ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Jan 31: Hamas said demanding release of elite terror operatives captured on Oct. 7

TV report: Mossad chief tell ministers of 35 hostages for 35-day pause proposal * Israeli official: Strong signs deal will progress * Explosive device near Israeli embassy in Sweden

  • Palestinian men and children gather for a demonstration in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024, calling for continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA. (Photo by AFP)
    Palestinian men and children gather for a demonstration in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024, calling for continued international support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA. (Photo by AFP)
  • File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Mossad chief David Barnea at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
    File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Mossad chief David Barnea at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv on October 15, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
  • An explosion erupts as a dark smoke plume rises in the Gaza Strip during the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas on January 31, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)
    An explosion erupts as a dark smoke plume rises in the Gaza Strip during the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas on January 31, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)
  • File: Israeli security forces guard while People protest against aid trucks entering the Gaza Strip, at the Kerem Shalom Crossing in southern Israel, January 29, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
    File: Israeli security forces guard while People protest against aid trucks entering the Gaza Strip, at the Kerem Shalom Crossing in southern Israel, January 29, 2024 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
  • IDF troops operate in Gaza in this undated handout photo released January 31, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF troops operate in Gaza in this undated handout photo released January 31, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • A shockwave erupts as a projectile exits the barrel of an Israeli army self-propelled artillery Howitzer firing rounds from southern Israel toward the Gaza Strip on January 31, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)
    A shockwave erupts as a projectile exits the barrel of an Israeli army self-propelled artillery Howitzer firing rounds from southern Israel toward the Gaza Strip on January 31, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

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

Georgia governor signs bill codifying IHRA definition of antisemitism in state law

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signs the antisemitism bill HB 30 at the Capitol in Atlanta, on January 31, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signs the antisemitism bill HB 30 at the Capitol in Atlanta, on January 31, 2024. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA — Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signs a law defining antisemitism in state law, proclaiming support for Jewish residents despite concerns the measure will hamper people opposing the actions of Israel.

The Republican governor says by enacting the law, he is “reaffirming our commitment to a Georgia where all people can live, learn and prosper safely, because there’s no place for hate in this great state.”

Kemp likens it to when he signed a measure in 2020 that allows additional penalties to be imposed for crimes motivated by a victim’s race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors. That hate crimes law was spurred by the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man pursued and fatally shot while running near Brunswick, Georgia.

The antisemitism definition measure had stalled in 2023, but was pushed with fresh urgency this year amid the Israel-Hamas war and a reported surge in antisemitic incidents in Georgia. Sponsors say adopting the 2016 definition put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance will help prosecutors and other officials identify hate crimes and illegal discrimination targeting Jewish people. That could lead to higher penalties under the 2020 hate crimes law.

The definition, which is only referred to in the bill, describes antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Kenneth Stern, the author of IHRA’s definition, told The Associated Press that using such language in law is problematic, because an increasing number of Jews have adopted an antizionist position in opposition to Israeli actions.

White House: Iran-backed militias in Iraq launched deadly drone attack on US troops

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the the White House in Washington, on January 31, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing at the the White House in Washington, on January 31, 2024. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

WASHINGTON — The White House says the Islamic Resistance in Iraq militia grouping was behind the weekend drone attack that killed three American soldiers at a base in Jordan.

The “attribution that our intelligence community is comfortable with is that this was done by the umbrella group” Islamic Resistance in Iraq — a coalition of Iranian-backed militias — says National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

In addition to the three deaths in the drone blast on Sunday at the remote base, about 40 more troops were injured, the Pentagon says.

US President Joe Biden says he has already decided on the nature of the US response to the deadly bombing, but has not detailed the plans in public — or the timing.

Kirby repeats the administration’s insistence that “we will respond in a time and in a manner of our choosing, on our schedule.”

“Just because you haven’t seen anything in the last 48 hours, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to see anything,” he says, adding: “The first thing you see won’t be the last thing.”

One of the factions in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq grouping, Kataeb Hezbollah, announced on Tuesday that it was suspending attacks on US troops.

Kirby says “you can’t take what a group like Kataeb Hezbollah says at face value.”

Houthis claim to have targeted US merchant ship in missile attack

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen say that their naval forces carried out an operation targeting a US merchant vessel.

The group targeted the “American merchant ship KOI… with several appropriate naval missiles,” the Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea says in a statement.

Netanyahu: We will not agree to hostage deal ‘at any price,’ there are red lines we won’t cross

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu releases a video statement about a potential hostage deal, January 31, 2024. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu releases a video statement about a potential hostage deal, January 31, 2024. (Screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu releases a video statement stressing that “we are working to attain another framework to release our captives, but I stress — not at any price.”

“We have red lines,” he continues, “including: we will not end the war, we will not pull the IDF out of the Strip, we will not release thousands of terrorists.”

The prime minister says that in addition to working to get the hostages out, Israel is working toward its other goals in the war — “the elimination of Hamas and to ensure that Gaza never again represents a threat.”

“We are working on all three of them together and we will not give up on any of them.”

35 hostages for a 35-day truce: Mossad chief presents hostage deal outline to war cabinet

Mossad chief David Barnea has presented the war cabinet with a nine-point outline of the potential hostage release deal that could see the release of all 136 hostages still held in Gaza in several stages, Channel 12 reports.

According to the report, the first stage of the deal would see 35 hostages released in exchange for a 35-day truce — one day of truce per hostage.

The first stage of the truce would see the release of women, sick, injured, and elderly hostages.

The truce could then be extended for an additional week to allow for talks on a second stage of releases, including members of civilian defense squads and male hostages, whom Hamas considers combatants.

The number of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails to be released has yet to be decided, the report says, with Israel willing to let go of large numbers of light offenders in order to keep more serious offenders imprisoned, while Hamas is insisting on the release of “quality” prisoners, Channel 12 says.

Chicago council narrowly passes ceasefire resolution, becoming largest US city to adopt measure

The Chicago City Council debates a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
The Chicago City Council debates a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

CHICAGO, Illinois — The Chicago City Council has narrowly adopted a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, becoming the largest municipal body in the US to pass such a measure.

The council was split with 23 votes in favor and 23 against, leading Democratic Mayor Brandon Johnson to cast a tie-breaking vote in support of the resolution.

The measure is completely symbolic, but its advocates say it sends a message to the Biden administration — which has pushed back against such calls in favor of extended humanitarian pauses during which the hostages can be released — from one of the most prominent Democratic-majority cities in the US and the host of the Democratic National Convention this summer.

Netanyahu to UN ambassadors: UNRWA has been ‘totally infiltrated’ by Hamas, it must be replaced

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has been “totally infiltrated” by Hamas, after UNRWA fired several staff members for their alleged involvement in Hamas’s murderous October 7 onslaught on southern Israel.

“UNRWA is totally infiltrated with Hamas,” Netanyahu tells a meeting of UN ambassadors in Jerusalem, adding that “we need to get other UN agencies and other aid agencies replacing UNRWA.”

US says it destroyed Houthi surface-to-air missile which was prepared to launch

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

US forces have struck and destroyed Yemen’s Houthi surface-to-air missile which was prepared to launch, the Central Command says in a statement.

“US forces identified the missile in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that it presented an imminent threat to US aircraft,” it adds.

IDF says fighter jets struck Hezbollah sites across southern Lebanon

The IDF says fighter jets struck additional Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon’s Ayta ash-Shab, Beit Lif, and Blida today.

Several projectiles were also launched from Lebanon at Metula. The IDF says it is striking the source of the fire.

Netanyahu confidant Dermer, Jake Sullivan discuss Gaza war, hostages at White House meeting

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan earlier today at the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby says.

The pair discussed the ongoing war in Gaza, efforts to increase humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in the Strip and negotiations to secure the release of the remaining 136 hostages in Gaza, Kirby says.

The meeting comes on the tail of sit-downs Sullivan has held over the past day with the families of several American hostages, along with the prime minister of Qatar, one of the main mediators between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas said to be demanding release of all elite terror operatives captured on Oct 7 in exchange for hostages

Hamas has demanded that Israel release all operatives of the terror group’s elite Nukhba forces who were captured on October 7 in return for the release of the hostages held captive in Gaza, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The Nukhba forces are the terror group’s elite fighters, and they were the first to enter Israel on October 7, when thousands of terrorists poured through the Gaza border, slaughtering some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages.

Hamas’s demand is reportedly being discussed by Israeli officials, although no decision has been made on the matter, Kan reports.

Gantz, Eisenkot examine limiting aid to Gaza to pressure non-Hamas body to take over distribution – report

Gadi Eisenkot (left) and Benny Gantz at the launch of the new National Unity party, August 14, 2022, in Kfar Maccabiah. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Gadi Eisenkot (left) and Benny Gantz at the launch of the new National Unity party, August 14, 2022, in Kfar Maccabiah. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

War cabinet ministers Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot are examining the possibility of limiting the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip for a short period of time until the distribution of aid is no longer controlled by Hamas, Channel 12 reports.

The two ministers reportedly believe that limiting the entry of aid for a short amount of time will place pressure on an alternative body to take responsibility for distribution of the aid among the enclave’s civilians.

In addition, the limited entry of aid could increase pressure on Hamas to release the hostages still held captive in the Strip, the report adds.

US reiterates opposition to Israel’s plan to establish buffer zone inside Gaza

Buildings razed in Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood, as part of the army's efforts to establish a buffer zone on the border with the Gaza Strip, in an image provided by the IDF on January 10, 2024. The Israel-Gaza border runs across the bottom of the picture. (Israel Defense Forces)
Buildings razed in Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood, as part of the army's efforts to establish a buffer zone on the border with the Gaza Strip, in an image provided by the IDF on January 10, 2024. The Israel-Gaza border runs across the bottom of the picture. (Israel Defense Forces)

US State Department spokesman Matt Miller reiterates US opposition to the buffer zone that the IDF is establishing on the Gaza side of the enclave’s border with Israel.

Asked during a press briefing to comment on the demolitions of civilian infrastructure that the IDF has carried out both deep inside Gaza and along the border where the buffer zone is slated to be located, Miller says Israeli officials have told their American counterparts that it is only demolishing homes that were used for terror activity.

Moreover, Israeli officials have insisted that they have no intention of occupying Gaza or permanently leaving troops inside the Strip after the war, Miller says.

Israeli officials have further told those US counterparts in recent days that the buffer zone is only meant to be temporary, and will be removed once Hamas is completely out of power, a US official told The Times of Israel earlier this week.

The US official said that the Biden administration is not on board with even a temporary buffer zone and has voiced that stance with Jerusalem. Washington believes that once established, Israel will not agree to withdraw from the buffer zone in the future, the US official added.

Miller reiterates during the press conference that the US opposes efforts to reduce Gaza’s territory.

State Dept. spokesman says no change in Biden administration’s policy on recognizing Palestinian state

Asked about a report that the US is considering recognizing a Palestinian state, State Department spokesman Matt Miller says the Biden administration has not shifted its policy on the matter.

“We have been quite clear publicly that we support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state… with security guarantees for Israel… That’s been the policy of the United States for some time. That has been the policy of this administration,” Miller says.

But he goes on to dampen the report, suggesting that recognizing a Palestinian state has long been among the options weighed by successive administrations, even though none of them has taken that step.

“We look at any number of options. That’s part of the normal planning process. The vast majority of options never usually get implemented,” Miller says.

US State Department weighing recognizing independent Palestinian state at end of Gaza war – report

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has asked the State Department to review the options for possibly recognizing a Palestinian state at the end of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Axios reports, citing two anonymous US officials.

According to the report, some members of the Biden administration believe that recognizing an independent Palestinian state, alongside Israel, could be the first step to resolving the conflict between the two parties.

It is also examining the possibility of not using its veto power to block the United Nations Security Council from admitting Palestine as a full member state, Axios reports.

At present, US law would require the Biden administration to halt all funding to the UN if the body recognized Palestine as a permanent member state.

Blinken is also said to have asked for a review on what a demilitarized Palestinian state could look like.

The White House is aware of the reviews being conducted, Axios says.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin willing to give his role to Lapid if he enters government – report

Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 5, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via AP)
Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 5, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/Pool via AP)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin is willing to give up his ministerial position for Opposition Leader Yair Lapid should Yesh Atid choose to enter the government, Ynet reports, citing unnamed political sources.

The report states that Levin has expressed willingness to give up his office for the duration of Yesh Atid’s time in government, should it be required of him.

As justice minister, Levin has been the architect of the controversial judicial overhaul legislation which sparked almost 10 months of weekly anti-government mass protests and created unprecedented rifts in Israeli society.

The report comes after Lapid told N12 that he would be willing to bring his political party into the government to replace the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties if that is what is needed to secure the release of the hostages from Gaza.

IDF says reservist commando officer killed in Gaza, raising ground op toll to 224

Maj. (res.) Yitzhar Hofman, 36, a commander in the Israeli Air Force’s elite Shaldag unit. (Israel Defense Forces)
Maj. (res.) Yitzhar Hofman, 36, a commander in the Israeli Air Force’s elite Shaldag unit. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF announces the death of a reservist killed during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip today, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 224.

He is named as Maj. (res.) Yitzhar Hofman, 36, a commander in the Israeli Air Force’s elite Shaldag unit, from Eshhar.

Lapid: Yesh Atid prepared to enter government in place of Ben Gvir, Smotrich to ensure hostages are released

Opposition Leader and Yesh Atid MK Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 29, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader and Yesh Atid MK Yair Lapid leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 29, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tells Channel 12 that Yesh Atid is prepared to enter the government to replace the ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties if that is what is needed to secure the release of the hostages from Gaza.

Yesterday, Lapid said his party would provide “a safety net” for the government” after the right-wing parties, led by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich respectively, sharply criticized the reported deals of a possible hostage deal being examined by Israel and Hamas.

 

US slaps sanctions on Turkish, Lebanese entities for financially supporting Hezbollah, Iran’s Quds Force

File: The US Treasury Department building is shown at dusk in Washington on June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
File: The US Treasury Department building is shown at dusk in Washington on June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The United States imposes sanctions on three entities and one individual based in Turkey and Lebanon for giving “critical financial support” to a financial network used by Iran’s Quds Force (IRGC-QF) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

“These entities have generated hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of revenue from selling Iranian commodities, including to the Syrian government,” the US Treasury Department says in a statement.

“These commodity sales provide a key source of funding for the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah’s continued terrorist activities and support to other terrorist organizations throughout the region,” it adds.

The Treasury Department says it has imposed sanctions on Turkey-based Mira Ihracat Ithalat Petrol, which purchases, transports, and sells Iranian commodities on the global market, and its chief executive and owner Ibrahim Talal al-Uwayr, who is also known under the alias Ibrahim Agaoglu.

It also targeted two Lebanon-based entities, Yara Offshore SAL, a company affiliated with Hezbollah which has facilitated large sales of Iranian commodities to Syria, and Hydro Company for Drilling Equipment Rental, which is involved in financing the IRGC-QF by facilitating the shipment of Iranian commodities worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Syria.

As a result of the sanctions, all property of those targeted in the United States or that fall under the control of US persons is blocked.

US regulations generally bar US persons from dealing with property of designated or otherwise blocked persons. Further, non-US financial institutions and others that engage in certain dealings with those sanctioned may expose themselves to sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action.

Israeli official to NBC: Strong indications hostage deal will progress; Netanyahu tells families of hostages of need to be ‘discreet’

A senior Israeli official tells NBC News that “there are strong indications” that a hostage deal will progress, while adding that Israel’s government has yet to officially agree to the terms hammered out earlier this week in Paris.

The full cabinet has yet to see the terms of the full deal, says the source, though the war cabinet already debated it.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with 26 representatives of 18 hostage families in Jerusalem, and tells them that “our commitment is to bring everyone back.”

He adds that the details of those efforts must be discreet in order to work.

“The more publicity it this effort gets, the further away it gets, and the more discreet the efforts are kept – the greater the chance it has of succeeding,” Netanyahu says.

According to Channel 14, the families pressed Netanyahu to define the return of the hostages as the primary aim of the war, but he refused to do so.

UNRWA’s Gaza director says organization forced to move operations out of Khan Younis

Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) agency talk together in the playground of an UNRWA-run school that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 25, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Workers of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) agency talk together in the playground of an UNRWA-run school that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 25, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

As the health system deteriorates, Palestinian medics in Gaza say they have formed field medical points to help reach the front lines, as treating the wounded in Khan Younis has become increasingly difficult amid street battles and artillery strikes.

“There’s a lot of injuries among the displaced who were in the industrial quarter and some schools,” says Nassim Hassan, the head of the Emergency Unit at Nasser Hospital, adding that “many of the injured left loaded on carts, tuk-tuks, cars or even on foot.”

Thomas White, the agency’s director of Gaza Affairs, says in a video that UNRWA had been forced to move its operations out of Khan Younis to the west of the city.

“We’ve lost a health clinic, major shelters – facilities that were supporting the people of Khan Younis,” says White.

Two more cases of measles detected in Israel amid limited outbreak, Health Ministry confirms

Two more cases of measles are detected as part of a limited outbreak of measles in Israel that began in September.

The Health Ministry knows of 20 reported cases of the disease in recent months, two in the Haifa area, six in the north, 10 in Tel Aviv, one in Netanya, and one in Jerusalem.

The two new cases are unvaccinated brothers from Haifa who appear to have been infected while outside the country. One of the brothers traveled by public transportation on the Metronit bus rapid transit system on January 25. He boarded the Metronit’s line 4 at Haifa’s Hof Carmel central station at 3:30 p.m. and got off at the Tzabar Junction in Kiryat Bialik.

Those who traveled on the Metronit with the infected person should confirm that they have been vaccinated according to Health Ministry recommendations. Pregnant women and people who are immunocompromised who were on the Metronit and who have not been fully vaccinated should seek medical advice immediately.

Measles is an infectious viral disease that involves fever, overall malaise and aches, a runny nose, and a rash. The disease can lead to complications and even death. Anyone who suspects they have contracted measles or is suffering from these symptoms should alert the clinic or emergency room before arrival. They should also avoid being in public spaces like shopping malls, buses, and trains.

Freed hostage Maya Regev to UN ambassadors: Hamas guard told me he would kill me if IDF tried to rescue me

Freed hostages Maya and Itai Regev met with a delegation of United Nations ambassadors to recount their experiences in Hamas captivity, Ynet reports.

Maya told the ambassadors that the terrorists had threatened to shoot her if the IDF attempted to rescue her.

“The terrorist who watched over me told me every day that if the IDF came to save me, he would shoot me immediately and wouldn’t die alone,” she is quoted by Ynet as saying,

The Regev siblings were both released during the weeklong truce between Israel and Hamas in late November, albeit several days apart.

Saudi foreign minister speaks to Iranian counterpart about developments in Gaza

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal Bin Farhan speaks by phone with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, according to the kingdom’s foreign ministry.

The two discuss “the latest developments in the situation in the Gaza Strip, and their security and humanitarian repercussions,” according to the Saudi readout.

Chicago City Council to vote on resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza

Pro-Palestinian activists line up to enter Chicago City Hall for a meeting on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Pro-Palestinian activists line up to enter Chicago City Hall for a meeting on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

CHICAGO — The Chicago City Council will gather this morning to vote on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The initiative is purely symbolic. Still, no city in the US as large as Chicago has passed such a measure.

The resolution is also being framed as a message to US President Joe Biden — who backs extended humanitarian pauses in exchange for hostage releases, rather than a permanent ceasefire — before the city hosts the Democratic National Convention this summer.

The resolution calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, the unconditional release of the hostages and the entry of humanitarian aid into the Strip, reaffirming a UN General Assembly resolution passed last month that issued those same demands.

It Chicago City Council calls “for the creation of plans to protect civilian populations in the region.”

Today’s debate is expected to be heated, with hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists — many wearing Palestinian keffiyehs — lining up outside City Hall over an hour ahead of time to watch the vote.

Among those on site is civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, who has spoken out in favor of the resolution.

Mainstream Jewish organizations in Chicago have been lobbying council members into the 11th hour to oppose the resolution in what is expected to be a narrow vote.

Mayor Brandon Johnson has sought to tip the scale, issuing a statement last week in support of a ceasefire and reportedly lobbying council members to vote in favor of the resolution.

The Israeli Consulate in Chicago has facilitated screenings of the IDF’s compilation of footage from the October 7 onslaught for some of the 50 city council members.

Jane Charney, who serves as assistant vice president for local government affairs at the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, acknowledges that the impact of today’s vote on the situation in the Middle East and US foreign policy is nil.

However, she argues that debate around the resolution “has fanned the flames of antisemitism as antisemitic incidents” in the city.

“We have seen a Chicago in which antisemitic tropes are taken for truths; the binaries of oppressor-oppressed has become the key talking point; and Jews are harassed, our businesses and institutions are vandalized and our heritage is denied and denigrated,” Charney says.

As she speaks, pro-Palestinian activists can be heard shouting, “Deb, are you cleaning war crimes out of your desk? Are you using all the Zionist money?”

The antisemitic tropes are directed at Alderwoman Deborah Silverstein, city council’s only Jewish member, who has been leading efforts against today’s resolution.

Silverstein has slammed the resolution as it doesn’t explicitly condemn Hamas, whose October 7 onslaught in which some 1,200 Israelis were massacred and another 253 were taken hostage is what set off the war in Gaza.

IDF publishes footage of strikes against Hamas operatives in Khan Younis area

The IDF releases footage showing recent strikes on Hamas gunmen in the Khan Younis area, after being identified by troops of the Border Defense Corps’s 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit.

The 414th unit, normally subordinate to the Gaza Division, has been operating alongside the various battalions fighting Hamas deep within Gaza.

Since the beginning of the ground operation in Gaza, the IDF says the unit has located more than 100 tunnel shafts, aided in destroying some 200 Hamas sites, as well as dozens of rocket launchers, and directed strikes on numerous Hamas cells.

In Khan Younis, the unit has been collecting intelligence using drones, identifying booby-trapped buildings and Hamas cells, and calling in airstrikes.

120 aid trucks said to enter Gaza via Kerem Shalom since this morning

An Egyptian truck carrying humanitarian aid undergoes security checks at the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing before entering the southern Gaza Strip, on January 22, 2024. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
An Egyptian truck carrying humanitarian aid undergoes security checks at the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing before entering the southern Gaza Strip, on January 22, 2024. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

One hundred and twenty aid trucks have entered the southern Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing since this morning, Ynet reports.

An additional 52 trucks were inspected at the Nitzana border crossing between Israel and Egypt, and will enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing, the report adds.

The entry of aid into Gaza via Kerem Shalom comes amid disturbances with several dozen people reported to have been detained by police as they attempted to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the Strip.

‘We will not be intimidated by terror,’ Israel’s ambassador to Sweden says after attempted attack

After Stockholm police announced that they found an explosive device near Israel’s embassy, Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden, Ziv Nevo Kulman, says, “Today we were subject to an attempted attack against the Embassy of Israel in Stockholm and its employees.”

“We thank the Swedish authorities for their swift response,” he writes on X, formerly Twitter. “We will not be intimidated by terror.”

IDF says it is shelling Hezbollah launch sites after projectiles fired at northern Israel

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

Fighter jets hit a compound with several buildings belonging to the terror group in the Lebanese village of Rchaf, according to the IDF.

The IDF adds that it carried out artillery shelling against areas near Alma ash-Shab and Aitaroun.

Several projectiles were fired from Lebanon at the Yiftah, Ya’ara, and Hanita areas, causing no injuries, according to the IDF.

The IDF says it is shelling the launch sites.

Stockholm police: Suspicious object near Israel embassy appears to be explosive device

Swedish police say that the suspicious object found near the Israeli embassy in Stockholm a short while ago appears to be an explosive device.

The police add that the device will be destroyed by a bomb squad.

Turkey’s Erdogan to visit Egypt next month in bid to restore ties

This combination of pictures created on June 22, 2020 shows (R) a handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi speaking in a televised address in the capital Cairo on January 25, 2017, and (L) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking during a press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, on April 18, 2018 (ADEM ALTAN and HO / various sources / AFP)
This combination of pictures created on June 22, 2020 shows (R) a handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi speaking in a televised address in the capital Cairo on January 25, 2017, and (L) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking during a press conference at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, on April 18, 2018 (ADEM ALTAN and HO / various sources / AFP)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Egypt next month in a bid to restore ties after more than a decade of fractured relations, Bloomberg News reports, citing Turkish officials familiar with the matter.

Talks between Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi are expected to focus on aid shipments for Palestinians in Gaza and steps that could be taken to end the war, the report adds.

South Africa demands end to international funding of Israel’s war against Hamas

South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, center, addresses reporters after a session of the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, January 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)
South Africa's Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, center, addresses reporters after a session of the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, January 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

All states have an obligation to stop funding and facilitating Israel’s military actions in Gaza after the World Court indicated that those actions could plausibly be genocidal, South African foreign minister Naledi Pandor says.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) last week ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, in a case brought by South Africa.

South Africa has for decades been a strong advocate for the Palestinian cause, comparing the plight of Palestinians to that of Black South Africans under apartheid, although Israel has strongly denied allegations of genocide and rejects the comparison to the apartheid era.

Dozens of protesters said detained amid clashes at Kerem Shalom over aid to Gaza

Several dozen people are reported to have been detained by police amid clashes at Israel’s Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza, as they attempted to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the Strip.

Hebrew media reports put the numbers of those detained at anywhere between 18 and 40. There is no immediate comment from police.

The military had declared the area a closed military zone after days of protests by Israelis hindered the entry of goods through the crossing.

The demonstrators oppose support for Gaza while 136 Israelis are held hostage in the enclave.

Israeli leaders say the aid is necessary to enable Israel to continue operating freely against Hamas, amid intense international pressure and a desire to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the war-torn territory.

Suspicious object found near Israeli embassy in Sweden

A potentially dangerous object has been found near the Israeli embassy in Stockholm, public broadcaster SVT reports, citing police.

The object was found outside the embassy area and the national bomb squad is on its way to investigate it, a police spokesperson tells SVT.

Report: Hostage deal offer would see IDF pull out of Gaza population centers for 6 weeks

The Washington Post publishes what is says are details of the hostage deal proposed by mediators to which Israel has broadly agreed, and which Hamas is now considering.

Citing sources with knowledge on the matter, the paper says the agreement would include a six-week pause in the war, with Israeli forces withdrawing from population centers in Gaza, though not from the territory entirely, and a major boost to humanitarian aid going into the enclave.

It would also see Israel release three Palestinian prisoners for every Israeli returned — the same rate as in November’s release deal. The report does not say how many hostages would be released under the first phase of the deal.

The framework, which is seen as preliminary, offers extensions of the six-week pause in exchange for further releases.

The report differs from others made in recent days on the deal. Channel 12 reported Monday that Israel could free 100-250 prisoners for every hostage under the proposal. The Prime Minister’s Office said then that reports were “incorrect and include [ostensible] conditions that are not acceptable to Israel.”

Israel says Hamas tried to enlist Israelis as unsuspecting couriers for weapons

A fake ad used as part of a Hamas plot to use unsuspecting Israelis as couriers for weapons. (Courtesy Shin Bet)
A fake ad used as part of a Hamas plot to use unsuspecting Israelis as couriers for weapons. (Courtesy Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet security agency reveals it has uncovered a Hamas plot in which the terror group used fake social media profiles to try to task unsuspecting Israelis with delivering weapons for use in terror attacks in Israel, an effort that began before the war in the Gaza Strip.

According to the agency, the operation was carried out by Hamas’s so-called West Bank headquarters, a unit involved in advancing terror attacks against Israel from the West Bank.

On December 18, IDF troops raided a site in Gaza belonging to the unit, seizing documents and computers that revealed the terror group’s efforts to carry out attacks from the West Bank, the agency says.

One of the documents revealed that Hamas operatives in Gaza maintained contact with Jewish Israelis from the Jerusalem area. In September 2023, the individuals were tasked by Hamas operatives to carry out deliveries in Israel and the West Bank, according to the Shin Bet.

Several other Jewish Israelis were also in contact with Hamas operatives who used fake social media profiles, which the Shin Bet says were posing as Israeli expats looking to have items delivered. The Shin Bet says the Facebook profiles published posts in various groups looking for delivery people all over the country.

After initial contact, the Shin Bet says conversations moved to WhatsApp, with the Hamas operatives instructing the scheme’s victims on the delivery tasks. The Hamas operatives never called and only used text-based messaging, the agency says.

The victims were tasked with delivering items, receiving cash, purchasing gifts, and leaving them at various addresses without coordinating with a recipient, according to the Shin Bet. Among the locations where the victims dropped off gifts were a synagogue, a cemetery, and the doorstep of several homes, it says.

The Shin Bet has assessed that the Hamas operatives sought to train the victims to deliver innocuous items, to later take advantage of them to unknowingly deliver weapons or explosive devices to terror operatives in Israel, or place them in public areas and other sites the terror group wished to target.

Ben Gvir warns he will not allow deal that releases thousands of terrorists

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 22, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 22, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the Knesset, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir warns he will not agree to a hostage release deal with Hamas that includes far-reaching concessions to the terror group, after reports on the latest proposal claimed it includes the release of thousands of jailed terrorists, including senior ones.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denied the reports and vowed not to release “thousands of terrorists.”

Unconvinced, Ben Gvir, using a common Hebrew expression for something highly objectionable inserted into a proposal to make the rest seem more palatable, says the reported numbers “appear to be a ‘goat’ clause, intended to lay the groundwork for a less dire deal, but one that is still reckless on every level.

“I would like to say clearly: Mister prime minister, hundreds of fallen soldiers are not goats, the residents of the south are not goats, Israeli citizens are not goats and I am not a goat,” he says.

“We will not allow a deal that will mean victory for Hamas and a perpetuation of terror. More than 500 soldiers did not fall in vain. We will not allow the release of thousands of murderers from prison.”

Ukraine’s parliamentary friendship group to hold solidarity visit to Israel next month

File: Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk arrives to deliver a speech at the European Parliament, June 8, 2022 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
File: Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk arrives to deliver a speech at the European Parliament, June 8, 2022 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

The parliamentary friendship group of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, is due in Israel in mid-February on a solidarity visit, The Times of Israel has learned.

In addition, Rada Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk was invited by Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, and told Israel’s ambassador this week that he would like to accept the invitation in the near future.

Ukraine’s Zelensky said to fire army chief Zaluzhny as war effort stalls

File: In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny attends an event for marking Statehood Day in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv, July 28, 2023 (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, File)
File: In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhny attends an event for marking Statehood Day in Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv, July 28, 2023 (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, File)

After ongoing rumors this week that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was planning to fire his popular army chief — and a denial from the president’s spokesman — The Washington Post reports that Zelensky informed Gen. Valery Zaluzhny during a meeting on Monday that he is removing him.

Zelensky’s office has yet to issue an official statement, nor has Zaluzhny’s. Ukrainian officials declined to comment on the report to The Times of Israel.

Zaluzhny and Zelensky have had a frosty relationship for some time. If and when elections happen this year, Zaluzhny is seen as a potential challenger to Zelensky, whose popularity has been dropping.

After the failure of the much-awaited and costly Ukrainian counteroffensive last year, Zaluzhny admitted to The Economist in November that the fighting had become a “stalemate,” while the president offered a much more rosy message and rejected that characterization days later.

Ukraine’s political and military leaders are also butting heads over a widespread military draft, with both sides trying to saddle the other with responsibility for the highly unpopular move.

According to The Washington Post, Zelensky told his senior general that the country is growing weary of the war and foreign military aid has slowed, so the war effort needs some rejuvenation.

In German parliament, Auschwitz survivor decries rise of far right and antisemitism

Holocaust survivor Eva Szepesi speaks to the plenary of the German Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, January 31, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Holocaust survivor Eva Szepesi speaks to the plenary of the German Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, January 31, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

A Jewish survivor of the Auschwitz death camp tells Germany’s parliament that she is appalled by the rising strength of the far right in the country and increasing antisemitism in the wake of the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the war in the Gaza Strip.

Eva Szepesi, 91, who was born in Hungary and liberated from Auschwitz at age 12 in January 1945, speaks at the parliament’s annual memorial event for victims of the Holocaust. She shares her memories of Nazi persecution and addresses concerns about the current situation in Germany.

“I would like not just for murdered Jews to be remembered on memorial days but also for living ones to be remembered in daily life. They need protection now,” Szepesi tells lawmakers.

Germany saw a significant increase in anti-Jewish incidents following the attack on Israel. Szepesi says some of her readings at schools were called off for security reasons shortly after Oct. 7 and her most recent such events took place under police protection.

“The Shoah did not begin with Auschwitz. It began with words, it began with society staying silent and looking away,” she says. “It pains me when schoolchildren are again afraid of going to school just because they are Jews; it pains me when my great-grandchildren still have to be protected by police officers with machine guns just because they are Jews.”

Szepesi also decries the strengthening of the far right in Germany, where recent national polls show the far-right Alternative for Germany party in second place with support of around 20%. A recent news report said some party members attended a recent meeting where right-wing extremists discussed deporting millions of immigrants and people with immigrant roots, including some with German citizenship.

“It appalls me that right-wing extremist parties are again being voted for,” Szepesi says. “They must not become so strong that our democracy is endangered.”

IDF declares closed military zone at Nitzana Crossing amid protests against Gaza aid

As Israelis protest at the Nitzana Border Crossing with Egypt, preventing aid destined for Gaza from entering Israel to be checked by authorities, the IDF announces a closed military zone in the area.

The IDF says the chief of Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, signed the order last night.

The order means it will be illegal for civilians to be in the area of the crossing, as well as the nearby Route 211.

Activists, including the families of some of the Gaza hostages, had blocked the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza crossing for several days to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the Strip. The protests prompted the IDF to declare the Kerem Shalom crossing a closed military zone. Following that order, protesters moved to block Nitzana Crossing.

At Nitzana, aid enters Israel from Egypt to be checked, before it is sent back to Egypt to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing.

In video, Gazan lashes out at Hamas in Hebrew for ‘eating meat’ while civilians suffer

An undated video circulating on social media shows a Palestinian civilian speaking defiantly against Hamas, as he addresses Israeli soldiers in Gaza in Hebrew and lashes out at the terror group’s leadership for abandoning Gazan civilians.

“Don’t leave here,” the Gazan appears to shout at the soldiers, as he trudges down a muddy track with three other men and an elderly woman seated on a wheel cart.

“People are asses, they don’t understand anything. We have nothing to do with all of this. It was [Yahya] Sinwar and [Ismail] Haniyeh,” the man cries, referring respectively to the Hamas leader in Gaza and the politburo chief abroad.

“Haniyeh is at a restaurant in Turkey, and Sinwar is under the ground, eating meat – while we are here, eating bullets to the head,” the man shouts.

The terror group has been ruling ruthlessly over the Gaza Strip since 2007, repressing all forms of dissent and, according to Israel, neglecting many civilian matters in favor of its terror efforts against the country.

Various video clips circulated after Israel launched the war against Hamas in October have shown armed gunmen from the group confiscating trucks carrying aid for civilians. Reports indicate that some of the aid is sold by Hamas members on the black market at highly inflated prices.

IDF raids Palestinian Islamic Jihad weapons manufacturing plant in Khan Younis

A lathe used to manufacture rockets at a Palestinian Islamic Jihad site in west Khan Younis, in a handout photo published by the IDF on January 31, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
A lathe used to manufacture rockets at a Palestinian Islamic Jihad site in west Khan Younis, in a handout photo published by the IDF on January 31, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says the troops of the 7th Armored Brigade raided a Palestinian Islamic Jihad weapons manufacturing plant in West Khan Younis.

At the site, troops destroyed a lathe used to manufacture projectiles, several long-range rockets, anti-tank missiles, and mines, as well as explosive devices stored in bags bearing the UNRWA logo, according to the IDF.

A tunnel network under the site was also demolished, the IDF says.

IDF says jets struck Syrian Army positions in response to rocket attack

The IDF says fighter jets carried out strikes against Syrian Army positions in the Daraa area in southern Syria overnight in response to a rocket attack on the Golan Heights.

No injuries were caused after three rockets fired from Syria hit open areas in the southern Golan Heights last night.

This morning, several projectiles were fired from Lebanon at the Menara and Kfar Yuval areas, landing in open areas and causing no injuries, the IDF says.

The IDF also says it carried out artillery shelling against areas in southern Lebanon, apparently to foil planned Hezbollah attacks.

Judge asks Tel Aviv Mayor Huldai to drop ‘time-wasting’ libel suit against minister Miri Regev

Transportation Minister Miri Regev speaks to the media after a court hearing at the Magistrate's Court in Tel Aviv, January 31, 2024 (Flash90)
Transportation Minister Miri Regev speaks to the media after a court hearing at the Magistrate's Court in Tel Aviv, January 31, 2024 (Flash90)

Transportation Minister Miri Regev is in court to defend herself in a libel suit brought by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai over her claim that he prevented Jews from carrying out the ritual of laying tefillin.

Judge Dorit Kovarsky notes that Regev has immunity, calling the trial that opened today at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court a “waste of time.” She suggests the two parties issue a statement clarifying their positions and “go home” but issues no ruling, waiting for the parties’ response to her proposal.

The scene is the first discussion in the lawsuit that Huldai filed in 2020 against Regev in connection with her claims regarding the tefillin, religious
items that Jewish men place on their head and arm while praying.

Huldai is demanding the minister pay him NIS 500,000 ($137,000) but Regev disputes the charges and anyway has parliamentary immunity that prevents the court from imposing penalties on her. The trial is going ahead after Huldai ignored Regev’s call on him Tuesday to drop the lawsuit in light of the war against Hamas, which has sidelined societal tensions around religion that have polarized Israeli society in recent years.

Regev says her claims were in connection with a decision to remove several stands from the public domain that observant Orthodox Jews, typically from Chabad, set up to encourage passerby to lay tefillin. Tel Aviv has a regulation that forbids any stands from being set up within 100 yards of an educational facility and another regulation that allows the mayor to prohibit any specific stand.

Huldai’s lawyer, Tal Shapira, says that “there was never any prohibition against a private person to put on tefillin anywhere they want in Tel Aviv.” Regev retorts: “If you’d ever put on tefillin, you would know that according to Jewish law the tefillin cannot be left hanging, you need a surface. The stand is the surface. Limiting a stand is limiting tefillin.”

Jewish law does not require a surface for putting on tefillin.

Iran warns of decisive response to any attack by the US

Head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami speaking at the funeral of Razi Mousavi, a senior commander in Iran's Quds Force who was killed on December 25 in an alleged Israeli strike in Syria, in Tehran, December 28, 2023. (Atta Kenare / AFP)
Head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami speaking at the funeral of Razi Mousavi, a senior commander in Iran's Quds Force who was killed on December 25 in an alleged Israeli strike in Syria, in Tehran, December 28, 2023. (Atta Kenare / AFP)

Iran will respond to any threat from the United States, Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ chief Hossein Salami says, as Washington weighs its response to the killing of American servicemen by Tehran-aligned militants.

“We hear threats coming from American officials. We tell them that they have already tested us and we now know one another. No threat will be left unanswered,” Salami says, according to semi-official Tasnim news agency.

In January 2020, the Revolutionary Guards targeted the Ain al-Asad US base in Iraq following a US drone strike in Baghdad that killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Iran’s envoy to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani, also warns that Tehran will respond decisively to any attack on its territory, its interests, or Iranian nationals outside its borders.

The comments from Iranian officials come a day after United States President Joe Biden announced he has decided how to respond to a drone attack by Iran-aligned Iraqi groups that killed US service members in Jordan, without elaborating.

Veteran military reporter Tal Lev Ram to be appointed head of Army Radio

File: Journalist Tal Lev Ram at the Maariv conference in Herzliya, on December 25, 2019 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
File: Journalist Tal Lev Ram at the Maariv conference in Herzliya, on December 25, 2019 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announces veteran military reporter Tal Lev Ram as permanent head of Army Radio.

The move comes following years of plans to shutter or privatize the station, which Gallant said last year he would not do but would instead implement major changes and find a commander with a military background.

Some 20 people submitted applications to command the station, and an advisory panel selected three final candidates.

Gallant in a statement says he interviewed the three yesterday, ultimately selecting Lev Ram after finding him to be the most suitable to command Army Radio.

Lev Ram has been a military reporter and analyst for the Maariv daily and 103fm radio since 2008.

During his military service, Lev Ram served as an infantry officer, and later served in the IDF Spokespersons Unit as the spokesman for the Southern Command.

Gallant says he believes that Lev Ram’s “professional background and his deep familiarity with the defense and military system, both as a reporter and analyst, as well as as a commander and combat soldier, will form the basis for the connection between the Army Radio station and the audience of soldiers, and will contribute to the station’s unique character as a leading media body and a military unit.”

The military’s operation and funding of a radio station with journalists responsible for investigating the IDF itself, as well as politicians, has long been considered anachronistic, expensive, and an ethical minefield.

Netanyahu’s ex-chief of staff convicted of fraud, breach of trust as part of plea deal

State witness Ari Harow testifies in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Jerusalem District Court hearing on May 10, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
State witness Ari Harow testifies in the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a Jerusalem District Court hearing on May 10, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Ari Harow, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turned state witness in his trial, has been convicted of fraud and breach of trust as part of the plea deal signed with him.

Harow confessed to the charges against him and will be given six months’ community service and a fine of NIS 700,000 ($190,000).

Harow was accused of pocketing funds from a consulting company that he had been supposed to sell upon becoming Netanyahu’s chief of staff in 2014.

As part of the deal Harow agreed to provide information about so-called cases 1000 and 2000, in which Netanyahu is accused of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors and negotiating a quid pro quo deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily newspaper in return for more favorable coverage.

IDF says dozens of gunmen killed in Gaza amid ongoing operations

IDF troops operate in Gaza in this undated handout photo released January 31, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops operate in Gaza in this undated handout photo released January 31, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says it is continuing operations in the mostly captured central and northern Gaza areas, where the 162nd Division battled many Hamas gunmen over the past day.

The division’s 401st Armored Brigade killed more than 15 Hamas operatives in northern Gaza in the last 24 hours, according to the IDF.

In one raid, the IDF says troops arrested 10 Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives who were holed up in a school, and located five rockets in the area prepared for launch.

Reservists of the 5th Brigade operating on the outskirts of the Shati camp, with air support, killed several more gunmen and located weapons used by Hamas, the IDF says.

In central Gaza, the Nahal Brigade killed more than 10 gunmen within an hour, and later killed several more in the same area, the IDF says.

Meanwhile, in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, the IDF is continuing a push against Hamas in the western part of the city.

In one incident in west Khan Younis, the Paratroopers Brigade spotted a Hamas gunman joining a cell before directing an airstrike against them, the IDF says.

In another incident, the Air Force struck a building the IDF says was used by another Hamas cell planning to ambush troops.

Former Pakistani PM Imran Khan gets 14-year prison sentence in third conviction

Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan listens to a member of media during talk with reporters regarding the current political situation and the ongoing cases against him at his residence, in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023.  (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary, File)
Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan listens to a member of media during talk with reporters regarding the current political situation and the ongoing cases against him at his residence, in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary, File)

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife have been sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption, his lawyer and prison officials say, a day after another special court convicted Khan of leaking state secrets and gave him a 10-year prison sentence.

The latest conviction and sentencing are Khan’s third since 2022, when he was ousted from power, and come ahead of Pakistan’s Feb. 8 parliamentary elections. The sentences are concurrent.

Khan and his wife were accused in the most recent graft case of retaining and selling state gifts when he was in power.

The court also disqualified Khan for 10 years from holding any public office.

His lawyer Babar Awan says the former premier was convicted and sentenced in such a hurry that the judge did not wait for the arrival of his legal team. He says Khan’s basic human and fundamental rights were violated, and that the latest legal setbacks would be challenged in higher courts.

Yemen’s Houthis say they will target US, British warships in self defense

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis say they plan to continue targeting US and British warships in the Red Sea in self defense, the group’s military spokesperson says in a statement carried by Al-Massirah TV.

The Houthis fired missiles at US warship USS Gravely, the statement adds. On Tuesday night, the US military’s central command said they had shot down one anti-ship cruise missile fired from Yemen towards the Red Sea with no damage reported.

Water levels in Sea of Galilee rise by 15 cm in 24 hours

The Water Authority says water levels in the Sea of Galilee rose by 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) over the past 24 hours, as a result of heavy rains.

The water level is now at 210.65 meters below sea level. This is 1.85 meters below the upper red line, the lake’s full capacity.

Police announce death of Ran Gvili, killed and abducted by Hamas on October 7

Police officer Sgt. First Class Ran Gvili, confirmed on January 31, 2024, to have been killed by terrorists on October 7, with his body abducted to Gaza (Israel Police)
Police officer Sgt. First Class Ran Gvili, confirmed on January 31, 2024, to have been killed by terrorists on October 7, with his body abducted to Gaza (Israel Police)

Police announce the death of Sgt. First Class Ran Gvili, who was killed by Hamas on October 7, with his body abducted to Gaza.

Gvili, of the Yasam patrol unit in police’s Negev district, was killed during a battle against terrorists in the community of Alumim during the Hamas onslaught.

His body was then taken to the Gaza Strip.

Yesterday, Gvili’s death was declared by the chief rabbi and a team of rabbinical and health experts, based on updated findings and intelligence information.

His death brings police’s toll of slain police officers in the war to 61, the vast majority of them on the morning of October 7.

Iran warns of swift response to any type of attack

Iran’s envoy to the United Nations Amir Saeid Iravani warned that Tehran would swiftly respond to any attack on its territory, its interests or nationals outside its borders, state media reports

The comment comes a day after US President Joe Biden announced he has decided how to respond to a drone attack by Iran-aligned Iraqi groups that killed US service members in Jordan, without elaborating.

IDF announces deaths of 3 soldiers, raising ground op death toll to 223

A composite image of Major (res.) Netzer Simchi, 30, left, Warrant officer (res.) Yuval Nir, 43, center, and Captain (res.) Gavriel Shani, 28, right, killed in Gaza on January 30, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
A composite image of Major (res.) Netzer Simchi, 30, left, Warrant officer (res.) Yuval Nir, 43, center, and Captain (res.) Gavriel Shani, 28, right, killed in Gaza on January 30, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces announces the deaths of three soldiers who were killed while fighting in Gaza yesterday, bringing the military death toll from the ground offensive to 223.

The slain troops are:

Major (res.) Netzer Simchi, 30, from the northern Israeli community of Masad, of the 14th Armored Brigade’s 87th Battalion.

Captain (res.) Gavriel Shani, 28, from the West Bank settlement of Eli, of the 646th Brigade’s 6646th Battalion.

Warrant officer (res.) Yuval Nir, 43, from the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion, of the 646th Brigade’s 6646th Battalion.

Shani and Nir were killed while fighting in south Gaza. Another two soldiers were seriously wounded in the same battle, the IDF says.

Simchi was killed fighting in northern Gaza, the military says.

CIA director says Mideast ‘more explosive’ than ever, points finger at ’emboldened’ Iran

File: CIA Director William Burns speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 8, 2023. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo)
File: CIA Director William Burns speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 8, 2023. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/AP Photo)

CIA Director William Burns says in an article titled “Spycraft and Statecraft” published Tuesday in Foreign Affairs magazine that he has “spent much of the last four decades working in and on the Middle East,” and has “rarely seen it more tangled or explosive.”

“Winding down the intense Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip, meeting the deep humanitarian needs of suffering Palestinian civilians, freeing hostages, preventing the spread of conflict to other fronts in the region, and shaping a workable approach for the ‘day after’ in Gaza are all incredibly difficult problems,” writes Burns, who met with the Qatari prime minister in Paris this weekend for hostage negotiations, alongside Mossad Director David Barnea and Egyptian intel chief Abbas Kamel.

Burns says “resurrecting hope for a durable peace that ensures Israel’s security as well as Palestinian statehood and takes advantage of historic opportunities for normalization with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries” are also difficult but necessary and should be pursued seriously.

The CIA director points the finger squarely at Iran, which backs Palestinian terror group Hamas, Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen, and says Tehran has been “emboldened by the crisis and seems ready to fight to its last regional proxy, all while expanding its nuclear program and enabling Russian aggression.”

“Key to Israel’s — and the region’s — security is dealing with Iran,” he says.

“The United States is not exclusively responsible for resolving any of the Middle East’s vexing problems. But none of them can be managed, let alone solved, without active US leadership,” writes Burns.

UN chief meets with UNRWA donor countries to appeal against funding freeze

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during an interview at the United Nations headquarters ahead of the COP28 meeting in New York, November 29, 2023. (Andrea RENAULT / AFP)
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during an interview at the United Nations headquarters ahead of the COP28 meeting in New York, November 29, 2023. (Andrea RENAULT / AFP)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met behind closed doors with 35 donor nations and appealed again for a restoration of funding and new donations for the embattled UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The UN chief briefed the ambassadors, including from the European Union, late Tuesday on actions he had taken following accusations that 12 employees of the agency known as UNRWA participated in Hamas’ shock Oct. 7 attacks in southern Israel.

He has called the Israeli allegations “horrific” and urged for a swift investigation.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian UN ambassador, told reporters after the meeting that the secretary-general appealed to many countries that suspended funding to UNRWA after the allegations “to reconsider” and urged other countries “including those in the region, to step up to the plate.”

He praised Norway, Spain and others who said they would not suspend aid.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters earlier that “no other organization than UNRWA has the infrastructure to do what they do” in Gaza and the Middle East and “it’s not feasible in any way, shape or form” to quickly replace the UN agency.

Dujarric also told reporters that every year UNRWA provides a list of its 13,000 staff in Gaza to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “As far as I’m told by UNRWA, concerns have not been raised when the list of staff have been shared,” he said.

Biden says he’s decided on response to killing of 3 US troops in Jordan

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden on Tuesday indicated he had decided how to respond after the killing of three American service members Sunday in a drone attack in Jordan that his administration has pinned on Iran-backed militia groups, saying he does not want to expand the war in the Middle East but demurring on specifics.

US officials said they are still determining which of several Iran-backed groups was responsible for the first killing of American troops in a wave of attacks against US forces in the region since the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel. Biden plans to attend the dignified transfer to mark the fallen troops’ return to American soil on Friday and answered in the affirmative when asked by reporters if he’d decided on a response, as he indicated he was aiming to prevent further escalation.

“I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East,” Biden said at the White House before departing for a fundraising trip to Florida. “That’s not what I’m looking for.”

It was not immediately clear whether Biden meant he had decided on a specific retaliatory plan. A U.S. official told The Associated Press that the Pentagon is still assessing options to respond to the attack in Jordan.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters traveling with Biden aboard Air Force One that he would not preview the US response, but indicated it would come in phases.

“It’s very possible that what you’ll see is a tiered approach here, not just a single action, but potentially multiple actions over a period of time,” he said.

Families of six Israeli-American hostages held by Hamas meet US officials in Washington

The families of six Israeli-American hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group met tonight with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Middle East Coordinator Brett McGurk, a White House official said, according to CNN.

The report says the families were updated on the ongoing hostage release talks following Sullivan’s meeting this week with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, as well as meetings in Paris with the Qatari PM and the directors of the CIA, the Mossad, and Egyptian intelligence.

US shoots down missile fired by Houthis toward Red Sea, Pentagon says

Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired one anti-ship cruise missile from Yemen toward the Red Sea on Tuesday, the US military’s Central Command says, adding that a US destroyer in the area shot it down.

No injuries or damage were reported, the Central Command says.

UNRWA funding halt ‘catastrophic’ for Gaza, say UN agencies

Cutting off funding to the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA will have “catastrophic consequences” for Gaza, the heads of multiple UN bodies say in a joint statement.

“Withdrawing funds from UNRWA is perilous and would result in the collapse of the humanitarian system in Gaza, with far-reaching humanitarian and human rights consequences in the occupied Palestinian territory and across the region,” said the statement from the heads of the organizations that form the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

UNRWA is facing funding cuts from a host of countries including the US, Canada, Japan, France, and Germany, pending an investigation into Israeli intelligence finding that 12 of its employees took part in the October 7 massacre and hundreds more are terror operatives or have close ties to Hamas members.

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