received 162 wounded patients, the ministry says.

The fresh fatalities brought the death toll in Gaza to 28,473 since the war began with Hamas’s murderous onslaught on Oct. 7, according to the ministry.

The figure, which can’t be independently verified, doesn’t differentiate between civilians and the 10,000-plus Hamas fighters Israel says it has killed during the fighting in Gaza.

German FM says she is ‘concerned’ about looming IDF operation in Rafah

German Minister of Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock attends a meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (not pictured) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Ammar Awad /Pool Photo via AP)
German Minister of Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock attends a meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (not pictured) in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023. (Ammar Awad /Pool Photo via AP)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says she is very concerned about Israel’s announcement that it is planning a large military offensive in Rafah.

“I am especially concerned about the announcement by the Israeli government of a large ground military operation in Rafah,” she says at a news conference with the Palestinian foreign minister in Berlin. “Of course, it is completely clear that also in Rafah, there is an unbelievably large net of [the] Hamas terrorist organization,” she says, adding that Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorism.

Female IDF fighters tell Knesset they are proud of their contributions to war effort

Brig. Gen. Ella Shedo Shechtman, the IDF's gender affairs adviser, speaks at a Knesset conference on women's heroism on February 13, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Brig. Gen. Ella Shedo Shechtman, the IDF's gender affairs adviser, speaks at a Knesset conference on women's heroism on February 13, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Members of an all-female tank crew that ran down dozens of Hamas terrorists on October 7 are proud of themselves and are eager for further combat operations, Lt. Michal Ohana, an officer in the Caracal mixed-gender light infantry battalion, tells lawmakers.

Testifying in the Knesset at a conference on the topic of “Women’s Heroism in the War,” the 21-year old tanker declares that her soldiers “felt a crazy significance” after the battle, are “proud of themselves” and “want more.”

The soldiers are part of a company of all-women tank operators, which was made permanent in the Israel Defense Forces in 2022 after a two-year pilot program. The company usually operates along the Egyptian border — not in wars or in fighting behind enemy lines.

On the morning of October 7, Ohana and her fellow soldiers left their base at Nitzana and drove north as fast as they could, in tanks and an armored Humvee. In one of a number of highly irregular decisions IDF commanders were forced to make that day, the tanks were given the okay to drive on civilian roads — at speeds far higher than recommended.

Speaking to Channel 12 in November, Ohana recalled how she “saw terrorists everywhere, and I told the driver — just run them down.”

In response, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi declared that their actions had silenced any doubters over the ability of women to be in combat units. Since October 7, the army reports that it has seen a massive spike in female conscripts seeking to join combat units.

Lawmakers and bereaved parents last month demanded an investigation into the IDF’s apparent disregard for the warnings of the female surveillance soldiers tasked with watching the Gaza border in the weeks before the Hamas massacre.

WSJ: Israel presents plan to Egypt to evacuate civilians from Rafah

Palestinians displaced by the Israel air and ground operation in the Gaza Strip take shelter near the border fence with Egypt in Rafah, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
Palestinians displaced by the Israel air and ground operation in the Gaza Strip take shelter near the border fence with Egypt in Rafah, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Israel has drawn up an evacuation plan for civilians along the coast in the Gaza Strip, The Wall Street Journal reports, and has presented it to Egypt in recent days.

According to the WSJ, the plan envisions 15 sites containing 25,000 tents each across Gaza, running from the southern edge of Gaza City south to the Al Mawasi area north of Rafah.

Rafah, a city that sits on the Gaza-Egypt border, is the target of the next IDF offensive, according to Israeli leaders. The US and regional allies have warned about the humanitarian dangers of the IDF moving into the city, in which more than 1 million Gazan refugees are sheltering.

Citing Egyptian officials, the report says that Israel expects the camps, which would include medical facilities, to be funded by the US and Arab partners.

2 wounded in rocket attack brought to Haifa hospital in serious condition

Two people wounded in a rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona from Lebanon have arrived at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, according to the hospital.

According to Magen David Adom, both victims, a 15-year-old boy and a 47-year-old woman, are in serious condition. One was brought by an MDA helicopter and the other by an IDF helicopter.

NYTimes: Tunnel under Al-Shifa Hospital used by Hamas ‘for cover, weapons storage’

Israeli soldiers show the media an underground tunnel found underneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, November 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano, File)
Israeli soldiers show the media an underground tunnel found underneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, November 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano, File)

A report in The New York Times states that a tunnel underneath the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City was used extensively by Hamas for military operations and is nearly twice as long as the IDF has publicly revealed.

According to the report, based on an analysis and reconstruction of a video released by the IDF as well as other evidence, Hamas “used the hospital for cover, stored weapons inside it and maintained a hardened tunnel beneath the complex that was supplied with water, power and air-conditioning.”

Citing “classified Israeli intelligence documents,” the report says the tunnel is at least 700 feet long, extending far beyond the hospital and likely connecting to the larger tunnel network used by Hamas in Gaza City, and that it includes “underground bunkers, living quarters and a room that appeared to be wired for computers and communications equipment.”

Russia says it will ‘support any action’ leading to Gaza truce and hostage release

IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 13, 2024. (IDF)
IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 13, 2024. (IDF)

The Kremlin says, “We are ready to support any action that will lead to the release of the hostages and a ceasefire.

“But,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov continues, “we believe that the actions should be constructive, aimed at a comprehensive solution of the problem within the framework of international law and previously-adopted Security Council resolutions.”

Two people wounded in rocket attack from Lebanon on Kiryat Shmona

Damage where rockets fired from Lebanon into northern Israel hit in Kiryat Shmona. January 11, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
FILE: Damage where rockets fired from Lebanon into northern Israel hit in Kiryat Shmona. January 11, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Two people are being treated by medics following a rocket impact in Kiryat Shmona.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service says both victims are conscious, although initial reports suggest they are in serious condition.

MDA says a 15-year-old boy is in serious condition and a woman aged 47 is moderately wounded, and that it is taking the two victims to a nearby hospital. According to the Kan public broadcaster, the victims are a mother and son.

Sirens had sounded in the northern city following a rocket attack from Lebanon.

Relative of rescued hostage says they never received medications

Louis Har (L) and Fernando Marman after their rescue, at Sheba Medical Center, February 12, 2024. (IDF Spokesperson)
Louis Har (L) and Fernando Marman after their rescue, at Sheba Medical Center, February 12, 2024. (IDF Spokesperson)

Maayan Sigal Koren, the niece of rescued hostage Fernando Marman, says her uncle never received any medication while in captivity, despite a Qatar-brokered deal that was supposed to see this happen.

“We handed over all the medications [they needed] as part of the last medicine deal,” she tells Army Radio, “and according to what they said they never got anything — they were surprised [to hear] that there was any such deal.”

Marman and his brother-in-law Louis Har were rescued in a dramatic IDF operation in Rafah early yesterday morning.

Israel tells EU: ‘Calls to limit Israel’s defense only strengthen Hamas’

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a press conference at the end of an Informal Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, on February 12, 2023. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a press conference at the end of an Informal Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, on February 12, 2023. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz tells EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell that his call to limit military aid to Israel is playing into Hamas’s hands.

“Israel adheres strictly to international laws of war, ensuring the safe movement of civilians in Gaza,” writes Katz to Borrell.

“In stark contrast, Hamas prevents their safe passage. Our commitment to the lives of Gazan civilians is greater than Hamas’s. Calls to limit Israel’s defense only strengthen Hamas. Rest assured, Israel is resolute in its mission to dismantle Hamas.”

Knesset panel grants extra month of secrecy on oil pipeline company; Finance Ministry sought 4 years

The Europe Asia Pipeline Company's oil boom in Eilat, designed to catch any potential oil spill before it leaks more broadly into the sea. (Courtesy EAPC)
The Europe Asia Pipeline Company's oil boom in Eilat, designed to catch any potential oil spill before it leaks more broadly into the sea. (Courtesy EAPC)

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee rejects a Finance Ministry proposal to extend by four years secrecy regulations for a controversial state-owned oil infrastructure conglomerate.

Instead the committee, chaired by Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, grants a one-month extension of the regulations. It remains unclear what will happen next.

More than 380 objections were lodged against the Finance Ministry request. Just over a year ago, the same committee refused to approve a request for a five-year extension, greenlighting a single additional year.

The Europe Asia Pipeline Company — formerly known as the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company — is the best-known of three state companies established by Israel decades ago in a secret partnership with Iran under the shah. It has been operating since 1968.

Until the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the severing of bilateral ties, Israel quietly picked up Iranian oil in Eilat on the Red Sea and transported it overland to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean, from where it could be shipped to Europe. Some of the oil was also used by Israel.

Today, Israel still uses its overland pipes to transport oil between Europe and the Far East. The EAPC has drawn fire for what many environmentalists see as a poor record.

In 2014, it was responsible for Israel’s biggest environmental disaster. Some five million liters of crude oil spilled when a pipeline belonging to the EAPC ruptured, causing significant environmental damage to the Arava desert and Evrona Nature Reserve in the south of the country.

Because of the supposed need for secrecy, the Finance Ministry refuses to explain why the extension of the secrecy regulations is necessary. A spokesperson says:  “Due to the confidentiality of the subject, it is not possible to respond.”

The EAPC would not comment.

Palestinian shot, wounded after attempted West Bank ramming attack, says IDF

Screenshot of a purported attempting ramming attack in the West Bank on February 13, 2024. (Used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Screenshot of a purported attempting ramming attack in the West Bank on February 13, 2024. (Used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

A Palestinian driver who appeared to attempt to run over pedestrians in the West Bank has been shot and arrested by Israeli soldiers, the military says.

The IDF says a knife was also found in the man’s car, and it describes the incident as a terror attack.

Surveillance camera footage shows a silver Skoda Superb accelerating dangerously near a bus station at the Gush Etzion Junction, before fleeing.

The IDF says troops launched a pursuit after the car, opening fire at it. Eventually the driver was stopped near the settlement of Elazar, and a knife was found in his car.

Medics say he was wounded by the gunfire, and has been taken to a hospital for medical treatment.

There are no other injuries in the incident.

Ukraine says Russia is buying Starlink terminals in ‘Arab countries’

This file photo taken on September 25, 2022 shows an antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system donated by the US tech billionaire Elon Musk in Izyum, Kharkiv region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi CHIBA/AFP)
This file photo taken on September 25, 2022 shows an antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system donated by the US tech billionaire Elon Musk in Izyum, Kharkiv region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Yasuyoshi CHIBA/AFP)

Russian forces are buying Starlink internet terminals in “Arab countries” for use on the battlefield, Ukraine’s military intelligence says.

It makes the statement on the Telegram messaging app, where it also posts what it describes as an audio clip of two Russian soldiers discussing plans for such a purchase.

Troops ‘deepening’ control of Khan Younis as gun battles against Hamas continue, says IDF

IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 13, 2024. (IDF)
IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 13, 2024. (IDF)

Dozens of Hamas operatives have been killed by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip over the past day, mostly in the Khan Younis area where much of the fighting is focused, the IDF says in a morning update.

The IDF says the 7th Armored Brigade killed more than 30 Hamas operatives in the western Khan Younis area in the last day, as troops “deepened” their “operational control” of the area.

Also in western Khan Younis, the Paratroopers Brigade spotted and killed two Hamas operatives who tried to move under the guise of a group of civilians, according to the IDF.

It says one of the gunmen aimed a handgun toward an IDF armored vehicle, and the paratroopers immediately opened fire.

In another incident in western Khan Younis, the IDF says the Border Defense Corps’ 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit spotted a number of Hamas operatives moving explosive devices on a motorcycle. The soldiers then called in an airstrike against the cell.

The IDF says it also struck two weapons depots in the homes of Hamas terrorists in the Khan Younis area.

Meanwhile, in central Gaza, the IDF says the Nahal Brigade killed around 10 Hamas operatives over the past day, including a cell spotted while preparing to carry out an anti-tank missile attack.

Australia moves to outlaw doxxing after hundreds of Jews targeted online

Supporters of Israel walk past cardboard cutouts representing Israeli hostages, during a protest outside Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, November 28, 2023. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)
Supporters of Israel walk past cardboard cutouts representing Israeli hostages, during a protest outside Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, November 28, 2023. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

Australia promises new laws to prohibit “doxxing” — the malicious publication of private details online — after hundreds of Jewish Australians had personal information spread across the web.

After details from a WhatsApp group of more than 600 Jewish-Australian academics, artists and others appeared online, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says it is time to act.

The information allegedly included names, social media accounts and photos of members, which were then spread quickly by opponents of the war in Gaza and pro-Palestinian activists.

“The recent targeting of members of the Australian Jewish community through those practices like doxxing was shocking, but sadly, this is far from being an isolated incident,” Dreyfus says in a statement.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says he has asked for legislation to be brought forward as part of a broader reform of privacy laws.

“The idea that in Australia someone should be targeted because of their religion… it’s just completely unacceptable,” he says.

China urges Israel to stop military operation in Rafah ‘as soon as possible’

IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on February 13, 2024. (IDF)
IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on February 13, 2024. (IDF)

China urges Israel to stop its military operation in the south Gazan city of Rafah “as soon as possible,” warning of a “serious humanitarian disaster” there if fighting doesn’t stop.

“China… opposes and condemns actions that harm civilians and violate international law,” a foreign ministry spokesperson says in a statement, adding it urges Israel to “stop its military operation as soon as possible, make every effort to avoid innocent civilian casualties… to prevent a more serious humanitarian disaster in the Rafah area.”

CIA director slated to arrive in Cairo today for renewed hostage talks

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to examine worldwide threats on Capitol Hill in March 8, 2023. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP)
Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing to examine worldwide threats on Capitol Hill in March 8, 2023. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP)

CIA Director William Burns is due in Cairo today for a new round of talks on a Qatari-mediated ceasefire that would temporarily halt fighting in exchange for Hamas freeing hostages.

While weeks of talks have yet to bear fruit, a source close to the negotiations tells AFP that Burns is expected in Egypt for more high-level negotiations. Burns was part of the team that thrashed out a proposed truce in Paris last month which has yet to make headway.

Following US pressure, Israel will reportedly also be sending a delegation to Cairo, which includes Mossad chief David Barnea and Shin Bet director Ronen Bar.

US senator accuses Israel of ‘textbook war crime’ in Gaza Strip

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, in Washington, March 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, in Washington, March 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

US Senator Chris Van Hollen (Democrat-Maryland) accuses Israel of war crimes in its operation in the Gaza Strip during comments on the Senate floor.

“Kids in Gaza are now dying from the deliberate withholding of food,” he says. “That is a war crime. It is a textbook war crime. And that makes those who orchestrate it war criminals.”

“So now the question is what will the United States do?” he continues. “What will we do? What will President Biden do? President Biden must take action in response to what is happening.”

Van Hollen says that “first and foremost the president must demand that the Netanyahu government” allow more aid into Gaza, and until that happens, Biden must cut off all aid to Israel.

Funerals getting underway for 3 US Army soldiers killed in Jordan drone attack

This combination of photos provided by Shawn Sanders, left, and the US Army, center and right, show from left to right, Spc. Kennedy Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett. The three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from Georgia were killed by a drone strike Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border. (Shawn Sanders and US Army via AP)
This combination of photos provided by Shawn Sanders, left, and the US Army, center and right, show from left to right, Spc. Kennedy Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett. The three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from Georgia were killed by a drone strike Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border. (Shawn Sanders and US Army via AP)

Family, friends and military colleagues are gathering in Georgia as funerals begin for three Army Reserve soldiers killed last month in a drone attack on a US base in Jordan.

The first funeral service is scheduled for this morning for Staff Sgt. William Jerome Rivers at a Baptist church in Carrollton, west of Atlanta. The 46-year-old reservist and Pennsylvania native, who is survived by his wife and son in Georgia, served in uniform for more than a decade after enlisting as an electrician. The Army said his overseas deployments included a nine-month tour in Iraq in 2018. His obituary from a local funeral home called him a warm-hearted family man with a “gentle demeanor and a fierce and determined personality.”

A Jan. 28 drone strike on a US military outpost in Jordan killed Rivers as well as Sgt. Kennedy Sanders and Sgt. Breonna Moffett, who all received their ranks in posthumous promotions. They were assigned to the Army Reserve’s 926th Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, based at Fort Moore in west Georgia.

In Waycross, where 24-year-old Sanders worked at a pharmacy and helped coach children’s basketball and soccer teams, residents gathered at a downtown park for a moment of silence shortly after the overseas attack. Her funeral is scheduled Saturday at Ware County Middle School.

Arrangements in Savannah were still pending for Moffett, who turned 23 barely a week before she died. Since then, she has been honored with a ceremony at Windsor Forest High School, where she was a drum major and JROTC cadet before graduating in 2019. A candlelight vigil was held by Moffett’s employer, United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia, where she helped teach cooking and other skills to people with disabilities.

IDF announces deaths of 3 soldiers killed in Gaza fighting; ground op toll climbs to 232

From left: Lt. Col. (res.) Netanel Yaacov Elkouby, 36, Sgt. First Class (res.) Ziv Chen, 27, Maj. (res.) Yair Cohen, 30. (Israel Defense Forces)
From left: Lt. Col. (res.) Netanel Yaacov Elkouby, 36, Sgt. First Class (res.) Ziv Chen, 27, Maj. (res.) Yair Cohen, 30. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF announces the deaths of three reservists, including a senior officer, killed during fighting in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 232.

They are:

Lt. Col. (res.) Netanel Yaacov Elkouby, 36, the commander of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade’s 630th Battalion, from Haifa.

Maj. (res.) Yair Cohen, 30, an acting company commander in the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade’s 630th Battalion, from Ramat Gan.

Sgt. First Class (res.) Ziv Chen, 27, of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade’s 630th Battalion, from Kfar Saba.

Another two soldiers of the 630th Battalion were seriously wounded in the same battle, the IDF adds.

Kremlin says it hopes for Palestinian leader’s visit to Russia

The Kremlin hopes that the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Russia at a time convenient for both sides, Russia’s RIA state news agency reports, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“Abbas has an open invitation. We hope that the visit will take place at a time convenient for both sides,” Peskov says.

RIA says that Abbas had planned to come to Russia in November of last year, but the visit was postponed at the request of the Palestinian side.

Houthis strike cargo ship bound for Iran, causing minor damage

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis fired two missiles on Monday at an Iran-bound cargo ship in the Red Sea, causing minor damage to the vessel but no injuries, US military officials said.

The early morning strikes appeared to be the first time the Houthis have targeted an Iran-bound vessel since starting attacks on international shipping in solidarity with Palestinians over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, triggered by the Palestinian terror group’s October 7 attack.

“Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired two missiles from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the Bab al-Mandeb,” US Central Command says on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Both missiles were launched toward MV Star Iris, a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel transiting the Red Sea carrying corn from Brazil.”

“The ship reports being seaworthy with minor damage and no injuries to the crew,” CentCom officials say on X. “Of note, the MV Star Iris’s destination is Bandar Iman Khomeini, Iran.”

The Houthis military spokesman, Yahya Saree, said in a televised statement the ship was American but maritime-shipping trackers said the Marshall Islands-flagged ship was Greek-owned.

The Star Iris had been transporting a corn cargo from Brazil to Iran, according to CentCom and ship tracking analysis from data and analytics group Kpler.

“The Star Iris, like every Iran-bound bulker, had not diverted away from the Red Sea, perhaps unafraid of attacks from Iran-backed Houthis who could be considered ‘friendly’ given the vessel’s destination,” said Ishan Bhanu, lead agricultural commodities analyst at Kpler.

“At a projected 4.5 million tons for this year, flows from Brazil make for the majority of Iran’s corn imports.”

A regional security official says the attack appeared designed to “show Iran does not control the Houthis and they act independently”, and that the Houthis had informed Tehran in advance.

Houthi militants in Yemen, who control the country’s most populous regions, have repeatedly fired on international commercial ships since mid-November. Their targets have been vessels with commercial ties to the United States, Britain or Israel, shipping and insurance sources say, but they have also targeted others.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

France delivers proposal for Hezbollah withdrawal, border talks for Israel-Lebanon truce

Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, February 8, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
Smoke rises after an Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon, as seen from the Israeli side of the border, February 8, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

France has delivered a written proposal to Beirut aimed at ending hostilities with Israel and settling the disputed Lebanon-Israel frontier, according to a document seen by Reuters that calls for Hezbollah and other groups to withdraw 10 km (6 miles) from the border.

The plan aims to end fighting between the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel at the border. The hostilities have run in parallel to the Gaza war and are fueling concern of a ruinous, all-out confrontation.

The document, the first written proposal brought to Beirut during weeks of Western mediation, was delivered to top Lebanese state officials including Prime Minister Najib Mikati by French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne last week, four senior Lebanese and three French officials say.

The three-step plan envisages a 10-day process of de-escalation ending with the border negotiations.

One French diplomatic source said the proposal had been put to the governments of Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah. France has historical ties with Lebanon. It has 20,000 citizens in the country and some 800 troops as part of a UN peacekeeping force.

“We made proposals. We are in contact with the Americans and it’s important that we bring together all initiatives and build peace,” Sejourne tells a news conference.

The plan proposes Lebanese armed groups and Israel would cease military operations against each other, including Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon.

Since October 8, a day after the October 7 massacre by terror ally Hamas, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in six civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of nine IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 193 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 29 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

Israel has been warning that if Hezbollah does not move back from the northern border in accordance with UN Resolution 1701, it will be forced to take action.

The French document declares the aim of preventing a conflict “that risks spiraling out of control” and enforcing “a potential ceasefire, when the conditions are right” and ultimately envisions negotiations on delineation of the contentious land border between Lebanon and Israel.

Hezbollah rejects formally negotiating a de-escalation until the war in Gaza ends, a position reiterated by a Hezbollah politician in response to questions for this story.

While some details of similar mediation efforts by US Middle East envoy Amos Hochstein have been circulating in recent weeks, the full details of the French written proposal delivered to Lebanon have not previously been reported.

Jordan’s King Abdullah: October 7 attacks cannot be accepted by any Muslim

Jordan's King Abdullah II shakes hands with President Joe Biden in the Cross Hall of the White House, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Jordan's King Abdullah II shakes hands with President Joe Biden in the Cross Hall of the White House, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Jordan’s King Abdullah gives one of his most pointed criticisms of Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught.

“All attacks against innocent civilians, women and children, including those of October 7, cannot be accepted by any Muslim,” he says alongside US President Joe Biden.

“As I have previously stressed, we must make sure the horrors of the past few months since October 7, are never repeated, nor accepted by any human being.”

“We must together, along with Arab partners and the international community, step up efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and immediately start working to create a political horizon that leads to a just and comprehensive peace” on the pre-1967 lines, he says.

“This is the only solution that will guarantee peace and security for the Palestinians and the Israelis as well as the entire region.

Abdullah expresses alarm over ‘continued escalations by extremist settlers in West Bank and East Jerusalem’

Jordan's King Abdullah II, accompanied by President Joe Biden, right, speaks in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Jordan's King Abdullah II, accompanied by President Joe Biden, right, speaks in the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Jordan’s King Abdullah turns to the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, expressing alarm over the roughly 400 Palestinians killed in those areas since October 7.

The vast majority of those Palestinians were killed in clashes or attacks on IDF troops, though some lost their lives during altercations with settlers.

“Continued escalations by extremist settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem’s holy sites and the expansion of illegal settlements will unleash chaos on the entire region,” the Hashemite leader warns, claiming that “the vast majority of Muslim worshippers are not being allowed to enter Al Aqsa Mosque and that Christian churches have also voiced concerns about increasing and unprecedented restrictions and threats.”

“It is also important to stress that the separation of the West Bank and Gaza cannot be accepted,” he says, calling for an end to Israel’s military control over those areas. “Military and security solutions are not the answer. They can never bring peace.”

Standing alongside Biden, Jordan king urges support for UNRWA, whose US funding has been halted

US President Joe Biden arrives with Jordan's King Abdullah II to speak in the Cross Hall of the White House, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
US President Joe Biden arrives with Jordan's King Abdullah II to speak in the Cross Hall of the White House, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Standing alongside the president of the United States, which suspended its funding to UNRWA amid allegations that 12 employees participated in the October 7 terror onslaught, Jordan’s King Abdullah urges continued support for the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees.

“No other UN agency can do what UNRWA is doing, helping the people of Gaza through this humanitarian catastrophe,” he says.

“Its work in other areas of operation, especially in Jordan, where 2.3 million are registered is also vital,” the Hashemite leader said. “It is imperative that UNRWA continues to receive the support it needs to carry out its mandate.”

He appears to take aim at Israel for restricting aid going into Gaza. “Restrictions on vital relief aid and medical items are leading to inhumane conditions.”

Israel says it approves all shipments, save for items that could pose a security risk.

Jordan king: We can’t afford IDF attack on Rafah, which will bring another catastrophe

Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks as President Joe Biden listens in the Cross Hall of the White House, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks as President Joe Biden listens in the Cross Hall of the White House, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Jordan’s King Abdullah begins his post-White House meeting remarks by asserting, “We cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah. It is certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe.”

Israel says it is planning to operate in the southern Gaza city in order to dismantle Hamas’s remaining battalions. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Friday that civilians will be allowed to evacuate first.

Where they will be able to evacuate remains unclear as Israel is opposed to allowing Palestinians to return to the north, which has been largely destroyed, and Egypt is refusing to accept refugees due to fears that Israel will not allow them back into Gaza after the war.

“The situation is already unbearable for over a million people who have been pushed into Rafah since the war started. We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end,” Abdullah says, noting that nearly “100,000 people have been killed, injured or are missing — the majority are women and children — since the war began.

“The potential threat of Palestinian displacement beyond the borders of Gaza and the West Bank is something we view with extreme concern and cannot be allowed,” he adds.

Biden reiterates US opposition to Rafah operation that doesn’t take civilians into account

Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks as President Joe Biden listens in the Cross Hall of the White House, February 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Jordan's King Abdullah II speaks as President Joe Biden listens in the Cross Hall of the White House, February 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Speaking after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah, US President Joe Biden reiterates that no Israeli military operation should move forward in Rafah “without a credible plan for ensuring the safety and support” for the over one million people sheltering there, many after they were already displaced several times by the war.

“We’ve also been clear from the start that we oppose any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza,” Biden reiterates.

He says the US is working to ensure that the Rafah and Kerem Shalom Crossings remain open for humanitarian aid and to get additional crossings open. Last week, the US called for the Erez Crossing to be opened by Israel in order to allow more direct entry of aid ton northern Gaza. Biden also stresses the need for aid workers to be able to safely deliver the assistance throughout Gaza once it enters the Strip, amid repeated concerns from aid agencies that deconfliction mechanisms the IDF has in place are insufficient, leading to many strikes on aid convoys.

Biden hails Jordan’s efforts to deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, pointing to the airdrops the king himself has joined.

Biden: PA must urgently reform so it can effectively deliver for Palestinians

US President Joe Biden arrives with Jordan's King Abdullah II to speak in the Cross Hall of the White House, February 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
US President Joe Biden arrives with Jordan's King Abdullah II to speak in the Cross Hall of the White House, February 12, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“We’re working to create the conditions for lasting peace… with Israeli security guarantees and Palestinian aspirations for their own state fulfilled. I say this as a long lifelong supportive Israel. That’s the only path that guarantees Israel’s security for the long term,” Biden says after meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

“To achieve it, the Palestinians must also seize the opportunity. The Palestinian Authority must urgently reform so it can effectively deliver for the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza,” Biden continues.

“Once Hamas control of Gaza is over. [The PA] must prepare to build a state that accepts peace, does not harbor terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.”

“We’ve started to integrate the region, to bring about peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors, including [a future] Palestinian state. That effort was already underway before October 7 attacks. It’s even more urgent today,” Biden says.

The president goes on to nod at Jordan’s “unique role” as custodian of Jerusalem holy sites.

“It’s difficult times like these that the bonds between nations are more important than ever,” Biden concludes.

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