ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Feb. 9: After Moody’s downgrade, PM says credit rating will rise again once Israel wins war

White House says directive doesn’t have new standards but follows congressional pressure to condition Israel aid * Almost 10% of Gaza’s under 5 now acutely malnourished, UN says

  • US President Joe Biden, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Pool Photo via AP)
    US President Joe Biden, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Pool Photo via AP)
  • Palestinians collect their belongings from their damaged house after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
    Palestinians collect their belongings from their damaged house after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
  • A pack of stray dogs look for food near an Israeli tank deployed in southern Israel near the Gaza border on February 8, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
    A pack of stray dogs look for food near an Israeli tank deployed in southern Israel near the Gaza border on February 8, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
  • IDF soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip in this undated handout photo published February 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF soldiers operate inside the Gaza Strip in this undated handout photo published February 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Ministers from the Palestinian Authority, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt hold a meeting on the Gaza war in Riyadh on February 8, 2024. (Saudi Press Agency)
    Ministers from the Palestinian Authority, the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt hold a meeting on the Gaza war in Riyadh on February 8, 2024. (Saudi Press Agency)

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

Syrian state media reports ‘some material losses’ from Israeli strikes in Damascus area

A screenshot from a video showing damage caused by an alleged Israeli airstrike in the countryside of Damascus, Syria, on early February 10, 2024. (Screenshot from X used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A screenshot from a video showing damage caused by an alleged Israeli airstrike in the countryside of Damascus, Syria, on early February 10, 2024. (Screenshot from X used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Syrian air defenses shot down some Israeli missiles launched at the Damascus countryside in the early hours of Saturday, Syrian state media says.

Citing a military source, Syria’s official news agency, SANA, says the airstrikes were launched from the Golan Heights and caused “some material losses.”

Netanyahu on Moody’s downgrade: Economy is strong, credit rating will rise again once we win war

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on February 7, 2024. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on February 7, 2024. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a rare statement over Shabbat playing down Moody’s decision to lower Israel’s credit rating and downgrade its future outlook, amid the ongoing war against Hamas.

“The Israeli economy is strong. The rating downgrade is not connected to the economy, it is entirely due to the fact that we are in a war,” the premier says.

“The rating will rise back at the moment we win the war — and we will win the war,” he predicts.

US proposals to fund other agencies instead of UNRWA not viable — senior aid official

Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) hand out flour rations and other supplies to people at an UNRWA warehouse in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 12, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) hand out flour rations and other supplies to people at an UNRWA warehouse in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 12, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

A top United Nations official argues that replacing the UN’s relief agency for Palestinian refugees in the middle of the Israel-Hamas war would all but end in a humanitarian disaster in an interview with The Times of Israel earlier this week.

Calls to dismantle UNRWA have mounted following the agency’s January announcement that it had fired or suspended 12 employees who allegedly participated in Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught. The announcement led the US along with over a dozen other countries to suspend their funding, which UNRWA says will force it to stop operating by the end of the month if those decisions remain in place.

The US has said it supports the work UNRWA does in Gaza to provide aid to the Palestinians amid the widening humanitarian crisis sparked by the war. However, Congress is advancing legislation that would bar relief funds from going to UNRWA, and the Biden administration says it will abide by the measure if it passes and is looking into sending US funds to other agencies such as the World Food Program or UNICEF — the UN’s relief agency for children.

Andrea De Domenico, who heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Palestinian territories tells The Times of Israel that trying to replace UNRWA with other agencies in the middle of the war would not be “viable.”

The humanitarian effort “is not something you can unplug and plug back in somewhere else,” argues the branch head of OCHA, which coordinates the humanitarian effort with the various aid groups on the ground.

UNRWA is currently the primary organization delivering humanitarian aid in Gaza with some 13,000 local staff members. No other agency comes close to UNRWA’s presence in the enclave.

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

“All of the logistical operations and the entry of the humanitarian aid [into Gaza] is handled by UNRWA, so the moment you [de]fund UNRWA, that entire operation is blocked,” says De Domenico, whose office currently has 11 staff members in Gaza.

With such a large number of local staff in a territory controlled by a terror organization, Hamas’s infiltration into the agency was inevitable, a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel.

De Domenico notes that the salaries of the local UNRWA staffers are on a far lower pay scale than those received by employees recruited by other agencies, so switching to another agency would cost a lot more money, which donor countries are not likely interested in spending.

The fastest way to switch to a new agency instead of UNRWA would be by using the same local staff, which would likely be a non-starter for supporters of the move, who fear those employees are tainted by Hamas. However, building an agency from scratch while barring involvement from anyone ever involved in UNRWA will take “considerably more time,” De Domenico says. “In the short term, it seems like a gigantic effort that is very unlikely to [succeed].”

The senior UN official explains that ending UNRWA’s mandate would make the conflict’s parties liable for distributing aid to Gaza’s two million-plus civilians.

This includes Hamas, but De Domenico stresses that the terror group has long lost control of the Strip to Israel.

Troops of the Yahalom combat engineering unit lower a camera into a tunnel shaft they dug in the courtyard of UNRWA’s Gaza headquarters, to reach a Hamas underground electrical room, January 8, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Israel “doesn’t understand that we are actually trying to help them meet their obligations as a party of the conflict. It’s an obligation of international humanitarian law for the occupying power to take care of the civilians that they occupy,” De Domenico charges.

Jerusalem argues that it is facilitating the entry of enough aid into Gaza and that the bottlenecks are due to the UN’s ability to keep up with the pace. Moreover, it claims that Hamas is diverting aid from civilians to its fighters.

“We hear [Israel say] that the aid is diverted to Hamas and that Hamas is in control. No! What we are seeing on the ground is that no one is in control at the moment, and that’s a big problem,” De Domenico says.

The senior OCHA official acknowledges that the UN “might be forced” into a new framework for distributing aid in place of UNRWA “because only so much is in our control.”

Palestinians demonstrate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip calling for continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), January 30, 2024. (AFP)

But this will require “a gigantic effort from our side and a serious commitment, particularly from the Israelis, to allow us to scale up operations.”

He pointed to repeated Israeli rejections of requests for his office to be allowed to bring armored vehicles, personal protective equipment and radio communications into Gaza in order to ensure the safe and swift distribution of aid.

Israel says it only rejects requests for items on security grounds, particularly supplies that it feels can be stolen and exploited by Hamas.

“Some of their concerns are serious, and I totally understand them… But some of their other concerns seem more fictitious and intended simply to slow down our operation all while they continue to say, ‘Keep up the pace.'” he charged. “You break my leg, and then you asked me to run. We’ll try, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Also in the interview, the senior UN official said his office has begun the earlier stages of an assessment mission in northern Gaza aimed at determining the conditions necessary to allow Palestinians to return to those areas.

Moody’s lowers Israel’s credit rating, downgrades outlook from ‘stable’ to ‘negative’ amid war

A sign for credit agency Moody's shown on August 13, 2010 in New York. (AP/Mark Lennihan)
A sign for credit agency Moody's shown on August 13, 2010 in New York. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

The US rating agency Moody’s announces that it has dropped Israel’s credit rating from A1 to A2 and has also downgraded the rating of its outlook for the future from “stable” to “negative,” as the war in Gaza enters its fifth month.

Prague, Budapest holding up EU move to sanction violent Israeli settlers — sources

A photo of Palestinians bound and stripped after being apprehended by IDF soldiers and settlers in the central West Bank village of Wadi al-Seeq on October 12, 2023. (Used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A photo of Palestinians bound and stripped after being apprehended by IDF soldiers and settlers in the central West Bank village of Wadi al-Seeq on October 12, 2023. (Used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An EU effort to impose sanctions on Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank has stalled due to objections from Hungary and the Czech Republic, diplomats say.

The two staunch allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear in an EU committee on Thursday they were not ready to let the proposal go forward for now, say four diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity about internal EU deliberations.

Some say a compromise may be found later to let the measures proceed, possibly after more EU sanctions on Hamas.

The United States and Britain have expressed similar concerns and have already imposed sanctions on several settlers they say are responsible for violence.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in December he would propose similar measures.

But EU sanctions require unanimity among member states and the bloc has yet to find agreement – a reflection of broader divisions on the Middle East, with some EU countries strongly backing Israel while others lean more towards the Palestinians.

The proposals under discussion would impose sanctions on around a dozen people or organizations, according to diplomats. The EU has not spelled out what the sanctions would entail but officials have said they would include bans on travel to the EU.

The EU has already imposed sanctions on Hamas following the Oct. 7 attacks and diplomats say more are in the pipeline.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Wednesday now was “definitely not the time” to sanction Israeli settlers, state news agency MTI reported. Budapest says the EU’s focus should be on helping Israel to defeat Hamas and free hostages.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky said his country was not “substantively” blocking sanctions on settlers inciting violence but did not want them to come alongside measures against Hamas.

“An act of terrorism is not on the same level as acts by settlers,” he says. “These things cannot be connected.”

France, which has been pushing for the settler sanctions and is expected to introduce national travel bans on two or three individuals imminently, is hoping that once its measures are in place European partners will be more willing to press ahead.

“Once we have our measures we shall see how the others react,” says a French diplomatic source.

Meta reviewing use of word ‘Zionist’ amid Israel-Hamas war

The Meta (formerly Facebook) logo marks the entrance of their corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California on November 9, 2022. (Josh Edelson/AFP)
The Meta (formerly Facebook) logo marks the entrance of their corporate headquarters in Menlo Park, California on November 9, 2022. (Josh Edelson/AFP)

Meta confirms it is assessing when the word “Zionist” should be deemed hate speech as online antisemitism escalates amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The tech titan behind Facebook and Instagram confirms a Washington Post report that it is thinking of expanding its hate speech ban to include more uses of the term, particularly when it appears to be an ill-spirited substitute for “Jews” or “Israelis.”

“Given the increase in polarized public discourse due to events in the Middle East, we believe it’s important to assess our guidance for reviewing posts that use the term Zionist,” a Meta spokesperson says in response to an AFP query.

“While the term Zionist often refers to a person’s ideology, which is not a protected characteristic, it can also be used to refer to Jewish or Israeli people.”

Meta policy bans attacks on people based on religion or nationality, meaning the company faces the challenge of distinguishing when “Zionist” refers to ideology or a group of people.

Meta is honing how it applies the hate speech ban to posts with that word, according to the company.

The Silicon Valley-based social media giant must be careful that content policies are not biased against pro-Palestinian voices speaking out against the war, said Amnesty International researcher and advisor Alia Al Ghussain.

A blanket ban on criticism of “Zionism” or “Zionists” on Meta platforms would restrict the free speech of those trying to call attention to “atrocity crimes committed by Israeli forces in Gaza,” Al Ghussain says in a statement.

“This proposed revision is especially disturbing given the current dire situation in the Gaza Strip,” Al Ghussain said of Meta’s internal review.

Planned Israeli offensive in Rafah ‘alarming’ — EU’s Borrell

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell poses for a photo after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Egmont Palace in Brussels, February 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Omar Havana)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell poses for a photo after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the Egmont Palace in Brussels, February 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Omar Havana)

Israel’s plans for a military offensive on Rafah in the Gaza Strip are “alarming,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borell says

Borell says on X, formerly Twitter, that “1.4 million Palestinians are currently in Rafah without safe place to go, facing starvation.”

Rafah is the southernmost city in the Palestinian enclave that has been hit by a fierce Israeli offensive since the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. Many of the population of 2.2 million have taken refuge there.

“Reports of an Israeli military offensive on Rafah are alarming,” he adds.

“It would have catastrophic consequences worsening the already dire humanitarian situation and the unbearable civilian toll.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told officials to “submit to the cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions” of Hamas holed up in Rafah, his office said.

Netanyahu said this week he had ordered troops to prepare to move into Rafah, and that “total victory” against Hamas would come in months.

White House says it discussed memo on security aid with Israel, which agreed to abide by it

IDF troops are seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 7, 2024. (IDF)
IDF troops are seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 7, 2024. (IDF)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre clarifies that the memo issued last night by US President Joe Biden requiring all allies who receive military aid from the US to provide “credible and reliable written assurances” of their adherence to international law does not include any new standards.

Indeed, US security aid recipients are already required to ensure that weapons are not used to commit human rights abuses.

What is new in the memo is the requirement for additional assurances from recipients that this requirement is being upheld in addition to the fact that moving forward, Congress will receive an annual report from the administration detailing how these assurances are being upheld.

Jean-Pierre says that the memo “emerged in part because of our discussions with members of Congress,” all but confirming that the move was a result of pressure from progressive lawmakers demanding conditions on Israel aid amid fears that American weapons were being used in the killing of civilians in Gaza.

She is asked whether aid to Israel will be cut off immediately if Jerusalem does not provide written assurances within 45 days as the memo dictates, given that it is a party engaged in an active conflict in which US weapons are being used.

“We did brief the Israelis on this. They reiterated their willingness to provide these types of assurances,” Jean-Pierre responds.

Sissi attempts to push back on Biden’s assertion that he initially bucked requests to reopen Rafah

US President Joe Biden meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Saturday, July 16, 2022, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

CAIRO — Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi denies that he initially opposed allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing until US President Joe Biden convinced him otherwise.

“From the first moment, Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing from its side without any restrictions or conditions and has mobilized massive humanitarian aid and relief,” the Egyptian leader claims in an official statement.

Israeli, American and Arab officials have told The Times of Israel otherwise, asserting that Egypt initially dragged its feet on re-opening Rafah at the beginning of the war amid fears that it would lead to Palestinians flooding the border.

Yesterday, Biden took credit for convincing Sissi — whom he mistakenly called the president of Mexico — to open the Rafah crossing for aid. “I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate,” Biden said at a news conference.

In his statement, Sissi holds Israel responsible for the delay in allowing aid in, pointing to the airstrikes on the crossing. When the strikes stopped, he said, Egypt repaired the crossing to allow humanitarian aid deliveries.

Palestinian teen killed in clashes with IDF soldier in West Bank — PA

An Israeli Border Policeman holds a Palestinian flag taken from Palestinians during clashes following a demonstration in support of the Gaza Strip in the West Bank city of Nablus, Oct. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
An Israeli Border Policeman holds a Palestinian flag taken from Palestinians during clashes following a demonstration in support of the Gaza Strip in the West Bank city of Nablus, Oct. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian health officials say a 17-year-old boy has been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in the central West Bank.

The boy, whom health officials identified as Moaz Shamsa, was shot in the chest in the village of Beita, just south of the city of Nablus, the officials said.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shooting was the latest in the volatile territory, where Palestinian officials say 387 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since October 7, mostly in clashes with troops.

After the attack, Israel clamped down on the cities and towns of the West Bank in what it says is a campaign against militants. It has staged near-nightly raids that arrest dozens of Palestinians and often result in deadly shootings.

White House clarifies that Biden was talking about Israel when he said Gaza response ‘over the top’

US President Joe Biden speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre clarifies that US President Joe Biden was referring to Israel’s military operation against Hamas when he described the conduct of the response in Gaza as “over the top.”

“He was obviously talking about Israel’s conduct in Gaza,” Jean-Pierre says when asked about the matter during a press briefing.

“He’s been clear that the US wants to see the Hamas terror organization defeated. That is a shared goal that we have with Israel,” she continues. “At the same time, the president has also been very clear that they must do so by ensuring that their operations are targeted and conducted in a way that they are protecting innocent civilians.”

The president made the comments at the tail end of a White House press conference. As he was leaving the room, reporters shouted a hail of questions at him, including about “the hostage negotiations” and “Netanyahu says he’s ordered the IDF…”

The president turned back and said, “The hostage negotiations, look …” and returned to the microphone.

“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top. I think that, as you know, the president of Mexico, Sissi” — Abdel Fattah al-Sissi is, in fact, president of Egypt — “did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in. I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate. I talked to Bibi [Netanyahu] to open the gate on the Israeli side.”

Biden went on: “I’ve been pushing really hard, really hard, to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza. There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop. Number one.”

Israel said worried that US could sanction IDF troops over West Bank violence

Illustrative: Screenshot from a video of settlers firing at the West Bank village of Umm Safa on June 24, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Illustrative: Screenshot from a video of settlers firing at the West Bank village of Umm Safa on June 24, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Kan public broadcaster reports on an internal Foreign Ministry report that was compiled after the US announced sanctions against perpetrators of settler violence in the West Bank.

The report states that the US repeatedly warned Israel about the lack of prosecution against perpetrators of settler violence and that Jerusalem’s responses did not satisfy Washington.

It says that in recent weeks, the US requested explanations over a series of incidents in which Palestinians were wrongfully targeted by both settlers as well as IDF soldiers. The request also included the names of suspects implicated in the instances.

The Foreign Ministry report states that if a satisfactory response to the US queries is not issued within 60 days, Washington could hand down sanctions against those implicated.

The report says that a large number of soldiers are at risk of entanglement.

The government will be holding an interagency meeting next week to discuss Israel’s response to the sanctions, Kan says.

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

Netanyahu reportedly believes IDF will have to finish Rafah operation by next month

Channel 12 reports that during a war cabinet meeting earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told participants that given international pressure, the IDF will have to complete its upcoming operation in Rafah aimed at dismantling Hamas’s remaining operative battalions in Gaza.

The prognosis was made during a discussion about the pending Rafah operation during which IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi told Netanyahu that the IDF was ready to operate in the southern Gaza city, but that it needed the government to first decide what it wants to do with the over one million civilians there, in addition to determining what it wants to do with the Philadelphi corridor on the Egyptian side of the Gaza border.

The latter issue needs to be resolved in order to maintain cooperation with Egypt, given the critical role it plays in any Rafah operation, Channel 12 explains, noting that Netanyahu has dragged his feet on reaching decisions on either issue.

Earlier today, Netanyahu’s office announced that he had directed the IDF to draft a plan for evacuating the civilians in Rafah so that the IDF operation could move forward, but Channel 12 suggests that the statement was just public posturing given that the army has already crafted such plans but is waiting for directives from the political echelon.

Report: Moody’s will later today announce downgrade of Israeli credit rating due to war

A sign for credit agency Moody's shown on August 13, 2010 in New York. (AP/Mark Lennihan)
A sign for credit agency Moody's shown on August 13, 2010 in New York. (AP/Mark Lennihan)

The US rating agency Moody’s will announce later today that it has downgraded Israel’s credit rating due to the war with Hamas, Channel 12 reports, saying that Israeli efforts to convince the agency against the move at the last minute did not succeed.

Report: Israel pushing for Hamas to appoint new decision-maker in talks as Sinwar remains out of contact

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

Channel 12 reports that Israel has asked the Qatari mediators for Hamas to have a new representative appointed for its final decision-making in the hostage talks, as the terror group’s leader has not been heard from in 11 days.

The inability to reach Sinwar, who Channel 12 says is on the run, has led to slowdowns in the talks.

The report is unsourced and has not been confirmed by officials on either side.

Netanyahu said to block Gantz, Eisenkot request to rush Israeli hostage deal response to mediators

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, Jerusalem, February 7, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, Jerusalem, February 7, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 reports that during last night’s war cabinet meeting, National Unity ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot requested that Israel’s response to Hamas’s latest hostage deal demands be formally drafted and sent immediately to the Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the request, instead saying that he wanted to bring the response to the full cabinet in what will likely delay the process by several days, Channel 12 reports, noting that it is also less likely to be approved given the many hardline ministers who oppose making concessions to Hamas in exchange for the hostages.

It is unclear how this squares with a separate Axios report that says Israel did in fact pass along a series of responses to the mediators. Channel 12 subsequently says Israel’s response was merely passed along verbally to the mediators, but not more formally in writing.

Report: Israel tells hostage deal mediators it rejects Hamas demands but still ready for talks

Israelis attend a rally outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza outside the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, February 8, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Israelis attend a rally outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza outside the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, February 8, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

Israel told Egyptian and Qatari mediators last night that it rejects most of the demands made in the response issued by Hamas to a hostage deal framework, but that it is still ready to launch negotiations on that original framework, Axios reports.

The original framework was crafted during a Paris meeting last month of top officials from the US, Israel, Qatar and Egypt.

It reportedly envisioned a three-phase humanitarian pause — with 35 to 40 Israeli hostages, including women, men over the age of 60 and those with serious medical conditions released during the first six-week phase. Israeli soldiers and the bodies of killed hostages would be released in the second and third phases. Details regarding the latter phases, as well as the number of Palestinian security prisoners who would be released by Israel, were to be discussed in subsequent negotiations if the sides both agreed to the Paris proposal. Other reports offered different versions of the framework, which has not been officially published.

Hamas offered its response to the framework on Tuesday, demanding that Israel, among other things, release at least 1,500 Palestinian security prisoners, withdraw its troops fully from Gaza, eventually agree to a permanent ceasefire and take steps to reduce its sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu called the demands “delusional” and he reportedly rejected an Egyptian proposal to send a representative to Cairo in order to move forward with the negotiations.

The war cabinet discussed the Hamas response further last night. Ministers agreed that Israel would not accept another two of the Hamas demands — that the IDF withdraw its forces from the “corridor” that splits the northern and southern Gaza Strip, and allow for the return of civilians to northern Gaza during the first stage of the pause, Axios reports. However, it would be willing to discuss withdrawing troops from the major Gaza population centers during the pause.

These stances were passed along to the mediators, as well as Israel’s rejection of Hamas’s demand that language be added to the agreement pertaining to a permanent ceasefire, Axios said, citing an official who said Israel does not want to commit to refraining from resuming strikes against Hamas after the deal is implemented.

Israel also told the mediators that it would not discuss a demand included by Hamas for Israel to “lift the siege over Gaza,” the official tells Axios.

Israel told the mediators that the number of prisoners the Palestinians are demanding was not reasonable, as were all demands not related to the Gaza war, Axios says.

Israeli officials told the news site that while they aren’t sending representatives to Cairo for talks now, they’re in constant talks with the mediators and are willing to send representatives if some of the gaps are closed.

UN does not want forced mass displacement in Gaza’s Rafah

A Palestinian woman cries as she inspects a heavily damaged apartment following Israeli bombardment on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A Palestinian woman cries as she inspects a heavily damaged apartment following Israeli bombardment on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Civilians in Rafah in the Gaza Strip need to be protected, but the United Nations does not want to see any forced mass displacement, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric says after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had instructed the IDF to prepare plans to evacuate the southern Gaza city before the IDF begins operating there.

Egypt reportedly steps up security on border as IDF offensive in Rafah nears

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

Egypt has sent about 40 tanks and armored personnel carriers to northeastern Sinai within the past two weeks as part of a series of measures to bolster security on its border with Gaza, two Egyptian security sources say.

The deployment took place ahead of the expansion of Israeli military operations around Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where much of its population has sought safety, sharpening Egyptian fears that Palestinians could be forced en masse out of the enclave.

Israeli warplanes struck Rafah, which adjoins the border, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to prepare to evacuate the displaced people.

Since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted on October 7 with the terror group’s deadly onslaught, Egypt constructed a concrete border wall that reaches six meters into the ground and is topped with barbed wire. It has also built berms and enhanced surveillance at border posts, the security sources said.

Last month, Egypt’s state information service detailed some of the measures it had taken on its border in response to Israeli suggestions that Hamas had obtained weapons smuggled from Egypt. Three lines of barriers made any overground or underground smuggling impossible, it said.

Images shared with Reuters by the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, an independent group, appear to show the installation of the wall in December, with several berms running behind it.

Later pictures, which the group said were taken in early February, appear to show three vertical layers of coiled barbed wire being installed on top of the wall. Reuters was not able to independently verify the images.

Satellite images from January and December also show some new constructions along the 13-kilometer (8-mile) border close to Rafah and the extension of a wall to the sea’s edge at its northern end.

The new measures come after an expansion of security in northern Sinai as Egypt’s military consolidated its grip against an Islamist insurgency that escalated a decade ago.

Well before the current war in Gaza broke out, Egypt said it had destroyed tunnels through which smuggling to Gaza had previously flourished, and had cleared a buffer zone close to the border.

On the approach to the Rafah Crossing with Gaza, the remains of razed houses can be seen along with miles of concrete walls that have been built parallel to the sea and near roads close to the border.

Abbas says Israeli plan for Rafah assault aims to drive Palestinians from Gaza

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says a plan announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a military escalation in Rafah at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip aims to drive Palestinians from their land.

The office of Abbas, head of the PA that exerts partial self-rule in the West Bank, said it holds both the Israeli government and the Biden administration responsible for the plan’s repercussions.

The PA presidency calls on the UN Security Council to take heed, “because [Israel] taking this step threatens security and peace in the region and the world. It crosses all red lines,” the statement says.

IDF says it struck launcher used in latest Hezbollah barrage at Galilee

Footage of an IDF airstrike against Hezbollah sites in Lebanon on February 9, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Footage of an IDF airstrike against Hezbollah sites in Lebanon on February 9, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The IDF says it struck a launcher used in the Hezbollah rocket barrage from Lebanon on northern Israel.

Dozens of rockets were launched in the attack. The IDF says many of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system

There are no injuries in the attack, which Hezbollah says was aimed at the IDF’s Kela base.

The IDF says sirens sounded in Kiryat Shmona and nearby communities due to fears of shrapnel from the interceptions falling in the area.

Sirens were also activated on the Home Front Command mobile app in additional areas, the IDF says, apparently referring to the Kela base.

The IDF says it identified one of the rocket launchers in the south Lebanon village of Qalaat Debba and struck it.

Fighter jets also hit another Hezbollah building in Khiam, the IDF adds.

Arab ministers agree to advance joint political plan for post-war Gaza at Riyadh meet – diplomats

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

Top ministers from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority agreed at their meeting in Riyadh yesterday to move forward with plans to present a joint political vision for rehabilitating the Gaza Strip and establishing a Palestinian state after the Israel-Hamas war, two senior diplomats tell The Times of Israel.

Several drafts of the plan have already begun circulating between the countries, though it is unclear when it will be unveiled.

In the meantime, the participating countries used yesterday’s meeting to reiterate their call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Galilee sirens were triggered by more than 30 rockets from Lebanon; Hezbollah claims responsibility

Footage shows the Iron Dome air defense system intercepting several projectiles over the Galilee on February 9, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Footage shows the Iron Dome air defense system intercepting several projectiles over the Galilee on February 9, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The sirens heard earlier this evening in the Galilee Panhandle were triggered by more than 30 rockets that were fired from Lebanon.

Most of the rockets were either shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system or were allowed to land in open areas.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damages.

This is the second day in a row that such a large barrage of rockets has been fired from Lebanon into Israel, in a further sign of escalation.

Hezbollah claims responsibility for the barrage, saying it fired dozens of Katyusha rockets.

In a statement, the terror group claims to have targeted the IDF’s Kela base in the Golan Heights, although sirens sounded in Kiryat Shmona — some 15 kilometers away — and other nearby communities.

Report: MBS told Blinken normalization deal won’t be possible this year without ceasefire within weeks

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)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the window for reaching an Israel-Saudi normalization agreement this year would close unless a ceasefire could be reached in Gaza within weeks, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing unnamed Arab officials briefed on their meeting earlier this week.

AIPAC pans US directive requiring aid recipients to provide assurance of adherence to int’l law

Then-US vice president Joe Biden addresses the AIPAC 2016 Policy Conference in Washington, DC, March 20, 2016. (AP/Cliff Owen)
Then-US vice president Joe Biden addresses the AIPAC 2016 Policy Conference in Washington, DC, March 20, 2016. (AP/Cliff Owen)

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee comes out against the memorandum issued yesterday by the Biden administration requiring all allies who receive military aid from the US to provide “credible and reliable written assurances” of their adherence to international law, including international human rights law.

The memo doesn’t specify any particular country, but it was issued amid increasing calls in the US to condition aid to Israel due to concerns that American weapons are being used in the killing of civilians in Gaza.

AIPAC calls the memo “an unnecessary directive that imposes new requirements on Israel and our other most important allies.”

“As Israel continues its battle against Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Iranian proxies, our focus should be on support for our ally,” AIPAC says.

“Israel is a moral army fighting in an unprecedented, complex urban battlefield in compliance with international law. It’s confronting a terror group that deliberately and despicably uses innocent Palestinians as human shields, hides among and below civilians, and continues to hold 136 hostages, including 8 Americans,” the lobby adds.

Barrage of rockets fired from Lebanon, triggering sirens in Kiryat Shmona and nearby towns

Footage shows the Iron Dome air defense system intercepting several projectiles over the Galilee on February 9, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Footage shows the Iron Dome air defense system intercepting several projectiles over the Galilee on February 9, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

Rocket sirens sound in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona and nearby towns in the Galilee Panhandle, following a barrage launched from Lebanon.

Footage posted to social media shows the Iron Dome air defense system intercepting several projectiles over the area.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Knesset speaker says he canceled meeting with Guterres over UN chief’s criticism of Israel

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks aduring a press briefing at UN headquarters on February 8, 2024 in New York. (Angela Weiss/AFP)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks aduring a press briefing at UN headquarters on February 8, 2024 in New York. (Angela Weiss/AFP)

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana announces that he decided to cancel a meeting that he was supposed to hold today in New York with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, citing the latter’s claim last night that Israel is violating international law with its war against Hamas in Gaza.

“The cancellation of the meeting does not come in a vacuum. I intended to try and convince him, but yesterday he again called on the State of Israel to stop fighting, criticizing it ‘even if Hamas uses human shields,'” Ohana says in a statement.

Guterres said yesterday that Israel still has obligations under international law not to harm civilians, even if Hamas uses them as human shields — a practice that the UN chief also condemned.

Ohana calls Guterres a “lost cause” and says he has to uphold his “red lines.”

“I will not whitewash Guterres,” Ohana declares.

IDF strikes site where Hezbollah operatives were gathering in south Lebanon

Footage of an IDF airstrike against Hezbollah sites in Lebanon on February 9, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
Footage of an IDF airstrike against Hezbollah sites in Lebanon on February 9, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The IDF says fighter jets carried out strikes against Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon a short while ago, including a complex where the terror group’s operatives were gathered in Maroun al-Ras.

The IDF says it also hit three more buildings used by Hezbollah in Yohmor and Naqoura.

Several projectiles were also fired from Lebanon in the last few hours, at Menara, Mount Dov and Malkia. The IDF says it is shelling the launch sites with artillery.

Almost 10% of Gaza’s under-fives now acutely malnourished, UN says

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

Almost one in 10 of Gazan children under five are now acutely malnourished, overwhelmingly as a result of Israel’s war on the territory’s Hamas terror rulers, according to initial UN data from arm measurements that show physical wasting.

The food supplies that Gaza depends on have shriveled from their pre-war level, and aid workers have reported visible signs of starvation, especially in areas of northern and central Gaza worst hit by Israel’s war on Hamas since October 7.

Measurements of thousands of young children’s and infants’ arm circumferences showed that 9.6 percent were acutely malnourished, up about 12 times from pre-war levels, according to a note from the UN humanitarian office, OCHA.

In northern Gaza, the rate was 16.2%, or one in six.

Food trucks have in recent weeks regularly been mobbed by hungry crowds before they could reach the hospitals they were heading for, according to aid workers.

The charity ActionAid said some Gazans were eating grass. “Every single person in Gaza is now hungry, and people have just 1.5 to 2 liters of unsafe water per day to meet all their needs,” it says.

The Islamic Relief charity quoted a member of its staff in Gaza as saying: “My children and I haven’t eaten fruit or vegetables for months, and people get killed when they try to meet arriving aid trucks.”

“We are trying to make bread with dried corn that we previously used as animal feed, as flour is extremely scarce… And we are relatively lucky compared to most people, who don’t have anything at all.”

The international non-profit organization Project HOPE says around 15% of the pregnant women it had assessed in its Deir Al-Balah clinic in central Gaza last week were malnourished.

It also reports a surge in anaemia, or iron deficiency, which can increase premature births and postpartum bleeding.

Dr. Santosh Kumar, its medical director, who returned from Gaza last week, says he and his team had limited themselves to one meal a day in solidarity with the Gazans.

“People are starving, people have no dignity,” he tells Reuters. “People said to me: ‘Dead people are luckier.'”

Norway will give $26 million to UNRWA this year, more could come — foreign ministry

Men sweep water away from the entrance of a school run by UNRWA that is sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Men sweep water away from the entrance of a school run by UNRWA that is sheltering displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Norway is giving 275 million crowns ($26 million) this year to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) and could increase that sum if needed, it says, days after the agency warned it could cease all activity by the end of the month.

A string of countries including the United States, Germany and Britain paused their funding to the aid agency after accusations by Israel last month that some UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas’s October 7 attacks in southern Israel.

Norway, a top donor to UNRWA, is maintaining its funding.

UNRWA said on February 1 that it could be forced to shut down its operations in the Middle East, not only in Gaza, by the end of February if its funding remains suspended.

Oslo said on Wednesday it was transferring 275 million crowns to UNRWA. Today, the ministry of foreign affairs says that money covered Norway’s regular, annual contribution to UNRWA, but that there could be additional payments.

“Due to the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, there may be additional funds from Norway to UNRWA throughout the year,” says a foreign ministry spokesperson.

By comparison, Norway gave UNRWA 470.5 million crowns ($44.6 million) last year, she said. “This includes additional funding after the war started in October,” she says.

“There is a shortage of all essential items and people are facing daily threats to their lives and safety. UNRWA is the backbone of humanitarian efforts in Gaza,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide said in a statement on Wednesday.

Oslo said on January 31 it was urging countries that have paused funding to consider the wider consequences of their actions on the population in Gaza, given that UNRWA is the main organization supplying aid to Palestinians.

Minister said to criticize Sara Netanyahu for inappropriately monitoring cabinet meetings

Sara Netanyahu (front) arrives for a hearing with her husband (unseen) at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on January 23, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)
Sara Netanyahu (front) arrives for a hearing with her husband (unseen) at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on January 23, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

Channel 13 reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara was seen in an office adjacent to one where cabinet discussions were being held yesterday on sensitive security matters and that Transportation Minister Miri Regev was seen entering the former room to brief the premier’s wife as the meeting was unfolding.

“It seems that this is how she closely monitors what is happening. It is inappropriate conduct,” Channel 13 quotes an anonymous minister as having said.

The premier’s office rejects the implication, saying Sara Netanyahu is present at the Prime Minister’s Office from time to time for meetings she holds with the families of the hostages.

IDF: Hostage Yossi Sharabi was likely killed in collapse of building close to IDF strike

Yossi Sharabi, taken captive by Hamas terrorists when they waged an assault on Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)
Yossi Sharabi, taken captive by Hamas terrorists when they waged an assault on Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

The IDF has presented its investigation into the death of hostage Yossi Sharabi in the Gaza Strip to his family.

According to the IDF’s probe, Sharabi was likely killed in a building that collapsed, close to another building that was targeted by the military.

Still, the IDF investigation finds that it cannot entirely rule out the possibility that Sharabi was murdered by his captors.

The building that was struck was hit according to the IDF’s protocols, the probe finds.

The probe says the IDF had intelligence information that an attack against troops was planned from the building.

The IDF still says it has drawn lessons from the incident and will implement them in future strikes.

In the same building where Sharabi was killed, two more hostages were held by Hamas, Itay Svirsky and Noa Argamani.

The IDF still assesses that Svirsky was later killed by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, and did not die in another strike as the terror group has claimed.

Argamani is believed by the IDF to be alive.

Sharabi’s and Svirsky’s bodies remain held in Gaza.

Austin says he talked ‘post-conflict planning for Gaza’ with Gallant, in jab at PM who has avoided such discussions

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant give a joint press conference in Tel Aviv on December 18, 2023. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant give a joint press conference in Tel Aviv on December 18, 2023. (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says he spoke with Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant yesterday about “post-conflict planning for Gaza” in an apparent dig at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has blocked cabinet discussions on the matter.

A US official told The Times of Israel earlier this week that the Biden administration does not have a lot of confidence in Netanyahu’s handling of the war, citing his rejection of the Palestinian Authority retaking control of the Strip.

The prime minister’s far-right coalition partners are pushing for resettling Gaza with Israeli civilians, encouraging its Palestinian residents to emigrate and maintaining a military occupation on those who remain — policies that Netanyahu says he opposes and ones that would strip Jerusalem of any remaining support from Washington. Accordingly, the premier has avoided bringing discussions regarding the “day after” in Gaza to the cabinet, even as IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi warns that this risks foiling Israel’s military gains in Gaza.

The US official argued that Netanyahu has thwarted regional efforts to have a new administration put in place in parts of northern Gaza cleared by Israeli troops late last year, allowing Hamas to once again fill the vacuum.

In recent weeks, the Israel Defense Forces has had to send troops back into the area to fight off the resurgence of Hamas activity.

The US readout on Austin’s call with Gallant says the two also discussed “the need to increase humanitarian assistance for Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and West Bank stabilization efforts.”

“Secretary Austin reiterated the need to protect civilians as Israel conducts its operations against Hamas,” and the pair “discussed the US response to attacks against US forces by Iranian-aligned militia groups.”

Amid US alarm, PM indicates Rafah civilians will be able to evacuate before IDF op starts

Palestinians walk along a crowded main street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Palestinians walk along a crowded main street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicates that the over one million civilians who have crowded into the southern Gaza city of Rafah will be able to evacuate before the IDF begins operating there.

The statement comes amid US statements that Israel has not conducted the pre-operational planning necessary to ensure that civilians will be kept out of harm’s way and that failure to do so risks “disaster.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has instructed the IDF and defense establishment to present the cabinet with plans for both the evacuation of the Palestinian civilian population from the southern Gaza Strip, and the dismantlement of Hamas’s battalions in the Rafah area.

“It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas and leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” Netanyahu’s office says in a statement.

“On the other hand, it is clear that a massive operation in Rafah requires the evacuation of the civilian population from the combat zones,” it adds.

More than 1.3 million Palestinians are estimated to be sheltering in the Rafah area, after the IDF issued evacuation warnings from northern Gaza and other areas in the Strip amid its ground offensive against Hamas.

Activists unveil ‘Blanket of Hope’ at Hostages Square ahead of 18th Shabbat in captivity for remaining 136

The 'Blanket of Hope' at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on February 9, 2024. (Aviv Atlas via Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)
The 'Blanket of Hope' at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv on February 9, 2024. (Aviv Atlas via Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Activists have spread out a massive blanket, dubbed the “Blanket of Hope,” at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv.

Its makers were asked to create patches in a method of their choice that were sewn together into one huge blanket displayed, which will later be displaced at UN Headquarters in New York.

Alongside the blanket, a mass yoga class is taking place in honor of Carmel Gat, one of the hostages who freed captives say did yoga once a day with the children who were held with her in order to keep them busy.

With the release of dozens of hostages, the family received word that Carmel was seen by other hostages. They reported she had been kept captive with some children and did yoga once a day with them.

A Shabbat dinner table has also been set up once again at Hostage Square with empty chairs for the 136 remaining hostages.

Israel says mandate of UNRWA probe should be more clearly defined

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

Israel calls the UN’s creation of an independent review group into its relief agency for Palestinian refugees “a positive step, although it is long overdue.”

“The review group should include research institutes with relevant professional experience that includes counter-terrorism, security and vetting procedures,” says a statement from the Foreign Ministry, adding that representatives from donor countries, as well as Israeli experts, should be included on the panel as well.

The statement says the mandate of the panel “should be defined in clearer terms regarding the need to prevent the employment of members of terror groups in the ranks of the organization and to ensure that the organization’s facilities will not be used for terror purposes.”

“Israel expects the review committee to also investigate incitement to violence and antisemitism in UNRWA’s educational system, in textbooks and by teachers, before and after the October 7 massacre.”

Security upped at Israeli embassies worldwide in light of terror threats – report

Officers stand near the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency via AP)
Officers stand near the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency via AP)

Security has been significantly increased at several Israeli embassies around the world after intelligence authorities uncovered plans to carry out terror attacks, Channel 12 reports.

The Israeli embassies in the Netherlands, India and Sweden are among those determined to be at risk for terror attacks and have had their security upgraded accordingly.

On January 31, police destroyed an explosive device discovered outside the embassy in Stockholm, in an incident labeled as an “attempted terror attack” by Israel’s ambassador.

Syrian state media says two drones shot down after entering Syrian airspace from Israel

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency, citing a military source, claims air defenses shot down two drones that entered Syrian airspace from Israel’s Golan Heights.

The report says the drones were intercepted west of Damascus.

There is no comment from the IDF on the incident.

IDF preventing aid from entering Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing – report

The IDF prevented the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom Crossing earlier today after a directive was issued following a situational assessment, Channel 12 reports.

In recent days, a right-wing protest group known as Tzav 9 has been preventing aid from entering the Gaza Strip, but the group was not at Kerem Shalom on Friday, so aid should have been able to enter the Strip without issue.

The report does not say why the decision to stop aid from passing through Kerem Shalom was made and who issued the directive.

COGAT, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

IDF is preparing for ‘expansion of war,’ Northern Command chief tells heads of evacuated communities

The head of Israel's Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Ori Gordin meets with mayors and council heads of the evacuated communities in northern Israel, February 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
The head of Israel's Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Ori Gordin meets with mayors and council heads of the evacuated communities in northern Israel, February 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The head of the IDF’s Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Ori Gordin met with mayors and council heads of the evacuated communities in the north to discuss the security situation along the Lebanon border, the IDF says in a statement.

Gordin assured the local officials that the military’s goal is “to change the security situation in the north in a way that will allow the residents to return safely and with a sense of security,” and said that the IDF is continuing “to prepare for the expansion of the war and going on the offensive” against the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

Since October 8, the Lebanon-based terror group has launched rockets, missiles and drones at Israel’s northern communities on a near-daily basis.

As a result, some 80,000 people have become internally displaced, in addition to those displaced by the Hamas assault on southern Israel and subsequent war in Gaza.

Gordin told the local council heads that the military will continue “to harm Hezbollah and negate its capabilities,” the statement adds.

“The residents of the north are our strength to continue, they are the backbone that enables the achievements we have reached in the north so far,” he concluded.

Hamas government demands 1,000 trucks of humanitarian aid per day for northern Gaza

The Hamas government in Gaza has demanded that 1,000 trucks of humanitarian aid be given access to northern Gaza every day until the impact of the war on civilians has been reversed, Arabic-language media reports.

The Hamas-run Government Media Office in Gaza claims that this amount of aid is required because “the famine in northern Gaza is worsening” as a result of American and Israeli actions, the reports state.

“We immediately demand the entry of 1,000 trucks daily into northern Gaza until it recovers from the famine and its impact,” the report quotes Hamas as saying.

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

IDF says troops found Hamas rocket launcher near daycare center, mosque in Khan Younis

The IDF says troops of the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade, operating in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, located a Hamas rocket launcher adjacent to a children’s daycare and a mosque.

The rocket launchers, armed with projectiles and aimed at Israel, were later destroyed, the IDF says.

The IDF says the reservists also discovered a Hamas tunnel under a water facility in Khan Younis.

Inside the tunnel, two Hamas operatives were killed, it says.

 

British Airways to resume flights to Israel starting April 1

A British Airways flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, September 3, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
A British Airways flight taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport, September 3, 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

British Airways announces that it will resume flights to Israel in April, having suspended them in October citing security fears after the October 7 massacre carried out by Hamas in Israel and the outbreak of the war in Gaza.

The airline, which is owned by London-listed aviation conglomerate IAG, says it will “restart our flights on 1 April” to Tel Aviv.

The route will operate four times per week but with smaller aircraft than before the outbreak of war, owing to expectations of weaker demand.

Many airlines stopped flying to Israel after October 7, but several have since announced their resumption — including Air France, Lufthansa and Ryanair.

UAE calls for increased efforts to prevent wider conflict in region amid Israel-Hamas war

The United Arab Emirates foreign minister calls for an intensification of efforts to prevent the expansion of conflict in the region during a meeting of Arab states in Riyadh, the UAE state news agency says.

The meeting about Gaza included the foreign ministers of the host country, Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, and the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Hussein al-Sheikh.

Syrian state media reports apparent Israeli airstrike over Damascus

Syrian state media reports that air defenses are engaging an apparent Israeli airstrike over the capital Damascus.

The state-run SANA broadcaster does not immediately provide further details.

Israel is reported to have ramped up strikes on targets belonging to Iran and Iran-backed groups in Syria in recent months, amid the war in the Gaza Strip.

Qatar and US working to expel Hamas leaders from Doha, Saudi media outlet reports

The United States and Qatar are working on a joint plan to expel Hamas leaders from Doha, Saudi-funded news outlet Al-Arabiya reports.

The media outlet did not provide further details and the claim has not been corroborated by any other sources.

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh resides in Qatar, as do senior officials Moussa Abu Marzuk and Khaled Mashal.

50-year-old man seriously injured in light plane crash in north

A 50-year-old man was seriously injured when his light aircraft crashed near Megiddo in northern Israel a short while ago, Magen David Adom says.

Paramedics arrived at the scene of the crash to find the man unconscious and suffering from multi-system injuries, they say, adding that the plane was flipped upside down.

“We gave him life-saving medical treatment, sedated and intubated him and evacuated in an intensive care vehicle to the hospital,” a paramedic says.

The man’s condition is unstable, the statement adds.

‘Children are being robbed of childhood’ in Gaza, UNRWA chief says in call for ceasefire

Commissioner-General of UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini reiterates his call for a humanitarian ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, warning that the future of Gaza’s children “is at stake.”

More than half a million children in the Gaza Strip are no longer going to school, the head of the agency for Palestinian refugees writes on X, formerly Twitter.

“Every day of war deepens the scars, risking a lost generation vulnerable to exploitation,” he adds. “Children are being robbed of childhood.”

Hostile aircraft intrusion sirens sound in northern Israel

Sirens warning of a suspected hostile aircraft intrusion sound in northern Israel.

The sirens are activated in the communities of Even Menachem, Goren and Abirim, among several others.

There are no immediate details on the nature of the incident.

Defense Min. Gallant speaks with US counterpart Lloyd Austin about Gaza war developments

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke with his US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin overnight, his office says in a summary of the call.

The two discussed the importance of US leadership in addressing Iranian threats and regional aggression, as well as developments in Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza.

Gallant detailed the IDF’s ongoing operations, particularly in the southern part of the Strip, and shared information about the troop’s recent findings including “terror tunnels where hostages had been held, weapon stockpiles, and funds transferred from Iran directly to Hamas leadership,” his office says.

He thanked Austin for his leadership and the US commitment to Israel’s security and reiterated that Israel’s goals are to topple Hamas, end the terror group’s 16-year rule of the Palestinian enclave, and return the remaining 136 hostages still in Gaza to Israel, his office adds.

IDF says troops in Gaza’s Khan Younis kill dozens of Hamas operatives over past day

The IDF says fighting continues across the Gaza Strip, with airstrikes being carried out against Hamas cells attempting to attack troops.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, the IDF says the Commando Brigade is operating in the western part of the city, raiding Hamas sites.

An IDF drone spotted a Hamas cell placing explosive devices near the commando troops, and within minutes, an aircraft struck and killed the operative, the military says.

Also in Khan Younis, the IDF says troops of the Border Defense Corps’ 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit spotted two armed Hamas operatives and directed an airstrike on them.

The Paratroopers Brigade, also in western Khan Younis, killed some 15 Hamas operatives during raids on the terror group’s sites over the past day, the IDF says.

In another area of Khan Younis, the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade directed airstrikes on several booby-trapped buildings, as well as raided several Hamas sites and seized weapons and equipment.

Meanwhile, in northern Gaza’s Beit Lahiya, the Gaza Division’s Northern Brigade spotted a group of gunmen near a Hamas position, the IDF says.

The IDF says airstrikes were carried out against the cell, as well as two more gunmen spotted in the area.

Hostage families demand meeting with war cabinet after reports it declined to send representative to Cairo hostage talks

Israelis attend a rally outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, February 8, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
Israelis attend a rally outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv calling for the release of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, February 8, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum sends a letter to the war cabinet to demand a meeting over reports that it chose not to send a delegation to Cairo for further hostage deal negotiations.

The decision not to send representatives to Cairo follows reports of “coordinated government attacks on the deal’s outline, which could torpedo it and sentence the hostages to death,” the letter states.

As a result of these reports and several other similar items, the Forum writes that “difficult questions arise regarding the cabinet’s commitment to the release of the hostages.”

“Worse, a violent incitement campaign portrays the hostages and their family members as an enemy to be removed from the national agenda or silenced.”

The letter ends with a request for an immediate meeting between the Forum and the members of the war cabinet to determine “if it is still committed to the release of the abductees or if the powers should be transferred to a party that sees itself as committed to saving their lives.”

Hamas-run health ministry says Gaza death toll nears 28,000

A total of 27,947 Palestinians have been killed and 67,459 have been injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says.

Some 107 Palestinians were killed and 142 injured in the past 24 hours, it adds.

The figures provided by the health ministry cannot be independently verified and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Bedouin Israeli who snuck into Gaza in 2016 to join Hamas indicted after trying to return to Israel

Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, 26, a Bedouin Israeli who crossed into the Gaza Strip in 2016 and joined the Hamas terror group has been indicted after IDF troops detained him in December as he was trying to cross back into Israel, the Justice Ministry says.

According to the charge sheet, Abu Ghanima, a resident of Hashem Zana in the northern Negev, snuck into Gaza in July 2016, met up with a Hamas operative, and asked to join the terror group’s military wing.

Abu Ghanima was taken to be questioned by Hamas officials, where he revealed to them the locations of IDF bases in southern Israel, the indictment says.

According to the indictment, after three months of waiting in the homes of Hamas operatives, Abu Ghanima began military training with Hamas, including advanced training with the terror group’s elite Nukhba force which simulated attacks on Israeli towns and the capture of army posts.

During his time in Gaza, Abu Ghanima carried out various surveillance operations along the border and met with Hamas officials, the indictment says.

He is also accused of accepting other tasks, including shooting attacks on the border, returning to Israel to spy for Hamas and recruit others, as well as joining a crime gang in Israel to advance the terror group’s plans.

The indictment says that in 2021, Hamas jailed Abu Ghanima for two years for his “failure to comply with the limitations imposed on him.”

Due to IDF strikes near the jail where he was held on December 7, 2023, all of the prisoners were freed.

Three days later, Abu Ghanima attempted to cross back into Israel, where he was detained by IDF troops. He was then taken to be interrogated by the Shin Bet security agency.

Abu Ghanima is charged with several serious security offenses, including conspiring to aid the enemy in its war against Israel, aiding the enemy in war, providing information to the enemy with the intention of harming the security of the State, membership in a terror organization, training for terror purposes, operating weapons for terror purposes, and leaving the country illegally.

Displaced Gazans in Rafah fear an IDF operation in the city will ‘end in massacres’

Palestinians receive food rations at a donation point at a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians receive food rations at a donation point at a camp for internally displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Adel al-Hajj fears Israeli forces could at any moment launch an “invasion” of southern Gaza’s Rafah city, where he and more than a million other Palestinians have fled for safety.

Teeming with displaced Gazans huddled in makeshift camps, Rafah has swelled to about five times its pre-war size since fighting between Israel and Hamas, Gaza’s ruling terror group, erupted following the October 7 massacre in southern Israel.

The city is one of the few areas spared an Israeli ground offensive thus far, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week he had ordered troops to “prepare to operate” there.

Hajj, from Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza, now lives in a tent in Rafah.

An Israeli military push into the city could “end in massacres” of the hundreds of thousands trapped on the besieged territory’s border with Egypt, he says.

Umm Ahmed al-Burai, a 59-year-old woman also from Al-Shati, is camping with her four daughters and three of her grandchildren close to an unfinished Qatari hospital in the west of Rafah.

“We first fled to Khan Yunis, then to Khirbat al-Adas,” gradually heading south before reaching Rafah, she says.

If troops advance of Rafah, Burai says she fears “there will be massacres, there will be genocide.

“I don’t know whether we will be able to flee to Egypt, or whether we will be massacred.”

 

IDF says Iron Dome intercepted ‘suspicious aerial target’ over the sea near Haifa

The IDF says the Iron Dome air defense system intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” over the sea near the northern city of Haifa.

It says no sirens sounded according to protocol.

Protesters block Nitzana Crossing on Israel-Egypt border to prevent aid from reaching Gaza

Protesters block the Nitzana Crossing on the Israel-Egypt border to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza, February 9, 2024. (Screenshot, Tzav 9, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Protesters block the Nitzana Crossing on the Israel-Egypt border to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza, February 9, 2024. (Screenshot, Tzav 9, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Dozens of people attempting to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the Gaza Strip have arrived at the Nitzana Crossing between Israel and Egypt, the Tzav 9 protest group says.

In a statement, the group says, “The hundreds of aid and supply trucks for the Hamas terrorist organization will not enter through here today. We are proud and moved that the determination of the people is winning. No aid enters until the last of the hostages returns.”

The demonstrators oppose the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza, where 85 percent of the enclave’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced by war, while hostages kidnapped during Hamas’s October 7 massacre remain in captivity.

UAE-negotiated deal sees Russia, Ukraine each release 100 prisoners of war

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, a Ukrainian prisoner of war reacts after a prisoner exchange at an undisclosed location in Ukraine, Thursday, February 8, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, a Ukrainian prisoner of war reacts after a prisoner exchange at an undisclosed location in Ukraine, Thursday, February 8, 2024. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

The United Arab Emirates says it succeeded in mediating the release of 100 Ukrainian prisoners of war in exchange for 100 war prisoners from the Russian side.

Russia’s Defense Ministry, in a post on the Telegram messaging app, notes the UAE’s “humanitarian mediation,” as did Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian body overseeing exchanges of POWs.

The UAE’s foreign ministry says it is the third mediation effort between Russia and Ukraine this year, adding that it is calling for diplomacy, dialogue and de-escalation, state news agency WAM reports.

3 arrested in northern Israel for attacking hospital security guards, trying to steal a weapon

Three men from Sheikh Danun in northern Israel have been arrested on suspicion of attacking security guards at the Galilee Medical Center and attempting to steal a weapon, Hebrew media reports.

The men, all in their 20s, were refused entry to the hospital after failing to comply with the security guard’s instructions at the entrance, the reports state. The confrontation turned violent and one of the men attempted to grab the security guard’s weapon but was unsuccessful.

Women, children killed in airstrikes on Rafah overnight, Hamas-run health authorities say

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

At least nine people, including women and children, were killed in Israeli airstrikes in central Gaza and the southernmost city of Rafah overnight, the Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip says.

Eyewitnesses report seeing strikes hit a residential building in Rafah, as well as a kindergarten-turned-shelter for the displaced in the central town of Zawaida. An undetermined number of people are said to have been injured in the strikes and taken to nearby hospitals.

More than half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people have fled to Rafah in accordance with evacuation orders given by Israel amid the expanding ground offensive. Evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of the small Palestinian enclave.

More than 350 bodies from Gaza examined in Israel since start of war in hunt for hostages – report

Israel has examined more than 350 bodies taken from Gaza at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute since the start of the war, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The bodies are transferred to Israel from Gaza in order to determine whether or not any of the 136 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza were among them, the report says.

Once the forensic examinations are completed, the bodies of the deceased Palestinians are then returned to Gaza for burial, the report adds.

The IDF did not immediately comment on the report and has not commented on similar reports in the past.

Switzerland: Armed Iranian asylum seeker took 15 hostages on train, killed by police

Member of the forensic police officers inspect the inside of a train, where passengers travelling from Yverdon to Sainte-Croix were earlier held hostage by an Iranian asylum seeker, in Essert-Sous-Champvent, western Switzerland on February 9, 2024. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
Member of the forensic police officers inspect the inside of a train, where passengers travelling from Yverdon to Sainte-Croix were earlier held hostage by an Iranian asylum seeker, in Essert-Sous-Champvent, western Switzerland on February 9, 2024. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Swiss police say a 32-year-old Iranian asylum seeker armed with an axe and a knife held 15 hostages on a train between Baulmes and Yverdon-les-Bains for almost four hours until police stormed the train and killed the man late on Thursday.

“The hostages were all released unharmed,” police in the Vaud canton say in a statement. “The hostage taker was fatally wounded during the intervention.”

No details regarding the perpetrator’s possible motives have been released.

Hostage situations are rare in Switzerland but have occurred at banks and businesses.

In January 2022, employees of a watch-making firm were taken hostage and forced to open a vault containing precious metals.

 

State Comptroller requests diaries of Netanyahu, Gallant, Halevi as part of Oct. 7 probe – report

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman addresses the Knesset Finance Committee, December 20, 2023. (Courtesy: State Comptroller’s Office)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman addresses the Knesset Finance Committee, December 20, 2023. (Courtesy: State Comptroller’s Office)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman has requested the diaries of some eight senior politicians and military officials as part of his investigation into the failures surrounding the October 7 Hamas terror onslaught, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The documents he has asked for include the agendas and meeting schedules of the officials starting from midnight on October 7, hours before Hamas launched the assault, the report says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Shin Bet director Ronen Bar and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi are among those who have reportedly been asked to supply their diaries.

In Riyadh, Middle Eastern diplomats discuss need to end war in Gaza, implement two-state solution

Four top Middle Eastern diplomats reiterated calls for “irreversible” steps towards the recognition of a Palestinian state during talks on the war between Isael and Hamas in Gaza hosted by Saudi Arabia, state media reports.

The meeting — held yesterday as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded his fifth crisis tour of the Middle East since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war — was attended by the foreign ministers of Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, as well as a senior Palestinian official.

Two diplomats briefed on preparations for the meeting tell AFP it was intended to promote a unified Arab position on the war, now in its fifth month.

“In their meeting, the ministers emphasized the need to end the war on the Gaza Strip, reach an immediate and complete ceasefire, ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law, and lift all restrictions that impede the entry of humanitarian aid into the enclave,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reports.

They also voiced support for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees agency fired 12 staff members for their alleged involvement in Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught in southern Israel, which triggered the war.

Multiple countries have suspended their funding of the agency pending the end of an investigation.

“They also stressed the importance of taking irreversible steps to implement the two-state solution and recognize the state of Palestine on the borders of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” SPA says.

Biden outlines new conditions for US military aid, amid criticism over support for Israel’s Gaza campaign

US President Joe Biden issues a memorandum that will require allies who receive military aid from the US to provide “credible and reliable written assurances” of their adherence to international law including international human rights law.

It will also, for the first time, require the State Department and the Department of Defense to issue periodic reports on whether allies are meeting the requirements.

The memo does not mention countries but comes amid increasing calls in the US to condition aid to Israel due to concerns over its military operations in Gaza, triggered by the October 7 attacks, and the use of US weapons in the Palestinian enclave.

The US will require “written assurances from foreign governments receiving defense articles and, as appropriate, defense services, from the Departments of State and Defense, and requires the Secretaries of State and Defense to provide periodic congressional reports to enable meaningful oversight,” the memo says.

US departments and agencies will “engage with foreign partners to share and learn best practices for reducing the likelihood of and responding to civilian casualties, including through appropriate training and assistance,” the memo adds.

“In order to effectively implement certain obligations under United States law, the United States must maintain an appropriate understanding of foreign partners’ adherence to international law, including, as applicable, international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” it says.

Trump wins Nevada’s Republican caucuses after being only major candidate to participate

Former President Donald Trump has won Nevada’s Republican presidential caucuses after he was the only major candidate to compete.

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley skipped the caucuses, which are the only contest in Nevada that counts toward the GOP nomination. Haley cited what she considered an unfair process favoring Trump and instead ran in Nevada’s symbolic state-run presidential primary on Tuesday, when she finished behind the “none of these candidates” option.

Trump’s win in Nevada gives him all 26 of the state’s delegates. He needs to accrue 1,215 delegates to formally clinch the party’s nomination and could reach that number in March.

US conducts more strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen

The US Central Command forces conducted seven “self-defense” strikes against four Houthi unmanned surface vessels and seven mobile anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to be launched against ships in the Red Sea, the US military says.

“CENTCOM identified these missiles and USVs (unmanned surface vessels) in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” the US Central Command says in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

The Iran-aligned Houthis, who control the most populous parts of Yemen, have launched a wave of exploding drones and missiles at commercial vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in recent weeks, calling it a response to Israel’s military operations in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack, and a show of solidarity to Palestinians.

The Houthi campaign has disrupted international shipping. The United States and Britain have recently launched strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen and returned the group to a list of designated terror organizations.

Biden: ‘Conduct of response in Gaza has been over the top’; unclear remarks seen as critique of Israel, may refer to Hamas ceasefire proposal

US President Joe Biden answers questions about Israel after speaking about the Special Counsel report in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 8, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
US President Joe Biden answers questions about Israel after speaking about the Special Counsel report in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 8, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

As President Biden is leaving a White House press conference, reporters shout a hail of questions at him about “the hostage negotiations” and “Netanyahu says he’s ordered the IDF…”

The president turns back and says, “The hostage negotiations, look,” and returns to the microphone.”

“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top. I think that, as you know, the president of Mexico, Sissi” — Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi is, in fact, president of Egypt — “did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in. I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate. I talked to Bibi [Netanyahu] to open the gate on the Israeli side. I’ve been pushing really hard, really hard, to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza. There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop. Number one.”

“Number two: I was also in the position that I’m the guy who made the case that we have to do much more to increase the amount of material going in, including fuel, including other items. I’ve been on the phone with the Qataris. I’ve been on the phone with the Egyptians. I’ve been on the phone with the Saudis to get as much aid as we possibly can into Gaza. They’re innocent people, innocent women and children who are also in bad, badly need of help. And so that’s what we’re pushing.

“And I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire,” he continues. “Because, you know, I’ve been working tirelessly for this deal, how can I say this without revealing it, to lead to a sustained pause in the fighting in, in the actions taking place, in the Gaza Strip. And, because I think if we can get the delay for that, an initial delay, I think that we would be able to extend that, so that we can increase the prospect that this fighting in Gaza changes.”

He also recalls pre-war negotiations on Saudi-Israel normalization, to help Israel fully integrate Israel into the Middle East and defend itself against Iran. He suggests that Hamas struck on October 7 to try to prevent this process.

Biden’s remarks about an “over the top” response appear to be in response to the shouted question about “the hostage negotiations,” echoing the phrase “over the top” that he used Tuesday to describe the Hamas response to a US- and Israel-backed framework proposal for a truce-for-hostages deal. However, they are somewhat ambiguous and are widely reported as marking a critique of Israel’s conduct of the war against Hamas in Gaza, which his Secretary of State Antony Blinken harshly criticized on Wednesday, and where Biden has previously accused Israel of “indiscriminate bombing.”

The remarks come as the Democratic president has come under increasing domestic pressure to press Israel on a ceasefire.

The White House did not respond to a request to elaborate on Biden’s remarks.

* This item was updated, and includes fuller quotes and video of Biden’s remarks.

Airstrikes reported in Rafah as Israel expands military campaign to southernmost Gaza city

Hebrew-language media is reporting current Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, the southernmost Gaza city.

There are reports of strikes on buildings and multiple fatalities, according to Al Jazeera, the Qatar-owned and run media network.

Israel has stepped up airstrikes on Rafah over the past day, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to expand the military offensive into the city, where over a million Palestinians have crowded into amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The United States has issued strident warnings against Israel expanding a large-scale offensive into the city, warning of catastrophic consequences unless civilians sheltering in the city were accounted for.

Putin suggests ‘agreement can be reached’ on detained US journalist

Russian President Vladimir Putin believes a deal is possible to free detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, he tells US talk show host Tucker Carlson in a rare interview.

“There is no taboo to settle this issue. We are willing to solve it but there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels. I believe an agreement can be reached,” Putin told Carlson when asked about Gershkovich, who was detained in March last year and accused of spying, a charge he and his employer have vehemently rejected.

Putin says Russian defeat in Ukraine is ‘impossible’

Defeating Russia in Ukraine is “impossible” and NATO must accept Moscow’s territorial gains there, President Vladimir Putin tells US talk show host Tucker Carlson in an interview airing now.

“There has been the uproar and screaming about inflicting a strategic defeat to Russia on the battlefield,” Putin says. “In my opinion, it is impossible by definition. It is never going to happen.”

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