ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Feb. 3: Hamas says it needs more time as Israel awaits response to hostage deal proposal

Terror group claims it will announce position ‘soon’ * Rockets fired at north, south * Three divisions deployed to Lebanon border, army says

  • Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis kidnapped and held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)
    Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis kidnapped and held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)
  • Illustrative: US Central Command forces alongside UK Armed Forces, and with the support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, conduct strikes on 8 Houthi targets in Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist-controlled areas of Yemen, on January 22, 2024.  (Handout / US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP)
    Illustrative: US Central Command forces alongside UK Armed Forces, and with the support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, conduct strikes on 8 Houthi targets in Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist-controlled areas of Yemen, on January 22, 2024. (Handout / US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP)
  • Protesters hold up banners, flags and placards during an anti-Israel demonstration in London, Feb. 3, 2024  (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
    Protesters hold up banners, flags and placards during an anti-Israel demonstration in London, Feb. 3, 2024 (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
  • Palestinians receive food rations at a donation point at a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
    Palestinians receive food rations at a donation point at a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
  • Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 3, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
    Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on February 3, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Displaced Palestinians in tents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024 (Said KHATIB / AFP)
    Displaced Palestinians in tents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024 (Said KHATIB / AFP)

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

US striking Yemen as response to deadly drone strike expands beyond Iraq and Syria

Illustrative: US Central Command forces alongside UK Armed Forces, and with the support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, conduct strikes on 8 Houthi targets in Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist-controlled areas of Yemen, on January 22, 2024.  (Handout / US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP)
Illustrative: US Central Command forces alongside UK Armed Forces, and with the support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, conduct strikes on 8 Houthi targets in Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist-controlled areas of Yemen, on January 22, 2024. (Handout / US Central Command (CENTCOM) / AFP)

The United States is launching a series of strikes against Iran-linked targets in Yemen on Saturday, three US officials tell Reuters, in what appeared to be a second day of retaliatory operations following a deadly attack on American troops last weekend.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, do not provide further details on the locations being struck, but two of them said there were dozens of targets. Yemeni media reported strikes in Al-Hudaydah and Sanaa.

The United States on Friday carried out strikes in Iraq and Syria against more than 85 targets linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and militias it backs, reportedly killing nearly 40 people.

But while the United States accuses Iran-backed militias of attacking US troops at bases in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have been targeting commercial ships and warships in the Red Sea.

The Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, say their attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians amid Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

The United States has previously carried out more than 10 strikes against Houthi targets in the past several weeks, but they have failed to stop attacks by the group.

Hamas official: We will soon announce position on proposed hostage deal framework

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan speaks during a rally organized by Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan speaks during a rally organized by Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group to express solidarity with the Palestinian people, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, May 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Hamas leaders are reviewing a proposed framework for a hostage deal thrashed out by top officials from Israel, Qatar, Egypt and the United States, but more time was needed to “announce our position,” says Osama Hamdan, a top Hamas official in Lebanon.

He tells a news conference that his movement “has repeatedly said” it was “open to discussing any initiative… putting an end to this barbaric aggression against our Palestinian people.”

But while Hamdan confirms the group had received the truce proposal drafted by mediators in Paris, he says an agreement had not yet been reached and that the plan was missing some details.

“We will announce our position” soon, “based on… our desire to put an end as quickly as possible to the aggression that our people suffer,” he adds.

A Hamas source says the current three-stage truce proposal includes an initial six-week pause in fighting that would see some hostages released for Palestinian prisoners, with potential extensions.

Hamdan, whose terror group demanded a total ceasefire prior to any agreement, also denounced an “Israeli disinformation campaign” aimed at “distorting” Hamas’s position.

Israel has “rejected all initiatives made so far… in order to continue the aggression,” he claims.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the Middle East again tomorrow to press for an agreement, the State Department says.

US conducts strikes in self-defense against six Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles

Houthi fighters stage a rally in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US-led airstrikes on Yemen, in Sanaa, Yemen, January 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)
Houthi fighters stage a rally in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US-led airstrikes on Yemen, in Sanaa, Yemen, January 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)

The US Central Command said on Saturday that US forces conducted strikes in self-defense against six Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.

US forces identified the cruise missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region, the statement added.

Report: Israel responding to charges that US weapons were used in West Bank rights violations

IDF soldiers and settlers at the entrance to the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, June 21, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
IDF soldiers and settlers at the entrance to the West Bank village of Turmus Ayya, June 21, 2023 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

The Biden administration is reportedly demanding that Israel provide explanations regarding a series of allegations that IDF troops used American-provided weapons to carry out human rights violations in the West Bank.

US legislation known as the Leahy Law prevents the US from providing aid to foreign militaries that violate human rights with impunity. The Biden administration has come under increased pressure from progressives to more stringently apply the legislation to Israel, particularly regarding its operations in the West Bank.

After receiving the US request over a month ago for clarification on a series of incidents, Israel has less than two months to provide responses to Washington, the Israel Hayom daily reports.

If the explanations are not found satisfactory, Israel would be at risk of losing US funding for weapons and military supplies used in the West Bank.

Such a decision would be highly unusual and Biden would likely face immense pressure from Israel supporters in both parties not to take such a drastic step.

The IDF’s International Law Department is spearheading efforts to respond to the US requests, Israel Hayom says.

Asked for comment on the report, the Foreign Ministry says that Israel has long cooperated with US requests regarding the Leahy Law, declining to elaborate. A political source tells Israel Hayom that they are not aware of any concrete warning from the Biden administration regarding continued funding for weapons used by the IDF in the West Bank.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem also declined to comment on the specifics mentioned in the Israel Hayom report, sufficing with a statement noting that the Leahy Law is applied to all countries that receive American security assistance in order to ensure that none of it is used to carry out human rights violations.

GOP lawmaker says House panel has drafted $17.6 billion military aid bill for Israel

FILE - Republican Representative Ken Calvert of California speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on April 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FILE - Republican Representative Ken Calvert of California speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on April 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON — US Representative Ken Calvert, a Republican lawmaker from California on the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee, says the panel has drafted a proposal for $17.6 billion in military assistance for Israel.

“The Israeli people are still reeling from the horrors of October 7 when they witnessed the brutal rape, murder and hostage taking of innocent Israeli citizens,” Calvert says in a statement posted on social media. “This bill will ensure Israel has the tools it needs to complete the mission and sends a strong signal to others in the region that the US unequivocally stands with Israel.”

The funding bill, offered by a House Appropriations panel, could come to a vote in the full House sometime next week, Speaker Mike Johnson says in a letter to members.

The Republican-controlled House had previously approved $14.3 billion in new military aid to Israel, but with the requirement that it be paid for by clawing back a chunk of money already targeted for the US Internal Revenue Service.

The Democratic-controlled Senate balked at that provision and is expected to unveil a legislative package that would aid Israel as well as provide more military assistance for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

That same Senate bill is also expected to contain proposals for strengthening security along the southern US border with Mexico.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has taken steps to start debate on that multipronged bill next week, with a first procedural vote no later than Wednesday.

Rocket sirens activated in town near Lebanon border

Incoming rocket sirens sound in Mattat, a town near Israel’s border with Lebanon.

At Tel Aviv rally, former IDF spokesman urges government to back ‘very difficult’ hostage release deal

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, February 3, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Coinciding with anti-government protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the weekly rally urging the release of hostages in Gaza is held at the latter city’s Hostages Square, taking a more partisan tone than previously as organizers push the government to accept a controversial deal for a prisoner swap with Hamas.

Avi Benayahu, a former IDF spokesperson, addresses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition partners directly, accusing them of “abandonment, neglect, arrogance and building up” Hamas. He calls Public Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich “radicals who want to take us toward chaos.”

Benayahu, a longtime critic of Netanyahu, calls on the premier to accept “a very painful, very difficult” deal with Hamas to retrieve the hostages. “Hamas is encircled, it’s not going anywhere,” Benayahu says of a ceasefire, which the terror group is demanding as part of a hostage agreement.

Nearby, several thousand people are protesting against the government on Kaplan Street. Footage from the protests shows police detaining several protesters.

IDF strikes Hezbollah site in southern Lebanon following cross-border attacks

The IDF says it carried out an airstrike on a Hezbollah building in the southern Lebanese village of Taybeh a short while ago.

The army also shelled other areas of Lebanon with artillery throughout the day.

Hezbollah in the last few hours launched projectiles from Lebanon at the Mount Dov area and the communities of Even Menahem and Yir’on, causing no injuries.

The IDF says it is shelling the launch sites.

IDF spokesman: 3 divisions deployed to north, 3,400 Hezbollah sites targeted amid war

An Israeli mobile howitzer gets into position near the border with Lebanon in northern Israel, January 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
An Israeli mobile howitzer gets into position near the border with Lebanon in northern Israel, January 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari in a press conference says the military has deployed three divisions to the northern border amid Hezbollah’s attacks on northern Israel.

He says the IDF has struck more than 150 cells, killing some 200 terror operatives, mostly members of Hezbollah, and targeted more than 3,400 Hezbollah sites since the beginning of the war in Gaza.

The targets include some 120 observation posts, 40 weapons depots, and 40 command centers manned by Hezbollah members, along with more significant sites such as an airstrip used by Hezbollah to launch drones and a weapons depot storing anti-aircraft missiles, Hagari says.

Hagari in his press conference also airs footage of a strike on a Hezbollah cell in southern Syria last month.

He says the IDF is working to “reshape the security reality” on the northern border, so that some 80,000 displaced Israelis by Hezbollah’s attacks can return to their homes.

“We do not choose war as our first option but are certainly ready, and preparing for it all the time, if need be,” Hagari says.

‘To bring them back alive, we have to bring them back now,’ says hostage’s relative at Jerusalem rally

Reut Even-Tov, a relative of one of the hostages held by Hamas, speaks to protesters in Jerusalem calling for hostage deal. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)
Reut Even-Tov, a relative of one of the hostages held by Hamas, speaks to protesters in Jerusalem calling for hostage deal. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Reut Even-Tov, a relative of 79-year-old Hamas hostage Chaim Peri, is speaking at a Jerusalem demonstration calling for a hostage deal.

“In order to bring them back alive, we have to bring them back now. We are in a critical moment,” she says. “There is no picture of victory without the hostages.”

“Rambam wrote in the Mishneh Torah that ensuring the release of hostages comes before services and shelter to the poor,” she says, invoking medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides.

Protesters for hostage deal block Tel Aviv highway with candles reading ‘HELP’

Families of the hostages block the Ayalon Higway on February 3, 2024. (Barak Dor)
Families of the hostages block the Ayalon Higway on February 3, 2024. (Barak Dor)

Protesters have briefly blocked traffic in the Ayalon Highway near Tel Aviv, lighting candles on the gravel in the shape of the words “HELP,” in the latest demonstration of their desperation for the government to do more to save their loved ones being held captive in Gaza.

Israel is reportedly waiting on a response from Hamas to see whether the sides will begin detailed negotiations.

UN Security Council to meet Monday on US strikes in Mideast — sources

Representatives of member countries vote on a resolution regarding Gaza during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)
Representatives of member countries vote on a resolution regarding Gaza during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (AP/Yuki Iwamura)

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Monday afternoon on the US strikes in Iraq and Syria, which were launched in retaliation for the death of three American soldiers, diplomatic sources tell AFP.

The meeting, requested by permanent member Russia, will take place at 4:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Monday, diplomatic sources say, and will discuss the attacks launched by Washington against Iran-backed groups it has accused of attacking US troops in the region.

At Hostages Square rally, organizers counter critics of far-reaching concessions to Hamas

Thousands of protestors join the families of the hostages calling for the immediate release of those still being held in captivity in Gaza in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. (Adar Eyal)
Thousands of protestors join the families of the hostages calling for the immediate release of those still being held in captivity in Gaza in Tel Aviv on February 3, 2024. (Adar Eyal)

Organizers of the weekly rally for the release of the hostages in Gaza push back against critics who warn against what they perceive as excessive concessions in negotiations with Hamas for the hostages’ release.

“There are talks in Paris and we hear critics, over the past 10 days, about the framework of a possible deal,” Sivan Cohen Saban, a co-founder of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, tells the thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square.

To counter those arguments, Cohen Saban said, the Forum has compiled a video of former defense establishment heads advocating prioritizing the hostages’ release.

The compilation, shown on a giant screen on hostages screen, includes former General Security Agency head Yuval Diskin, who says: “I support releasing all the prisoners [for the hostages’ release]”; his successor Dov Argaman, who is seen calling retrieving the hostages “the top mission”; and former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, who says “there is no victory without the hostages.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition is in danger of being toppled if the government goes ahead with a deal offer rumored to include the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, according to threats made last week by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right nationalist.

1,000 protesters march through Jerusalem streets demanding immediate hostage deal

Protesters in Jerusalem calling for the hostages' release march to Paris Square on February 3, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)
Protesters in Jerusalem calling for the hostages' release march to Paris Square on February 3, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Roughly a thousand protesters calling on the government to ensure the speedy release of the hostages held by Hamas are currently marching through Jerusalem, from the President’s Residence to Paris Square.

Marchers are demanding that the government reach an immediate deal to free the 132 hostages who have been in Hamas captivity for 120 days.

At the front of the march, protesters carry long banners reminding the government and its ministers of their responsibility to the hostages.

Although leaders are avoiding chants that demand the government’s resignation, many individuals are carrying signs supporting its removal.

This march is taking place alongside other mass demonstrations across Israel calling for the hostages’ release, including one in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square.

Israel said expecting answer from Hamas in next day or two on whether hostage talks will begin

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

Israel is expecting an answer from Hamas within the next day or two regarding whether the terror group is prepared to launch negotiations on a hostage agreement, Channel 12 reports.

Israel was hoping to receive an answer by today but Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh appears to be dragging his feet. Unconfirmed reports say that he has delayed a trip to Cairo in order to discuss the talks.

Until now, the talks between the sides have been on more general principles and have not gotten into the number of Israeli hostages and Palestinian security prisoners who could be released.

While there were reports earlier this week that the sides were discussing the release of hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian security prisoners, Channel 12 explains that such false proposals were leaked by Israeli officials in order to prepare the public for the kind of price that Israel might have to pay and also give  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the opportunity to come out against the release of thousands of prisoners and thereby appear as if he is taking a harder line.

EU to launch naval mission to protect vessels from Houthis, Borrell says, calling for regional calm

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, January. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks as he arrives for a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, January. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell calls on all parties to avoid further escalation in the Middle East after US strikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria and Iraq.

“Everybody should try to avoid that the situation becomes explosive,” Borrell says at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

The United States launched airstrikes against Iranian forces and allied militias in Iraq and Syria on Friday, with US President Joe Biden vowing more to come in retaliation for a deadly drone attack on an American base in Jordan.

Borrell said the US response was expected after Biden signaled that Washington would hit back.

“Certainly every attack contributes to the escalation, and the ministers have expressed their serious concern for this process,” he says following the meeting.

“We can only call on everybody to understand that at any moment from this series of attacks and counter-attacks, a spark can produce a greater incident.”

Borrell says that in a bid to calm the spiral of violence, the EU would launch a naval mission in the Red Sea this month to help protect international vessels from attacks by Yemen’s Huthis.

Borrell says the mission would be “defensive” and not conduct any attacks on land against the Yemeni rebels.

Turkish intel chief met Hamas chief Haniyeh in Doha — state media

Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MIT) chief Ibrahim Kalin (L) and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. (Collage/AP)
Turkey's National Intelligence Agency (MIT) chief Ibrahim Kalin (L) and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. (Collage/AP)

Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency chief Ibrahim Kalin met Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar’s capital Doha, Turkish state broadcaster TRT says.

Kalin and Haniyeh discussed efforts for a ceasefire in Gaza, the Israeli hostages held in the enclave and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, according to TRT.

‘Racism is not an alternative’: Tens of thousands of Germans protest against far-right AfD party

Demonstrators protest against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party outside the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany on February 3, 2024. (Adam Berry/AFP)
Demonstrators protest against the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party outside the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany on February 3, 2024. (Adam Berry/AFP)

Tens of thousands of people are attending rallies across Germany against the far-right AfD party, the latest in a wave of such protests over the past two weeks.

Nearly 150,000 people have turned out in Berlin according to police, some forming a human chain in front of parliament. Organizers put the figure at 300,000.

Similar protests are taking place in around 200 other cities across the country.

The wave of mobilization against Alternative for Germany (AfD) was sparked by a January 10 report by investigative outlet Correctiv. It revealed that AfD members had discussed the expulsion of immigrants and “non-assimilated citizens” at a meeting with extremists.

The report sent shock waves across Germany at a time when the AfD is soaring in opinion polls, months ahead of three major regional elections in eastern Germany where their support is strongest.

“All together against racism,” the crowd in Berlin shouts. Some held posters that said “Heart instead of hate” or “Racism is not an alternative.”

“I don’t know if these demonstrations will influence AfD voters,” Margret Hurth, a 53-year-old childcare worker, told AFP.

“But it’s important to send a signal, because… we need more humanity and respect for our differences.”

“I came to set an example,” said Martin Raue, a university professor who had come from Sweden to attend the rally. “I was born in Germany.”

The Berlin rally was organized by the “Hand in Hand” collective, which is made up of 1,800 organizations.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hailed the demonstrations in a post early Saturday on X, formerly Twitter.

“Numerous citizens are gathering to demonstrate again this weekend against forgetting, against hate and inciting hate. A strong sign for our democracy and our constitution,” he writes.

Report: IDF was caught off guard by US knowledge of UNRWA allegations

United Nations and Red Crescent workers prepare the aid for distribution to Palestinians at UNRWA warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip, on Oct. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Eslaiah)
United Nations and Red Crescent workers prepare the aid for distribution to Palestinians at UNRWA warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip, on Oct. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Eslaiah)

Military intelligence incriminating 12 UNRWA staffers of involvement in the October 7 terror onslaught reportedly reached US officials without the knowledge of IDF leadership.

Amir Weissbrod, a deputy director general at the Foreign Ministry, brought the intelligence to UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini during a meeting on January 18, The New York Times reports.

Deeming the intelligence credible, Lazzarini flew to New York to meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres before proceeding to fire many of the staffers implicated.

On January 24, UNRWA brought US officials up to speed on what was unfolding, leading Washington to reach out to Jerusalem for more information on the matter.

The request caught military leaders completely off guard, unsure how the intelligence had reached the US. The IDF launched an internal inquiry to determine how the intelligence was leaked.

The IDF’s strategy directorate was concerned that the claims had been circulated without a proper strategy, according to the report.

Many military and government officials — including in the Foreign Ministry — were caught off guard by UNRWA’s announcement as well as subsequent ones by the US and roughly a dozen other countries who said they were suspending their funding to the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees.

Israel has long taken issue with UNRWA, alleging that it is infiltrated and controlled by Hamas, that its facilities are used for terror activity, that its education system incites against Israel and that it perpetuates the refugee crisis.

However, a senior Israeli official briefing The Times of Israel earlier this week clarified that Jerusalem does not support the agency’s immediate dissolution because it is the main organization providing humanitarian aid in Gaza, preventing a humanitarian crisis that would force the IDF to halt its operations against Hamas.

Syrian culture ministry claims US strikes damaged historic site

Footage of US strikes in the Deir Ezzor province of Syria on February 2, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Footage of US strikes in the Deir Ezzor province of Syria on February 2, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Syria’s culture ministry condemns overnight US strikes that local media said damaged a historic site in Deir Ezzor province in the country’s east.

The United States launched the air strikes against Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for a recent drone attack on an American base in Jordan that killed three US soldiers.

Syria’s culture ministry condemns “in the strongest terms the barbaric US bombardment of the Al-Rahba fortress” in eastern Syria’s Mayadeen area.

In a statement on social media, it says the citadel, located along the Euphrates River, dates to the ninth century, without elaborating on the damage the site sustained.

The “blatant” attack violated “all international norms and charters that call for the protection and respect for cultural property,” the ministry added.

Pro-government daily Al-Watan reported antiquities chief Nazir Awad as saying the bombardment late Friday caused cracks and fissures in the fortress walls.

The full extent of the damage had not yet been assessed, Al-Watan cited Awad as saying.

Damascus said earlier Saturday that the overnight strikes killed “a number of civilians and soldiers, wounded others and caused significant damage to public and private property.”

With tensions in the Middle East already running high over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran on Saturday accused Washington of undermining the stability of the region.

Pope Francis condemns ‘terrible increase in attacks against Jews’ worldwide

Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
Pope Francis attends his weekly general audience in the Pope Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

Pope Francis condemns the “terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world” and the rise in antisemitism since October 7.

“We, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world,” the pope writes in a letter addressed to “My Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel” and made public by the Vatican.

Russia calls UN Security Council meeting over US strikes in Iraq and Syria

Russia's United Nations Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya addresses the UN Security Council before a vote on a resolution over the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Russia's United Nations Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya addresses the UN Security Council before a vote on a resolution over the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023 at UN headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Russia on Saturday called an “urgent” UN Security Council meeting over US strikes in Syria and Iraq, its UN representative said.

“We just demanded an urgent sitting of the UN Security Council over the threat to peace and safety created by US strikes on Syria and Iraq,” Moscow’s diplomat at the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, said on social media.

IDF withdraws another reservist brigade from Gaza, replacing it with other troops already in northern Strip

Reservists of the 5th Brigade operate in the northern Gaza Strip, in a handout image released by the IDF on February 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Reservists of the 5th Brigade operate in the northern Gaza Strip, in a handout image released by the IDF on February 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF has withdrawn the 5th Brigade from Gaza and it has been replaced with other forces in the northern part of the Strip, the military says.

Troops of the reserve infantry brigade operated in Gaza City’s Shati camp in recent weeks.

In the last week, the IDF says the 5th Brigade located a tunnel shaft with an elevator beneath a Hamas hideout apartment.

This image released by the IDF on February 3, 2024, shows a tunnel shaft with an elevator in Gaza City’s Shati Camp. (Israel Defense Forces)

The reservists also seized military equipment used by Hamas and intelligence documents, and destroyed weapons, as well as rocket launchers.

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

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

Russian police briefly detain 20 reporters covering protest by wives of soldiers fighting in Ukraine

A Moscow protest of the wives of Russian soldiers against the war in Ukraine on February 3, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
A Moscow protest of the wives of Russian soldiers against the war in Ukraine on February 3, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Russian police have released about 20 reporters, including an AFP journalist, who had been detained at a protest in Moscow by wives of men mobilized to fight in Ukraine.

The women have staged rare protests outside the Kremlin walls for weeks — an uncomfortable movement for the authorities that has so far not been put down.

Police had detained the group of Russian and foreign reporters — all men — and took them to a police station earlier on Saturday.

The group had been arrested outside Red Square as they covered and filmed the women, who are demanding their partners be brought home from Ukraine.

Video footage showed police bringing reporters wearing yellow press vests to police vans.

The reporters, including the AFP journalist, were released several hours later.

The wives of mobilized men have been staging protests outside the Kremlin walls every weekend for weeks, symbolically bringing red flowers to a tomb of an unknown soldier.

While Moscow has orchestrated a huge crackdown on dissent at home, the women’s movement has so far gone unpunished.

The AFP journalist who was detained says around 40 people took part in the protest.

An online livestream posted by the women’s group shows participants walking together through central Moscow.

“We are here as the women who need their husbands,” says one of the women in the livestream.

US strikes on Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria said to kill 39

Footage of US strikes on the Iraq-Syria border on February 2, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Footage of US strikes on the Iraq-Syria border on February 2, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Last night’s US strikes in Iraq and Syria reportedly killed 39 people.

The US says it targeted Iran-backed militias in retaliation for the drone strike in Jordan earlier this week that killed three American soldiers.

In Syria, the strikes killed 23 people who had been guarding the targeted locations, says Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which reports on war in Syria.

The organization, run by a single person, has regularly been accused by Syrian war analysts of false and inaccurate reporting.

Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a state security force including Iran-backed groups, says 16 of its members were killed, including fighters and medics.

An Iraqi government statement says the areas bombed by US aircraft included places where Iraqi security forces are stationed near civilian locations. It says 23 people were wounded in addition to 16 killed.

‘Occupy Blinken’: Far-left activists camp outside secretary’s home to accuse him of Gaza genocide

Far-left demonstrators protest against the war in Gaza outside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's home in Arlington, Virginia on February 1, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Far-left demonstrators protest against the war in Gaza outside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's home in Arlington, Virginia on February 1, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

A group of far-left pro-Palestinian protesters have been camping out outside of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s home for nearly a month in protest of the Biden administration’s continued support for Israel in the war against Hamas.

The group calls its effort “Occupy Blinken,” with roughly 100 people participating over the course of the past several weeks. Some of the far-left activists have been staying the night in tents, braving the cold, but at most times during the day, there are only a dozen people on site.

Signs at the encampment read, “Bloody Blinken lives here,” “Caution: War Criminal Inside,” and “Secretary of genocide.”

In early January, the protesters splashed fake blood on Blinken’s motorcade.

Blinken has gotten the brunt of the far-left protests, but the activists have also targeted the homes of National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in addition to repeatedly heckling US President Joe Biden at public appearances.

US military says it struck 12 UAVs over Red Sea yesterday to secure maritime route

The US-owned ship Genco Picardy, which came under attack on January 17, 2024, from a bomb-carrying drone launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden, on January 18, 2024. (Indian Navy via AP, FIle)
The US-owned ship Genco Picardy, which came under attack on January 17, 2024, from a bomb-carrying drone launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels in the Gulf of Aden, on January 18, 2024. (Indian Navy via AP, FIle)

The US Military’s Central Command says its forces shot down a drone over the Gulf of Aden yesterday and later conducted strikes against four Houthi UAVs that were being readied for launch.

“US forces identified the UAVs in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region. US forces subsequently struck and destroyed the UAVs in self-defense,” says a tweet from CENTCOM.

Later Friday, a US Navy destroyer along with F/A-18s shot down seven more UAVs over the Red Sea.

“These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US Navy vessels and merchant vessels,” CENTCOM says.

Iraq summons US charge d’affaires in protest over airstrikes – state media

Footage of US strikes on the Iraq-Syria border on February 2, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Footage of US strikes on the Iraq-Syria border on February 2, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The Iraqi foreign ministry has summoned the US chargé d’affaires in Baghdad to deliver a formal memorandum of protest over US airstrikes in Iraq against Iran-backed militias, the state news agency INA reports.

The strikes were carried out after the militants launched a drone strike that killed three American soldiers in Jordan earlier this week.

IAF drops ‘newspaper’ on Gaza, calling on residents to ‘wake up’ to Hamas: ‘They destroyed everything’

A "newspaper" dropped by the IAF on Gaza on February 3, 2023 (X, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
A "newspaper" dropped by the IAF on Gaza on February 3, 2023 (X, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

The Israel Air Force has airdropped a “newspaper” for residents of central Gaza called “The Reality,” Hebrew-language media reports, citing Palestinian reports.

The leaflet calls on Gazans to “wake up,” and says that Hamas “kills your children,” the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The pamphlet includes articles on the EU sanctions on Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, the increase in humanitarian aid, and refuting the claims of the terror group’s spokesman.

“They burned the people’s money on tunnels and weapons,” the newspaper says.

“They destroyed everything good, beat you and tortured you, abandoned your families in the streets, and they are hiding in tunnels,” the leaflet says. “Are you silent? All this is just a drop in the ocean. Your future is in your hands.”

IDF says it hit Hezbollah sites in Lebanon amid continued rocket fire toward northern Israel

The IDF says it carried out airstrikes against several Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon today, in response to continued attacks on northern Israel.

A Hezbollah command center, where operatives were gathered, and a nearby rocket launch site used in a recent attack, were hit in the southern Lebanese village of Yaroun, the IDF says.

In Marwahin and Ayta ash-Shab, two Hezbollah observation posts were hit in strikes, the IDF says.

Earlier today, rockets and missiles were fired by Hezbollah at the northern communities of Bar’am and Zar’it, landing in open areas and causing no injuries, according to the IDF.

Hamas says US strikes on Iraq, Syria ‘pour oil on the fire’

Palestinian terror group Hamas condemns overnight US strikes in Iraq and Syria, saying Washington had poured “oil on the fire” in the Middle East.

The US “bears full responsibility for the repercussions of this aggressive attack on Iraq and Syria,” the terror group says in a statement.

“Those who pour oil on the fire, we assure you that the region will not find stability, nor peace until the Zionist [Israeli] aggression, genocidal crimes and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip ceases,” the group says.

The US military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Friday, in the opening salvo of retaliation for the drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan last weekend.

Some of the militias have been a threat to US bases for years, but the groups intensified their assaults in the wake of Israel’s war against Hamas following the October 7 onslaught by the terror group.

Rocket sirens sound in Gaza border communities

Rocket sirens sound in Nir Am and Ein Hashlosha, warning of incoming rocket fire.

The communities close to the Gaza border have been largely evacuated of civilians since October 7.

It is the first rocket fire from the Strip since Tuesday.

Iran condemns US strikes on Tehran-linked targets as ‘violations of Iraqi, Syrian sovereignty’

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani speaks in Tehran, Iran, on August 11, 2022. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani speaks in Tehran, Iran, on August 11, 2022. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

Iran’s foreign ministry condemns overnight US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Tehran-linked targets as “violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the two countries.

In Tehran’s first response to the US strikes, ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani says in a statement that they represent “another adventurous and strategic mistake by the United States that will result only in increased tension in instability in the region.”

The US military launched air strikes against more than 85 targets linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the militias it backs, in retaliation for last weekend’s drone attack in Jordan that killed three US troops.

While the strikes did not target sites inside Iran, they signaled a further escalation of conflict in the Middle East from Israel’s nearly four-month war on Hamas.

Kanaani says the US attacks were designed “to overshadow the Zionist regime’s crimes in Gaza.” He did not indicate if Iran would take any action in response.

He urges the UN Security Council to prevent “illegal and unilateral US attacks in the region.”

Kanaani says “the root cause of tensions and crises in the Middle East is Israel’s occupation and genocide of Palestinians with America’s unlimited support.”

Hamas-run health ministry says Gaza death toll has passed 27,200

People carry the body of a person said to have been killed in an Israeli strike, at the Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 3, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)
People carry the body of a person said to have been killed in an Israeli strike, at the Najjar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 3, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

At least 27,238 Palestinians have been killed and 66,452 have been wounded in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says.

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

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

Iraq says 16 killed, 25 wounded in US strikes on pro-Iran targets

Sixteen people were killed, among them civilians, and 25 injured in overnight US airstrikes on pro-Iran targets in Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s office says.

In a statement, it condemns the strikes as a “new aggression against Iraq’s sovereignty” and denies that they were coordinated by the Baghdad government beforehand with Washington, calling such assertions “lies.”

The presence of the US-led military coalition in the region “has become a reason for threatening security and stability in Iraq and a justification for involving Iraq in regional and international conflicts,” the statement adds.

The US military launched an air assault on dozens of sites in Iraq and Syria used by Iranian-backed militias and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in the opening salvo of retaliation for the drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan last weekend.

Syria’s foreign ministry: US airstrikes fueling conflict in ‘very dangerous way’

Syria’s foreign ministry condemns overnight retaliatory US airstrikes against more than 85 targets in Syria and Iraq linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the militias it backs.

“What [the US] committed has served to fuel conflict in the Middle East in a very dangerous way,” Damascus’ foreign ministry says in a statement.

UK calls US a ‘steadfast’ ally after strikes on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria

Britain calls the US its “steadfast” ally and says it supports Washington’s right to respond to attacks, after the US military launched airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Iran-linked targets in the opening salvo of retaliation for the drone strike that killed three US troops in Jordan last weekend.

“The UK and US are steadfast allies. We wouldn’t comment on their operations, but we support their right to respond to attacks,” a British government spokesperson says in a statement.

“We have long condemned Iran’s destabilizing activity throughout the region, including its political, financial and military support to a number of militant groups.”

UAE allocates $5 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza reconstruction efforts

Illustrative: A boy carries a sack bearing the logo of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the Nuseirat camp in the Gaza Strip. (Anas Baba/AFP)
Illustrative: A boy carries a sack bearing the logo of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the Nuseirat camp in the Gaza Strip. (Anas Baba/AFP)

The United Arab Emirates has allocated $5 million in support of the efforts of chief United Nations Coordinator for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) Sigrid Kaag toward the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, state news agency WAM reports.

Some 16 countries have suspended funding for UNRWA over allegations a dozen of its staff participated in Hamas’ October 7 onslaught in southern Israel.

A dossier purportedly disseminated by Israel alleges that 12 employees of the UN agency took part in the deadly assault in which terrorists murdered close to 1,200 Israelis and took another 253 captive in Gaza. The allegations claim that one of the 12 men implicated was a UNRWA teacher accused of being armed with an anti-tank missile, while another teacher had been accused of filming a hostage being taken captive on October 7.

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

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

Polish foreign minister: ‘Iran’s proxies played with fire, now it’s burning them’

Radek Sikorski speaks to The Associated Press in Warsaw, Poland, on May 16, 2016  (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)
Radek Sikorski speaks to The Associated Press in Warsaw, Poland, on May 16, 2016 (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

Poland says that US retaliatory strikes on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria were the result of Iranian proxies “playing with fire.”

“Iran’s proxies have played with fire for months and years, and it’s now burning them,” Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski tells reporters as he arrives for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Police say man shot and killed by civil defense squad in south after pulling knife on member

A man was shot dead by a member of the civil defense force of a kibbutz in the south, police say.

Three men were spotted climbing over the perimeter fence of Retamim, and were detained by the security team.

While they were being questioned, police say that one of the suspects gestured for a member of the security team to come closer to him, at which point he tore off his hand restraints and pulled a knife from his pocket.

The security guard shot the suspect. The man was later pronounced dead by the team at the Soroka Medical Center.

The three suspects were from Bir Hadaj and the Bedouin community at Ne’ot Hovav.

Police say they believe the infiltration into the community by the three men was a criminal act, rather than terror.

IDF says troops killed dozens of Hamas fighters, destroyed anti-tank missile launchers

Israeli troops and tanks are stationed along the border with the Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Israeli troops and tanks are stationed along the border with the Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces says dozens of Hamas operatives were killed by troops during fighting across the Gaza Strip in the last 24 hours.

In northern and central Gaza, the Nahal Infantry Brigade and 401st Armored Brigade killed dozens of Hamas gunmen during raids, and destroyed several anti-tank missile launchers, the IDF says.

Troops also raided a Hamas office where they found military equipment, weapons and documents belonging to the terror group.

In one incident in Gaza City’s Shati camp, the IDF says soldiers of the 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit spotted several Hamas operatives transporting weapons in sacks. The soldiers called in an airstrike, killing the cell, according to the IDF.

Meanwhile, in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, the IDF says the Givati Infantry Brigade killed some 20 gunmen over the past day, during several encounters.

The Paratroopers Brigade, also operating in Khan Younis, killed several more Hamas gunmen during raids in the western part of the city, the IDF says.

Also in Khan Younis, the IDF says fighter jets carried out strikes on a Hamas site, where a tunnel shaft and a weapons depot were located.

The military also says that troops raided a building in Khan Younis where they found a cache of weaponry, including RPGs, grenades and military equipment, including scuba diving gear.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Man shot and killed in Yarka

Police say a man was shot and killed in the northern village Yarka.

The man, in his 40s, was not immediately publicly named.

The Ynet news site says the man was killed as he opened up his restaurant.

Two hundred and forty-four Arabs were killed in Israel in violent criminal circumstances last year, over twice as many as in 2022.

Many Arab Israeli community leaders put the blame on the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars and violence against women.

The communities have also suffered from years of neglect by state authorities. More than half of Arab Israelis live below the poverty line, and their cities and towns often have crumbling infrastructure and poor public services. The minister in charge of police, Itamar Ben Gvir, has a long history of incendiary comments and stances against Israeli Arabs, and the community’s leaders have argued that his policies have only intensified the epidemic of violence over the last year.

For their part, authorities have blamed burgeoning organized crime and the proliferation of weaponry, while some have pointed to a failure by communities to cooperate with law enforcement to root out criminals.

Ex-IDF spokesman: Israeli military dug up graves in Gaza to search for hostages’ bodies

Palestinians inspect damaged graves following an Israeli raid over a cemetery in the Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)
Palestinians inspect damaged graves following an Israeli raid over a cemetery in the Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

A former Israel Defense Forces spokesman says that soldiers have dug up some graves in Gaza in order to confirm that the bodies of hostages were not buried there.

“They are looking for the bodies of Israeli hostages in the graveyards. They have been opening areas where there are fresh graves in order to look for bodies of Israeli hostages,” Jonathan Conricus tells CNN.

Conricus was not speaking to the outlet in his capacity as a military spokesman, but instead as a Middle East expert.

“That is how low Israeli troops have to go in order to try to find Israeli hostages. There are still 136 hostages in Gaza. Some of them, probably half, are presumed dead and it is the job of the IDF to find live hostages, and if not possible, then dead,” he says.

“Even in [Gaza’s] Shifa Hospital, Israeli troops had to go into the morgue and look for Israeli bodies because there was intelligence suggesting Hamas had taken Israelis and kept them at the Shifa Hosptial in storage. So we had to go in and do DNA testing,” he says.

“That is what is necessary when you deal with an enemy like Hamas. When they go so low to barter with bodies and deal in bodies, then at the end of the day, the IDF needs to get them back,” he says.

“These people need to be buried, and they need to be buried properly back home. And even if it means bad optics, Israel has the obligation to do so,” Conricus says.

In addition to the search for hostages’ bodies, the military has said that it found at least one Hamas attack tunnel underneath a Gaza cemetery.

UN’s Guterres meets with Qatar PM to discuss UNRWA funding, humanitarian pause, hostage deal

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

The United Nations chief discussed efforts to end Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, release the hostages and ensure support for humanitarian operations with Qatar’s prime minister, the UN spokesman says.

The meeting between Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani took place as the US, Qatar, Egypt and others are negotiating a possible new humanitarian pause and hostage release – and as 16 countries have suspended funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees known as UNRWA over allegations a dozen of its staff participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 onslaught in southern Israel.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric responded when asked whether the Qatari prime minister offered any new funding for UNRWA: “I think the issue of humanitarian funding was discussed in a very positive atmosphere and I will leave it at that.”

A dossier purportedly disseminated by Israel alleges that 12 employees of the UN agency took part in the deadly assault in which terrorists murdered close to 1,200 Israelis and took another 253 captive in Gaza. The allegations claim that one of the 12 men implicated was an UNRWA teacher accused of being armed with an anti-tank missile, while another teacher had been accused of filming a hostage being taken captive on October 7.

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

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

Harvard alumni backed by billionaires fail to make cut for board ballot

Billionaire investor Bill Ackman, who led a campaign criticizing Harvard University as it has been rocked by turmoil over practices related to antisemitism, plagiarism and financial management, on Friday failed in a bid to get four candidates on the ballot for a governing board of the Ivy League school.

One other candidate backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also failed to win a place on the ballot for Harvard’s board of overseers.

The two men, who acted independently, threw support behind the candidates after Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned last month amid criticism of her handling of antisemitism on campus in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, and claims of plagiarism in her earlier academic career.

Gay and Harvard have denied the allegations. Gay, who was Harvard’s first Black president, said in a statement at the time that stepping down was in the best interest of the Ivy League school given the controversy.

US strikes in Iraq, Syria took 30 minutes, were ‘successful,’ says White House

American strikes against Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria on Friday took place over 30 minutes and were apparently successful, the White House says.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby tells journalists that aircraft including B-1 bombers launched from the United States took part, carrying more than 125 precision-guided munitions.

He says “there will be additional responses that we will take.”

The strikes were in response to last week’s deadly drone strike against US troops in Jordan, killing three US soldiers, in an attack blamed on an Iran-backed terror group in Iraq.

“We are not looking for a war with Iran,” Kirby says, adding that there has been “no communications” with Iran since the attack last weekend.

Baghdad says US strikes hit border areas, condemns ‘violation of Iraqi sovereignty’

US air strikes were launched at Iraqi border areas, the Iraqi military says, warning that the attacks could ignite instability in the region.

“These airstrikes constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, and pose a threat that could lead Iraq and the region into dire consequences,” Iraqi military spokesman Yahya Rasool says in a statement.

Biden: US strikes to ‘continue at times and places of our choosing’

US President Joe Biden says the US response to the drone attack last weekend in Jordan that killed 3 US soldiers “will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

The US began carrying out strikes in Iraq and Syria a short time ago, almost a week after the deadly attack blamed on an Iran-backed militia group.

In his statement, Biden says the US “does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

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