ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Feb. 5: Visiting US, Knesset speaker tells top Biden aide that Hamas must be destroyed

Netanyahu says IDF has destroyed 75% of Hamas battalions in Gaza * Visiting Jerusalem, French FM calls for ceasefire * IDF hits Hezbollah targets in south Lebanon strikes

  • Soldiers operate in Gaza in an image published February 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Soldiers operate in Gaza in an image published February 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) meets with IDF soldiers in Latrun, near Jerusalem, on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) meets with IDF soldiers in Latrun, near Jerusalem, on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)
  • Soldiers operate in Gaza in an image published February 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
    Soldiers operate in Gaza in an image published February 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A picture taken from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip shows smoke rising over buildings in Khan Yunis following Israeli strikes on February 5, 2024 (Photo by Said KHATIB / AFP)
    A picture taken from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip shows smoke rising over buildings in Khan Yunis following Israeli strikes on February 5, 2024 (Photo by Said KHATIB / AFP)
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane Sunday, February 4, 2024, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, en route to Saudi Arabia as part of his fifth urgent trip to the Middle East since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted in October. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)
    US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane Sunday, February 4, 2024, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, en route to Saudi Arabia as part of his fifth urgent trip to the Middle East since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted in October. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool)
  • French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné speaks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
    French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné speaks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

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

200 arrested at pro-Palestinian protest in Pennsylvania state capitol

Police arrest some of about 200 people taken into custody on February 5, 2024, in the Rotunda of the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/ Mark Scolforo)
Police arrest some of about 200 people taken into custody on February 5, 2024, in the Rotunda of the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/ Mark Scolforo)

Police take about 200 people protesting the Pennsylvania state government’s investments in Israel into custody, shutting down a demonstration on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg.

Organizers of the protest say some are being cited with failure to disperse and then released shortly afterward.

The protesters, many wearing t-shirts that said “Divest from genocide,” clap and chant during the protest, which organizers say was targeted at the state’s Treasury Department’s investment in Israel bonds.

One large sign says the state should reinvest that tax money in healthcare, housing, schools and climate. There were chants of “Free Palestine” before and after those espousing the notion were arrested.

The event was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace, the Philly Palestine Coalition, and the Pennsylvania Council on American-Islamic Relations. It began this morning outside the Capitol, but moved to the Rotunda by early afternoon.

Israeli officials send best wishes to King Charles after cancer diagnosis

Britain's King Charles III (left) shakes hands with President Isaac Herzog on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai, December 1, 2023. (Courtesy)
Britain's King Charles III (left) shakes hands with President Isaac Herzog on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai, December 1, 2023. (Courtesy)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu writes on social media: “Sara and I send our heartfelt well wishes to King Charles III and our prayers for his good health,” after it was announced earlier today that the king was diagnosed with cancer.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz posts on X: “In the name of the entire people of Israel, I extend my prayers and wishes for the full and fast recovery of the friend of the Jewish people, King Charles.”

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana kicks off meetings in Washington

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (left) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington on February 5, 2024. (Knesset Spokesman)
Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana (left) meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington on February 5, 2024. (Knesset Spokesman)

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana meets in Washington with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan kicking off his visit to the US capital.

According to the Knesset spokesperson, Ohana tells Sullivan that Hamas must be completely destroyed and that Israel “appreciates the support of the US from the beginning of the war, particularly the efforts that are being made to bring back the hostages, including US citizens.”

Ohana says that “these are critical days which will determine the fate of the entire region,” pointing to escalations by the Houthis and other Iran-backed militias, including against US forces and international shipping routes.

The Knesset speaker also met with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, along with a number of family members of hostages as well as several other MKs.

Ohana is slated to meet US House Speaker Mike Johnson at the Capitol tomorrow.

Pentagon says casualties likely in US strikes on Iraq, Syria

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)

The Pentagon says that there were likely casualties from the recent US strikes against Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria, but an assessment was still ongoing.

“It’s fair to conclude that there likely were casualties associated with these strikes,” Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder tells reporters. He adds that there had been two attacks against US troops in Syria since the Friday strikes, but there were no US injuries.

US State Department says footage of IDF soldier standing over bound Palestinian is ‘troubling’

An IDF soldier stands over a Palestinian suspect in Gaza in undated footage uploaded to social media on February 2, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
An IDF soldier stands over a Palestinian suspect in Gaza in undated footage uploaded to social media on February 2, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel says footage of an IDF soldier standing over a stripped, bound and wounded Palestinian in Gaza is “deeply troubling.”

The short clip was uploaded to Instagram by Yosee Gamzoo, who appears to be the featured soldier. He later deleted the post as well as his Instagram account after pro-Palestinian accounts got wind of it and accused him of torturing the suspect.

Asked about the footage in a briefing, Patel says he had not seen it before.

“I have no knowledge or information as it relates to the circumstances surrounding that incident,” Patel clarifies.

“I will leave it to the IDF to speak to those specific situations, but we have been clear to them that the respect for basic human rights, that humanitarian law needs to be respected and that those who do not comply need to be held accountable,” he adds.

The IDF in response says the military ended the soldiers’s reserve service recently, and that the footage was filmed and published “contrary to the protocols and values ​​of the IDF.”

The IDF says the clip was filmed during questioning, and that the suspect was not hurt.

“After a short questioning, the detainee was released,” the IDF adds.

Far-right ministers slam IDF for holding drill simulating settlers kidnapping Palestinians

Illustrative: Israeli troops take part in a drill in northern Israel, May 13, 2020. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)
Illustrative: Israeli troops take part in a drill in northern Israel, May 13, 2020. (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Far-right ministers and activists deplore the Israeli military for carrying out a drill simulating a kidnapping attack carried out by Israeli settlers.

The IDF says that the kidnapping scenario, part of a large-scale exercise in the West Bank, was just one of more than 100 scenarios that were drilled, and is among the “extreme scenarios.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir says the military officials who gave the order to “portray the settlers as the enemy and the Palestinians as the victim, have a severe moral blindness” and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich says “whoever is responsible for it cannot continue in his role and be entrusted with looking after the lives and safety of the settlers.”

Other activists and far-right media commentators describe the scenario as “unrealistic,” despite such acts by Jewish extremists occurring in the past, most notably the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in 2014.

Footage from the drill, which simulated settlers abducting a Palestinian in response to a terror attack, showed that several soldiers were wearing vests marking them as the “enemy force,” a common practice in military exercises.

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

“The IDF did not drill scenarios that simulate settlers as an enemy, and the marking of the vests in question, whose purpose is to separate those training, is part of the exercise’s safety routine,” the IDF says in a statement.

“In the present case, it was a mistake to mark them with such an inscription and we apologize for that,” the IDF adds.

France says it expects to receive ‘verifiable proof’ medicines reached hostages in Gaza

Thousands of protesters 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 protesters 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)

Weeks after medicine was delivered to the Gaza Strip for hostages held by Hamas, the countries involved in the complex operation still do not know whether the drugs reached the captives.

“We know that the medications effectively entered into Gaza,” a member of French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné’s entourage tells The Times of Israel. “The modalities of their transfer to the hostages were dealt under Qatar’s mediation. We now expect to receive verifiable proof that the medications have reached their beneficiaries.”

“The responsibility lies on Hamas and is a matter of regular exchanges with Qatari authorities,” the official continues.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office declines to comment.

Acting High Court chief orders probe into leaking of landmark ‘reasonableness’ ruling

Acting Supreme Court President Justice Uzi Vogelman at a court hearing on postponing the nationwide municipal elections scheduled for the end of January until February 27, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, December 31, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)
Acting Supreme Court President Justice Uzi Vogelman at a court hearing on postponing the nationwide municipal elections scheduled for the end of January until February 27, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, December 31, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)

Acting Supreme Court President Uzi Vogelman sets up an internal investigation into the leaking of a draft of the landmark ruling by the High Court of Justice on the government’s reasonableness limitation bill in December.

In an unprecedented leak of a High Court decision, parts of the explosive ruling were passed to Channel 12 News in late December last year, leading to accusations that the leak was politically motivated.

The investigative team examining the incident will be made up of the recently retired director of the Israel Courts Administration, Judge Michael Spitzer, former head of investigations in the Shin Bet Haggai Avimor, and another former head of investigations in the Shin Bet, Eyal Dagan. Judge Keren Azulai, a registrar on the Supreme Court, will serve as the team coordinator.

The three-member investigative team will examine “physical and technological work procedures” in the court; how the draft was leaked; how it might be possible to limit the number of court employees who have access to such documents; and how oversight over protecting them can be increased.

The investigative team will interview Supreme Court justices and employees, among others, and should the investigation raise concerns of any violation of the law or disciplinary procedures, the matter will be passed to the relevant authorities, Vogelman writes in his letter to the team members.

He adds that all justices on the court have supported the establishment of the internal investigation. The team is requested to file an interim report by May 1.

Blinken, MBS discuss Israeli-Saudi ties in Riyadh, ahead of secretary’s arrival in Tel Aviv

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on February 5, 2024. (Saudi foreign ministry/ X)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on February 5, 2024. (Saudi foreign ministry/ X)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed “building a more integrated region” with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during their meeting in Riyadh, the State Department says, using language widely understood to refer to an Israel-Saudi normalization agreement.

Blinken is in Saudi Arabia for the first of five stops on his fifth regional tour aimed at advancing diplomatic solutions to bring an end to the ongoing war in Gaza after four months. He will also be traveling to Qatar, Egypt, Israel and the West Bank, before returning to the US on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia has said it is still interested in normalizing relations with Israel but that it will be contingent on Israel agreeing to create a pathway for the future establishment of a Palestinian state — something that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has all but rejected.

During their meeting in Riyadh, Blinken also “underscored the importance of addressing humanitarian needs in Gaza and preventing further spread of the conflict,” the State Department says.

“The secretary and crown prince continued discussions on regional coordination to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza that provides lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” the US readout adds.

No Saudi readout was immediately available.

After suspending UNRWA funding, US aims to send aid to other agencies operating in Gaza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, November 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, November 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool photo via AP)

The United States is looking at sending its humanitarian funding for Gaza to other agencies following its decision last month to suspend aid to UNRWA over allegations that 12 of the organization’s staffers participated in Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel says.

“We’re looking at what options exist for supporting civilians in Gaza through partners like the World Food Program, UNICEF and other NGOs,” Patel says during a press briefing.

The supplemental funding package approved by the Senate last night includes roughly $1.4 billion in humanitarian funding for Gaza with a preclusion against any of it going to UNRWA.

“There’s text in this pending legislation that would preclude us from [donating to UNRWA]. We are an administration that follows the law,” Patel stresses.

However, he clarifies that the US still believes UNRWA’s work is “critical” and is accordingly pushing the UN to expeditiously carry out its probe into UNRWA so that reforms could be implemented that may allow for funding to be restored.

Argentina’s new president to arrive in Israel tomorrow, meet Herzog, tour Nir Oz

Argentina's new president Javier Milei waves as he arrives accompanied by his vice president Victoria Villarruel (C-L) and members of his cabinet to attend an interfaith ceremony at the Metropolitan Cathedral, in Buenos Aires, on December 10, 2023. (JUAN MABROMATA / AFP)
Argentina's new president Javier Milei waves as he arrives accompanied by his vice president Victoria Villarruel (C-L) and members of his cabinet to attend an interfaith ceremony at the Metropolitan Cathedral, in Buenos Aires, on December 10, 2023. (JUAN MABROMATA / AFP)

Argentina’s President Javier Milei will arrive in Israel tomorrow and meet with President Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president’s office says.

This will be the first visit for Milei, who was sworn into office in December.

He is expected to spend several days in Israel and also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Herzog’s office says that, later in the week, they will together pay a visit to Kibbutz Nir Oz, which was heavily attacked by Hamas on October 7.

A number of Argentinian citizens are still being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, including brothers Eitan and Yair Horn, who were kidnapped from Nir Oz.

Germany’s Scholz tells Netanyahu that two-state solution is ‘only prospect’ for sustainable peace

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives for the cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 24, 2024. (AP/Markus Schreiber)
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives for the cabinet meeting of the German government at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, January 24, 2024. (AP/Markus Schreiber)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call that a two-state solution with the Palestinians is the only path to lasting peace in the region.

“From the view of the government, only a negotiated two-state solution would open up the prospect of a sustainable solution to the Middle East conflict. This must apply to both Gaza and the West Bank,” Scholz says, according to a statement issued by his spokesman.

UK’s King Charles diagnosed with cancer, says Buckingham Palace

Britain's King Charles III arrives at St George's Chapel to attend the Most Noble Order of the Garter Ceremony in Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, June 19, 2023. (Henry Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's King Charles III arrives at St George's Chapel to attend the Most Noble Order of the Garter Ceremony in Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, June 19, 2023. (Henry Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP)

Britain’s King Charles has been diagnosed with a form of cancer and will postpone public-facing duties, Buckingham Palace says in a statement.

Charles, 75, had spent three nights in hospital last month after undergoing a corrective procedure for an enlarged prostate, when a separate issue of concern was noted. The palace says that tests had identified a form of cancer.

The palace does not give any details about Charles’s cancer, but a royal source says that it is not prostate cancer.

Ben Gvir is ‘not part of the leadership which makes decisions,’ says Gallant

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, center, speaks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after a Knesset vote in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, center, speaks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after a Knesset vote in Jerusalem, February 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Responding to a question at a press conference, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says that far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is not a key decision maker in security issues.

Asked about concerns of Ben Gvir’s involvement in arrangements for Ramadan prayers on the Temple Mount, Gallant says that “I am busy with issues of the security establishment.”

Pressed about Ben Gvir’s comments to the Wall Street Journal yesterday, in which he criticized the Biden administration and repeated his call for Gazans to voluntarily emigrate, Gallant says that the Otzma Yehudit leader “is not part of the leadership that makes decisions.”

The narrow war cabinet is made up of Gallant, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Minister Benny Gantz, although Ben Gvir sits on the security cabinet.

Gallant says Hamas operatives ‘hiding in Rafah’ will meet same fate as those in Khan Younis

This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting with soldiers in the IDF's Alpine Unit at Mount Hermon, February 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting with soldiers in the IDF's Alpine Unit at Mount Hermon, February 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says half of Hamas’s operatives have been killed or seriously wounded by IDF troops.

“The IDF operates with strength and precision. The ground operation is progressing and achieving its goals. Our forces operate on the ground in most of the territory of the Gaza Strip,” Gallant says in a press conference.

“18 Hamas battalions are dismantled and no longer function as fighting military frameworks. About half of the Hamas terrorists have been killed or seriously wounded,” he says.

Gallant says the IDF’s ground operation in Gaza is “one of the most complex and complicated in the history of wars.”

“The forces are moving with courage and professionalism in the tunnels that were once the safest place for the terrorists, and now we are increasing the pressure on the terrorists and the leaders of the terrorist organizations,” he says.

Gallant warns the remaining Hamas battalions in southern Gaza’s Rafah and some areas of central Gaza, saying the IDF will reach them as well.

“We will also reach the places where we have not yet fought in the center of the Gaza Strip and in the south, and especially to the last remaining [stronghold] of Hamas, Rafah,” he says.

“Every terrorist hiding in Rafah should know that his end will be like those in Khan Younis and Gaza [City],” Gallant continues.

Gallant repeats the assertion that the IDF’s military pressure on Hamas will advance the return of the hostages held by the terror group.

Protesters gather outside UNRWA headquarters in Jerusalem demanding group’s ouster

Israelis protest outside the UNRWA headquarters in East Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/ Times of Israel)
Israelis protest outside the UNRWA headquarters in East Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/ Times of Israel)

Around 200 protesters gather outside the UNRWA offices in East Jerusalem calling for the removal of the UN aid agency for Palestinians from the capital.

Activists shout “UNRWA is a chapter of Hamas!” at the rally, referring to Israeli allegations that at least 12 of its members took part in the October 7 Hamas onslaught against southern Israel, which led to key donors freezing their funding of the group.

The chants are led by an activist carrying a flag bearing the logo of the right-wing Im Tirzu advocacy group.

As the rally ends, dozens of activists approach the compound from a side entrance, and are stopped by police. There is no evident physical struggle, although several protesters yell at the police that they are “fighting against their own people.”

Israeli officials have repeatedly called for UNRWA’s head to be removed and for the agency to be completely replaced.

Gallant says Sinwar is ‘on the run,’ too ‘busy with his personal survival’ to command Hamas

Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza, gestures during a rally in Beit Lahiya on May 30, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/ Flash90)
Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza, gestures during a rally in Beit Lahiya on May 30, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/ Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says in a statement to the public that Hamas’s leadership, including Yahya Sinwar, is “on the run.”

“Sinwar goes from hideout to hideout, is unable to communicate with his surroundings, and in recent days, IDF troops have found significant materials in the places where he had recently been, and thanks to them, we are deepening our grip on Hamas’s plans,” Gallant says.

Gallant says there are disagreements between Hamas officials in the Strip and those abroad, which “indicate panic and distress” in the terror group.

“Sinwar does not lead the campaign, does not command the forces. He is busy with his personal survival. He turned from the head of Hamas into a fugitive terrorist, and IDF forces continue to pursue him,” he says.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant makes comments to the media on February 5, 2024. (Screenshot/GPO)

Gallant also says that defeating Hamas requires a “political act,” referring to decisions over who will run civilian matters in the Strip in the day after.

“Only the advancement of a political alternative will ensure the end of Hamas’s rule. There will be no civilian Israeli control in the Strip. This is the time to make the right decisions so that we can meet the political goals we have set,” he adds, in what Hebrew media have interpreted as a criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Lapid tells Netanyahu he’s willing to serve as ‘safety net’ to ensure approval of hostage deal

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is willing to serve as a “safety net” for the governing coalition, in order to allow the government to agree to a deal to free the hostages from Gaza.

“I told the prime minister — I am not interested in portfolios, I was foreign minister, I was finance minister, I was prime minister. I am interested in one thing — returning the hostages,” Lapid announces following a meeting with Netanyahu.

“And if he needs a safety net of any kind from me — by entering the government, from the outside, in any way — just tell me. Because the important thing is to return the hostages,” he states, reiterating a previous offer to enter the government to replace the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties if that is what is needed to secure the release of the hostages from Gaza.

Lapid’s comments come only hours after Netanyahu appears to dismiss the possibility of reaching a deal in the near term.

Speaking at his Likud party’s weekly faction meeting, Netanyahu stated that Israel has already secured the release of 110 of the hostages and will “continue to act on this issue, but that Hamas has demands that we will not agree to.”

“The key to their freedom should be similar to the previous agreement,” he states, arguing that the remaining hostages’ return “will not be realized at any cost.”

Israel says it will cooperate with independent probe of UNRWA activities

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)

Israel says it will cooperate with an independent probe into the ties between UNRWA and Hamas in Gaza after the UN says it is appointing a team to investigate the allegations.

“Congratulations to the UN on forming the investigative committee,” says Foreign Minister Israel Katz. “We will submit all evidence highlighting UNRWA’s ties to terrorism and its harmful effects on regional stability. It is imperative that this committee brings the truth to light, necessitating the immediate resignation of the UNRWA chairman.”

Italian Navy ship brings 18 wounded Palestinian children from Gaza to Italy

A picture shows the Italian Navy's 'Vulcano' during the launching ceremony of the bow section at the Fincantieri Shipyards in Castellamare di Stabia near Naples, on April 10, 2017. (CARLO HERMANN / AFP)
A picture shows the Italian Navy's 'Vulcano' during the launching ceremony of the bow section at the Fincantieri Shipyards in Castellamare di Stabia near Naples, on April 10, 2017. (CARLO HERMANN / AFP)

The Italian Navy ship Vulcano arrives in the northern port of La Spezia carrying 18 Palestinian children in need of medical care, including an infant born on the ship in December.

The infant’s mother was accompanying her daughter, who was injured in fighting in Gaza, and notified personnel of her pregnancy.

“In 24 hours, the woman delivered. Everything went really well, and it was a great experience,″ says Maita Satori, a midwife aboard the ship.

In some cases, the children sustained severe injuries and are unable to walk, but authorities say all are in stable and not life-threatening condition.

The children will be treated at hospitals in Bologna, Florence, Genoa and Rome, while family members who accompanied them will be provided a place to stay by the Sant-Egidio charity. This was the second of four planned arrivals of a total of 100 Palestinian children who will receive medical treatment in Italy.

“It was moving to see civilian people, mothers and children mostly, because the people we have taken care of are mostly children and women, to see in their eyes both the terror for what they lived but also the joy during the time they spent on board,” says Admiral Aurelio De Carolis, commander in chief of the Italian naval fleet. “Everybody made an effort not only for medical assistance but also to make them feel at home and give them hope for the future.”

UK defense chief says Houthis still ‘disrupting the Red Sea’

Britain's Defense Secretary Grant Shapps talks to the media after a meeting with the Cyprus' president Nikos Christodoulides at the Presidential palace in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Jan. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Britain's Defense Secretary Grant Shapps talks to the media after a meeting with the Cyprus' president Nikos Christodoulides at the Presidential palace in capital Nicosia, Cyprus, Jan. 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen have not fully diminished the group’s appetite to disrupt Red Sea shipping, UK Defense Minister Grant Shapps says.

“These attacks have had a significant effect on degrading Houthi capabilities. But the Houthis’ intent to continue disrupting the Red Sea has not been fully diminished,” Shapps tells parliament.

Shapps says the UK “will not hesitate to act again,” adding that it does not believe there were any civilian casualties in the most recent wave of strikes.

Relatives of hostages barred from Likud meeting; PM: ‘Hamas has demands we won’t agree to; war will take months not years’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives for a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives for a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on February 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Relatives of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza are turned away from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, after trying to arrange access for several weeks.

According to Hebrew media reports, the families — who have been a regular presence in the Knesset for months as they lobby for the government to do more to secure their loved ones’ release — were not allowed into the room to address lawmakers ahead of the gathering, despite having done so at several other parties’ faction meetings.

“Likud is the only party that has not met with us to date,” Gil Dickmann, whose cousin Carmel Gat was kidnapped on October 7, tells the Walla news site. “We were hoping that they would meet with us, but they continue to look for reasons not to do it,” he adds, pledging not to stop “until all the abductees return home.”

Coalition whip Ofir Katz said the families would be allowed to attend next week’s meeting, one participant in the meeting tells The Times of Israel.

During the meeting, Netanyahu declares that Israel has already secured the release of 110 of the hostages and will “continue to act on this issue, but Hamas has demands that we will not agree to.”

“The key to their freedom should be similar to the previous agreement,” he states, arguing that the remaining hostages’ return “will not be realized at any cost.”

Netanyahu says that “our goal is a complete victory over Hamas… we will kill the Hamas leadership, therefore we must continue to act in all areas of the Gaza Strip. The war must not end before then. It will take time — months not years.”

The meeting grew contentious, with Economy Minister Nir Barkat accusing Netanyahu of preventing him from bringing in foreign workers to replace the Palestinian laborers blocked from entering Israel from the West Bank after October 7.

“Businesses have not been able to cope with this huge lack of workers for four months,” Channel 12 quotes Barkat as saying.

Netanyahu thanks visiting French FM for support of Israel against genocide charge

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) shakes hands with French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Visiting French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Paris continues to strongly denounce Hamas and is planning a ceremony on the four-month anniversary of the deadly assault.

“This meeting is important to us, because we are at an important moment. You know the positions of France,” Séjourné says, in remarks ahead of their meeting translated from French, noting Paris’s strong denunication of Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

Séjourné says that France is also organizing a commemoration of the attack, in Paris on February 7, including for the 42 French citizens who were murdered that day.

Netanyahu thanks Séjourné for coming and for France’s support of Israel, including against the ICJ trial at the Hague on charges of genocide.

He says that the pair have many topics to discuss, “including efforts to help with medical humanitarian aid and of course cooperation between us on the topic of Lebanon.”

UN chief appoints independent review group headed by ex-French FM to probe UNRWA

A man collects trash while wearing a jacket bearing the logo of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA along a street in the city of Jenin in the West Bank on January 30, 2024. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)
A man collects trash while wearing a jacket bearing the logo of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA along a street in the city of Jenin in the West Bank on January 30, 2024. (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

An independent review group led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna will assess the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says.

Israel accused at least 12 UNRWA staff of taking part in Hamas’s deadly October 7 assault on southern Israel. A number of key donors of the agency have since frozen their funding, with the US calling the allegations “highly credible.”

French official says Paris working with Qatar to confirm if medicines reached hostages

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

A French top official says France is working to get proof that medicines shipped to Gaza for dozens of hostages held by Hamas have been delivered.

The official, speaking about sensitive information on the condition of anonymity, says France is working with Qatar and other partners in the region “to get all elements of proof to know whether the medicines have been received” by the hostages.

A shipment intended for the hostages arrived in Gaza on Jan. 18 as part of a deal mediated by France and Qatar that represented the first agreement between Israel and Hamas since a weeklong ceasefire in November.

France said at the time that the deal called for providing a three-month supply of medication for 45 hostages with chronic illnesses, as well as other medicines and vitamins.

French FM says Paris will donate 200,000 euros to Israeli rape crisis center

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné speaks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné speaks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

France will donate 200,000 euros to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné announces during a visit to Jerusalem.

He says it will help Hamas victims deal with sexual violence and sexual crimes committed on 7 October.

Past French foreign minister Catherine Colonna met with ARCCI president Orit Sulitzeanu in December at the IDF Shura military base, where the bodies of October 7 victims are identified before burial.

Rambam Medical Center in Haifa says it thwarted attempted cyberattack

Medical staff prepare the the Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa following the outbreak of war, October 11, 2023. (Courtesy of Rambam)
Medical staff prepare the the Sammy Ofer Fortified Underground Emergency Hospital at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa following the outbreak of war, October 11, 2023. (Courtesy of Rambam)

An attempted cyberattack on the computer systems at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa is averted.

The Health Ministry, Israel National Cyber Directorate, and Rambam Medical Center report that the attempt took place last night and that it was identified and blocked without any damage to the hospital’s computer systems or overall operations.

The incident is under investigation.

There have been multiple cyberattacks and ransomware attacks on Israeli medical centers in recent years, not all of them successfully thwarted.

IDF says it continued striking Hezbollah targets in south Lebanon after rocket fire

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

The IDF says it struck Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon today, as the terror group continues attacks on northern Israel.

Hezbollah sites hit by fighter jets and artillery shelling included a military complex in Labbouneh, a command center in Jebbayn, and buildings in Beit Lif and Baraachit, where members of the terror group were gathered, according to the IDF.

Today, Hezbollah fired projectiles at a number of areas in northern Israel, causing no injuries.

The IDF says it also shelled the source of the fire.

IDF general says troops stepping up operations against remaining Hamas gunmen in north Gaza

The commander of the IDF's 162nd Division, Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, (left) in the northern Gaza Strip in a handout image published February 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
The commander of the IDF's 162nd Division, Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, (left) in the northern Gaza Strip in a handout image published February 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The commander of the IDF’s 162nd Division says his forces are increasing their operations against remaining Hamas operatives and infrastructure in the northern Gaza Strip.

The IDF, after largely capturing northern Gaza and dismantling Hamas’s fighting force in the area, withdrew its troops and focused on smaller raids there as the intensive fighting moved to the southern part of the Strip.

The IDF has estimated there are several hundred Hamas operatives still in northern Gaza.

Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen says his division, “which has been fighting for over 100 days in Gaza, is increasing the pace of operations and the pressure on Hamas” members remaining in northern Gaza.

“The division is currently in the midst of an operation in the Shati [camp] area, against strategic Hamas targets above and below ground,” Cohen says.

Over the past week, the division’s Nahal Infantry Brigade and 401st Armored Brigade returned to operate in the central and northern parts of Gaza City, as well as the Shati Camp, where the military previously battled Hamas, the IDF says.

The IDF says the troops are raiding selected areas in northern Gaza and clearing it of Hamas operatives and infrastructure in an “in-depth and thorough manner.”

So far, the 162nd Division has killed hundreds of Hamas operatives and nabbed dozens more, as well as seized weapons during the raids, the IDF says.

Cohen says that at the beginning of the IDF’s ground offensive, three divisions were needed to reach the center of Gaza City, “and it took us three days.”

He says that now, just two brigades and additional forces under their command are needed to reach the same area “within an hour and a half.”

“The forces under the division are preventing Hamas from restoring its capabilities, eliminating hundreds of terrorists and arresting dozens of other terrorists,” Cohen adds.

In Jerusalem, French FM says ‘settler violence’ in West Bank must end, calls for Gaza ceasefire

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné speaks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné speaks at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Speaking in Jerusalem after meeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné says that “settler violence” in the West Bank must stop.

“We must also prevent any risk of escalation, to avoid any flareup in the West Bank,” he says at a press conference at the King David Hotel. “It is of utmost importance to refrain from any action decision or statement that might spark violence. Settler violence must stop in the Palestinian territories, which we condemn.”

Séjourné also condemns “any violent statements that spark Palestinian hatred.” He says “those statements are more and more frequent in Israel,” and adds that “and are shared by political leaders.”

“There can in no circumstance be any transfer of Palestinians, neither from Gaza nor from the West Bank,” he declares.

Séjourné stresses that he is in Israel “as a friend,” but is here to tell truths “that our Israeli partners may have a hard time hearing.”

“For four months now,” he says, ״Gazans are under bombing, besieged and deprived of basic aid… and are gathered near Rafah,” the southernmost city where most of the displaced Gazans have ended up. “Nothing can justify such a tragedy.”

“The ongoing tragedy in Gaza must stop,” he declares, “in compliance with international law, [there must be] an immediate and sustainable ceasefire, and more aid should enter.”

Calling it “essential and urgent,” Séjourné calls for a “political solution with two states living peacefully side by side, if and only if peace talks restart.”

He says the parameters are mutual recognition between Israel and a Palestinian state, and security guarantees for Israel.

“After the atrocities of October 7,” he says, “no one thinks about rewarding terrorism here, but none of Israel’s friends can imagine handling the issue of the Palestinians without solving it, and this will happen via a Palestinian state.”

Doubling down, Ben Gvir says that the Biden administration ‘must stop pressuring us’

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

Far right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir doubles down on his criticism of the Biden administration in comments at a faction meeting, a day after he was heavily criticized — including by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — for similar remarks to the Wall Street Journal.

“We value America, we love the administration, but we need to change the way we operate,” he declares at the start of his Otzma Yehudit party’s weekly faction meeting. “I’m not sweeping the complex reality facing the Biden administration under the table. America is our ally, our friend, but the Biden administration must stop pressuring us, bringing in fuel and humanitarian equipment that ends up going to Hamas,” he says.

“I go my own way. I don’t blink. I don’t fold,” he continues, alleging that someone close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed Likud lawmakers to “attack” him.

“Prime minister, I know you are at a crossroads today. You can and should choose,” he says, echoing his comments in the Wall Street Journal — and urging Netanyahu to repudiate the policies of his war cabinet, which is a path “that has proven its mistakes time and time again.”

“I hope that the prime minister of Israel will decide and choose the path of Otzma Yehudit, not the path of Lapid and Gantz.”

Netanyahu says IDF has destroyed 75% of Hamas battalions in Gaza

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

Speaking to IDF soldiers in Latrun, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that 75% of Hamas battalions have been destroyed, and that “there is no substitute for total victory.”

“We are on the path to total victory,” Netanyahu tells the tank crewmen of Battalion 8104, “and I want to tell you that we are committed to it and we will not give it up. We will not end the war without achieving this goal of total victory, which will restore security to both the south and the north.”

He does not lay out what total victory means.

If Israel does not achieve that goal, he continues, evacuated Israelis will not return to their homes, another massacre is “only a matter of time,” and Hezbollah and other groups will upend the region.

Netanyahu says Israel has destroyed more than half of Hamas’s manpower, defeated 18 of 24 battalions, and is actively clearing the remaining forces.

Netanyahu also says that Israel is “collapsing and destroying” Hamas’s tunnel network.

UNRWA chief visiting UAE, Qatar, Kuwait to drum up support after donors freeze funding

The commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UNRWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
The commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UNRWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2023. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

The head of UNRWA is visiting three Gulf states this week, seeking to drum up support after key donors suspended funding following Israeli allegations that a number of its staff were involved in Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

Some 15 of the agency’s most important donors, including the United States, have suspended funding over Israel’s allegations involving 12 of its 13,000 staff, prompting UNRWA to warn last week that it might be forced to shut down by the end of this month.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini writes on X that he met with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan today to discuss UNRWA’s work in “preserving the stability in the region” and delivering aid to two million people in Gaza.

Spokesperson Juliette Touma tells Reuters that Lazzarini will then visit Qatar and Kuwait later this week.

Blinken arrives in Saudi Arabia on first stop of Mideast tour

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on February 4, 2024, en route to Saudi Arabia. (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he boards a plane at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on February 4, 2024, en route to Saudi Arabia. (Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Saudi Arabia, his first stop in a wider tour of the Middle East as Washington tries to advance negotiations on a normalization deal between the kingdom and Israel as well as make progress on talks for the governance of postwar Gaza.

The top US diplomat’s fifth trip to the region since Hamas’s deadly Oct. 7 assault comes at a particularly perilous moment amid retaliatory US strikes on Iran-backed militia across Syria, Iraq and Yemen in response to a drone strike last week in Jordan that killed three American troops and wounded dozens.

Blinken is also set to visit Egypt, Qatar and Israel later this week and push to advance the Egyptian- and Qatari-mediated conversations with Hamas to achieve a hostage deal.

In Riyadh, Blinken is expected to meet with the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as his Saudi counterpart, foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.

IDF publishes video of Gaza terrorist attacking troops with grenade, knife

The IDF releases footage from an incident in southern Gaza over the weekend, in which a Hamas operative hurled a grenade and rushed at troops with a knife.

The clip shows soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade shooting at an unknown target amid an operation near the home of the commander of Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade, before a grenade explodes near them.

One of the soldiers turns around to see a Hamas operative approaching the troops with a knife. The soldier opens fire, killing the operative.

The IDF says the operative was also armed with another grenade.

No soldiers were hurt in the incident.

Lapid: Region will go up in flames if Ben Gvir in charge of Temple Mount during Ramadan

Opposition leader and head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader and head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir is allowed to run things on the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem then the area will “go up in flames” during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid warns during his Yesh Atid party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset.

“I consider it my duty to warn the government. The country is not ready for this. There is no preparation. There is no plan. There were no operational and political discussions at an adequate level. We are headed for disaster. For another disaster,” he says.

“This is what he wants, but it is not what the State of Israel needs,” Lapid says of Ben Gvir, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restrict Ben Gvir’s authority and to appoint a team to oversee Israel’s preparations for the volatile period.

“We didn’t need the interview in the Wall Street Journal to remind us that Ben Gvir is a dangerous clown who prefers to light fires instead of putting them out, but during Ramadan this could cause an all-out conflagration that would cost human lives,” he continues.

“I say to the government: you have been warned.”

On Sunday, the US newspaper published an interview with the far-right minister in which he harshly criticized the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Gaza, accusing it of benefitting Hamas and arguing that Israel would have been better off with a second Trump administration.

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

Gantz, Gallant schedule simultaneous press briefings, drawing ridicule; Gantz cancels

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, and Minister Benny Gantz attend a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, and Minister Benny Gantz attend a press conference at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, December 16, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz is forced to cancel a press briefing after setting it for the exact same time and place as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced that he would be holding a press conference.

Both ministers had announced that they would be speaking — separately — at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv at 7 p.m., drawing ridicule from their political opponents.

Some critics linked the dueling press conferences to growing tensions within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

Addressing reporters during his Yisrael Beytenu party’s weekly faction meeting, Avigdor Liberman cites the two cabinet members’ decision to speak separately as “absurd,” declaring that it showed “that this cabinet is pure politics.”

“The war cabinet turned into a political cabinet,” he contends.

“What a shame that Gantz canceled his statement at the same time as Gallant’s. I was actually looking forward to hearing them demanding that Netanyahu fire Ben Gvir in stereo,” tweets outgoing Labor chair Merav Michaeli.

PA says Israel yet to approve transfer of tax money via Norway

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh addressing a press conference in Ramallah on March 29, 2020. (Wafa)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh addressing a press conference in Ramallah on March 29, 2020. (Wafa)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh says Israel has not yet authorized the transfer of funds through Norway for the Palestinian Authority.

On January 21, under heavy US pressure, the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to transfer to Norway tax funds that it collects on behalf of the PA, after Jerusalem had been withholding the money out of concern that it could reach Hamas in Gaza. According to the trilateral agreement, Oslo was then supposed to send the sum to Ramallah when Israel was satisfied it would not go to Hamas.

In a PA cabinet meeting today, Shtayyeh says that “there is no agreement between Israel and Norway for the transfer of the funds,” adding that the idea of using the Scandinavian country as an intermediary has not solved the problem.

It is unclear whether the sum is still in Israel’s coffers, or whether it has already been been handed to Oslo but Jerusalem is opposing its transfer to Ramallah.

Shtayyeh’s claim has not yet been confirmed by Israel, nor has a reason been given for Israel’s apparent refusal to proceed with the deal.

The office of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shtayyeh adds that even though it has not received the funds, the PA will pay out salaries to civil servants within the next two days. Over the past years, the Ramallah government has regularly been forced to make cuts to the wages it pays to its employees due to its dire financial situation and deductions imposed by Israel.

Police publish footage showing an attempted West Bank stabbing attack

Police publish footage showing an attempted stabbing attack earlier today near the West Bank town of al-Eizariya.

In the clip, the Palestinian assailant can be seen approaching Border Police officers who sought to question him, before pulling a knife and trying to stab them.

The officers then open fire at the suspect, who tries to flee before collapsing. He was pronounced dead a short while later.

Police identify the assailant as a 14-year-old resident of East Jerusalem.

McDonald’s profits hit by Gaza war protests, boycotts

A McDonald's sign is displayed at a McDonald's restaurant in East Palo Alto, Calif., Friday, April 20, 2012. McDonald's reports earnings Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.  (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)
A McDonald's sign is displayed at a McDonald's restaurant in East Palo Alto, Calif., Friday, April 20, 2012. McDonald's reports earnings Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

A banner year came to a bumpy end for McDonald’s, which lost sales in many markets due to the war in Gaza.

Global same-store sales – or sales at restaurants open at least a year – rose 3.4% in the October-December period, well below the 4.7% increase Wall Street was expecting, according to analysts polled by FactSet.

Customers in the Middle East were angered after McDonald’s Israel – which is operated by a local franchisee — announced in October it was providing free meals to Israeli soldiers. In response, some franchisees, like McDonald’s Oman, announced donations to relief efforts in Gaza.

Last month, McDonald’s president and CEO Chris Kempczinski warned that “misinformation” in the Middle East and elsewhere was hurting sales. In addition to customer boycotts, McDonald’s has had to temporarily limit store hours or close some locations due to protests.

“We abhor violence of any kind and firmly stand against hate speech, and we will always proudly open our doors to anyone,” Kempczinski said in a LinkedIn post.

It was an unexpected end to an otherwise strong year for the burger giant, which said global sale-store sales rose 9% in 2023.

Egyptian officials: 35,000 have left Gaza through Rafah crossing since November

Travelers crossing from the Gaza Strip enter the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the Palestinian enclave following their evacuation on December 18, 2023. (AFP)
Travelers crossing from the Gaza Strip enter the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing with the Palestinian enclave following their evacuation on December 18, 2023. (AFP)

Over 35,000 people have left the Gaza Strip for Egypt through the Rafah crossing since November, according to a spokesman for the Egyptian Border Authority quoted by al-Araby al-Jadeed, amid reports Gazans were paying bribes to leave the Strip.

The figure reportedly includes an estimated 2,000 sick and wounded people who have entered Egypt for medical treatment, as well as staff of international institutions, Egyptian passport holders and dual citizens.

The official adds that under normal circumstances, about 15,000 people a month cross the Rafah border crossing, so over the time span of three months (November-January), the expected traffic should stand at 45,000.

The Qatari-owned news outlet quotes Ammar Fayed, an international relations researcher, claiming that the number of wounded people allowed to cross into Egypt for treatment is negligible and “symbolic,” as it amounts to only about 0.3 percent of those in need.

Egypt is said to have adopted measures to prevent the exploitation of Gazans trying to leave the Strip, after reports emerged that some of them were forced to pay as much as $10,000 to border officials in order to cross.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed reports that Cairo decided in mid-December to replace much of the staff manning the crossing and to appoint supervisors to monitor their work and prevent extortion.

Man, 77, dies in Tel Aviv apartment fire

A 77-year-old man was killed in an apartment fire in Tel Aviv, medics say.

Magen David Adom first responders say that they treated the man after he was pulled from the building by Fire and Rescue Services, but were forced to declare him dead at the scene.

The cause of the blaze on Ha’aliya Street was not immediately clear.

Video shows IDF commander reciting Shema prayer before blowing up Gaza building he says is mosque

An Israeli officer seen reciting a prayer as troops blow up buildings in the Gaza Strip (Screenshot/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
An Israeli officer seen reciting a prayer as troops blow up buildings in the Gaza Strip (Screenshot/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A video posted to social media shows an IDF commander in the Gaza Strip reciting the Shema prayer before detonating a series of buildings and claiming one of them is a mosque.

“This is the commander,” the officer says over a radio. “We were able to recite ‘Shema Yisrael’ in the mosque and now we will destroy the mosque with a reading of ‘Shema Yisrael,'” he says.

He then recites the iconic prayer and a row of buildings can be seen exploding in the background as he finishes.

It was not immediately clear where or when the incident took place and there is no immediate comment from the IDF.

The military has been criticized for demolishing several mosques and other public buildings in Gaza, including universities and court buildings. The IDF has defended the actions, saying they were being used as terror infrastructure.

Australia halts ship carrying livestock from sailing around Africa to Israel amid Houthi attacks

A view of the MV Bahijah, loaded with 14,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle, off the coast of Western Australia, February 1, 2024 (Screenshot: Sky News Australia, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A view of the MV Bahijah, loaded with 14,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle, off the coast of Western Australia, February 1, 2024 (Screenshot: Sky News Australia, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Australian government says it had refused a request by a livestock exporter to send a ship carrying around 14,000 sheep and 1,500 cattle on a month-long voyage around Africa to Israel.

The animals have been on board the vessel for a month, prompting outcry from animal rights advocates who have likened their treatment to torture.

The MV Bahijah sailed from Australia for Israel on Jan. 5 but abandoned a passage through the Red Sea due to threat of attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia and was ordered home by the Australian government.

The ship has been waiting off Western Australia for a week for the government to decide if it can head back to sea.

Several hundred cattle were offloaded in recent days but Australia’s biosecurity rules mean any animals that disembark must be quarantined.

The agriculture ministry said it was not satisfied that the exporter’s application met Australian or Israeli regulatory requirements or that the animals’ transportation would ensure their health and welfare.

Iran hosts, but does not acknowledge, pro-Palestinian US porn star

An American porn actor who has advocated for Palestinians online during Israel’s war with Hamas traveled to Iran and visited the former US Embassy in Tehran, which was abandoned after the 1979 hostage crisis.

The visit by Whitney Wright, as Nobel Peace Prize laureate and women’s rights activist Narges Mohammadi is imprisoned in Iran, sparked heated criticism of the country’s crackdown on women since the 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini and the nationwide protests it sparked.

Wright filmed herself throughout Tehran despite her work in pornography exposing her in theory to criminal charges that carry the death penalty.

Wright did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. But in remarks on social media, she described the US Embassy as a place she “HAD to visit.” Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard now runs it as a museum.

Iranian students backing Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overran the compound after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Embassy staff members taken hostage were held for 444 days. A direct line can be drawn between that crisis and the tensions between Iran and the US today.

“I’m sharing exhibits from a museum that are never seen,” Wright wrote on Instagram. “It’s not an endorsement of the government.”

As a US citizen born in Oklahoma City, Wright would need a visa for her visit. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to questions about the actor’s trip.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was asked about Wright during a briefing and said he had no information about her. Wright has shared pro-Palestinian information online, including material supporting terror against Israel.

Spain to send UNRWA extra $3.8 million in aid

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)
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)

Spain will send the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA an additional 3.5 million euros ($3.8 million) in aid, Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares tells lawmakers.

Major donors to UNRWA, including the United States and Germany, suspended funding after allegations emerged that around 12 of its tens of thousands of Palestinian employees were suspected of involvement in the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel by Hamas.

Madrid contributed 18.5 million euros directly to UNRWA in 2023, including 10 million euros approved in December following the decision to triple development and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories.

FM Katz meets visiting French counterpart, says Israel looking for alternatives to UNRWA

France's Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne (L) meets his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024.  (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
France's Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne (L) meets his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz in Jerusalem on February 5, 2024. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz meets in Jerusalem with French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné, and tells his counterpart that Israel is working to find alternatives to UNRWA in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Foreign Ministry’s readout, Katz also asks Séjourné to pressure Qatar for evidence that medications reached hostages in Gaza.

In mid-January, France and Qatar were part of a deal to purchase and send medication to Israeli hostages held by Hamas, but Israel has not been able to verify that they reached the captives.

Katz thanks Séjourné for France’s support for Israel and its right to defend itself, and for suspending its UNRWA funding.

Yesterday, Séjourné was in Egypt and Jordan, and will visit Ramallah and Beirut on the four-day tour.

He will also meet in Israel today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.

Palestinian shot dead after trying to stab police in West Bank town

This handout image from police shows a knife used by a Palestinian suspect in an attempted stabbing in the West Bank town of al-Eizariya, February 5, 2024. (Israel Police)
This handout image from police shows a knife used by a Palestinian suspect in an attempted stabbing in the West Bank town of al-Eizariya, February 5, 2024. (Israel Police)

Border Police officers shot dead a Palestinian who attempted to stab them in the West Bank town of al-Eizariya, on the outskirts of East Jerusalem.

Police say officers stopped the suspect, and during questioning, he drew a knife and attempted to stab them.

The Border Police officers opened fire, killing the suspect, police say.

No officers are hurt in the incident.

El Al won’t restart Ireland, Morocco flights for summer season

El Al Airlines' Boeing 737s are pictured on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, March 10, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
El Al Airlines' Boeing 737s are pictured on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, March 10, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

El Al Israel Airlines will not restart its direct flights to Dublin, the Irish capital, and the Moroccan city of Marrakech for the coming summer season, the flag carrier says, citing changes in customer demands since the Gaza war.

The Dublin flights were launched last March and had been due to continue through November, but were curtailed a few weeks after Hamas sparked the war by attacking Israel on Oct 7, an El Al statement says.

The Marrakech flights were halted in October amid Israeli advisories against travel to Morocco, it adds.

Hundreds protest at the Knesset, calling for equality in early IDF enlistment

Hundreds of activists are protesting at the Knesset against what they say are imbalances in the early recruitment of some 1,300 students currently enrolled in pre-army, yeshiva, and community service programs.

Organized by the Mothers on the Front, an activist group formed last year as part of the anti-judicial overhaul movement, the protestors are calling for the early enlistment order to be reconsidered because most of the new soldiers are to be drawn from the pre-army academies and community service programs, and not from Religious Zionist yeshiva programs.

The IDF and Defense Ministry announced last week that about 850 trainees will be recruited in March from the pre-army and community service year programs, and about 450 more from yeshivas, with an emphasis on those already slated to enlist this year.

The number of yeshiva students to be enlisted early originally stood at 150, but was raised to 450 after protests from parents and program directors.

The new recruits are to be drawn from those who will go into combat units, in light of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, the IDF has said.

The activists also contend that the early removal of the students from their programs could harm their prospects in the army and also harm the future of the programs themselves.

Dozens of students are present at the demonstration.

A Knesset committee is currently meeting in a closed session to debate the issue. Most pre-army military academies are expected to present a list of their students to be recruited in the coming days.

Second settler sanctioned by US has local bank account frozen — report

File - David Chai Chasdai arrives for a court hearing outside the Magistrate's Court in Jerusalem on February 16, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
File - David Chai Chasdai arrives for a court hearing outside the Magistrate's Court in Jerusalem on February 16, 2022. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A second settler recently sanctioned by the US for alleged acts of violence in the West Bank has had his Israeli bank account frozen, the Israel Hayom daily reports.

David Chai Chasdai’s account at Bank Hadoar has been frozen.

The report comes a day after Bank Leumi froze the account of Yinon Levi, telling him the move was in compliance with the sanctions that determine that access to American financial systems or software by sanctioned individuals is a criminal offense.

The move by Bank Hadoar, which is run by the Israel Post, is notable because it it is a state-owned bank.

The US last week sanctioned four settlers.

According to the US, Chasdai allegedly initiated and led a rampage in the northern West Bank village of Huwara last year that resulted in the death of one of the Palestinian residents.

Bank Hapoalim has also indicated that it plans to freeze the accounts of two other settlers.

IDF says 33 wanted Palestinians arrested in West Bank sweeps

The IDF says troops detained 33 wanted Palestinians during overnight raids across the West Bank.

One of the terror suspects, arrested in the No. 1 refugee camp near Nablus, is accused of previously shooting at troops, the IDF says.

Since October 7, troops have arrested more than 3,000 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,350 affiliated with Hamas.

Knesset vote on impeachment of far-left MK for supporting genocide charges set for Feb. 19

MK Ofer Cassif attends a Knesset House Committee meeting in Jerusalem on January 30, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Ofer Cassif attends a Knesset House Committee meeting in Jerusalem on January 30, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A vote on the impeachment of MK Ofer Cassif has been scheduled for February 19 in the Knesset, less than three weeks after the Knesset House Committee overwhelmingly supported a motion to expel the far-left lawmaker.

The effort to remove Cassif from the parliament came in response to his public support for South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice, which has been described as “treasonous” by his critics.

The only Jewish member of the Arab-majority Hadash-Ta’al party, Cassif signed a petition backing Pretoria’s claims and accused Israeli leaders of advocating for crimes against humanity against the Palestinians.

In response, Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer set out to invoke a previously unused legal mechanism in the 2016 Suspension Law, under which legislators may drum out colleagues from their ranks if they are found to have committed one of a number of infractions, including expressing support “for an armed struggle” against Israel or inciting racism.

So far the lawmakers have gone through the first two steps of the process — submitting a letter signed by a minimum of 70 MKs and obtaining the support of at least three-quarters of the House Committee. Now the proceedings are slated to move to the plenum, where a supermajority vote of 90 legislators is needed to suspend Cassif.

Despite the widespread backlash against Cassif, both Deputy Attorney General Avital Sompolinsky and Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik have stated that the charges against him fall short of “crossing the criminal threshold” necessary for his removal.

Chilean woman probed for hate crime after accosting Jewish store owner in Brazil

A woman suspected of an antisemitic hate crime accosts and threatens a Jewish store owner in Arraial d'Ajuda, Brazil on February 2, 2024 (Screenshot/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A woman suspected of an antisemitic hate crime accosts and threatens a Jewish store owner in Arraial d'Ajuda, Brazil on February 2, 2024 (Screenshot/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A video of woman shouting “Zionist baby killer” at the Jewish owner of a shop in Brazil is evidence in a criminal investigation of racist intimidation, local police say.

The assailant, a citizen of Chile, is under orders not to leave Brazil pending the investigation of the incident Friday in Arraial d’Ajuda, a police spokesperson tells the news site uol.com.br.

In the video, which has gone viral on social networks, the assailant screams at the Jewish shop owner, Herta Breslauer, 54, in her souvenir shop near the beachfront of the resort city situated about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of Rio de Janeiro.

The assailant calls the shop owner in Portuguese a “whore” and says: “I’ll get you” as the victim and a shirtless man repeatedly tell the woman to stop. The man drags the woman away from the store, which is strewn with broken produce.

Police tell uol that the assailant attributes her behavior to an unspecified prescription drug. The two women know each other from before the altercation, according to the police source.

In a filmed statement taken outside a police station Friday, Breslauer says the assailant beat her “simply because I’m Jewish.” Police tell uol they have no evidence of a beating.

The incident is causing alarm and anger among Brazilian Jews, who, like many other Jewish communities around the world, are experiencing an increase in antisemitic rhetoric in connection with Israel’s war with Hamas.

Rony Meisler, a Jewish business mogul and founder of the Reserva sustainable clothing line, offers on Instagram to reimburse the woman for the damages to her store. He blames the surge of antisemitism on “party political ideology” in Brazil, whose President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in December accused Israel of perpetrating a “genocide” in Gaza.

BBC fires senior employee accused of repeated antisemitic posts, Holocaust denial

Protesters hold placards and Israeli flags outside the headquarters of the BBC in London on October 16, 2023, to appeal to the corporation to call Hamas 'terrorists.' (Daniel Leal / AFP)
Protesters hold placards and Israeli flags outside the headquarters of the BBC in London on October 16, 2023, to appeal to the corporation to call Hamas 'terrorists.' (Daniel Leal / AFP)

The BBC says that it has fired a senior employee who came under scrutiny for having shared a plethora of antisemitic posts publicly on Facebook.

“The individual concerned is no longer employed by the BBC,” a spokesperson for the broadcaster tells The Telegraph.

Dawn Queva, who uses Facebook under the name Dawn Las Quevas-Allen, was a senior scheduling coordinator at BBC Three.

Queva has been promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial on Facebook for several years. As early as 2014, she referred to Israel as “Israhell,” Ashkenazi Jews as “AshkeNAZI,” and the Holocaust as the “supposed holocaust of the fake Jew in Europe.” In the same 2014 post, Queva called the BBC the Bigoted Broadcasting Cretins.

Hezbollah says 3 killed in IDF strikes; 8 rockets fired into northern Israel

The Hezbollah terror group names three members killed in recent Israeli strikes on its sites in southern Lebanon.

Their deaths bring the terror group’s toll of slain members and the war in Gaza to 182.

Last night, the IDF said it has targeted a number of Hezbollah sites in response to repeated attacks on northern Israel.

This morning, at least eight rockets were fired from Lebanon at the Upper Galilee, causing no injuries, as Hezbollah and allied terror groups continue their attacks.

Russia to summon Israeli ambassador over ‘unacceptable’ comments

Russia’s foreign ministry will summon Israeli ambassador Simona Halperin over “unacceptable comments” she made in an interview, the TASS news agency cited the ministry as saying.

Halperin, according to the ministry, misrepresented Russia’s foreign policy stance in the interview with Russia’s Kommersant daily, published yesterday.

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

Halperin took up her posting last month.

IDF says it killed dozens of Gaza terrorists in past 24 hours

Soldiers operate in Gaza in an image published February 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers operate in Gaza in an image published February 5, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli forces have killed dozens of Palestinian terrorists in operations throughout the Gaza Strip over the last 24 hours, the Israel Defense Forces says.

The IDF says that in a joint effort between ground forces, the Israeli Air Force, and Navy, a five-man Hamas cell identified near troops of the Nahal Brigade in the central Gaza Strip was struck and killed overnight.

The Nahal Brigade and the 401st Brigade killed dozens more Hamas operatives in northern and central Gaza over the past day, the IDF says, in operations led by the 162nd Division.

Meanwhile, in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, which has been the site of the heaviest fighting in recent weeks, the army says tens of terrorists were killed in airstrikes and in close-quarters combat by forces of the 98th Division.

The IDF says a fighter jet struck a structure where a group of Hamas operatives were gathered in Khan Younis and preparing to set off explosives against troops in a nearby building.

In western Khan Younis, the IDF says the division’s Givati Brigade continued to raid Hamas sites and killed dozens of operatives over the past day.

The Paratroopers Brigade, also in western Khan Younis, directed an aircraft to scan an area near them, revealing a Hamas operative carrying an explosive device, the IDF says. The operative was then struck by the aircraft.

Also in Khan Younis, reservists of the 646th Brigade killed around ten operatives in close-quarters combat and by calling in airstrikes, according to the IDF.

In addition to killing the gunmen, troops of the 98th Division also found weapons stores, including assault rifles, sniper rifles, grenades, and magazines.

The IDF adds that Navy missile boats also struck several Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad sites along Gaza’s coast over the past day.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Five Kurdish fighters said killed in drone attack on US base in Syria

Five fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in an attack on an American base in eastern Syria, a war monitor says.

“Five members from SDF special forces were killed and around 20 wounded by a drone attack after midnight on Al-Omar oil field,” the largest US-led coalition base in Syria, says Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rocket warning siren sounds on Gaza border

A rocket warning siren sounds near the Gaza border.

Sirens are heard in the community of Yad Mordechai, just north of the Strip.

Warning sirens sound on northern border

Rocket warning sirens are sounding on the northern border.

Sirens go off in the communities of Dovev and Baram.

Man shot and killed trying to steal gun from policeman in Beersheba

A police officer shot and killed a man who apparently tried to steal his gun in the southern city of Beersheba, police say.

Police say the incident is criminal and not an attempted terror attack.

Hebrew media reports say the man may have been drunk.

Nova music festival victims of Hamas Oct. 7 massacre acknowledged at Grammy Awards

In a speech at the Grammy Awards tonight in Los Angeles, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. mentions the 360 Israelis gunned down at the Nova music festival on October 7 during Hamas’s shock attack on southern Israel, and calls for peace and unity.

“Music must always be our safe space. When that’s violated it strikes at the very core of who we are. We felt that at the Bataclan music hall in Paris. We felt that at the Manchester Arena, in England. We felt that at the Route 91 music festival in Las Vegas. And on October 7, we felt that again when we heard the tragic news from the Supernova music festival for love, that over 360 music fans lost their lives, and another 40 were kidnapped,” he says in the televised event.

“That day and all the tragic days that have followed have been awful for the world to bear as we mourn the loss of all innocent lives,” he says.

“We live in a world divided by so much… Music must remain the common ground on which we all stand, at peace and harmony,” he went on, also pointing to a string quartet with Israeli and Palestinian musicians who were performing while he spoke.

Earlier at the award show, musician Annie Lennox called for a “ceasefire” and “peace in the world” following a performance of “Nothing Compares 2 U” in tribute to the late Sinéad O’Connor. Her call was met with applause.

US strikes five missiles in Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, says military

American forces carried out air strikes against five missiles in Yemen on Sunday — one designed for land attack and the others for targeting ships, the US military said.

The strikes came a day after US and UK forces launched a wave of air raids against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis — their third round of joint military action in response to the rebels’ persistent attacks on shipping.

US forces “conducted a strike in self-defense against a Houthi… land attack cruise missile,” and later struck “four anti-ship cruise missiles, all of which were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea,” Central Command (CENTCOM) says on social media.

American forces “identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM adds.

The Houthis began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

US and UK forces responded with strikes against the Houthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.

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.

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