ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Feb. 4: In Israel, US envoy said to report progress in talks to push Hezbollah back from border

Amos Hochstein meets with Gallant * Netanyahu says Israel ‘will not agree to every deal, and not at any price’ * Soldier killed in south Gaza, raising IDF toll to 225

  • Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and military officials meet with US envoy Amos Hochstein (L) in Tel Aviv, February 4, 2024. (Defense Ministry)
    Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and military officials meet with US envoy Amos Hochstein (L) in Tel Aviv, February 4, 2024. (Defense Ministry)
  • Soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in an image published February 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in an image published February 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 4, 2024. (IDF)
    IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 4, 2024. (IDF)
  • In this photo released by the US military's Central Command on February 3, 2024, US Central Command forces stand next to a fighter jet on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier as strikes are carried out against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)
    In this photo released by the US military's Central Command on February 3, 2024, US Central Command forces stand next to a fighter jet on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier as strikes are carried out against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)
  • Sgt. First Class (res.) Shimon Yehoshua Asulin (IDF)
    Sgt. First Class (res.) Shimon Yehoshua Asulin (IDF)
  • IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 4, 2024. (IDF)
    IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 4, 2024. (IDF)
  • A clip from Houthi propaganda footage showing a raid on an "Israeli base" and a soldier being taken captive, which aired February 4, 2024. (Screen capture: X)
    A clip from Houthi propaganda footage showing a raid on an "Israeli base" and a soldier being taken captive, which aired February 4, 2024. (Screen capture: X)

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

El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele claims reelection victory with 85% of votes

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele, who is seeking re-election, waves to supporters after voting in general elections in San Salvador, El Salvador, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP/Salvador Melendez)
El Salvador President Nayib Bukele, who is seeking re-election, waves to supporters after voting in general elections in San Salvador, El Salvador, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (AP/Salvador Melendez)

El Salvador’s gang-busting President Nayib Bukele claimed to have won reelection with more than 85 percent of votes cast Sunday.

“According to our numbers we have won the presidential election with more than 85 percent of votes,” he announces on X, formerly Twitter, followed minutes later with massive fireworks in the capital San Salvador.

Israel eliminated from Davis Cup finals with 4-0 loss to Czech Republic

Argentina, Belgium, the Czech Republic and France wrapped up victories today in the Davis Cup finals, beating Kazakhstan, Croatia, Israel, and Taiwan, respectively, in the premier world championship tournament for men’s tennis.

The Czech Republic team trounced Israel with a 4-0 victory.

The Israeli doubles pairing of Daniel Cukierman and Edan Leshem had to retire from their match against Tomas Machac and Adam Pavlasek.

Cukierman pulled up with a hamstring injury in the third game and had to give up a few games later despite trying to continue.

“From the beginning, we played really well,” says Machac. “I would like to wish Dani a speedy recovery. This kind of ending is not nice.”

Slovakia, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Brazil, USA and Canada also qualified over the weekend.

Defending champions Italy and last year’s runners-up Australia, as well as Britain and Spain, have advanced automatically to the finals.

Biden urges swift passage of bipartisan bill to tighten borders, aid Israel and Ukraine

US President Joe Biden is urging senators to vote for the bipartisan national security deal unveiled by the Senate tonight.

The $118 billion package pairs border enforcement policy with wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies.

The agreement, says Biden, “will make our country safer, make our border more secure, treat people fairly and humanely while preserving legal immigration, consistent with our values as a nation.”

The deal will allow the US “to continue our vital work, together with partners all around the world, to stand up for Ukraine’s freedom and support its ability to defend itself against Russia’s aggression,” says the president in a statement. “If we don’t stop Putin’s appetite for power and control in Ukraine, he won’t limit himself to just Ukraine and the costs for America will rise,” he added.

The agreement “also provides Israel what they need to protect their people and defend itself against Hamas terrorists,” and “life-saving humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people.”

“I urge Congress to come together and swiftly pass this bipartisan agreement. Get it to my desk so I can sign it into law immediately,” he urges.

US senators release $118b package that pairs border policies with aid for Israel, Ukraine

Senators released a highly anticipated $118 billion package that pairs border enforcement policy with wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and other US allies, setting off a long-shot effort to push the bill through heavy skepticism from Republicans, including House Speaker Mike Johnson.

The proposal is the best chance for US President Joe Biden to resupply Ukraine with wartime aid — a major foreign policy goal that is shared with both the Senate’s top Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and top Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell. The Senate was expected this week to hold a key test vote on the legislation, but it faces a wall of opposition from conservatives.

With Congress stalled on approving $60 billion in Ukraine aid, the US has halted shipments of ammunition and missiles to Kyiv, leaving Ukrainian soldiers outgunned as they try to beat back Russia’s invasion.

The new bill would also invest in US defense manufacturing, send $14 billion in military aid to Israel, steer nearly $5 billion to allies in the Asia-Pacific, and provide humanitarian assistance to civilians caught in conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza.

Johnson, who is resistant to the Senate package, indicated Saturday that the House will vote on a separate package of $17.6 billion of military aid for Israel — a move that allows House Republicans to show support for Israel apart from the Senate deal.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Polls close in El Salvador with incumbent Nayib Bukele set for victory

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele delivers a speech after casting his vote in San Salvador on February 4, 2024. (Marvin RECINOS / AFP)
Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele delivers a speech after casting his vote in San Salvador on February 4, 2024. (Marvin RECINOS / AFP)

Polls closed in El Salvador after 10 hours of voting Sunday with incumbent President Nayib Bukele’s victory all but confirmed thanks to his no-holds-barred war on gangs that has slashed homicide rates in a violence-weary nation.

Bukele, who has Palestinian ancestry, holds approval ratings hovering around 90 percent, polls as Latin America’s most popular leader and is expected to expand his hold over the legislative assembly.

Biden said to have called Netanyahu a ‘bad f*cking guy’; White House denies claim

President Joe Biden is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Joe Biden is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

US President Joe Biden is said to have called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “bad f*cking guy,” according to people who have spoken with the president and who were cited in a Politico report today.

The report cites White House officials on events surrounding Biden’s support for Israel in the war against Hamas and the political backlash with some in his party and among voters.

Politico reported that Biden has grown suspicious of Netanyahu as the war, triggered by Hamas’s October 7 massacre, enters its fifth month, and has privately called him a “bad f*cking guy.”

Andrew Bates, Biden’s spokesperson, told Politico “the president did not say that, nor would he,” noting the two leaders’ “decades-long relationship that is respectful in public and in private.”

IDF hits Hezbollah targets in south Lebanon airstrikes

The IDF says it carried out new airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon a short while ago.

The sites hit by fighter jets in the southern Lebanese village of Yaroun included a Hezbollah command center and another building used by the terror group, according to the IDF.

The IDF says it also struck a Hezbollah observation post in Maroun al-Ras.

Biden condemns anti-Arab hate after WSJ opinion piece calls Dearborn ‘jihad capital’

President Joe Biden denounces anti-Arab rhetoric in response to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece targeting Dearborn, Michigan, that the mayor called “bigoted” and “Islamophobic.”

The WSJ published the piece on Friday, headlined as “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital,” suggesting the city’s residents, including religious leaders and politicians, supported Hamas and extremism.

Biden, while not referring directly to the WSJ or the article’s author, says on social media platform X it is wrong to blame “a group of people based on the words of a small few.”

“That’s exactly what can lead to Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate, and it shouldn’t happen to the residents of Dearborn – or any American town,” Biden says.

The city has one of the highest percentages of Arab Americans among US cities, with census figures showing it is about 54 percent Arab American.

London rally calls for release of women being held by Hamas

Protesters hold placards and wave Israeli flags as they take part in a demonstration, 'Rape is NOT resistance,'  outside BBC headquarters, in London, on February 4, 2024. (HENRY NICHOLLS/ AFP)
Protesters hold placards and wave Israeli flags as they take part in a demonstration, 'Rape is NOT resistance,' outside BBC headquarters, in London, on February 4, 2024. (HENRY NICHOLLS/ AFP)

Several dozen people rally in London to draw attention to women still being held hostage by Hamas and to the issue of sexual violence.

According to Jerusalem deputy mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, between 17 and 20 women and girls are still being held by the group after its October 7 attack on Israel.

“All we know is that every day that they remain in captivity, their condition gets worse and there’s less of a chance that they’ll come out,” she says.

She says she has met mothers of captives who fear that, after 18 weeks, some may be pregnant from rapes they might have been subject to.

“We need to get them out now so that we can do something about it,” she says.

Banners saying that “rape is not resistance” are waved at the rally, and some protesters wear sweatpants with stains between their legs.

The march is held near the offices of the BBC, which the organizers of the march feel has not done enough to cover alleged sexual violence during Hamas’s rampage.

EU top diplomat says defunding UN Palestinian agency dangerous

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, right, speaks with Belgium's Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, January 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, right, speaks with Belgium's Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib during a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels, January 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The European Union’s top diplomat says cutting funds to UNRWA would put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk, despite allegations that some of the UN Palestinian refugee agency’s staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

A string of countries, including the United States, Britain, and Italy, have paused funding to the aid agency, which has opened an investigation into several of its thousands of employees and severed ties with those people.

UNRWA on Thursday said its entire operations in the Middle East, not only in Gaza, will likely be forced to shut down by the end of February, if its funding remains suspended.

“Defunding UNRWA would be both disproportionate and dangerous,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell writes in a blog post.

“The allegations against UNRWA staff are serious and no one responsible should go unpunished. However, UNRWA reacted immediately and the contracts of the accused staff members were terminated. An investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services is underway.” Borrell writes.

“While the emotions prompting suspensions of funding are understandable, political responsibility has to look beyond emotions and consider the consequences of such a step.”

Report: Smotrich trying to prevent banks from enforcing US sanctions against settlers

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaking at the Israel Defense and Security Forum in Ashkelon on January 25, 2024. (Daniel Starbo/ Courtesy)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaking at the Israel Defense and Security Forum in Ashkelon on January 25, 2024. (Daniel Starbo/ Courtesy)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is seeking to prevent Israeli banks from complying with US sanctions against allegedly violent Israeli settlers, Channel 12 reports.

Bank Leumi earlier froze the account of one of the four sanctioned individuals — fearing American legal repercussions if it continues to service him.

The report says that Smotrich contacted the Bank of Israel today and asked the supervisor of the banks to issue a clarification that Israeli law does not oblige banks to freeze sanctioned individuals’ accounts.

Smotrich is quoted as saying it was “unthinkable” that an Israeli bank should take action against an Israeli citizen over a US decision.

“I will take action as the finance minister and do what I must,” he reportedly said, adding that, “if need be, we’ll advance legislation on the matter.”

A banking source tells the network the US could sanction banks who continue to serve sanctioned individuals.

Top Biden aide: Hostage deal isn’t ‘right around the corner’

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is interviewed on ABC's 'This Week,' on February 4, 2024. (Screen capture/ABC)
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is interviewed on ABC's 'This Week,' on February 4, 2024. (Screen capture/ABC)

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas is not “right around the corner.”

“Ultimately, these kinds of negotiations unfold somewhat slowly until they unfold very quickly. And so it’s difficult to put a precise timetable on when something might come together or, frankly, if something might come together,” Sullivan tells ABC’s “This Week.”

“We regard a hostage deal as… also being critical to generate a sustained pause in hostilities that can support the flow of humanitarian assistance and that can alleviate the suffering in Gaza,” Sullivan reiterates.

He repeats that the US sees only one “long-term answer to peace in the region” and “to Israel’s security” — a state for the Palestinians with “security guarantees for Israel.”

“I think since October 7, the need to work on that has only increased,” he adds.

War cabinet in session on state of campaign in Gaza

The high-level war cabinet is currently meeting about the state of the campaign in Gaza, as well as efforts to reach a hostage release deal with Hamas.

SNL mocks Chicago resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza

Saturday Night Live's Michael Che co-hosts the Weekend Update segment on February 3, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Saturday Night Live's Michael Che co-hosts the Weekend Update segment on February 3, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)

SNL mocks Chicago City Council resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza

Saturday Night Live mocks Chicago’s City Council for passing a resolution last week calling for a ceasefire in Gaze

“In return, Gaza called for a ceasefire in Chicago,” SNL Weekend Update co-host Michael Che quips, making light of the city focusing on violence across the globe before clamping down on violence within its own borders.

Israel to bring in 65,000 foreign building workers to replace Palestinians

Israel’s government says it will bring in 65,000 foreign workers from India, Sri Lanka, and Uzbekistan to resume construction stalled since October 7, when Palestinian workers were sent home in the wake of the deadly attack on Israel by Hamas.

Some 72,000 Palestinian workers were employed on construction sites in Israel prior to the attack, which prompted the government to lay them off and exclude them from Israel for security reasons.

Some 20,000 foreign workers remain but almost half the country’s building sites have been closed down due to the labor shortage.

A housing ministry spokesperson says new groups of foreign workers are expected to arrive in coming weeks, as the government seeks to avoid a blockage in supply that would risk reigniting real estate prices as interest rates start to fall.

Gallant meets US envoy on Lebanon crisis; report claims Hochstein conveys progress

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and military officials meet with US envoy Amos Hochstein (L) in Tel Aviv, February 4, 2024. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) and military officials meet with US envoy Amos Hochstein (L) in Tel Aviv, February 4, 2024. (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with US envoy Amos Hochstein in Tel Aviv. Hochstein is conducting shuttle diplomacy between Israel and Lebanon, in an effort to prevent an escalation of the conflict.

Gallant says Israel is “committed to our citizens. We are ready to resolve this crisis via diplomatic understandings. However we are also prepared for any other scenario.”

Israel’s leaders have repeatedly warned the Hezbollah terror group must be moved away from the border where it poses an immediate threat to Israeli communities. It has said it is prepared to take military measures to do so.

Channel 12 reports Hochstein has conveyed “signs” of a possible diplomatic solution, which will include Hezbollah indeed moving back. There is no official confirmation of this.

Man extradited from Sweden to face charges in arson case targeting Jews

The brother of a man suspected in four events of arson involving Jewish institutions in the Boston area in 2019 has been extradited from Sweden to face charges alleging that he obstructed the investigation, US federal prosecutors say.

Alexander Giannakakis, 37, formerly of Quincy, Massachusetts, worked in security at the US embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, when he was arrested by Swedish authorities in 2022. He has been awaiting extradition proceedings, according to a statement from the US attorney’s office in Boston.

Giannakakis arrived in Boston on Friday and is scheduled to appear in federal court Monday afternoon, the US attorney’s office says. He has not yet named or been appointed an attorney, according to online case records.

Alexander Giannakakis’s brother was hospitalized in a coma at the time he was identified as a suspect in February 2020 and he died that year. Federal authorities did not name him.

Alexander Giannakakis was indicted by a federal grand jury in Boston in 2019 on charges of making false statements in a matter involving domestic terrorism; falsifying, concealing and covering up a material fact in a matter involving domestic terrorism; concealing records in a federal investigation; tampering with documents and objects; and tampering with an official proceeding.

Police in Michigan city put on alert after WSJ opinion piece

The mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, says the city’s police officers are ramping up their presence across places of worship and major infrastructure points following an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that he called “bigoted” and “Islamophobic.”

The WSJ published the piece on Friday headlined as “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital.” The city’s mayor and rights advocates from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee condemned the piece as anti-Arab and racist for suggesting the city’s residents, including religious leaders and politicians, supported Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and extremism.

“Reckless. Bigoted. Islamophobic,” Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud said about the WSJ piece written by Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute.

After the October 7 attacks, the founder and executive director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, said he was “happy” to see Gazans “break the siege” when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst through the enclave’s border with Israel, massacred 1,200 people, and took some 250 hostage.

“Yes, I was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land, and walk free into their land, which they were not allowed to walk in,” Awad said.

Canada to sanction violent West Bank settlers and Hamas leaders — minister

Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly addresses a joint press conference with Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kyiv on February 2, 2024. (Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly addresses a joint press conference with Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kyiv on February 2, 2024. (Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)

Canada will impose sanctions on Israeli settlers who incite violence in the West Bank and introduce new sanctions on Hamas leaders, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly says, after the United States took similar action last week.

On Thursday, the United States sanctioned four Israeli men accused of being involved in violence in the territory.

In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Sunday, Joly says some settlers “will be sanctioned” and “we will also bring new sanctions on Hamas leaders.

“We’re working actively on it,” Joly says, speaking from Ukraine. “I’m making sure that while I’m in Ukraine, the work is being done in Ottawa, and I look forward to doing an announcement soon.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said he was considering imposing sanctions on “extremist” settlers in the West Bank.

Report: Hamas won’t give response to deal tonight, will demand end to war

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)

Channel 12 news says that, contrary to earlier reports, Hamas is unlikely to offer a response tonight to the hostage deal proposal presented to it by Qatar and Egypt.

It also says Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar will demand solid guarantees for an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli troops — which Israel has said it will not do.

At the same time, a source close to Hamas tells the Palestinian Quds News Network that the sides are not close to agreement and confirms Hamas will demand an end to the war.

Senior official tells TV: Netanyahu got cold feet on Soleimani, Israel gave key info

Iranians prepare to set an Israeli flag on fire next to a picture of late Iranian general Qassem Soleimani during a rally marking al-Quds Day in Tehran, Iran, on April 29, 2022. (AFP)
Iranians prepare to set an Israeli flag on fire next to a picture of late Iranian general Qassem Soleimani during a rally marking al-Quds Day in Tehran, Iran, on April 29, 2022. (AFP)

After Trump said Israel was involved in plans to kill Iran’s Qassem Soleimani, a senior Israeli security official tells Channel 12: “The operation to assassinate Soleimani was cooking for many months. At the last moment, Netanyahu got cold feet, for fear of the Iranian retaliation.”

He adds: “There was a one-time window of opportunity and Trump decided that if Netanyahu is afraid to do it, he will, and that’s what happened.”

But, he says, “Israel provided critical information and the US carried out the assassination itself.”

After US strikes in Yemen, Iran issues warning about suspected spy ships in Mideast

Iran issues a warning to the US over potentially targeting two cargo ships in the Mideast long suspected of serving as forwarding operating bases for Iranian commandos. The warning came just after the US and the United Kingdom launched a massive airstrike campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The statement from Iran on the Behshad and Saviz ships appear to signal Tehran’s growing unease over US strikes in recent days in Iraq, Syria and Yemen targeting militias backed by the Islamic Republic.

Those strikes were in retaliation for the killing of three US soldiers and wounding of dozens of others in Jordan.

The Behshad and Saviz are registered as commercial cargo ships with a Tehran-based company the US Treasury has sanctioned as a front for the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. The Saviz, then later the Behshad, have loitered for years in the Red Sea off Yemen, suspected of serving as spy positions for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

In the video statement by Iran’s regular army, a narrator for the first time describes the vessels as “floating armories.” The narrator describes the Behshad as aiding an Iranian mission to “counteract piracy in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.” However, Iran is not publicly known to have taken part in any of the recent campaigns against rising Somali piracy in the region off the back of the Houthi attacks.

IDF sees Hamas operatives in western Khan Younis hiding among civilian shelters

Soldiers of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in an image published February 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in an image published February 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF has identified that Hamas operatives in the western Khan Younis area have been hiding among civilian shelters.

In recent days, some 120,000 Palestinians were evacuated from the Khan Younis camp via a humanitarian corridor established by the IDF. Among the 120,000 moving through the corridor, Givati Brigade troops nabbed some 500 terror suspects and handed them over to be questioned in Israel. Some are suspected of being involved in the October 7 attacks, according to military sources.

“The brigade is operating forcefully in western Khan Younis and managing to bring the terrorists out of their hiding places every day,” says brigade commander Col. Liron Betito.

Givati troops have killed an estimated 550 Hamas operatives in battles in the Khan Younis area in recent weeks, and another 250 in airstrikes directed by the brigade, sources say. Today alone, in the Khan Younis camp, Givati troops killed 14 gunmen.

The brigade has also lost eight soldiers during the fighting in Khan Younis.

Israeli troops raid main headquarters of Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade

The IDF says troops of the Givati Brigade raided the main headquarters of Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade in the southern Gaza Strip, used by the terror group for training ahead of the October 7 onslaught.

The complex, known as the al-Qadsia outpost, also housed the office of Muhammad Sinwar, a senior Hamas military commander and the brother of the terror group’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, according to the IDF.

The IDF says al-Qadsia is the main outpost of Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade, which included a training ground with mock entrances to Israeli communities, IDF bases, and military vehicles, for Hamas to simulate and prepare for the October 7 attacks.

Another part of the complex included a Hamas command center and offices belonging to the Khan Younis Brigade’s senior commanders as well as a rocket depot and tunnel leading to a vast underground network, the IDF says.

Nearby, the IDF says the troops also found a weapons manufacturing site.

The IDF says that when it arrived to raid the outpost, troops discovered that Hamas had booby-trapped the area with explosive devices, which were neutralized by combat engineers. Hamas gunmen also tried to ambush troops from an area near the outpost. The operatives opened fire, and troops responded with sniper fire, tank shelling, and airstrikes, killing all of them, it says.

 

French FM to visit Israel and West Bank

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné will visit Israel and the West Bank tomorrow, the French Embassy announces.

He is slated to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.

He is also visiting Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon on the four-day tour.

Trump: Israel was part of plans to kill Qassem Soleimani, backed out at last moment

Former US President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower for Manhattan federal court to attend his defamation trial in New York on January 26, 2024 (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower for Manhattan federal court to attend his defamation trial in New York on January 26, 2024 (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Former US President Donald Trump says Israel was a part of the plans to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq in early 2020.

Speaking to Fox News, the Republican presidential frontrunner says: “When we took out Soleimani, you know Israel was supposed to do it with us. Two days before the take-out they said ‘We can’t do it. We can’t do it.’ I said ‘What?’ ‘We can’t do it.'”

Trump went on: “Then I had a certain general, who’s great, I said, ‘So general, do we do it ourselves?’ He said ‘We can, sir, it’s up to you.’ I said ‘We’ll do it.’

“But Israel was a part of it. You know, Bibi was a big part of it. And we had everything planned, everything. Because what [Soleimani did] was terrible. What he did to us was terrible. Killed so many of our soldiers. Killed so many people.”

Trump asserted that attacks by Iranian militias on US forces that killed three troops “would have never happened with me.”

“I had Iran in check. Do you know, we hit them very hard for something that they did, and they had to hit back, they feel they have to do that and I understand that. Do you know, they called me to tell me ‘We’re going to hit a certain location but we’re not gonna hit it, it’s gonna be outside of the perimeter’… They let us know. And we had 16 missiles that went off… And we knew they weren’t going to hit. And now I reveal it… So they aimed those missiles and they said, ‘Please don’t attack us, we’re not going to hit you.’ That was respect, we had respect.”

Foreign Ministry’s director general departs, joins Eli Cohen at Energy Ministry

Energy Ministry Director-General Yossi Dayan (Energy MinistrY)
Energy Ministry Director-General Yossi Dayan (Energy MinistrY)

Minister Eli Cohen, who swapped the role of foreign minister for that of energy minister on January 1 as part of a rotation deal with fellow Likud lawmaker Israel Katz, replaces Yaakov (Kobi) Blitshtein — the ministry’s CEO under Katz — with his own man, Yossi Dayan, whose appointment is approved by the government.

Dayan, a lawyer, worked previously as director general of the urban planning departments of Ashkelon and Eilat.

Over the past year, he has served as deputy director-general of the Foreign Ministry under Cohen.

Blitshtein served for less than a year. He is set to move to the Foreign Ministry with Katz.

Defense minister: Noses of Israeli warplanes pointed northward

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours Tel Nof Airbase in central Israel, February 4, 2024. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours Tel Nof Airbase in central Israel, February 4, 2024. (Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warns Hezbollah that Israel has many offensive tools it could employ in Lebanon if need be, as the terror group continues it attacks along the border.

During a tour of Tel Nof Airbase in central Israel, Gallant says: “We have not yet begun to activate all our units and all our special abilities. We have many elements ready.

“The clear-cut instruction I gave the Air Force is to point the noses of our aircraft northward… we are prepared.”

Report: Settler sanctioned by US for alleged violence has bank accounts frozen

Yinon Levi, a settler recently sanctioned by the US for alleged acts of violence in the West Bank, has had his Israeli bank accounts frozen, Kan news reports.

The report says Bank Leumi informed Levi that both his private and business accounts are now frozen.

In its announcement of sanctions against Levi, the US State Department said Levi regularly led groups of settlers from the Meitarim Farm outpost who assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, threatened them with additional violence if they did not leave their homes, burned their fields, and destroyed their property.

Levi has denied the allegations, saying in a statement the sanctions were the result of “appeals by the anarchist, anti-Zionist, Jew-hating left to [US President Joe] Biden” and that the claims against him were “tall tales.”

Three other Israeli settlers were sanctioned by Washington on Thursday.

3 weeks after medications sent to Gaza hostages, no confirmation they arrived

Nearly three weeks after it was announced that medications would be transferred to hostages in Gaza, there is still no confirmation that this has happened.

An inquiry by The Times of Israel with the Prime Minister’s Office today yields no substantive response. In addition, a representative of the medical and resilience team of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum says it has no new information.

Following a deal brokered by Qatar and Egypt, Doha announced on January 16 that the delivery of the medications for the hostages would begin on January 17 in return for the concurrent transfer of large amounts of medical and humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. A day later, it was reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross would not be involved in the deal and that Qatar would guarantee the delivery of medications.

As part of the deal, Israel demanded visual proof of delivery of the medications to each hostage.

Many of the hostages have chronic illnesses requiring daily medication and regular medical monitoring. Others were injured during their capture. The International Committee of the Red Cross has not visited any of the hostages to check on their condition and provide necessary medical treatment.

Consistent rain over past 2 weeks not seen in Israel for 30 years

View of the Beit Zayit reservoir near Jerusalem during heavy rains, January 28, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
View of the Beit Zayit reservoir near Jerusalem during heavy rains, January 28, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Over the past two weeks Israel has seen consistent rainy weather throughout the country not seen for more than 30 years, according to the Israel Meteorological Service.

Since January 22, most areas of the country have seen at least some wet weather on most days, almost without a break.

Amos Porat, director of Climate Services at the IMS, tells The Times of Israel that such continuous rain has not been seen since 1992.

“Usually, these weather systems stay for two to four days and then move on,” he says.

But apart from its length, the current period of rain, due to end Tuesday, has no irregular features, he adds.

Thanks to heavy downpours, many locations have already equaled or even exceeded their annual rain average, which is measured from August.

This is particularly true in the Lower Galilee, Haifa, and the Carmel areas south of Haifa as well as areas of the central coast.

Army says troops advance in Hamas stronghold in Khan Younis, kill numerous gunmen

Soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in an image published February 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in an image published February 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says the Paratroopers Brigade is advancing in the al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis, killing numerous Hamas operatives in the process.

According to the IDF, the neighborhood is a major Hamas stronghold, where troops have so far located weapons and dozens of sites belonging to the terror group, including tunnel shafts, observation posts, and weapons manufacturing plants.

As the Paratroopers Brigade advanced in the area, the soldiers encountered several Hamas cells attempting to open fire and place explosive devices, the IDF says.

The IDF says the brigade’s forces killed numerous gunmen in close-quarters combat, with sniper fire, with mortar shelling, and by directing airstrikes.

Also amid the paratroopers’ operations, soldiers raided several Hamas sites where the terror group hid money, including the offices of an exchange store, and seized more than NIS 3 million in cash, the IDF says.

Report: With 30,000 departures, Ben Gurion Airport sees busiest day since Oct. 7

File: El Al airplanes on the tarmac at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, October 4, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash 90)
File: El Al airplanes on the tarmac at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, October 4, 2022. (Moshe Shai/Flash 90)

Channel 12 reports that today was Ben Gurion Airport’s busiest day since October 7.

Some 30,000 people are departing from Israel’s main travel hub today, as more people are released from reserve duty, more airlines resume operations to the country and prices tick down.

War cabinet to meet at 7 p.m.; reports say Hamas to give answer on hostage deal then

The war cabinet is set to convene today at 7 p.m. to discuss developments in the war with the Hamas terror group.

Around that same time, according to some unconfirmed reports in Arab media, Hamas may submit its reply to the latest hostage deal offer presented to it by mediators.

Defense Ministry: First stage of arming defense teams in Gaza border towns completed

A crane places an equipment container for a civil defense team at a community in the Gaza periphery, February 4, 2024 (Defense Ministry)
A crane places an equipment container for a civil defense team at a community in the Gaza periphery, February 4, 2024 (Defense Ministry)

The military and Defense Ministry say they have completed the first stage of distributing weaponry to civil defense teams in some 70 communities near the Gaza Strip, to strengthen them as part of lessons learned from the October 7 attacks.

The equipment includes guns, ceramic vests, shoes and helmets.

“In the coming weeks more equipment will be provided, including weapons, medical and logistical equipment,” a statement says.

The squads are also receiving intensified training.

Similar actions are being taken in border towns in northern Israel, largely evacuated amid ongoing attacks by Hezbollah.

Jewish university student in Berlin beaten, hospitalized in argument with classmate over Gaza war

Illustrative: German police officers at Herrmannplatz, Berlin on October 11, 2023. (John MACDOUGALL / AFP)
Illustrative: German police officers at Herrmannplatz, Berlin on October 11, 2023. (John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

A college student in Berlin beat a Jewish classmate until he was hospitalized after the two got into an argument Friday night about the Israel-Hamas conflict, police say.

The 30-year-old Jewish student was out with an acquaintance in Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood shortly before midnight on Friday when he encountered a 23-year-old fellow student from the university. The two students — the 23-year-old, who held strong pro-Palestinian views, and the 30-year-old Jewish student, who had posted pro-Israel views on social media — got into a heated discussion.

As the argument escalated, the 23-year-old repeatedly punched the 30-year-old in the face until he fell to the ground, police say. The suspect kicked the older student while he was lying on the ground, then fled the scene. The victim was brought to the hospital with facial fractures. Police say his injuries were not life-threatening.

Police eventually traced the suspect to his home in Berlin’s Schöneberg neighborhood, where they conducted a search and seized evidence, including his smartphone. Investigations are ongoing, police say.

The incident comes amid a drastic rise in antisemitic incidents in Germany, which have grown more common since the devastating Hamas assault on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, which is now in its fourth month.

At cabinet meeting, ministers said to demand closer oversight of hostage talks

Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet during a meeting to approve the amended 2024 budget, January 15, 2024. (Haim Zach, GPO)
Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet during a meeting to approve the amended 2024 budget, January 15, 2024. (Haim Zach, GPO)

Likud ministers at today’s cabinet meeting insisted that any further decisions about a potential hostage deal would have to come in front of the full cabinet, and not just the small war cabinet, an Israeli official tells The Times of Israel. The demand includes any further meetings abroad by Mossad chief David Barnea with international intermediaries.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Education Minister Yoav Kisch, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, and Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli all supported that demand.

They also expressed concern over the possibility of a return to combat operations after a lengthy truce, and the identity of the terrorists who could be released from Israeli prisons in a deal.

Channel 12 reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers the ratio of three freed Palestinian prisoners for every hostage freed — as in the November hostage deal — should be the reference point for any further agreements.

IDF says it struck several Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon

The IDF says it carried out a series of strikes on Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon today.

The targets hit by fighter jets in Blida and Mays al-Jabal included a rocket launching position manned by Hezbollah operatives, and an observation post, according to the IDF.

The IDF says a tank also shelled a Hezbollah cell in Blida.

Troops are also shelling the source of rocket fire from Lebanon against the north, the IDF adds.

Rockets fired from Lebanon at Kiryat Shmona intercepted by Iron Dome

Several rockets fired from Lebanon at the northern city of Kiryat Shmona have been intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, while others landed in open areas, local authorities say.

There are no reports of damage or injuries in the attacks, apparently carried out by Hezbollah.

At the same time as the rocket attacks, Lebanese media report Israeli strikes on targets in the villages of Blida and Mays al-Jabal.

Earlier today, Hezbollah named two more members killed in recent Israeli strikes on its sites in southern Lebanon.

Air raid sirens sound again along northern border

Sirens sound again along the northern border of Israel, in the city of Metula.

Earlier there were sirens in nearby Kiryat Shmona, both close to the Lebanese border.

This morning there were a number of sirens close to the border which the IDF later said were a false alarm.

Tehran issues threat to US against targeting two Iran-linked cargo ships in Red Sea

The Iranian ship 'Saviz' in the Red Sea, in 2018. (Al Arabiya video screenshot)
The Iranian ship 'Saviz' in the Red Sea, in 2018. (Al Arabiya video screenshot)

Iran issues a warning to the US over potentially targeting two cargo ships in the Mideast long suspected of serving as forwarding operating base for Iranian commandos, just after America and the United Kingdom launched a massive airstrike campaign against Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The statement from Iran on the Behshad and Saviz ships appears to signal Tehran’s growing unease over the US strikes in recent days in Iraq, Syria and Yemen targeting militias backed by the Islamic Republic.

The Behshad and Saviz are registered as commercial cargo ships with a Tehran-based company the US Treasury has sanctioned as a front for the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines. The Saviz, then later the Behshad, have loitered for years in the Red Sea off Yemen, suspected of serving as spy positions for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

In the video statement by the Iran’s regular army, a narrator for the first time describes the vessels as “floating armories.”

The narrator describes the Behshad as aiding an Iranian mission to “counteract piracy in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.”

However, Iran is not publicly known to have taken part in any of the recent campaigns against rising Somali piracy in the region off the back of the Houthi attacks.

The statement ends with a warning overlaid with a montage of footage of US warships and an American flag.

New French FM arrives in Egypt ahead of visit to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne in Cairo on February 4, 2024. (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne in Cairo on February 4, 2024. (Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

New French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne arrives in Egypt at the start of a Mideast tour expected to take him to Jordan, Israel and Lebanon in the coming days.

Sejourne, at the start of his first such tour since being sworn in as foreign minister last month, says on social media that he told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of France’s desire “for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and restarting talks for a… two-state solution.”

Rapping Ben Gvir, PM thanks Biden for support, says he doesn’t ‘need help’ navigating US relationship

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/ Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/ Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at length on US-Israel ties at the cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, seemingly hitting back at comments by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir without naming him.

“We deeply appreciate the support we have received from the Biden administration since the outbreak of war,” he says, listing weapons shipments, support in international bodies and the deployment of US forces to the region.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements, but so far we have managed to overcome them with determined and considered decisions,” he contends.

Netanyahu says there are those who say yes to every US demand and receive praise abroad while endangering Israel’s national security, and those who say no and receive praise at home while damaging Israel’s core interests.

“I want to say from my experience — the key is knowing how to navigate. To say yes when possible, to say no when necessary,” he says. “I don’t need help to know how to navigate our relationship with the US and the international community, while standing up for our national interests.”

“As a sovereign state fighting for its existence and future,” he continues, “we will make our decisions by ourselves, even in cases where there isn’t agreement with our American friends.”

Netanyahu also calls for a process to switch UNRWA with “other organizations that are not tainted by support for terrorism.”

Netanyahu says Israel ‘will not agree to every deal, and not at any price’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Bnei David military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, January 30, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Bnei David military academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, January 30, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Speaking at the beginning of the weekly government meeting in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to put the toppling of Hamas as his main war aim.

“I want to be clear about our policy — the essential goal is first of all the elimination of Hamas,” he says.

The prime minister then lays out three conditions for that to happen: the destruction of the remaining Hamas battalions, 17 out of 24 of which have been defeated; mopping-up operations, which he says the IDF is doing through raids in the northern and central Strip; and the neutralization of Hamas’s tunnel network, “which demands more time.”

Netanyahu emphasizes that Israel will not end the war until all its aims are accomplished — “the elimination of Hamas, bringing back all our hostages, and ensuring that Gaza will never again represent a threat to Israel.”

Turning to a potential hostage deal, Netanyahu says that “we will not agree to every deal, and not at any price.” He says reports in the press about agreeing to free large numbers of terrorists are not true.

Hamas says US, UK strikes on Houthis will only cause ‘further turmoil’

In this photo released by the US military's Central Command on February 3, 2024, missiles are fired from a warship in the Red Sea against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)
In this photo released by the US military's Central Command on February 3, 2024, missiles are fired from a warship in the Red Sea against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)

Hamas condemns a wave of US and British airstrikes on Yemen, warning that the attacks will bring “further turmoil” to the Middle East.

Hamas in a statement calls the bombing of Houthi rebel targets “a blatant assault on the sovereignty of a sister Arab country, and an escalation that will drag the region into further turmoil.”

Forbes France cancels ‘power women’ gala scheduled to feature Hamas apologist

Rima Hassan, founder of the Refugees Camps Observatory (Observatoire des Camps de Réfugies - OCR), in Paris, France, November 14, 2019. (Dominique Faget / AFP)
Rima Hassan, founder of the Refugees Camps Observatory (Observatoire des Camps de Réfugies - OCR), in Paris, France, November 14, 2019. (Dominique Faget / AFP)

Citing security issues, the French edition of Forbes magazine cancels a gala event in honor of 40 notable women, including one who is under fire for justifying Hamas’s October 7 massacre.

“Conditions are no longer conducive to guaranteeing the positive circumstances for holding the event,” Forbes France tells Le Parisien yesterday.

The response mentions concern for the security of attendees but does not name Rima Hassan, a pro-Palestinian activist whose inclusion on the list of women selected to be honored at the gala is generating controversy tied to her defense of Hamas.

The controversy follows her assertion in a November 29 interview that it is “true” that Hamas’s onslaught — in which the group murdered some 1,200 people and took another 253 hostage — is “legitimate.” Israel’s right to defend itself is “false” and so is the viability of a two-state solution, according to the filmed statements by Hassan, a 31-year-old lawyer.

On X, Hassan writes that she is “furious” aboiut the cancelation: “Note that the pressures come predominantly from men who believe they’re omnipotent and possessing total license,” she adds, thanking the “patriarchy.” She provides a list of seven French Jews whom she calls “boomers who have not yet realized their time is up.”

The list includes Jacques Essebag, a 57-year-old television presenter who last month protested Hassan’s inclusion on the Forbes list; Julien Bahloul, a 37-year-old journalist and activist for LGBTQ parents; and Patrick Klugman, a 46-year-old left-wing politician and lawyer.

Mother of hostage who turns 19 today: ‘You are so missed it hurts my heart’

Shira Albag, second from left, and her daughter Shai hold up a picture of Liri Albag on Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on January 20, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Shira Albag, second from left, and her daughter Shai hold up a picture of Liri Albag on Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on January 20, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Shira Albag, the mother of hostage Liri Albag, who turns 19 today in captivity, writes a column addressed to her in Ynet.

“My Liri, today you are marking 19 years, and I can’t even describe how much you are missed at home,” she writes.

“Before every birthday, a month before, the plans start, ordering balloons, cake, napkins, cups, and even a bouquet of flowers you want to match the colors — basically, you drive the whole house crazy with planning,” Shira writes.

“And now it’s quiet. Now there’s nothing. There’s no music at home because on you are responsible for the songs. There are no photos because only you take them. There’s no noise of cooking in the middle of the night. There’s no noise of doors opening and closing as you come and go. You are so missed that it hurts my heart.”

Hamas-run health ministry says Gaza death toll stands at 27,365

People drive in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 4, 2024. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)
People drive in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 4, 2024. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says at least 27,365 people have been killed in the territory so far during the war.

The latest toll includes 127 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement says, while a total of 66,630 people have been wounded in Gaza since the war broke out on October 7. The figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to also include close to 10,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says its troops have killed in the Strip.

IDF says sirens along northern border this morning were false alarms

Multiple rocket sirens that sounded in communities in the Galilee Panhandle in the last hour were false alarms, a military spokesperson says.

It appears the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group has not yet carried out any attacks on northern Israel today.

FM Katz condemns ‘ugly incident’ of spitting in Jerusalem’s Old City

Abbot Nikodemus Schnabel, right, and Germany's Federal Minister of Education and Research Bettina Stark-Watzinger at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, July 19, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Abbot Nikodemus Schnabel, right, and Germany's Federal Minister of Education and Research Bettina Stark-Watzinger at the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem, July 19, 2023. (Screenshot: Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz condemns yesterday’s spitting and verbal attack against Abbot Nikodemus Schnabel in Jerusalem’s Old City.

In a tweet, Katz calls it “another ugly incident,” and says he “utterly condemns these ugly acts against members of other faiths.”

“Under Israeli rule,” he continues, “members of all faiths enjoy total freedom of worship, as never has been the case before. In the words of the prophet: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations.'”

Schnabel says the footage of the incidents shows “a part of the reality of my life that’s rarely filmed. I’ve not sought publicity with them, as there are much more terrible things that people have to suffer here. Let’s pray for peace and reconciliation.”

Iran says US, UK strikes on Houthis ‘contradict’ their desire to avoid Mideast escalation

In this photo released by the US military's Central Command on February 3, 2024, US Central Command forces stand next to a fighter jet on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier as strikes are carried out against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)
In this photo released by the US military's Central Command on February 3, 2024, US Central Command forces stand next to a fighter jet on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier as strikes are carried out against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)

Iran denounces the latest US and UK strikes on targets in Yemen, saying they “contradict” those countries’ declared intention of avoiding a wider Middle East conflict.

These attacks are “in clear contradiction with the repeated claims of Washington and London that they do not want the expansion of war and conflict in the region,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Nasser Kanani, says in a statement.

He accuses the United States and Britain of “fueling chaos, disorder, insecurity and instability” by supporting Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Further strikes on Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels in response to the group’s attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea are “a threat to international peace and security,” Kanani says.

Ramallah condemns spitting incident by Jewish extremists at Christian monk

Palestinians walk past closed shops in the Old City of Jerusalem, Oct. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
Palestinians walk past closed shops in the Old City of Jerusalem, Oct. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry condemns the two Jewish Israelis who spat at a Christian clergyman and insulted him in the Old City of Jerusalem yesterday.

In a statement, Ramallah blames the incident on “incitement” by far-right Israeli ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich and as an expression of a “racist colonial culture” that “denies the existence of the other.”

The statement further claims that “settler militias” feel emboldened by a “sense of political and legal impunity” that encourages them to persist in “sowing hatred” and “provoking Palestinian citizens and members of other religions.”

Air raid sirens sound in Upper Galilee

Air raid sirens are sounding in Kibbutz Manara in the Upper Galilee, next to the Lebanon border.

Lapid, Gantz slam Ben Gvir for his comments on Biden: ‘Harming war effort’

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, left, and National Unity party chief Benny Gantz, right, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, left, and National Unity party chief Benny Gantz, right, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and Minister Benny Gantz slam National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for his comments against US President Joe Biden to the Wall Street Journal.

“The interview Ben Gvir gave to the Wall Street Journal is direct damage to Israel’s international standing, direct damage to the war effort, harms the security of Israel and mostly proves that he doesn’t understand anything in foreign diplomacy,” tweets Lapid. “But Netanyahu has no control over the extremists in his government.”

Gantz writes on X that “disagreements are permissible, even with our biggest and most important ally, but it should come in the relevant forums and not in irresponsible comments in the media, which harm the strategic interests of the State of Israel, the security of the country and the war efforts at this time.”

Gantz adds that “the prime minister should call the national security minister to order, who instead of dealing with domestic security issues is causing enormous damage to the the foreign relations of Israel.”

Troops continue to battle Hamas gunmen in Khan Younis, says IDF

IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 4, 2024. (IDF)
IDF troops seen operating in Gaza in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 4, 2024. (IDF)

The IDF says troops raided a building in Khan Younis used by a senior Hamas commander, as fighting and strikes against the terror group continue across the Gaza Strip.

In western Khan Younis, the Paratroopers Brigade raided a multistory building that the IDF says was used by Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade commander to manage the fighting against Israel.

In the building, the IDF says the troops located weapons and military equipment.

In a separate raid, the IDF says the soldiers found a cache of RPGs in an apartment.

The IDF says the Paratroopers Brigade also killed several Hamas gunmen in close-quarters combat over the past day, as well as an operative who hurled two grenades and had approached soldiers with a knife.

The Givati Brigade, also operating in Khan Younis, killed a gunman approaching them and directed an airstrike on two more operatives heading toward a building, the IDF says.

Also in Khan Younis, the IDF says, a fighter jet struck and killed a Palestinian Islamic Jihad sniper.

Meanwhile, in northern Gaza, the IDF says the 401st Armored Brigade killed seven Hamas gunmen in the last day.

The IDF says the Israeli Air Force carried out several strikes across Gaza over the past day, including Hamas rocket launching positions and other infrastructure.

The Navy also carried out strikes along the Strip’s coast, aiding the ground forces operating in the area. The IDF says Navy vessels hit several Hamas and Islamic Jihad sites, including a building where operatives were gathered.

Houthi spokesman says US, UK airstrikes on Yemen ‘will not pass without response’

In this photo released by the US military's Central Command on February 3, 2024, missiles are fired from a warship in the Red Sea against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)
In this photo released by the US military's Central Command on February 3, 2024, missiles are fired from a warship in the Red Sea against Houthi targets in Yemen. (US Central Command/AFP)

Yemen’s Houthis rebel group says US and British airstrikes “will not deter us” and vows a response after dozens of targets were hit in retaliation for the Iran-backed group’s repeated Red Sea attacks.

Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree says the capital Sanaa and other rebel-held areas were targeted in the strikes.

Saree reports a total of 48 airstrikes, and writes on X that “these attacks will not deter us from our… stance in support of the steadfast Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.”

The latest strikes “will not pass without response and punishment,” Saree warns.

Ben Gvir to WSJ: US support of Israel ‘would be completely different’ under Trump

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Otzma Yehudit party National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tells the Wall Street Journal that Israel would be receiving more support from the US if former president Donald Trump had been reelected.

“Instead of giving us his full backing, [US President Joe] Biden is busy with giving humanitarian aid and fuel [to Gaza], which goes to Hamas,” says Ben Gvir, adding that “if Trump was in power, the US conduct would be completely different.”

Ben Gvir also tells the news outlet that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is at a crossroads,” and that he “has to choose in what direction he’ll go,” but the minister says he has no intention of pulling out of the current government, though he has repeatedly threatened to do so.

At least 28 said killed in strike on Lysychansk that Russia blames on Ukraine

The death toll from a strike on a bakery in the occupied eastern Ukrainian city of Lysychansk has climbed to 28 people, including a child, Russian rescuers say.

“Search operations continue on the site of the collapsed bakery… 28 people, including a child, have died,” the Russian emergency situations ministry posts on Telegram after yesterday’s attack that Moscow-installed authorities blame on Ukraine.

Ex-Mossad chief Cohen says public criticism of Qatar needs to stop

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at an event in Switzerland marking 125 years since the First Zionist Congress, August 29, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger)
Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at an event in Switzerland marking 125 years since the First Zionist Congress, August 29, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger)

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen says that Israel should make a one-time deal for all the remaining hostages in Gaza, and should stop public criticism of mediator Qatar.

In an interview with Army Radio, Cohen says that Israel “will have to pay anyway” a high price for any such deal, “so let’s pay it today from the start for everyone, and cut down the inhumane time the hostages are spending in Gaza.”

Cohen, a confidante of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has reportedly weighed a political future, criticizes those in Israel publicly speaking out against Qatar, saying that “this is the only country which can bring a deal at the moment. Publicly quarrelling with it is wrong, and we need to act wisely. Any criticism of Qatar at this point in time needs to be stopped.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly lobbed criticism at Qatar in recent weeks, as have several of his ministers.

Hamas-run health ministry says 92 people killed overnight in Gaza

Smoke rises over buildings amid Israeli airstrikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 3, 2024. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)
Smoke rises over buildings amid Israeli airstrikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 3, 2024. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says that at least 92 people have been killed overnight, including in what the terror group’s media office claims was an Israeli airstrike of a kindergarten in Rafah where displaced people were sheltering.

There was no immediate response from the IDF over the claim. The figure could not be independently verified.

Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have poured into the southermost city of Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere in the Strip and after the IDF has urged them to evacuate other areas in the months since Israel’s war against Hamas began.

2 Jewish Israelis detained for allegedly spitting at Christian cleric in Jerusalem’s Old City

Shopkeepers sit in front of their stores in Jerusalem's Old City on January 13, 2024. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)
Shopkeepers sit in front of their stores in Jerusalem's Old City on January 13, 2024. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

Two Jewish Israelis from Jerusalem have been detained on suspicion of spitting at and insulting a Christian clergyman in the Old City of Jerusalem, police say in a statement.

According to police, the incident occurred yesterday and was reported to police, who tracked down and nabbed the two suspects — including one minor, age 17. The two were sent to house arrest as the investigation continues, police say, vowing zero tolerance for such incidents.

Soldier killed fighting in southern Gaza, IDF says

Sergeant first class (res.) Shimon Yehoshua Asulin. (IDF)
Sergeant first class (res.) Shimon Yehoshua Asulin. (IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces says Sgt. First Class (res.) Shimon Yehoshua Asulin, a 24-year-old resident of Beit Shemesh, was killed in battle Saturday.

Asulin, of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 924th Battalion, was killed in battle in the southern Gaza Strip, the army said.

He is the 225th soldier to have been killed in Israel’s ground operation in Gaza.

US says it hit Houthi missile readying to fire at Red Sea

The US Central Command says it destroyed an anti-ship cruise missile in Yemen that was prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea.

“US forces identified the cruise missile in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined it presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” it says in a statement.

Australian PM says Canberra probing UNRWA October 7 claims before restoring funding

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says his government is probing claims that some staff of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA were involved in the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, after Australia paused funding to the aid agency last month.

“We’re examining it, along with other like-minded countries like Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. We want that to be resolved,” Albanese tells the Australian Broadcasting Corp regarding the allegations, according to a transcript.

The Labour party leader says his government wants to make sure the accusations are “fully examined” so that all funding is “going to the purpose for which it is given.”

The prime minister adds that he does not want people “literally starving” in Gaza and “the only organization that can provide that support there is UNRWA.”

Last week, Anthony D’Adam and Stephen Lawrence, two Labour party members of the New South Wales Parliament, signed a letter calling on Foreign Minister Penny Wong to reverse the funding freeze, calling the move “incredulous.” D’Adam has been a vocal critic of Israel, signing a letter in December urging Canberra to revisit its ties.

NSW Premier Chris Mimms appeared to chide the MPs for the move in an interview with ABC on Friday, saying that “when we’ve solved all the problems in New South Wales, then we can move on to the Middle East. But we’re a long way from that.”

Biden cruises to easy win in South Carolina primary

US President Joe Biden, right, and first lady Jill Biden arrive on Marine One at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP/Stephanie Scarbrough)
US President Joe Biden, right, and first lady Jill Biden arrive on Marine One at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. (AP/Stephanie Scarbrough)

US President Joe Biden has easily won South Carolina’s Democratic primary, clinching a state he had pushed to be first in his party’s nominating process after it revived his then-struggling White House bid four years ago.

Biden defeats the other long-shot Democrats on South Carolina’s ballot, including Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson. His reelection campaign invested heavily in driving up turnout in what it saw as a test drive of its efforts to mobilize Black voters, a key Democratic bloc central to Biden’s chances in a likely November rematch against former President Donald Trump.

“In 2020, it was the voters of South Carolina who proved the pundits wrong, breathed new life into our campaign, and set us on the path to winning the presidency,” Biden says in a statement. “Now in 2024, the people of South Carolina have spoken again and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the Presidency again — and making Donald Trump a loser — again.”

Republicans will vote in the state later this month, with former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley hoping to boost her long-shot bid against Trump for the GOP nomination.

White House rejects GOP-led bill for $17.6 billion in Israel aid as ‘cynical ploy’

The White House says a Republican proposal for $17.6 billion in military aid for Israel and to replenish US weapons stockpiles, but which leaves out more help for Ukraine, is a “cynical political maneuver.”

The proposal, announced by Rep. Ken Calvert of California Saturday, comes as the Senate is set to consider a long-awaited bill re-upping US funding for Ukraine, while also providing aid to Israel and stiffening controls along the US-Mexican border.

House Republicans have balked at that bill under the urging of former US president Donald Trump. Saturday’s bill seemingly allows them to show support for Israel while still pulling back military aid for Ukraine and denying US President Joe Biden a chance to look tough on immigration.

“The security of Israel should be sacred, not a political game,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says. “We strongly oppose this ploy which does nothing to secure the border, does nothing to help the people of Ukraine defend themselves against Putin’s aggression, and denies humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians, the majority of them women and children, which the Israelis supported by opening the access route.”

The Democrat-controlled Senate is seen as unlikely to back the House bill.

The House has already approved a nearly $14.5 billion military aid package in November for Israel that the Senate declined to take up. That bill had demanded that the money for the aid be found by cutting budgets elsewhere, including the IRS.

AP contributed to this report.

Houthis vow to ‘meet escalation with escalation’ after US, UK strikes

Nasr al-Din Amer, a spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi’s rebels, says following strikes by US and UK forces Saturday that “we will meet escalation with escalation.”

“Either there is peace for us, Palestine and Gaza, or there is no peace and no safety for you in our region,” he writes on the Telegram messaging app.

Houthis publish drill showing raid on mockup of Israeli base

A clip from Houthi propaganda footage showing a raid on an "Israeli base" and a soldier being taken captive, which aired February 4, 2024. (Screen capture: X)
A clip from Houthi propaganda footage showing a raid on an "Israeli base" and a soldier being taken captive, which aired February 4, 2024. (Screen capture: X)

A video published by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebel group shows soldiers drilling for a raid on an Israeli “command and control center” and taking soldiers hostage.

Footage of the raid, dubbed “Yemen is the Pillar Support of Palestine” according to media reports, shows artillery strikes on barren mountains as well as a squad of drones dropping explosives on Israeli and American flags, some of which are covering small structures.

Commandos, some carrying Palestinian flags, are then seen raiding what are meant to be makeshift Israeli military posts, including taking down a “pillbox” made of thin canvas, shooting down surveillance cameras and flags, and tearing apart tents meant to represent military structures, before blowing up the ersatz base.

During the drill, three people dressed as Israeli soldiers are taken captive at gunpoint, including one found sitting at a table with computers, ostensibly meant to represent the command and control center. The footage also ostensibly shows the Houthi forces killing and capturing top generals and Israeli leaders.

Last month, the Houthis released a clip showing commandos entering a mock Israeli town of three home-like tents, shooting at a poster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and taking men dressed as ultra-Orthodox Jews hostage.

 

 

UK says strikes on Houthis proportionate, not an escalation

Britain has engaged in a third wave of “proportionate and targeted” strikes alongside its US allies against Iran-linked Houthi militants in Yemen to further degrade their capabilities, the government says.

Defence Minister Grant Shapps says in a statement that the strikes do not represent an escalation, amid fears that the strikes could cause the conflict in the Middle East to widen even further.

“This is not an escalation. We have already successfully targeted launchers and storage sites involved in Houthi attacks, and I am confident that our latest strikes have further degraded the Houthis’ capabilities,” Shapps says.

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