ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Jan. 25: After Netanyahu criticism, US touts Qatar’s ‘irreplaceable’ role in hostage negotiations

Smotrich, Hamas spar over Qatari role in hostage talks * Death toll in Gaza shelter blast up to 12, UN reports * Report says ministry for combating antisemitism a needless waste

  • This image released by the IDF on January 25, 2024, shows troops of the Commando Brigade operating in southern Gaza's Khan Younis. (Israel Defense Forces)
    This image released by the IDF on January 25, 2024, shows troops of the Commando Brigade operating in southern Gaza's Khan Younis. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • Palestinians at the site of a destroyed building from an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 25, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
    Palestinians at the site of a destroyed building from an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 25, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
  • Israeli army troops drive through a dirt road along the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on January 25, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
    Israeli army troops drive through a dirt road along the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on January 25, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
  • Protesters near the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/Times of Israel)
    Protesters near the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/Times of Israel)
  • Israeli singer-songwriter, actor and reserve soldier Idan Amedi who was seriously injured while fighting in the Gaza Strip speaks at a press conference upon his discharge from Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, January 25, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Israeli singer-songwriter, actor and reserve soldier Idan Amedi who was seriously injured while fighting in the Gaza Strip speaks at a press conference upon his discharge from Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, January 25, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • Palestinians stand amidst the rubble of buildings destroyed in Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 25, 2024. (AFP)
    Palestinians stand amidst the rubble of buildings destroyed in Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 25, 2024. (AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

After Netanyahu criticism, US touts Qatar’s ‘irreplaceable’ role in hostage talks

Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani (R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shake hands during a press conference following a meeting in Doha on January 7, 2024. (Karim JAAFAR / AFP)
Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani (R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shake hands during a press conference following a meeting in Doha on January 7, 2024. (Karim JAAFAR / AFP)

The US State Department defends Qatar as a mediator in negotiations between Israel and Hamas, after a recording of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticizing the Gulf state’s role as “problematic.”

During the daily press briefing, deputy spokesman Vedant Patel is asked if Netanyahu’s remarks set back talks on a new hostage release deal, after Qatar said it was “appalled” by them.

“I don’t have any assessment to offer on those comments or some of the audio that’s been circulating,” Patel says. “What I can just say — and I spoke a little bit about this yesterday — is that Qatar has been an integral, irreplaceable, key regional partner, not just as it relates to this current ongoing conflict, but other priorities that the United States has had in the region.”

“We’ll look forward to continuing to deepen our partnership with them and work with them on a number of key issues,” he adds.

Minneapolis adopts nonbinding measure urging ceasefire in Israel-Hamas war

MINNEAPOLIS — A nonbinding resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war was passed by the Minneapolis City Council on Thursday.

Mayor Jacob Frey, who is Jewish, tried unsuccessfully to persuade council members to soften it, saying the wording tilted too heavily against Israel. The mayor, a Democrat, is now considering whether to veto it.

Minneapolis is the latest of dozens of US cities to pass calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors did so on January 9, and Mayor London Breed said last week that she would not veto it.

US sets up channel with Israel to receive answers on ‘constant’ reports of civilian casualties — officials

Palestinians carry a body of a person killed in the Israeli bombardment at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center which displaced people use as a shelter in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)
Palestinians carry a body of a person killed in the Israeli bombardment at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center which displaced people use as a shelter in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)

The United States has created a channel with Israel to discuss concerns over incidents in Gaza in which civilians have been killed or injured by the Israeli military and civilian facilities have been targeted, two US officials with knowledge told Reuters.

The channel was set up after a meeting earlier this month between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israel’s war cabinet during which Blinken expressed concern about the “constant” reports of Israeli strikes that either hit humanitarian sites or resulted in large numbers of civilians.

In the meeting, Blinken told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and minister Benny Gantz that Washington needed to know “what the answers are” when it comes to reports of strikes, and sought a “reliable channel” through which the United States can raise such issues with the Israelis regularly, one of the US officials said.

The existence of this initiative has not been previously reported and the US officials requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive details around it.

The channel comes as a response to the mounting pressure on the Biden administration over the steep toll on Palestinian civilians of Israel’s campaign against Hamas that has killed more than 25,000 people, according to the Palestinian health ministry, and displaced millions.

It also underscores Washington’s frustration with Israel’s failure to alleviate the plight of a civilian population deprived since mid-October of most of the aid that previously flowed into Gaza, and of adequate medical care for the more than 62,000 people who have been wounded.

Through the channel, which has been active for the last few weeks, Washington raises with the Israelis “every specific incident of concern” related to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, another US official said. The Israelis investigate and provide feedback to the Americans.

In some instances, the Israelis have conveyed additional information that sheds light on an incident while in others, they admitted they “made a mistake,” the officials said, without specifying which ones.

The United States set up the process to drive accountability for Israel, one of the officials says. It was not clear what action, if any, Washington would take against Israel as a result of what it learns.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The channel works through diplomats in the US embassy in Jerusalem, the State Department’s regional bureau focusing on the Middle East, and US President Joe Biden’s Special Envoy for the region’s humanitarian issues David Satterfield, the officials say.

Most recently, the United States used the channel to seek details on what the United Nations on Wednesday said was an attack by Israeli tanks on one of its compounds in Gaza sheltering displaced Palestinians. It was not clear how Israel responded, officials say.

Explosive drone strikes Iraq’s Khor Mor gas field – sources

An explosion at the Khor Mor gas field in Iraq on January 25, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
An explosion at the Khor Mor gas field in Iraq on January 25, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

An explosive drone struck the Khor Mor gas field in the Sulaimaniya region of northern Iraq on Thursday, two sources told Reuters, adding the explosion had caused limited damage but no one had been injured.

Pearl Petroleum, a consortium of United Arab Emirates-based energy firm Dana Gas and its affiliate Crescent Petroleum, have the rights to exploit the Khor Mor and Chemchemal fields, two of the biggest gas fields in Iraq.

Pearl Petroleum could not immediately be reached for comment.

In a separate incident earlier in the day, an explosive-laden drone targeting US forces at a base near Erbil airport in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region was shot down by air defenses, the region’s counter-terrorism service said.

Iraq has witnessed near-daily drone and rocket attacks by hardline militias since Israel’s war in Gaza began in October, mostly on bases housing troops belonging to a US-led military coalition.

PM denies urging military censor to approve publishing recording of him criticizing Qatar

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with relatives of hostages held in Gaza, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2024. (Prime Minister's Office)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting with relatives of hostages held in Gaza, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 22, 2024. (Prime Minister's Office)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office denies a report in the Haaretz daily revealing that the military censor’s office consulted with the PMO regarding whether to approve Channel 12 airing a recording of him criticizing Qatar’s handling of the hostage negotiations in what has sparked a diplomatic incident.

Haaretz reports that Netanyahu’s office did not push back against publishing the recording during a meeting with the chief military censor.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office says, however, that no such consultation ever took place.

Trump testifies in NY court after New Hampshire win

Former US president Donald Trump raises his fist as he leaves his apartment building, Thursday, Jan 25, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
Former US president Donald Trump raises his fist as he leaves his apartment building, Thursday, Jan 25, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Donald Trump briefly testifies in a defamation court case, his first appearance since winning New Hampshire’s primary and drawing closer to an election rematch with US President Joe Biden.

Far from hiding his multiple legal problems, Trump has turned courtroom sessions into quasi-campaign events, claiming that each trial is part of a Democratic establishment attempt to prevent his return to the White House for a second term.

Writer E. Jean Carroll is seeking more than $10 million in damages for defamation by Trump in a federal court in New York, which has the power only to impose a civil penalty, not a criminal conviction.

The 77-year-old Trump — whom a jury found liable for sexual assault of Carroll in a separate federal civil case in New York — took the stand to deny he instructed anyone to harm Carroll with his statements.

Judge Lewis Kaplan limited Trump to three questions from his lawyers, to which he could only answer yes or no to prevent him from digressing from the case.

“She says something I considered false,” Trump began to say before Kaplan cut him off.

“This is not America,” Trump says as he left the courtroom following his short appearance.

Trump separately faces a number of criminal cases, including his alleged attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden, and a civil fraud case.

Overnight, the former Republican president unleashed a battery of attacks on Carroll, using his Truth Social platform to smear her and deny the veracity of her evidence over the course of 37 messages.

Carroll, 80, alleges that Trump defamed her in 2019, when she first made her assault allegations public, by saying she “is not my type.”

Israel advancing deals with US to purchase fighter jets, attack helicopters and munitions

IAF F-F15s take part in an independence day flyby in Tel Aviv  on April 26, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
IAF F-F15s take part in an independence day flyby in Tel Aviv on April 26, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Amid Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and fighting against other Iran-backed proxy groups in the Middle East, Israeli defense officials are advancing a number of key defense deals with the United States, which would see the country procure new fighter jets, attack helicopters and a continued supply of munitions.

Earlier today, Defense Ministry Director General Eyal Zamir wrapped up a working visit to Washington, DC, during which he met with senior Defense and State Department officials, as well as executives from major US defense companies to discuss the advancement of the deals.

Defense sources say Israel’s plans to procure a new squadron of 25 F35i stealth fighter jets, a squadron of 25 F-15IA fighter jets — the Israeli variant of the advanced F-15EX — and a squadron of 12 Apache helicopters were advanced during the discussions.

The deals, some of which have been previously published, have not yet been signed, despite a report by Channel 12 news this evening claiming so.

Last year, Israel submitted formal requests to the US regarding the procurement of the F-35 fighters and F-15 jets.

The procurement of the Apache helicopters comes following lessons learned from Hamas’s October 7 attack and the fighting in the Gaza Strip, according to defense sources.

There is no timeline for the delivery of the fighter jets and helicopters, and previous such deals have taken several years for the first aircraft to be shipped.

Also as part of the discussions, the Defense Ministry delegation worked to advance the continued supply of American munitions amid the war.

At least 250 cargo planes and more than 20 ships have delivered more than 10,000 tons of armaments and military equipment to Israel since the start of the war.

For the deals to be advanced further and signed, they require government approval, a move that defense sources say may occur within the next few weeks.

Hamas health ministry updates death toll from strike on Palestinians in line for food to 20

Palestinians carry a body of a person killed in the Israeli bombardment at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center which displaced people use as a shelter in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)
Palestinians carry a body of a person killed in the Israeli bombardment at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center which displaced people use as a shelter in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)

An Israeli strike on Gaza City killed 20 Palestinians and wounded 150 who were waiting in line for food aid on Thursday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says.

The Israeli military says it is looking into the report, but has long stressed that it does not target civilians.

The ministry claims Israeli fire hit a crowd of people waiting for humanitarian aid at a roundabout in Gaza City.

Health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra says scores were wounded in the attack and that the death toll is likely to rise as dozens of seriously wounded people were brought to the city’s Shifa Hospital.

Israeli troops and tanks pushed into Gaza City shortly after the ground invasion began and have been battling terrorists there for nearly two months. The military says it has largely defeated Hamas in northern Gaza but is still facing pockets of resistance.

Health Ministry drills potential emergency security situations in the north

Smoke billows over the southern Lebanese village of Shihine on the border with Israel during an Israeli airstrike on January 22, 2024. (Kawnat Haju/AFP)
Smoke billows over the southern Lebanese village of Shihine on the border with Israel during an Israeli airstrike on January 22, 2024. (Kawnat Haju/AFP)

As the borders between Israel and Syria remain tense, Israel’s health system practices handling potential major security incidents in a drill today in the north.

The drill deals with a variety of different scenarios involving the operation of hospitals, health maintenance organizations’ community clinics, medical evacuations, and the provision of support to chronically ill people in need of immediate assistance.

Led by the Health Ministry, the comprehensive drill also involves other governmental ministries, hospitals, HMOs, local authorities, the IDF’s Home Front Command, and other branches of the national security apparatus.

“We are in a very challenging period that includes treating thousands of the physically and emotionally injured, as well as the rehabilitation of thousands. In parallel to dealing with these challenges that began on October 7, we are preparing for the expansion of the [military] operation in the north and throughout Israel,” says Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov.

“The security reality in Israel has changed, as have the things the healthcare system must do. Therefore, we are preparing the system as a whole and every part of it in this drill. The change that could happen in the north will affect the hospitals and community in a much broader way than we have experienced thus far,” he says.

According to Health Ministry deputy director-general Sefi Mendelovich, planning for the drill has been underway in recent months, with an aim at challenging existing assumptions, filling gaps, implementing new technologies, and improving coordination and communication to ensure the best possible care in case of emergency.

Turkey’s Erdogan signs off on Sweden’s NATO membership ratification

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second left, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP/Bernat Armangue)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second left, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before signing a memorandum in which Turkey agrees to Finland and Sweden's membership of the defense alliance in Madrid, Spain on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. (AP/Bernat Armangue)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signs off on the parliament’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership bid, the presidency’s official gazette shows, marking the final step in Ankara’s approval of Stockholm into the alliance.

The Turkish parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO bid on Tuesday, clearing a major hurdle to expanding the Western military alliance after 20 months of delay. Hungary remains the only ally yet to ratify the Nordic nation’s accession into the alliance.

Former Trump advisor Navarro sentenced to four months in prison

Former Trump White House official Peter Navarro speaks to reporters, June 3, 2022, outside of federal court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Former Trump White House official Peter Navarro speaks to reporters, June 3, 2022, outside of federal court in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Peter Navarro, a White House trade advisor to former US president Donald Trump, has been sentenced to four months in prison for refusing to testify before the congressional panel that investigated the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.

Navarro, 74, a Harvard-educated economist, has been found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress by a federal jury in Washington in September after a two-day trial.

US District Judge Amit Mehta sentences him to four months in prison — two months less than prosecutors had requested — and ordered him to pay a fine of $9,500.

“You are not a victim,” The Washington Post quotes Mehta as saying at Navarro’s sentencing hearing. “You are not the object of a political prosecution. These are circumstances of your own making.”

Navarro had refused to appear for a deposition before the House of Representatives committee that investigated the January 6 attack on Congress by Trump supporters and declined to supply documents to the panel.

Navarro is the second close Trump ally to be convicted of contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas from the House committee.

Steve Bannon, one of the masterminds behind Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and victory, was also found guilty of contempt of Congress.

Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison but remains free pending an appeal. Navarro is also expected to appeal.

Protesters demanding release of hostages briefly block traffic on Tel Aviv highway

Protesters block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest march calling for an immediate deal to free the hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, January 24, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Protesters block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest march calling for an immediate deal to free the hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, January 24, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Protesters demanding the immediate release of the hostages in Gaza have briefly blocked traffic on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway.

The tactic has been used repeatedly in recent days as the hostages’ families have pledged to intensify measures to disrupt public order in order to secure the return of their loved ones.

Hamas official says terror group will abide by any ICJ ceasefire order if Israel reciprocates

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

Hamas says that if the International Court of Justice issues an injunction calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, it will abide by it as long as Israel reciprocates.

Hamas will release all the Israeli hostages in Gaza if Israel releases all Palestinian prisoners, senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan claims at a news conference in Beirut.

Hamas-run health ministry raises Gaza war death toll to 25,900

Injured people receive treatment in Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital, following a reported Israeli strike on January 25, 2024. (AFP)
Injured people receive treatment in Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital, following a reported Israeli strike on January 25, 2024. (AFP)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza updates its war death toll to 25,900, with another 64,110 wounded.

The figures are unverified and are believed to include close to 10,000 Hamas operatives Israel said it has killed during fighting in the Strip, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

WHO chief breaks down describing ‘hellish’ Gaza conditions; Israel blasts him for ignoring hostages

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaks during a media conference at an EU Africa summit in Brussels on Feb. 18, 2022. (Johanna Geron/Pool Photo via AP)
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaks during a media conference at an EU Africa summit in Brussels on Feb. 18, 2022. (Johanna Geron/Pool Photo via AP)

The head of the World Health Organization again calls for a ceasefire and a “true solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict in an emotional plea to the global health body’s governing body where he describes conditions in Gaza as “hellish.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who lived through war as a child and whose own children hid in a bunker during bombardments in Ethiopia’s 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea, became emotional describing conditions in the bombed-out Gaza enclave where more than 25,000 people have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

“I’m a true believer because of my own experience that war doesn’t bring solution, except more war, more hatred, more agony, more destruction. So let’s choose peace and resolve this issue politically,” Tedros told the WHO Executive Board in Geneva during a discussion about the Gaza health emergency.

“I think all of you have said the two-state solution and so on, and hope this war will end and move into a true solution,” he said, before breaking down, describing the current situation as “beyond words.”

Israel’s ambassador says Tedros’ comments represented a “complete leadership failure.”

“The statement by the director-general was the embodiment of everything that is wrong with WHO since October 7th. No mention of the hostages, the rapes, the murder of Israelis, nor the militarization of hospitals and Hamas’s despicable use of human shields,” Meirav Eilon Shahar says in comments sent to Reuters.

She also accused the global health agency of “collusion” with Hamas, saying the WHO turned a blind eye to Hamas’ military activities in Gaza hospitals.

In the same address, Tedros warned that more people in Gaza would die of starvation and disease.

“If you add all that, I think it’s not easy to understand how hellish the situation is,” he says.

Russia hosts Houthi delegation, discuss ongoing regional escalation, Gaza war

Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sana'a on Monday, January 22, 2024. (AP Photo)
Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sana'a on Monday, January 22, 2024. (AP Photo)

Yemen’s Houthi delegation meets in Moscow with the Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov, where they discussed the situation in the region as well as the importance of intensifying efforts to pressure the United States and Israel to stop war in the Gaza Strip, the Houthi top negotiator says on messaging platform X.

CIA chief’s meeting in Europe said aimed at pressuring Hamas, bridging gaps between Egypt, Qatar mediators

Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani meets with his Egyptian counterpart at Tahrir Palace in the center of the Egyptian capital Cairo, on May 25, 2021. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani meets with his Egyptian counterpart at Tahrir Palace in the center of the Egyptian capital Cairo, on May 25, 2021. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)

Channel 12 cites a senior Israeli official who describes the meeting slated to take place in the coming days in Europe between the intel chiefs of the US, Egypt and Israel, along with the prime minister of Qatar, as “critical” to the goal of exerting pressure on Hamas and bridging the gaps preventing a deal for the release of all Israeli hostages in Gaza.

With all the relevant players in the same room with the exception of Hamas’s leaders, “who are represented by Qatar,” the summit, according to the unnamed Israeli official, “brings together the two [hitherto separate] lines of negotiation by Qatar and Egypt in order to exert joint pressure on Hamas and to bridge the gaps between the two mediators.”

The agreement the leaders are slated to discuss would see all of the hostages released, in phases over several months, with the war paused and thousands of Palestinian security prisoners freed.

A central, massive gap remains between Israel and Hamas, however, given that Israel is refusing to agree to a permanent ceasefire, while Hamas won’t agree to release the remaining 136 hostages in exchange for anything less.

Channel 12 reports that Hamas’s conditions include a 10-14 day pause before it begins releasing hostages; 100 security prisoners released for every “humanitarian” hostage in the first stage of the release; hundreds of security prisoners released for every hostage in subsequent phases; and a withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the Strip as part of the deal.

State comptroller hits back at IDF chief over criticism of probe into Oct. 7 failures

Left: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi gives a statement to the media at an army base in southern Israel, December 26, 2023; Right: State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman walk at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 28, 2022. (Flash90)
Left: IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi gives a statement to the media at an army base in southern Israel, December 26, 2023; Right: State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman walk at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 28, 2022. (Flash90)

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman insists in a letter to IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi that the examination that his office has begun into the multi-system failures leading up to, and on, October 7 is both necessary and feasible despite the ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza.

Englman’s letter comes in response to objections Halevi raised to the state comptroller on Wednesday, who told Englman that his examination was both unprecedented and would divert the attention of IDF commanders currently conducting operations in Gaza and asked him to delay his probe.

“The severe failures that led to the events of October 7 require a deep and fundamental examination by the State Comptroller’s Office of all [decision-making] echelons, political, military and civilian,” Englman tells Halevi.

He also points out that he has already begun examinations and even issued criticism of governmental failings on the home front since the beginning of the war, seemingly to ward off criticism that his examination into military failures is politically motivated to deflect blame from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Englman adds that his office has told the IDF that at present all that it requires is access to military documents to begin preparations for the examination, and says that other security agencies involved in the war have already complied with a similar request.

“There is no reason at all that similar cooperation, which it should be emphasized does not require the attention of the combat ranks, should not also be established for the IDF,” writes Englman.

Last week, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel sent a letter to Englman expressing concern about his request for classified documents from the IDF and the security agencies, and not from political and decision-making agencies and officials, and said his activities could harm a future state commission of inquiry into the October 7 failures.

War cabinet meets to discuss hostage negotiations

The war cabinet meets at the IDF's Kirya military headquarters on January 25, 2024. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
The war cabinet meets at the IDF's Kirya military headquarters on January 25, 2024. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

The war cabinet is currently meeting at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters regarding the hostage negotiations.

IDF hostage envoy Nitzan Alon and PMO hostage coordinator Gal Hirsch are in attendance.

IDF jets, tanks strike additional Hezbollah sites in Lebanon

An IDF strike in Lebanon on January 25, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
An IDF strike in Lebanon on January 25, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The IDF says it struck further Hezbollah sites in Lebanon today.

Two sites belonging to the terror group in Tayr Harfa and Ayta ash-Shab were shelled by tanks, and a site in Kafr Kila and an observation post in Blida were hit by a fighter jet, according to the IDF.

The IDF says it also shelled areas in ad-Dhahiriya with artillery.

Fire breaks out at a hospital in Iran’s capital, no details of casualties

A fire erupts at Gandhi Hospital in Tehran, Iran, shown in images released by Iran’s government-run news agency, January 25, 2024. (IRIB/Telegram: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A fire erupts at Gandhi Hospital in Tehran, Iran, shown in images released by Iran’s government-run news agency, January 25, 2024. (IRIB/Telegram: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A huge fire broke out at a hospital in Iran’s capital Tehran, state media reports, with an official saying the blaze had engulfed the building’s exterior facade.

There are no immediate reports of casualties or the cause of the incident.

State TV says the area around the Gandhi Hospital in northern Tehran has been cordoned off and the hospital was being evacuated.

Tehran Fire Department spokesperson Jalal Malaki says the fire started at 19:00 local time (15:30 GMT) and firefighters had been dispatched to the area.

“Initial reports indicate that the fire primarily affected the exterior of the hospital building,” Maleki tells state TV.

Report: Biden to dispatch CIA chief to Europe for hostage talks with Israeli, Egyptian, Qatari counterparts

US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns speaks at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, July 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns speaks at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, July 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

US President Joe Biden is reportedly planning to dispatch CIA director William Burns to Europe in the coming days for high-level talks aimed at the release of the remaining hostages being held by Hamas.

Israel has reportedly proposed a two-month ceasefire in exchange for a staged release of the hostages.

Burns will meet the Israeli and Egyptian intelligence chiefs, David Barnea and Abbas Kamel, along with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, The Washington Post reports, citing officials familiar with the matter. Israel’s Channel 12 says Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar will also participate.

White House Middle East czar Brett McGurk was in Qatar and Egypt this week for talks on the same subject.

Burns “has been… involved in helping us with the hostage deal that was in place and trying to help us pursue another one,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby tells reporters traveling with U.S. President Joe Biden aboard Air Force One, referring specific questions to the agency.

PA in talks with UAE, Norway for loan covering Gaza funds Israel trying to block — diplomat

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 14, 2023. (Jade Gao/Pool/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with China's President Xi Jinping (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 14, 2023. (Jade Gao/Pool/AFP)

The Palestinian Authority is in talks with the United Arab Emirates and Norway about Abu Dhabi or Oslo offering Ramallah a monthly loan to compensate for the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues that Israel is trying to withhold from the PA, a senior Western diplomat tells The Times of Israel.

Israel has been withholding NIS 275 million ($75 million) in tax revenues that it collects on Ramallah’s behalf. The figure amounts to the sum that the PA uses to pay services and employees in Gaza. The Israeli cabinet voted in November to withhold the Gaza portion from the monthly transfer on the grounds that the funds could be funneled to PA-rival Hamas.

In protest of the move, the PA has refused to accept any of the tax revenues, which make up the vast majority of its annual budget, placing Ramallah at risk of financial collapse.

The Israeli decision was heavily criticized by the Biden administration, which has demanded that Jerusalem release the funds, since they belong to the PA.

Last week, the cabinet approved a compromise that will see the funds transferred to Norway, which will only be able to release them to the PA if Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich — a far-right lawmaker with a particularly adversarial relationship with the PA — gives the go-ahead. The Israeli framework also bars the PA from ever transferring those funds to Gaza and would indefinitely block Ramallah from receiving those tax revenues if the outline is violated.

While the new framework leaves open the possibility that the PA will at least be able to access the Gaza portion of the funds in order to pay for services in the West Bank, Ramallah believes that Smotrich will likely take months before he allows Norway to release the tax revenues, a Palestinian official says.

Accordingly, the PA is working on an end-around that would give them faster and more guaranteed access to the $75 million monthly transfer via bank loans from either the UAE or Norway, the senior Western diplomat says. The Gaza portion makes up roughly 25 percent of the total monthly tax revenues.

“Without the monthly NIS 275 million, the PA will not survive. There would be no point in the whole agreement with Norway,” the diplomat adds.

IDF has captured over 100 Hamas operatives in last two days, Gallant says

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with IDF soldiers on January 25, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with IDF soldiers on January 25, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says more than 100 Hamas operatives were captured by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip in recent days, including some who surrendered after hiding in tunnels.

“Hamas is collapsing into its own tunnels that it painstakingly dug. Every place it thought would be a trap for IDF soldiers becomes an area where we hit it,” Gallant says to soldiers of the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit.

Gallant says Hamas has “hundreds of casualties underground” as a result of Yahalom’s actions.

“In the past day and a half, we have over 100 captives, some of them who came up from underground, in the Khan Younis area and also in other places, because they realize that they can’t fight against the IDF,” he says.

IDF releases footage showing sniper killing Hamas operatives, close-quarters combat

Soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image released January 25, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image released January 25, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Soldiers of the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade have further expanded their activities in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis today, the military says, releasing new footage showing Hamas operatives being killed by sniper fire and in close-quarters encounters.

The Paratroopers Brigade are operating in the Khan Younis neighborhood of al-Amal, where they have encountered numerous Hamas gunmen, raided the terror group’s sites, and seized and destroyed weapons, the IDF says.

The IDF says the soldiers located a large cache of firearms, grenades, explosive devices to be dropped from drones, and mortars during a raid on a Hamas site in the area.

In another raid, three Hamas gunmen opened fire at the troops. The IDF says the paratroopers returned fire, killing two of the operatives, while the third fled into a building.

Footage released by the IDF shows a drone sent by the brigade into the building to scan for the third gunman. The clip shows the gunman opening fire at the drone, before it cuts to showing him dead after troops opened fire on him.

The IDF also releases footage showing snipers of the Paratroopers Brigade killing Hamas operatives in the Khan Younis area. It says the snipers have killed dozens of Hamas gunmen so far.

‘Netanyahu and Sinwar, we want a ceasefire’: Scores protest against war in Khan Younis

Palestinians protest against the war in Khan Younis on January 25, 2024. (Screen capture/X: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Palestinians protest against the war in Khan Younis on January 25, 2024. (Screen capture/X: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Footage published today shows a large crowd of Palestinians marching in the streets of Khan Younis, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar to end the war in Gaza.

“The people want a ceasefire! Netanyahu and Sinwar, we want a ceasefire. Enough with war and enough with the destruction!” they are heard chanting.

While calls for a ceasefire directed at Israel are common, ones by Palestinians in Gaza directed at Sinwar are far rarer.

It is unclear when exactly the footage was taken but it is published a day after the IDF released another clip of Palestinians protesting in Gaza with one sign apparently calling on Hamas to release the hostages.

While the protest in yesterday’s clip featured largely women and children, today’s appears to be largely men in a possible sign that discontent is growing.

Iraq, US agree to start talks on phased withdrawal of of US-led coalition — Baghdad

A handout picture released by Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office on November 5, 2023 shows Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani (R) meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Baghdad. (Handout/Iraqi prime minister's press office/AFP)
A handout picture released by Iraq's Prime Minister's Media Office on November 5, 2023 shows Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani (R) meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Baghdad. (Handout/Iraqi prime minister's press office/AFP)

Baghdad and Washington have agreed to set up a committee to start talks on the future of the US-led military coalition in Iraq with the aim of setting a timetable for a phased withdrawal of troops and the coalition’s end, Iraq’s foreign ministry says.

The United States has 2,500 troops in Iraq, advising and assisting local forces to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State, which in 2014 seized large parts of Iraq and Syria before being defeated. Hundreds of troops from mostly European countries are also part of the coalition.

Iraq’s government says Islamic State is defeated and the coalition’s job is over, but it is keen to explore establishing bilateral relations with coalition members, including military cooperation in training and equipment.

Iraq also says the coalition’s presence has become a magnet for instability amid near-daily attacks by Iran-backed militias on bases housing the forces and US retaliatory strikes, escalating since the Israeli war in Gaza began in October.

The talks are set to take place between military officials to assess the operational requirements and efficacy of Iraqi security forces and the threats they face, based on which both sides will determine how quickly the coalition is phased out and how future bilateral relations will look.

Reuters on Wednesday reported that the US and Iraq were set to initiate the talks.

US and Iraqi officials say the process is expected to take many months if not longer, with the outcome unclear and no withdrawal of US forces imminent.

Washington fears that a fast withdrawal may create a security vacuum that could be filled by arch-rival Iran or Islamic State, which maintains sleeper cells in desert areas and has continued low-level attacks despite holding no territory.

The United States invaded Iraq and toppled leader Saddam Hussein in 2003, precipitating years of insurgency war and fighting among Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups. It withdrew its troops in 2011, but sent thousands back after Islamic State’s surge into the country three years later.

UN says Israel army ordered Gazans to leave shelter that was hit in strike

Palestinians try to extinguish a fire at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, which displaced people were using as a shelter, after it was hit on January 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)
Palestinians try to extinguish a fire at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, which displaced people were using as a shelter, after it was hit on January 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)

The United Nations tells AFP that the Israeli military ordered people taking refuge in a shelter that it says was hit with deadly tank fire in southern Khan Younis to leave by the following afternoon.

A spokeswoman for UNRWA, the agency for Palestinian refugees, confirmed testimony from displaced people in the shelter who said the army gave them until 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Friday to flee.

The IDF says the area where the shelter is located is an active combat zone and has in the past urged Palestinians to evacuate such areas.

Once bustling Jerusalem Old City ‘like a desert,’ says Palestinian shopkeeper

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

Over more than 100 days of the Israel-Hamas war, Rami Nabulsi’s antique shop in the Old City of Jerusalem has been virtually empty of customers. Still, he walks the cobblestoned alleyways to open it every day.

The Old City, surrounded by ancient walls and home to sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is usually bursting with activity, crammed with worshipers and tourists from around the world.

Since the fighting started, the area has become “like a desert,” says Nabulsi, a Palestinian resident of the Old City in East Jerusalem.

“Jerusalem was meant to be a city of joy,” he said. “Now, when you walk in the city, even the walls are crying.”

Israeli authorities have since increased security checks around the Old City amid fears of unrest spilling over, particularly around flashpoint holy sites.

And tourists have been staying away across the country – traffic at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv was down 78% from the previous year in November and 71% in December, figures from Israel’s airport authority show.

In the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem, hotels and other tourism businesses say they had one of their worst Christmases on record.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, Jews, Muslims and Christians used to pass through the gates every day to and from prayers, or to pick up a bit of shopping.

Now, whole rows of stores have shut their doors. They would rather save expenses, says Nabulsi, a jeweler.

His shop is still open, but doing next to no business.

He sits outside reading the newspaper, feeding the neighborhood’s cats and dusting the wooden shelves, waiting for customers.

UK and US sanction senior Houthis over Red Sea shipping attacks

People lift rifles and placards as they chant during an anti-Israel and anti-US rally in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on January 19, 2024, (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)
People lift rifles and placards as they chant during an anti-Israel and anti-US rally in the Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa on January 19, 2024, (Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

Britain and the United States say they sanctioned four senior Houthi officials for their roles in supporting or directing attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

The Houthi attacks have disrupted global shipping and stoked fears of global inflation. They have also deepened concern that fallout from the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the Middle East.

Those sanctioned were Houthi Defense Minister Mohamed Nasser al-Atifi, Commander of Houthi Naval Forces Muhammad Fadl Abd Al-Nabi, coastal defense forces chief Muhammad Ali al-Qadiri, and Muhammed Ahmad al-Talibi, whom the two governments described as the Houthi forces director of procurement.

“The Houthis’ persistent terrorist attacks on merchant vessels and their civilian crews… threaten to disrupt international supply chains and the freedom of navigation, which is critical to global security, stability, and prosperity,” the US Treasury’s Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian Nelson, said in a statement.

“Today’s joint action with the United Kingdom demonstrates our collective action to leverage all authorities to stop these attacks.”

Britain said the four men were involved in acts that “threaten the peace, security and stability of Yemen.”

The US action freezes any US-based assets of those targeted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.

US reportedly warned Iran ahead of deadly ISIS bombings

People pray over the flag-draped coffins of victims of a suicide-bomb attack during a funeral ceremony in the city of Kerman, Iran, January 5, 2024. (Vahid Salemi/AP)
People pray over the flag-draped coffins of victims of a suicide-bomb attack during a funeral ceremony in the city of Kerman, Iran, January 5, 2024. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

The US warned Iran ahead of the deadly Islamic State suicide bombings on January 3 that killed 84 people, US officials tell The Wall Street Journal.

“Prior to ISIS’s terrorist attack on January 3, 2024, in Kerman, Iran, the US government provided Iran with a private warning that there was a terrorist threat within Iranian borders,” a US official says. “The US government followed a longstanding ‘duty to warn’ policy that has been implemented across administrations to warn governments against potential lethal threats. We provide these warnings in part because we do not want to see innocent lives lost in terror attacks.”

According to the WSJ report, the intelligence that ISIS-Khorasan was planning an attack was specific and timely enough that it could have helped Iran prevent the attacks, which it initially pinned on Israel.

Hamas health ministry claims IDF fire hit crowd of people waiting for aid in Gaza City

Palestinians look for survivors at a mosque destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.(AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
Palestinians look for survivors at a mosque destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024.(AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

The Hamas-run Health Ministry claims Israeli fire hit a crowd of people waiting for humanitarian aid at a roundabout in Gaza City, killing multiple people.

Health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra says scores were wounded in the attack and that the death toll is likely to rise as dozens of seriously wounded people were brought to the city’s Shifa Hospital.

The ministry does not specify what type of weapons were involved. The Israeli military says it is looking into the reports but has long stressed that it does not target civilians. The Gaza health ministry has in the past been known to inflate initial death figures before updating with more accurate numbers.

Israeli troops and tanks pushed into Gaza City shortly after the ground invasion began and have been battling militants there for nearly two months. The military says it has largely defeated Hamas in northern Gaza but is still facing pockets of resistance.

Israel declassifies official orders it says refute genocide claims ahead of ICJ decision

L-R: Dr. Tal Becker, Prof. Malcolm Shaw KC, Dr, Gilad Noam, Dr. Galit Raguan attend a hearing in the case brought to the International Court of Justice at The Hague in which South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in its war with Hamas in Gaza, January 12, 2024. (International Court of Justice)
L-R: Dr. Tal Becker, Prof. Malcolm Shaw KC, Dr, Gilad Noam, Dr. Galit Raguan attend a hearing in the case brought to the International Court of Justice at The Hague in which South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in its war with Hamas in Gaza, January 12, 2024. (International Court of Justice)

Israel has declassified more than 30 orders made by government and military leaders, which it says rebut South Africa’s claim in the International Court of Justice that it is committing genocide and instead show that it is seeking to limit civilian deaths in Gaza, The New York Times reports.

The report comes a day before the ICJ is slated to rule on whether to issue an injunction ordering an immediate ceasefire.

The documents aim to demonstrate that incendiary comments made by Israeli officials — which South Africa used to argue intent in Jerusalem to commit genocide — played no role in the decision making.

Part of Israel’s defense is to prove that whatever politicians may have said in public was overruled by executive decisions and official orders from the war cabinet and the military’s command.

“The prime minister stressed time and again the need to increase significantly the humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip,” reads one declassified document — the minutes from a November 14 cabinet meeting.

Blinken again asks Israel to protect civilians after UN shelter attack

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to media during his visit at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) Clinic in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to media during his visit at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) Clinic in Lagos, Nigeria, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken renews calls for Israel to protect civilians after a deadly strike on a UN shelter in Gaza.

The US condemned the strike but avoided assigning blame, while Israel said it was probing the matter and checking whether it was caused by its grounds troops or an errant Hamas rocket.

Two tank shells struck the UN shelter Wednesday in Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Younis, killing 12 people, according to the United Nations.

On a visit to Angola, Blinken tells reporters that the UN shelter “is essential and it has to be protected.”

“We have reaffirmed this with the government of Israel, and it is my understanding that they are, as is necessary and appropriate, looking into this incident,” Blinken said, without saying at what level discussions took place.

The Israeli army is the only force known to have tanks operating in the Gaza Strip. It said it would conduct a “thorough review” and held out the possibility that the strike was a “result of Hamas fire.”

In contrast with Israel’s frequent criticism of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, Blinken credits the agency for its efforts “to help people who are in desperate need.”

“The work that the UN is performing in Gaza is quite literally life-saving and no one else can do it — and no one else is doing it,” he says.

Military strikes Hezbollah airstrip allegedly built by Iran for drone attacks

This image presented by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a speech at a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, September 11, 2023, shows an aiport allegedly built by Iran in southern Lebanon. (Defense Ministry)
This image presented by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a speech at a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, September 11, 2023, shows an aiport allegedly built by Iran in southern Lebanon. (Defense Ministry)

The IDF says it carried out a series of strikes against Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, including an airstrip used by the terror group in the Qalaat Jabbour mountain region.

The IDF says it also struck targets in the areas of Tyre and Mghairiyeh.

The airstrip, revealed by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last year, served Hezbollah’s aerial unit, according to the IDF. Israel accused Iran of building the runway, which is thought to be used by the terror group to launch drones.

The IDF says the strikes come in response to a drone attack on northern Israel earlier today, which has now been claimed by Hezbollah.

An Israeli soldier walks near the northern kibbutz of Kfar Blum after two drones launched by Hezbollah struck the area on January 25, 2024. (jalaa marey / AFP)

The terror group launched two explosive-laden drones from Lebanon, which impacted open areas near the northern Israeli community of Kfar Blum, causing no injuries or damage.

Hezbollah claimed it targeted an Iron Dome air defense system battery.

The IDF also says it shelled areas in southern Lebanon with artillery today, apparently to foil planned Hezbollah attacks.

Israel expecting ICJ to toss out ‘spurious’ genocide charges

Israel is voicing confidence that the International Court of Justice will throw out South African allegations that the Gaza war amounts to genocide against Palestinians, which an Israeli government spokesperson describes as without basis.

“We expect the ICJ to throw out these spurious and specious charges,” the spokesperson, Eylon Levy, says in a briefing.

The court is scheduled to convene tomorrow to announce whether it will grant emergency measures against Israel over its war against Hamas.

Rocket alarm blares in south for second time in hours

Rocket sirens have sounded in the Gaza border region for a second time today, this time near Nahal Oz.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Visiting troops, Netanyahu says Hamas will make like a tree and leave

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in black, plants a tree at a military base near Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in black, plants a tree at a military base near Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterates his commitment to “total victory” against Hamas while planting trees with soldiers near the Gaza border in honor of the sylvan Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shvat.

“Total victory means eliminating Hamas, the return of all our captives. We have not given up on that goal,” he says.

Going with the tree theme, Netanyahu vows that “we will deepen our roots in our land, and uproot our enemies. We will be here, they will not be there,” he adds, according to a readout from his office.

Qatar says its priority is hostage talks, not political tiffs

A Qatari official tells NBC News that the Gulf emirate “would never jeopardize” negotiations about a hostage release due to “differences with individuals.”

The comments come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critical comments about Qatar were leaked to Israel’s Channel 12 earlier this week, which drew rebuke from Doha.

Amid ramped-up attacks on its role as mediator by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the official tells NBC that Qatar’s efforts are “about saving lives of the hostages and of Palestinian civilians and not about politicians.”

Mom of hostage mistakenly killed by troops preaches unity amid tragedy

Yotam Haim, left, and his mother, Iris Haim. Yotam was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Gaza. (Courtesy)
Yotam Haim, left, and his mother, Iris Haim. Yotam was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, to Gaza. (Courtesy)

Iris Haim, whose son Yotam was killed in December by IDF forces as he attempted to escape captivity in Gaza, underlines what she says is the importance of national unity and mutual responsibility, in explaining her widely publicized comments that she bore no anger toward the soldiers who killed her son.

“Every person who lives in Israel who served in the army or has a child in the army knows that accidental fire harms not only the person who is killed but the person who killed them, and can injure them so badly that they kill themselves, and that’s what I didn’t want,” says Haim at at a conference of the Israel Defense and Security Forum in Ashkelon.

“I am not a guest here,” she says of her life in Israel. “I have responsibility. I’m a homeowner. We all are, and we have responsibility for this place. We are not guests who can come and throw [around] criticism and then leave. We are all responsible for the situation here so that we can continue to live together.

“We are not victims, no one will make victims of us. We have agency over our situation and we will decided how to lift our heads up and think differently.”

Haim also mentions how she spoke with the ultra-Orthodox mother of one of the soldiers killed on October 7 who fought in front of the house from which Yotam was kidnapped.

“It underlined to me how much we are one people with one heart,” she says, recalling that she previously shied away from the ultra-Orthodox. “This drew me very close to a community I never knew.”

She adds that she has refused to wear the dog tags produced to show solidarity with the hostages in Gaza, explaining that she profoundly disagrees with the message inscribed on them: “Our heart is captive in Gaza.”

“My heart is with me. My heart worries for Yotam, for my other children, for my husband, for everyone who is with me. I don’t agree that Hamas can kidnap my heart too,” she says.

Katz asks Italian counterpart to lean on Lebanon against Hezbollah

Foreign Minister Israel Katz meets his Italian counterpart Antonio Tajani in Jerusalem, and asks for Rome’s assistance in finding a diplomatic solution to Hezbollah’s presence on Israel’s northern border.

“I requested his intervention vis-a-vis the Lebanese government to oust Hezbollah from southern Lebanon,” Katz tweets, “or else Lebanon will face a devastating blow it won’t recover from.”

Katz also says he told Tajani that Israel has no choice but to complete its mission in Gaza of bringing the hostages back and “neutralizing” Hamas.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the two agreed to work to renew flights from Italy to Israel, which were halted by the war against Hamas.

Tajani says that the two sides agreed to “strengthen joint humanitarian initiatives,” and that Rome is ready to treat 100 Gazan children in Italy.

The diplomats also meet with families of hostages.

Earlier this week Tajani, who is also deputy prime minister, revealed that Italy suspended weapons shipments to Israel after October 7.

Luring gunmen from tunnels, commandos start taking control of heart of Khan Younis — IDF

This image released by the IDF on January 25, 2024, shows troops of the Commando Brigade operating in southern Gaza's Khan Younis. (Israel Defense Forces)
This image released by the IDF on January 25, 2024, shows troops of the Commando Brigade operating in southern Gaza's Khan Younis. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says troops of its elite Commando Brigade are establishing operational control in “the heart of” Khan Younis, amid a major offensive against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip city.

In a statement, the IDF says the brigade is “continuing the offensive in the Khan Younis area, and is deepening the operational control of the Hamas terrorists’ stronghold.”

The IDF says that as troops have advanced in the area, the commandos have encountered many Hamas cells, which were “eliminated with sniper fire, guided missiles, and tank shelling.”

In what the IDF describes as a special operation carried out by snipers from the brigade’s Egoz unit over the course of a number of hours, several Hamas operatives were killed after being tricked into coming out of tunnels in the Khan Younis area, according to the army.

In another incident, Egoz troops spotted three Hamas gunmen and targeted them with an Iron Sting guided mortar, the IDF says.

Egoz soldiers also killed four Hamas gunmen in close-quarters combat as the commandos raided a building.

The Commando Brigade’s Maglan unit, meanwhile, raided a command center belonging to the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s intelligence unit and a Hamas command center in Khan Younis, the IDF says.

In the command centers, the IDF says the troops seized weapons and military equipment, as well as maps and other “valuable” intelligence information.

Maglan commandos also killed “many terrorists during intensive battles” in the Khan Younis area, the IDF adds.

Damning report urges Diaspora Ministry be shuttered

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, seen during a discussion and a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, seen during a discussion and a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

One of the world’s leading centers for the study of antisemitism is calling on Jerusalem to mothball the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, asserting that it is superfluous and does little to actually fight hatred of Jews.

In a report released today, Tel Aviv University’s Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry argues that the ministry was established for “petty political reasons,” “lacks vision and substance” and has “promoted few initiatives.”

“Larger, existing ministries could have equally promoted these” initiatives, it says. The report notes that the ministry’s attempt to track antisemitic incidents consists of a broken link on its website — “an extremely lazy way of targeting the issue.”

The ministry should be broken up and its duties divided between the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office — which should handle relations with Jewish communities and security issues, respectively, says the report, released annually ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“To make an actual difference in the fight against antisemitism, the Israeli government should set long-term objectives and plans, preferably in a non-partisan way and with advice from an independent panel of relevant experts,” it says.

The report’s conclusions dovetail with the beliefs of some Israeli diplomats, who believe that “on the ground” personnel are needed to deal with antisemitism abroad, something lacked by the Diaspora Ministry, long considered a government backwater with no clear purpose.

Former Diaspora Affairs minister Nachman Shai attends the Jewish People’s Lobby, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While he declined to comment on the performance of its current leadership, former Diaspora minister Nachman Shai told The Times of Israel despite whatever complaints there may be, it is “important for there to be a senior position in the government” dedicated to representing Diaspora interests.

The Diaspora Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Video shows troops scuffling with PA cops in Bethlehem

The Israel Defense Forces says it is investigating after Israeli troops were seen fighting with Palestinian Authority police officers in the West Bank city of Bethlehem earlier today, as well as setting off a stun grenade near them.

Footage posted to social media shows a PA officer approaching an army jeep and apparently arguing with one of the soldiers, while another officer tries to pull him away.

IDF troops are then seen getting out of the jeep and shoving the officer back. The PA officers retreat inside a building just as a soldier hurls a stun grenade in their direction.

In response to the incident, the IDF says troops were operating in the city to arrest wanted Palestinians.

The IDF says there are no injuries to troops. There is no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.

Death toll in Khan Younis shelter blast rises to 12 — UN

Palestinians try to extinguish a fire at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center which displaced people use as a shelter, after being targeted by Israeli tank shill in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)
Palestinians try to extinguish a fire at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center which displaced people use as a shelter, after being targeted by Israeli tank shill in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)

A United Nations official says the death toll from a strike at a crowded shelter in Gaza has risen to 12, with over 75 wounded.

Thomas White, a senior official with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, says 15 of those wounded are in critical condition.

UNRWA claims two tank shells hit a building in a shelter housing thousands of displaced Palestinians on Wednesday in the southern city of Khan Younis, which has seen heavy fighting in recent days. The building caught fire, it said.

It does not directly blame Israel, which has “currently ruled out” that the strike was carried out by its aircraft or artillery but was still investigating. The IDF claims the building might have been hit by a Hamas rocket.

The fighting in Khan Younis has isolated its two main hospitals, Nasser and Al-Amal, stranding hundreds of patients and thousands of displaced people inside.

White says a third hospital was evacuated overnight, and that among the patients who departed were women who had just undergone cesarean sections.

Hamas defends Qatar, says Doha advancing hostage talks

Hamas comes to Qatar’s defense after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich accused the country of not being a fair interlocutor and working for the terror group’s interests.

In a statement issued by Hamas senior figure Taher Nunu, the terror group denounces the “targeting of the brotherly State of Qatar.”

It asserts the Gulf monarchy has “played an active political role to stop the aggression on our people and advance the exchange file,” referring to talks for the release of Israeli hostages in return for Palestinian prisoners.

He says Smotrich’s words are reflective of Israel’s position, which he claims is aimed at blocking a possible agreement to free its citizens who were kidnapped from their homes.

Smotrich said earlier today that “Qatar is the biggest obstacle for returning the hostages” since it has “a clear interest in preserving Hamas,” and that it “encourages terrorism, finances terrorism, pushes terror and is playing a double game.”

The comments came in response to Qatar criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been caught on tape accusing the Gulf state of harming hostage talks.

‘Fauda’ actor Amedi released from hospital after being badly injured in Gaza blast

Israeli singer-songwriter, actor and reserve soldier Idan Amedi who was seriously injured while fighting in the Gaza Strip speaks at a press conference upon his discharge from Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, January 25, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli singer-songwriter, actor and reserve soldier Idan Amedi who was seriously injured while fighting in the Gaza Strip speaks at a press conference upon his discharge from Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, January 25, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Pop singer Idan Amedi has been released from Sheba Medical Center weeks after being badly injured in a Gaza explosion, but while doctors say he still faces a long road to rehabilitation, the entertainer says he hopes to return to singing, acting and fighting.

Amedi, perhaps best known for his role on hit TV show “Fauda,”  was seriously injured by an explosion on January 8 as he served in the Combat Engineering Corps reserves in Gaza. Six soldiers were killed and several others, including Amedi, were injured in the incident, which was apparently accidentally caused by troops.

Looking weak and with his arm bandaged, Amedi says that when he arrived at the hospital, his face was badly burned and unrecognizable. He was also injured by shrapnel that pierced various parts of his body and several of his bones were broken.

After initially being sedated and intubated in the intensive care unit, Amedi improved relatively quickly.

“My spirit is stronger than ever,” he says. “I will return to acting and singing. If I can, I will also go back to fighting in the war.”

Thankful for all the supportive messages sent to him from all over Israel and the world, Amedi says the focus should be on all the IDF soldiers who are fighting what he says is a just war.

In response to questions about how the war is being led and cracks in unity that are starting to be seen in the nation, Amedi says that the return of the hostages must be the top priority and that Israel must stay united to win the war.

Lapid calls October 7 eatery in Jordan ‘disgraceful’

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid calls on Amman to curb incitement against Israel following the circulation of social media videos showing a restaurant in the Jordanian city of Kerak named “October 7,” an apparent celebration of the Palestinian terror group Hamas’s massacre of Israelis on that day.

“The disgraceful glorification of October 7th has to stop. The incitement and hatred against Israel breeds the terrorism and extremism which led to the brutal massacre of October 7th,” Lapid tweets in English. “We expect the Jordanian government to condemn this publicly and unequivocally.”

Anger over the name of the shawarma joint has spread around Israel since a video of the place emerged online yesterday. In the clip, by former Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker Dima Tahboub, an unidentified man films the customer-packed restaurant from outside, as well as its surroundings, and then goes into the eatery, where customers and employees with “October 7” robes greet him.

The eatery has said on Facebook it will not change its name, which was chosen via a contest, according to Israel’s Channel 12 news.

Palestinian gunman killed during West Bank arrest raid — police

An assault rifle and military equipment seized from a Palestinian gunman killed by Border Police officers in the West Bank village of Bir al-Basha, January 25, 2024. (Israel Police)
An assault rifle and military equipment seized from a Palestinian gunman killed by Border Police officers in the West Bank village of Bir al-Basha, January 25, 2024. (Israel Police)

Police say undercover officers killed a Palestinian gunman and arrested a second during a raid in the northern West Bank this morning.

Border Police officers operated in the village of Bir al-Basha, close to Jenin to arrest two wanted Palestinians.

The pair, brothers, are suspected of previously shooting at Israeli forces, police say.

Police say that during the operation, one of the wanted Palestinians came out of a building armed with an assault rifle and opened fire at the officers.

The Border Police officers returned fire, killing the gunman, and seized his weapon. The second wanted Palestinian was detained, police say.

No Israeli casualties are reported by police or the IDF.

The IDF says troops detained another 16 wanted Palestinians during overnight raids across the West Bank.

In Jenin, the IDF says engineering vehicles uncovered explosives hidden under roads in the area, as troops arrested seven terror suspects.

Troops returned fire at Palestinian gunmen and seized weapons in the city, the army says.

Since October 7, troops have arrested more than 2,700 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,300 affiliated with Hamas. According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, more than 300 West Bank Palestinians have been killed in that time.

Piling on, Smotrich accuses Qatar of working with Hamas to sink hostage talks

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich accuses Qatar of thwarting Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas, alleging that the Gulf state is “cooperating with Hamas” to keep hostages the terror group kidnapped from Israel as a bargaining chip to halt the fighting and thereby preserve Hamas’s rule in the coastal enclave.

“Qatar encourages terrorism, finances terrorism, pushes terror and is playing a double game,” says Smotrich at a conference of the Israel Defense and Security Forum in Ashkelon.

Yesterday, Qatar said it was appalled at a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had badmouthed the country, which hosts Hamas’s leaders and played a key role in negotiating the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Smotrich, who said yesterday that Doha would have no part in postwar Gaza, keeps up the criticism.

“Qatar is the biggest obstacle for returning the hostages. We could get all 136 hostages tomorrow if Qatar would give Hamas an ultimatum to return all the hostages, and if the West would give Qatar an ultimatum to do that.

“Qatar has a clear interest in preserving Hamas, its survival and its rule in Gaza and outside of it on the day after. And it is doing everything to thwart our efforts, of the State of Israel, to totally destroy the military and governance capabilities of Hamas.”

The Religious Zionism party head says that the US has substantial leverage over Qatar and could pressure it to force Hamas to release the hostages.

“There are people with deep financial interests linked with Qatar. This is huge hypocrisy, and Israel needs to remove the mask from this hypocrisy,” he adds.

Australian BHP Group says almost all its ships diverted from Red Sea

Australian mining giant BHP Group is diverting almost all of its shipments from Asia to Europe away from the Red Sea, the Wall Street Journal reports.

BHP was not immediately available for comment.

Strikes on shipping in the Red Sea by the Iran-aligned Houthis who control much of Yemen have stymied trade between Europe and Asia. The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel strikes Gaza.

In response, some shipping companies have instructed vessels to instead sail around southern Africa, a slower, costlier route.

Drones hit open area near northern village, no alert given

Two “aerial targets,” believed to be drones, entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon and impacted open areas in northern Israel, a military spokesperson says.

The apparent drones hit areas near the northern village of Kfar Blum near Kiryat Shmona, some 6 kilometers (four miles) from the Lebanon border.

The IDF and a local authority say there are no reports of damage or injuries.

No sirens sounded to warn area residents to seek shelter during the apparent attack.

 

Rocket sirens sound near Gaza border, ending extended lull

For the first time in nearly four days, sirens are sounding due to apparent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Alarms are activated in the border community of Netiv Ha’asara.

There are no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Israeli troops have come under Hamas rocket and mortar fire during operations inside the Gaza Strip, which have at times also set off alarms in border communities.

The number of attacks on Israeli cities has gone down significantly in recent weeks, as troops push deeper into the Strip.

Protesters attempting to block aid trucks at Kerem Shalom crossing

Protesters walking toward the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/Times of Israel)
Protesters walking toward the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/Times of Israel)

A small group of protesters, including relatives of hostages held in Gaza, is attempting to reach the Kerem Shalom crossing in order to picket trucks going in, demanding that aid be cut off until the captives are freed.

Part of the group is initially stopped by a roadblock but then makes it through, walking several kilometers toward the crossing for a second day in a row. Other protesters are reportedly at the crossing already.

Protesters walking toward the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/Times of Israel)

Among the approximately three dozen protesting is Danny Elgarat, a former Ashdod police commander whose brother Itzik Elgarat and brother-in-law Alex Danzig were kidnapped from Nir Oz.

“Nobody can stop us… from blocking the trucks in Gaza,” Elgarat says. “Because the prime minister didn’t do it, so we will do it instead of him.”

Labor head says she wants Netanyahu out of power, but Smotrich and Ben Gvir can stay

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli attends a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli attends a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli is going on the attack against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling Army Radio that she could live with a government that includes far-right figures so long as it is no longer led by him.

“Labor supports switching out Netanyahu even during the current coalition. He is not fit and he endangers Israel,” she says. “True, it would be far from perfect and [Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich will be there, but if it is headed by someone not working for his own interests, our situation would already be better.”

Michaeli, who is set to step down from her leadership position in Labor once a successor is found, says Likud lawmakers support removing Netanyahu “but are afraid” to go against him publicly.

“Netanyahu is waging war with Biden, the president who came to Israel’s aid, and destroying ties with the US. And now Egyptian President [Abdel-Fattah] el-Sissi, who has mediated in talks [with Hamas] won’t answer his calls,” she says.

She also calls for Likud to remove party MK Tali Gotliv from the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, after she was publicly rebuked for spreading conspiracy theories about a protest leader and the Mossad.

“It’s the least they could do after the MK endangered Israel’s security during war,” she says.

IDF says dozens of Hamas gunmen killed in Khan Younis fighting

Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on January 25, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on January 25, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says snipers from the 98th Division’s Paratroopers Brigade took out “many terrorists” in the al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis, as troops continued to press battles in Gaza’s second city.

According to the army, dozens of Hamas operatives were killed in the past day,  including 10 Hamas gunmen killed in two separate airstrikes in Khan Younis, some of whom were armed with RPGs.

Troops also “destroyed terror infrastructure and weapons in the area,” the IDF says.

The Maglan commando unit raided several Hamas sites in the southern city, including command centers where operatives were killed by the troops in close-quarters combat, according to the army.

The military publishes footage that it says shows an attack helicopter striking a building and killing gunmen who had opened fire on reservists of the Yiftah Brigade in central Gaza.

In northern Gaza, where troops are conducting mop-up operations to locate Hamas’s remaining infrastructure, the IDF says reservists of the 5th Brigade encountered and killed several gunmen, and located weapons.

Turkey nears F-16 purchase with okay for Sweden NATO bid

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Budapest, Hungary, on December 18, 2023. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Budapest, Hungary, on December 18, 2023. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP)

The US ambassador to Ankara says he anticipates that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will give a final sign-off on Sweden’s NATO membership within days, triggering rapid steps toward US Congress endorsing a sale of F-16 fighter jets to the country.

In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Ambassador Jeff Flake says that once the formal ratification document is received in Washington, the US State Department will immediately send Congress notification of the F-16s sale.

Turkey’s parliament ratified Sweden’s NATO membership bid on Tuesday, clearing a major hurdle to expanding the Western military alliance after 20 months of delay.

Erdogan needs to sign the legislation, which then would be published in Turkey’s Official Gazette. The instrument of accession for Sweden also needs to be sent to Washington.

Asked whether he expected this “within days,” Flake, a former US Republican senator, told Reuters: “Yes, I do.”

“I see no reason why, with the parliament having acted here, that Turkey would wait,” he said. “So I would expect as soon as that is conveyed to Washington, then congressional notification (of the F-16 sales) will happen.”

The move comes a day after Erdogan, a vocal supporter of the Hamas terror group, hosted Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, who pressed Turkey to cut off all ties with Israel, underlining Ankara’s attempts to walk a tightrope between Western and Iranian interests.

Raisi stressed in his public remarks that it was essential for all nations to “limit their relationship with the Zionist regime.”

“Certainly, cutting the vital arteries of the Zionist regime, and political and economic relations can be effective in forcing the Zionist regime to end all these atrocities,” Raisi said.

Cameron says he pushed Netanyahu on getting more aid into Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (right) meets with British Foreign Minister David Cameron in Jerusalem, January 24, 2024 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) meets with British Foreign Minister David Cameron in Jerusalem, January 24, 2024 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron says he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that more aid trucks must be able to enter Gaza and an immediate humanitarian pause is needed to help those trapped in a “desperate situation.”

Cameron, who is on a visit to the Middle East and met separately with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday, says Britain and Qatar are working together to get more aid into Gaza, with a first joint consignment containing tents being flown into Egypt on Thursday before traveling by road to Gaza.

Israel denies holding up aid.

“The scale of suffering in Gaza is unimaginable. More must be done, faster, to help people trapped in this desperate situation,” Cameron says. “We have trebled our assistance for Gaza… But our efforts will only make a difference if aid gets to those who need it most.”

“As I said to PM Netanyahu… far more trucks need to be able to enter Gaza and more crossings need to open. We need an immediate humanitarian pause to get aid in and hostages out, followed by a sustainable ceasefire.”

Cameron pushed Israeli leaders for the southern Israeli port of Ashdod to be used for the delivery of aid into Gaza, his office says.

IDF issues all-clear after scare in north

The IDF says an all-clear is given following a suspected infiltration on the Lebanon border this morning, close to the community of Hanita.

“The IDF conducted searches in the area and ruled out the suspicion of an infiltration or any security incident,” the military says.

Netanyahu set to huddle with jurists ahead of ICJ ruling — report

Judges and parties sit during a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)
Judges and parties sit during a hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon with senior legal officials and others to prepare for a ruling in The Hague on Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, Army Radio reports.

The meeting, slated to take place at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, will be used to discuss possible scenarios as the International Court of Justice announces its response to a South African petition for an emergency injunction to cease or restrict the war, according to the report. The ruling is set to be announced Friday at 2 p.m. Israel time.

Participating in the meeting will be Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and others, Army Radio says.

It’s not clear if military officials, who may be ordered by the court to restrict operations in the Strip, will also take part.

Almost 40% of buildings within planned Gaza buffer zone said demolished

Israeli soldiers overlook the Gaza Strip from a tank, as seen from southern Israel, January 19, 2024. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israeli soldiers overlook the Gaza Strip from a tank, as seen from southern Israel, January 19, 2024. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

Israel has razed nearly 40 percent of the 2,824 buildings in Gaza located within a kilometer of the border, according to a Hebrew University study cited by The Wall Street Journal.

The demolition moves appear to be part of a plan to build a kilometer-wide (0.6-mile) buffer zone inside the Strip.

Near Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where the border zone is most densely populated, some 67% of buildings have been destroyed, according to the study by Prof. Adi Ben Nun, who analyzed satellite data to arrive at the figures.

Current and former officials tell the Journal that some structures within the planned zone, which will vary in width depending on various factors, may be left in place.

Clashes and explosion reported in Jenin as troops, bulldozers raid city

Footage from the West Bank city of Jenin on social media shows what appears to be a sizable explosion, in what Palestinians claim was an attack on Israeli troops operating in the area.

Heavy gunfire could be heard in other videos, which also show bulldozers and army vehicles operating in the area. Videos taken shortly after dawn show significant damage to infrastructure in the city.

The footage cannot be verified, but matches a pattern of past overnight raids carried out by Israeli troops against alleged terrorist groups in the northern West Bank.

There is no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces.

According to official Palestinian outlet Wafa, clashes broke out as troops were operating near the so-called Cinema roundabout in the center of Jenin.

Report: IDF chief halts work of outside team appointed to probe Oct. 7 failures

Shaul Mofaz speaks during a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Shaul Mofaz speaks during a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Ynet news site is reporting that following political criticism, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has frozen the formation of an outside investigative team to examine the army’s operational failures in the lead-up to Hamas’s October 7 attacks.

The team was to include former IDF chief and defense minister Shaul Mofaz, former Military Intelligence Directorate head Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, former Southern Command leader Sami Turgeman and former Operations Directorate chief Yoav Har-Even.

It was to focus only on the army, and not political aspects.

But the appointments, particularly of Mofaz, a fierce critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government over its judicial overhaul efforts, led to rebukes from right-wing ministers, amid apparent concern the team could also assign blame to politicians.

Ynet says Halevi has now stopped the panel’s work until the IDF concludes its own internal probes of the events.

Antisemitic acts quadrupled in France last year — Jewish council

Members of the Jewish community light candles outside the synagogue in Strasbourg, France, October 11, 2023, four days after Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented, multi-front massacre on Israel which killed over 1,200 people. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
Members of the Jewish community light candles outside the synagogue in Strasbourg, France, October 11, 2023, four days after Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented, multi-front massacre on Israel which killed over 1,200 people. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Antisemitic acts in France nearly quadrupled in 2023 compared with the previous year, a Jewish organization says, reflecting a surge in discrimination since the October 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

Citing figures from the French interior ministry and a French-Jewish security watchdog, the Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF) says there were 1,676 antisemitic acts last year compared to 436 the year prior.

Nearly 60 percent of those acts were attacks involving physical violence, threatening words or menacing gestures, CRIF says in its report.

Worryingly, nearly 13 percent of antisemitic acts last year took place in schools, most of them in junior high schools.

“We are witnessing a rejuvenation of the perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts. Schools are no longer a sanctuary of the Republic,” the report says.

The spike in antisemitism is the worst on record, according to CRIF, which has figures dating back to 2012.

The organization cautions that its tally reflects only acts “that have been the subject of a complaint or a report to the police.”

France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish community and the largest number of Muslims on the continent, although no precise figures are available as the country’s census does not include religious identity.

Freed hostage says she met Hamas leader in a tunnel, was kept in dire conditions

Freed hostage Adina Moshe speaks of her time in captivity, in an interview aired January 24, 2024 (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Freed hostage Adina Moshe speaks of her time in captivity, in an interview aired January 24, 2024 (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A 72-year-old woman held captive by Hamas for nearly 50 days told Channel 12 Wednesday that she was held at length in a dark, humid tunnel where she met Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar and helped pass the time with an informal lecture series by her knowledgeable fellow hostages.

Adina Moshe was taken captive from Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7. She was freed in late November.

Sinwar visited Moshe and a group of fellow hostages deep underground, she said.

“Hello. How are you? Everything OK?” Moshe said Sinwar told them in the Hebrew he had learned during a long incarceration in Israel. She said the hostages bowed their heads and did not respond. Another visit followed three weeks later, she said.

Moshe said terrorists raided the home she shared with her husband, David, who was shot in the leg. They snatched her out from the window of her house’s safe room and another terrorist went back in to shoot her husband dead, she said. Before being killed, he blew her a farewell kiss, she said.

White House decries deadly strike on UN shelter in Gaza, avoids casting blame

Palestinians try to extinguish a fire at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, which displaced people were using as a shelter, after it was hit on January 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)
Palestinians try to extinguish a fire at a building of an UNRWA vocational training center in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, which displaced people were using as a shelter, after it was hit on January 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)

The White House decries a strike earlier today on a UN shelter in Khan Younis, but avoids assigning blame in a relatively rare statement on an individual strike in Gaza.

“We are gravely concerned by reports today of strikes hitting a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) facility — with subsequent reports of fires in the building — in a neighborhood in southern Gaza where more than 30,000 displaced Palestinians had reportedly been sheltering,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson says.

At least 9 people were killed and 75 people were injured in the strike on a vocational center that has been functioning as a shelter for roughly 800 displaced Palestinians, according to UNRWA.

The IDF said it launched an investigation into the incident but has already determined that it’s air and artillery forces were not responsible. It said it was still looking into its ground forces’ operations in the area but also was checking to see if the blast was caused by an errant Hamas rocket.

“While we don’t yet have all the details on what happened and will continue to seek further information regarding today’s incidents, the loss of every innocent life is a tragedy,” Watson says.

“This conflict has already resulted in the devastating deaths and injuries of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, and we mourn every single civilian life that has been lost. It’s heartbreaking to see children killed, injured, and orphaned.”

“The United States is unwavering in our support for Israel’s right to defend itself, consistent with international humanitarian law, against Hamas terrorists who hide among the civilian population and want to annihilate the State of Israel.”

“But Israel retains a responsibility to protect civilians, including, humanitarian personnel and sites,” she continues, suggesting that the IDF could have been behind the strike.

“As President Biden has been clear from the earliest days of this crisis, the United States will also continue working to increase life-saving humanitarian assistance into Gaza and to bring home all of the hostages held there,” the White House statement adds.

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