ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Jan. 4: Three people missing since October 7 determined to be hostage in Gaza

Rockets fired at Ashkelon * Jordan hits Iran-linked drug smugglers in Syria * Khameini said to seek ‘strategic patience’ with US, Israel, avoid escalation

  • Protesters calling for a deal to free hostages held in Gaza block a road in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
    Protesters calling for a deal to free hostages held in Gaza block a road in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
  • Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the central Gaza border, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
    Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the central Gaza border, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
  • Mourners carry the coffin of Hamas' terror chief Saleh al-Arouri during his funeral procession in Lebanon's capital on January 4, 2024. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
    Mourners carry the coffin of Hamas' terror chief Saleh al-Arouri during his funeral procession in Lebanon's capital on January 4, 2024. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
  • A car riddled with bullet holes during the October 7 massacre seen at the Erez border crossing with the Gaza Strip, January 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
    A car riddled with bullet holes during the October 7 massacre seen at the Erez border crossing with the Gaza Strip, January 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
  • Supporters shout slogans during the commemorations of the anniversary of the killing of Iranian commander general Qassem Soleimani, marked by a televised speech of Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah in Beirut, January 3, 2024. (Anwar Amro/AFP)
    Supporters shout slogans during the commemorations of the anniversary of the killing of Iranian commander general Qassem Soleimani, marked by a televised speech of Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah in Beirut, January 3, 2024. (Anwar Amro/AFP)
  • Humanitarian aid trucks heading to Gaza on January 4, 2024. (COGAT)
    Humanitarian aid trucks heading to Gaza on January 4, 2024. (COGAT)
  • (From L-R) Idan Shtivi, Hanan Yablonka, and Ilan Weiss, who the IDF announced were among those being held in Gaza on January 4, 2024. (Courtesy)
    (From L-R) Idan Shtivi, Hanan Yablonka, and Ilan Weiss, who the IDF announced were among those being held in Gaza on January 4, 2024. (Courtesy)
  • IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2024. (IDF)
    IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2024. (IDF)
  • Smoke rises above buildings in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, during an ongoing IDF raid on January 4, 2024. (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)
    Smoke rises above buildings in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, during an ongoing IDF raid on January 4, 2024. (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)
  • Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, center, attends the funeral of founding commander of the terror group's military wing Saleh al-Arouri, in Beirut, Lebanon, January 4, 2024. (AP/Hussein Malla)
    Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, center, attends the funeral of founding commander of the terror group's military wing Saleh al-Arouri, in Beirut, Lebanon, January 4, 2024. (AP/Hussein Malla)
  • IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2024. (IDF)
    IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2024. (IDF)
  • A picture taken from northern Israel shows smoke billowing from across the border in south Lebanon on January 3, 2024. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
    A picture taken from northern Israel shows smoke billowing from across the border in south Lebanon on January 3, 2024. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

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

Freed hostage recalls watching as Hamas captors informed Yarden Bibas about ‘fate’ of his family while filming

Nili Margalit speaks to Channel 12's Uvda on January 4, 2024. (Screen capture/Channel 12)
Nili Margalit speaks to Channel 12's Uvda on January 4, 2024. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

Nili Margalit, who spent nearly 50 days in Hamas captivity, reveals that she was with Yarden Bibas when Hamas terrorists told him his wife and two young children had been killed and ordered him to film a video in which he blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for refusing to return their bodies to Israel.

The IDF says that the claims made by Hamas regarding the Bibas family have not been verified, and terror groups in Gaza previously announced that an Israeli hostage had been killed in IDF strikes only to release her alive several weeks later.

But Margalit tells Channel 12’s Uvda investigative program that Yarden Bibas was already in a poor psychological state due to worry over his family’s wellbeing and broke down upon being given the news by his captors.

Margalit says the Hamas captors told her she would be released later that day only to later tell her and fellow hostage Yoram Metzger that they would have to deliver the news about the Bibas family to Yarden.

“I told Yoram, if they want to tell him such a terrible thing, let them tell him themselves. Let him look him in the eyes and tell him himself. He knows Hebrew,” Margalit recalls, referring to the Hamas captor.

The Hamas member proceeded to deliver the “news” to Yarden in Arabic as Metzger translated and another Hamas member filmed the reaction, telling the broken father what to say.

Shiri Bibas (center) and her sons Ariel, 4, (left) and baby Kfir, who were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 (Courtesy)

A minute later, Margalit was swept away by her captors, as she was released later that evening.

Earlier in the interview, Margalit reveals that she was kept in the same tunnel complex as dozens of other hostages.

During her captivity, she and the hostages she was with received a visit from senior Hamas officials. “They didn’t introduce themselves, and I didn’t know their names until I returned to Israel,” she says.

A nurse by profession, Margalit took care of some of the hostages. She says her captors would approach her every so often to come and treat other hostages. Among those she treated were Amiram Cooper, Avraham Munder and Margalit Mozes who were in another tunnel within the same complex.

The Bibas family, father Yarden, mother Shiri, baby Kfir and four-year-old Ariel, were taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 from Kibbutz Nir Oz. (Courtesy)

She said she would tell the captors what kinds of medicine she needed to treat the sick hostages and that they would give it to her, albeit in insufficient amounts.

Before leaving captivity, she tried to show Yarden how to fill the role in her absence.

After roughly 40 days in captivity, she was allowed to watch TV for the first time and saw those campaigning in Israel for the hostages’ release.

“It made me happy that they didn’t forget us there,” she says.

3 unaccounted Israelis confirmed by IDF to be among hostages identified as Hanan Yablonka, Idan Shtivi and Ilan Weiss

(From L-R) Idan Shtivi, Hanan Yablonka, and Ilan Weiss, who the IDF announced were among those being held in Gaza on January 4, 2024. (Courtesy)
(From L-R) Idan Shtivi, Hanan Yablonka, and Ilan Weiss, who the IDF announced were among those being held in Gaza on January 4, 2024. (Courtesy)

Hanan Yablonka, Idan Shtivi and Ilan Weiss have been identified as the three Israelis who the IDF confirmed earlier this evening are among those being held in Gaza.

The three were said to have been unaccounted for until today.

187 aid trucks entered Gaza today through Israel and Egypt — COGAT

Humanitarian aid trucks heading to Gaza on January 4, 2024. (COGAT)
Humanitarian aid trucks heading to Gaza on January 4, 2024. (COGAT)

187 trucks carrying food, water, medical supplies and shelter equipment were inspected and transferred to the Gaza Strip today via Egypt’s Rafah and Israel’s Kerem Shalom Crossings, Israel’s COGAT military liaison to the Palestinians says.

Eighty-eight trucks were inspected at Israel’s Nitzana Crossing and entered Gaza via the Rafah Crossing.

Ninety-seven trucks were inspected and transferred into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

Israel committed during a truce in November to start allowing in 200 trucks of aid every day.

It says it has been inspecting hundreds of trucks each day but that the UN and Egypt have failed to keep up with those numbers, leading to insufficient amounts of aid actually getting into Gaza.

The UN says distribution of large amounts of aid is all but impossible as long as Israel’s military campaign continues.

IDF chief forms team of ex-military officials to probe failures that led to Oct. 7 massacre

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (center) tours Israel's northern border, January 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (center) tours Israel's northern border, January 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has formed a team of former military officials to investigate the army’s failures that led to Hamas’s October 7 massacre.

The decision comes 90 days after Hamas launched its terror onslaught on southern Israel.

The formation of the team was first reported by the Ynet news site, and confirmed to The Times of Israel by the IDF.

According to the report, former IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, former Military Intelligence Directorate chief Aharon Ze’evi-Farkash, former Southern Command chief Sami Turgeman and former Operations Directorate chief Yoav Har-Even will be among those on the investigatory team.

The IDF clarifies that it has not yet begun to investigate the failures that led to Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, but confirms that “the investigation process is being formulated.”

In a short statement, the IDF says the General Staff is selecting heads for various teams to investigate the incidents surrounding the terror onslaught.

“When things are finalized, they will be announced to the public,” the IDF says.

Gallant: Palestinians — not Israel — will run civilian affairs in post-war Gaza

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the central Gaza border, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the central Gaza border, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant outlines his vision for who will run Gaza after the war, asserting that local Palestinians will be in charge of civilian affairs while Israel will maintain overall security control over the enclave.

While these stances are shared by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the emphasis on Palestinian civilian control over Gaza and the lack of Israeli civilian presence there has angered hardline coalition partners, with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich speaking out against the plan while a member of the war cabinet suggested that the defense minister is merely speaking for himself.

“There will be no Israeli civilian presence in the Gaza Strip after the goals of the war have been achieved,” Gallant says in a briefing to reporters.

“Gaza residents are Palestinian, therefore Palestinian bodies will be in charge on the condition that there will be no hostility to Israel,” he asserts.

As for who will manage Gaza’s security after the war, the defense minister says that Israel will not allow Hamas to control Gaza, nor pose a security threat to its citizens. As such, it will reserve its operational freedom of action in Gaza.

IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2023. (IDF)

Gallant says Israel will transition to what he calls Phase III of the fighting during which the fighting in northern Gaza will be at a lower intensity and include raids, the destruction of terror tunnels, aerial and ground activities, and special operations.

In southern Gaza, operational efforts will focus on eliminating Hamas leadership and enabling the return of the hostages, Gallant says.

Phase III’s combat objective is the erosion of remaining terror hotspots in Gaza, according to Gallant.

The defense minister does not provide a timeline for when Israel will transition to Phase III, saying it is contingent on the achievement of certain military goals that cannot be shared with the press.

He says the IDF’s fighting in Gaza will continue until the hostages are returned, Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are dismantled and all military threats from Gaza are removed.

Gallant envisions multinational force leading Gaza rebuilding, though allies have made clear it’ll be contingent on two states

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is seen with IDF troops in the central Gaza Strip, January 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is seen with IDF troops in the central Gaza Strip, January 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Presenting his plan for post-war Gaza, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant outlines a “four-cornered civilian square,” including Israel, the Palestinians, a multinational task force and Egypt.

Israel “will provide information to guide civilian operations” and also carry out inspection of goods entering Gaza in order to ensure that no weapons are smuggled into the enclave, Gallant says.

A Palestinian entity in charge of governing Gaza will build on existing administrative mechanisms to help restore operations in the Strip, Gallant says.

A multinational force led by the United States in partnership with Israel’s European and Arab allies will take responsibility for the reconstruction of Gaza after the war, the defense minister envisions.

Those allies have repeatedly made clear, however, that their support for the reconstruction of Gaza is conditioned on the Palestinian Authority being the governing body that reunites the Strip with the West Bank and that the process be part of a broader initiative aimed at an eventual two-state solution.

Gallant carefully avoids mentioning the PA at all in his plan, amid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated rejection of the body led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes Belgium’s and Spain’s prime ministers (not pictured) to his offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool/AFP)

US and Israeli officials have told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu’s aides have privately expressed their support for an “RPA” or “reformed PA,” eventually governing Gaza, while the premier himself has not spoken publicly about this idea amid fears of alienating far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir.

Gallant’s description of “existing administrative mechanisms” is similar to Netanyahu’s talk of a “civil administration” — both terms widely understood to mean PA-affiliated bodies.

But more unpopular than talk of a PA-controlled Gaza Strip after October 7 would be an Israeli commitment to move toward a two-state solution, and Gallant did not specify how Israel plans to recruit allies abroad to help it rebuild the Strip without taking steps toward Palestinian statehood.

As for the fourth corner of Gallant’s civilian square, the defense minister highlights Egypt, which he says will remain a major actor, given that it border with Gaza. “We maintain an ongoing dialogue with Egyptian partners about interim and long-term solutions,” he says.

Biden aide: UNRWA not responsible for Hamas’s depraved use of civilian infrastructure for terror purposes

A carries an infant in the playground of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) school in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, converted into a shelter for internally displaced Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas War, October 25, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
A carries an infant in the playground of a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) school in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, converted into a shelter for internally displaced Palestinians during the Israel-Hamas War, October 25, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby hits back at a reporter who suggests that the US should rethink its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA amid longstanding reports that its facilities are being used by Hamas terrorists.

Kirby in a press briefing says UNRWA does “important work.”

“In fact, they’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting right now in terms of trying to get food, water and medicine to the people of Gaza all down the Strip… and are doing it very much in harm’s way,” Kirby says.

“You can’t hold them accountable for the depredations of Hamas and the way Hamas uses civilian infrastructure, including hospitals as command and control centers, for storage of weapons, for the holding of hostages,” he continues.

“I’ll let the UN speak to their agency and what alarms they want to raise or not,” Kirby adds.

Protesters block Tel Aviv highway, demanding release of Gaza hostages

Dozens of protesters have begun blocking Tel Aviv's Begin highway, calling for the release of the hostages in Gaza on January 4, 2024. (Courtesy)
Dozens of protesters have begun blocking Tel Aviv's Begin highway, calling for the release of the hostages in Gaza on January 4, 2024. (Courtesy)

Dozens of protesters have begun blocking Tel Aviv’s Begin highway, calling for the release of the hostages in Gaza.

Biden aide: We haven’t seen anything that would convince us to take different approach in supporting Israel

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, December 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, December 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Pressed on mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby says the US “has not seen anything that would convince us that we need to take a different approach in terms of trying to help Israel.”

Kirby acknowledges that the number of civilian casualties is too high and that the US continues to engage with Israel about how to lower the figure.

IDF says three Israelis declared missing since Oct. 7 are confirmed to be among Gaza hostages

A woman walks past photographs in Jerusalem of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. January 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
A woman walks past photographs in Jerusalem of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. January 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari says three Israelis declared missing since October 7 are confirmed to be held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

This brings the total number of hostages in the Gaza Strip to 136.

The number includes the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

IDF: Troops uncovered, destroyed Hamas underground weapons manufacturing plant on coast of central Gaza

This image released by the IDF on January 4, 2024, shows the entrance to a tunnel network on the coast of central Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)
This image released by the IDF on January 4, 2024, shows the entrance to a tunnel network on the coast of central Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says troops have uncovered and destroyed a Hamas underground weapons manufacturing plant on the coast of central Gaza.

Over the past week, troops of the 179th Armored Brigade, the Navy’s Shayetet 13 commando unit, and the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit raided a Hamas compound, where they located several tunnel shafts, the IDF says.

The tunnel shafts led to an underground network spanning hundreds of meters, according to the IDF, which adds that troops located a cache of weapons, including mortars, grenades and RPGs.

Nearby, several more tunnel shafts were found by Shayetet 13 and Yahalom forces, which led to another underground network of branching tunnels, the IDF says.

The IDF says the tunnels featured blast doors, and behind them, the troops found a weapons manufacturing plant. The underground room had machinery, cooling fans, explosive materials and rocket fuel.

The tunnels were later destroyed by combat engineers.

Blinken to push Israel during visit to allow Palestinians to return to northern Gaza

Palestinians flee the Israeli ground offensive in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman, File)
Palestinians flee the Israeli ground offensive in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman, File)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss during his visit to Israel next week “transitioning to the next phase” of the IDF’s war in Gaza, including “enabling Palestinians to return to their homes and neighborhoods as fighting curtails,” US State Department spokesman Matt Miller says during a press briefing.

Israel has thus far blocked Palestinians from northern Gaza, which it ordered to be evacuated in the early days of the war, arguing that fighters from Hamas and other terror groups remain in those areas.

The remark by Miller represents a gradual intensification of US calls on Israel to allow Palestinians to return to northern Gaza where many of the homes have been destroyed in the fighting.

Miller says Blinken will leave for his regional tour later today, making stops in Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank and Egypt for meetings with foreign counterparts.

Also on Blinken’s agenda in Israel will be discussing “immediate measures to substantially increase humanitarian assistance to Gaza,” Miller says, noting that the US has led this effort, even as “conditions remained extremely difficult.”

“The secretary will stress the imperative of expanding and sustaining safe access for humanitarian organizations to deliver food, water, medicine, as well for commercial goods to enter all areas of Gaza,” Miller says. “There still remain a number of logistical hurdles to getting the level of trucks back to the level we need.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during his end-of-year news conference on December 20, 2023, at the State Department in Washington, DC. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

Before the war, some 500 aid trucks were entering Gaza each day. Since the war, that figure has plummeted to an average of less than 100 per day, save for a seven-day truce in late November when 200 trucks entered Gaza each day.

Israel agreed, following US pressure, to reopen its Kerem Shalom Crossing last month, allowing aid to directly enter Gaza from Israel for the first time along with aid through Egypt’s Rafah Crossing.

Israel reportedly has been weighing a series of gestures aimed at maintaining US support for the war, including reopening its Erez Crossing in northern Gaza, allowing Palestinians to return to areas they fled in northern Gaza and allowing aid to reach those areas as well.

Miller reiterates that far too many civilians have been killed in Gaza and that Blinken will discuss additional steps Israel can take toward that end.

Blinken will also talk with Israeli officials about “the need to do more to lower tensions in the West Bank,” Miller says, as the US continues to hold Jerusalem’s feet to the fire regarding settler violence and releasing tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues that belong to the Palestinian Authority.

Securing the release of the remaining hostages, including American citizens in Gaza, will also be at the top of Blinken’s agenda during his trip, Miller continues, asserting that the secretary will not rest until all of them are released.

Palestinians walk past destroyed buildings in Gaza City on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024. (AP/Mohammed Hajjar)

Blinken will continue advancing the US effort to prevent the conflict in Gaza from fully spreading from other fronts and “will discuss specific steps parties can take, including how they can use their influence with others in the region to avoid escalation.”

As part of those discussions, Blinken will raise the need to take steps to deter Houthis attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, Miller says.

The secretary will use his meetings to urge all parties to take steps to secure a permanent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and promote a more integrated region, “including a sustained mechanism for reconstruction and Palestinian-led governance of a unified West Bank and Gaza,” according to Miller.

“We don’t expect every conversation on this trip to be easy. There are obviously tough issues facing the region and difficult choices ahead, but the secretary believes it is the responsibility of the United States of America to lead diplomatic efforts to tackle those challenges head-on, and he’s prepared to do that in the days to come,” the State Department spokesman says.

Hamas fighters shouldn’t count on IDF leaving Strip anytime soon, Gallant says during Gaza visit to troops

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the central Gaza border, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the central Gaza border, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant during a tour of the central Gaza border today says that Hamas fighters who are counting on the IDF to soon leave the Strip “need to change the count until the end of their lives.”

“In the north of the Gaza Strip, forces are completing the current mission. They are reorganizing with the intention of carrying out raids and airstrikes soon,” Gallant says.

He says that in central Gaza, the fighting “is intense.”

“The forces are working above ground and underground, destroying central infrastructures of the Hamas organization, including the places where Hamas produced all its missiles and supplied them all over the Strip,” Gallant says.

“In the south of the Gaza Strip, the operation is a powerful operation and it is getting stronger, above ground and below ground,” he says.

“Those terrorists who started counting down the time to the departure of the IDF forces, need to change the count, they need to start counting until the end of their lives on earth, it will come soon,” Gallant adds.

UAE jumps on Ben Gvir, Smotrich condemnation train over their calls for displacement of Gazans

Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich (L) and candidate Itamar Ben Gvir celebrate at the party headquarters in Modi'in on election night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)
Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich (L) and candidate Itamar Ben Gvir celebrate at the party headquarters in Modi'in on election night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

The United Arab Emirates joins the list of countries around the world condemning far-right Israeli ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, who are calling for encouraging Palestinians to emigrate from Gaza.

“The United Arab Emirates condemned in the strongest terms the extremist statements of the Israeli Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, and the Israeli Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, calling for the displacement of Palestinians, in addition to re-occupying and building settlements in the Gaza Strip,” the UAE foreign ministry says in a statement, expressing its “categorical rejection of such offensive statements and of all practices and procedures carried out in contravention of resolutions on international legitimacy, which threaten further escalation and instability in the region.”

The UAE statement also reiterates a call for a ceasefire in Gaza, for the unhindered delivery of aid to Palestinians and for the advancement of a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

‘Nobody appointed the justices to run the country’: Haredi MK pans High Court for ruling against coalition laws

Knesset Finance Committee chair MK Moshe Gafni during a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Knesset Finance Committee chair MK Moshe Gafni during a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni lashes out at the High Court of Justice following two rulings against coalition legislation earlier this week, declaring that “nobody appointed the justices… to run the country.”

The ultra-Orthodox MK says in a statement the focus should be on issues that unite, rather than divide the public and the court, ostensibly suggesting that the justices should not have issued verdicts on such controversial issues during wartime.

This week, the court postponed the implementation of a law shielding the premier from the possibility of being ordered to recuse himself from office and overturned a bill preventing the judiciary from exercising oversight of government decisions via the reasonableness standard.

After meeting PM, GOP senator says Israel still has until June to reach normalization deal with Saudi Arabia

US Senator Lindsey Graham (L) meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the latter's office in Jerusalem on January 4, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
US Senator Lindsey Graham (L) meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the latter's office in Jerusalem on January 4, 2024. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

US Senator Lindsey Graham, after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says that Israel has a window until June to hammer out a normalization deal with Saudi Arabia, which would close as the election campaign kicks into full gear.

“The military campaign to destroy Hamas is not inconsistent with normalization,” he says.

“The worst thing for the Crown Prince and the GCC and everyone else in the region is for Hamas to survive,” he continues.

“There is no way MBS or anyone else can deal with a better future for the Palestinians if Hamas is still there,” says the South Carolina Republican.

He also says he will oppose US funds going to the Palestinian Authority to rebuild Gaza. “I don’t trust the PA. I won’t put 15 cents into a group that can’t deliver.”

Graham is flying from Israel to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. He says he will tell MBS that a normalization deal with Israel is what will convince US investors and tourists that Saudi Arabia is a safe country. “I can’t give a trip to Saudi Arabia right now in South Carolina,” he says. “But if they recognize Israel it would change everything.”

Foreign minister returns envoy to Spain recalled over president’s criticism of Israeli war against Hamas

Ambassador Rodica Radian-Gordon. (Youtube screenshot)
Ambassador Rodica Radian-Gordon. (Youtube screenshot)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz decides to return Israel’s Ambassador to Spain, Rodica Radian-Gordon, to Madrid next week.

She was recalled in November by Katz’s predecessor Eli Cohen after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he had “serious doubts” that Israel’s war with Hamas complies with international humanitarian law.

“In light of a positive change in the messages coming from the Spanish government and the importance of Israel-Spain relations, it was decided that the ambassador will return to Madrid and will continue her activities to promote support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens against the Hamas terror group and to build international pressure for the release of all the hostages in the Gaza Strip,” says the Foreign Ministry in a statement, which doesn’t elaborate on the “positive changes” it has been seeing in Madrid’s messaging.

IDF says troops locate UNRWA daycare booby-trapped by local terrorists in West Bank

Troops locate explosive devices in the West Bank's Nur Shams refugee camp, January 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops locate explosive devices in the West Bank's Nur Shams refugee camp, January 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF troops operating in the West Bank’s Nur Shams refugee camp located a UNRWA daycare center that was booby-trapped by local terror operatives.

The IDF says it has wrapped up a 40-hour-long raid in the camp near Tulkarem, during which troops questioned hundreds of suspects and arrested 11 of them.

It says troops also seized many weapons and destroyed hundreds of explosive devices, including those planted in the UNRWA building.

Two soldiers were wounded, one lightly and one moderately, during the raid as a result of an explosive device hurled at them.

In another raid today, in the northern West Bank town of Sir, close to Jenin, a soldier was seriously wounded by an explosive device, the IDF adds.

ISIS claims responsibility for deadly blasts near Soleimani’s grave in Iran

People disperse near the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Guards general Qasem Soleimani, near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in the southern Iranian city of Kerman on January 3, 2024. (Mehr News/AFP)
People disperse near the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Guards general Qasem Soleimani, near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in the southern Iranian city of Kerman on January 3, 2024. (Mehr News/AFP)

ISIS claims responsibility for a pair of explosions that killed at least 84 people near the grave of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq four years ago.

Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber accused Israel of having a hand in the attack, saying that “the representatives of the Zionist regime” had spilled blood with the blast.

But the US already indicated yesterday that the explosions appeared to be the modus operandi of ISIS.

ISIS has gone on to take responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on its affiliate Telegram channels.

Visiting ex-VP Pence: Americans continue to support Israel even as international community falters

Former US vice president Mike Pence visits Kibbutz Kfar Aza, January 4, 2024 (via twitter)
Former US vice president Mike Pence visits Kibbutz Kfar Aza, January 4, 2024 (via twitter)

SDEROT — Former US vice president Mike Pence visits war-battered southern Israel to express support for the country in its war against Hamas.

Standing next to the ruins of a police station in the city of Sderot, home to a fierce battle between Hamas terrorists and police officers on October 7, Pence says the United States stands with Israel, which is under international pressure to end its ground and air campaign in Gaza. Next week, the UN’s top court is expected to begin examining a South African case accusing Israel of genocide.

Former US vice president Mike Pence meets with IDF soldiers in southern Israel on January 4, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

“The world community always seems to find its way eventually to criticizing Israel, particularly in places like the United Nations, “ Pence says. “And in this dark hour, I wanted to do my part to make sure the people of Israel know that the people of the United States are with you and that we will stand with you.”

Asked about next week’s International Court of Justice hearing against Israel’s alleged “genocide in Gaza,” Pence said: “Israel and the United States should denounce any action to use the International Court of Justice or the United Nations to equate the unprovoked genocidal attack of Hamas on the Jewish people with Israel’s actions in self-defense,” he said.

Pence, who served under former US president Donald Trump, is a longtime supporter of Israel. He dropped out of the 2024 presidential race in October after struggling to raise money and gain traction in the polls.

IDF: Elite search and rescue unit has carried out hundreds of medical evacuations of soldiers from Gaza

Unit 669 carries out a medevac from the Gaza Strip, during Israel's ground offensive, in an image published January 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Unit 669 carries out a medevac from the Gaza Strip, during Israel's ground offensive, in an image published January 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Air Force’s elite helicopter-borne search and rescue Unit 669 has carried out hundreds of medical evacuations from inside the Gaza Strip amid the military’s ground offensive, taking more than 1,000 wounded soldiers to hospitals in Israel, the military says.

The IDF says Unit 669, along with the elite Unit 5515 combat mobility unit and IAF’s transport helicopter array, have been operating closely alongside ground forces in the Strip during the fighting against Hamas.

According to the latest data from the IDF, in the ground offensive in Gaza, which was launched in late October, 175 soldiers have been killed and another 1,006 have been wounded.

Of the injured soldiers, 224 are listed in serious condition, 372 in moderate condition, and 410 in good condition.

Smotrich blocked Likud-pushed joint statement slamming High Court ruling on recusal law

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a press conference, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 30, 2023. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a press conference, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 30, 2023. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party reportedly wanted to issue a joint statement with other coalition parties slamming the High Court’s decision yesterday to postpone the implementation of a controversial law shielding the premier from the possibility of being ordered to recuse himself from office.

However, the initiative was blocked by the far-right Religious Zionism party, whose chairman Bezalel Smotrich rejected the draft that was circulated, the Walla news site reports.

Members of Netanyahu’s cabinet lashed out at the court for allegedly exceeding its authority last night, following the six-to-five ruling that said the law can’t be immediately implemented.

High school shooting takes place in Perry, Iowa — police

Police respond to Perry High School in Perry, Iowa., Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Police respond to Perry High School in Perry, Iowa., Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

PERRY, Iowa (AP) — Police in Perry, Iowa, say there was a shooting at the city’s high school.

A woman who answered the Perry Police Department phone confirms the shooting at Perry High School but did not provide any further information.

An enormous number of emergency vehicles surround the building that houses the town’s middle school and high school.

Erica Jolliff says her daughter, a ninth grader, reported getting rushed from the school grounds at 7:45 a.m. Distraught, Jolliff was still looking for her son Amir, a sixth grader, one hour later.

“I just want to know that he’s safe and OK,” Jolliff says. “They won’t tell me nothing.”

The high school is part of the 1,785-student Perry Community School District. Today was the first day back in school for students following the holiday break.

The shooting occurs with Iowa caucuses on the horizon and not far from where Republican candidates were campaigning.

Phone messages left with the Perry School Board’s president and vice president, and an email message left with Superintendent Clark Wicks, were not immediately returned.

Dallas County’s Emergency Management Agency says a news conference will be held later.

Perry is about 40 miles (64.37 kilometers) miles northwest of Des Moines.

1,000 attend funeral procession of assassinated Hamas terror chief being buried in Lebanon’s Shatila Camp

Mourners carry the coffin of Hamas' terror chief Saleh al-Arouri during his funeral procession in Lebanon's capital on January 4, 2024. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
Mourners carry the coffin of Hamas' terror chief Saleh al-Arouri during his funeral procession in Lebanon's capital on January 4, 2024. (ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

Over 1,000 people attend the funeral procession of Hamas terror chief Saleh al-Arouri who was assassinated in an alleged Israeli airstrike along with five others in Beirut on Tuesday.

Arouri is being buried with two others killed in the Shatila refugee camp, which was targeted in a 1982 massacre by Israeli-backed Lebanese Christian Phalangists.

Mourners are heard calling on Hamas to avenge Arouri’s death as they gathered at a mosque to recite the prayer of the dead before marching to Shatila refugee camp.

The coffins of the three, Arouri, Azzam al-Aqraa of the Hamas military wing Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, and Mohammad al-Rais, were draped in Palestinian and Hamas flags.

A machine gun is laid on top of each coffin and heavy gunfire rang out as the funeral procession made its way to the cemetery, drowning out chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) by mourners waving Palestinian flags and those of Hamas terror ally Islamic Jihad.

“Abu Obeida, bomb Tel Aviv,” the mourners shouted, addressing the Gaza spokesman of the Hamas military wing by his nom de guerre.

“The assassination of Saleh al-Aruri and of any other Palestinian is a failed act because the resistance will continue to produce new leaders,” one of the mourners, Oman Ghannum, tells AFP.

IDF says it carried out strikes on Hezbollah sites in south Lebanon

An IDF airstrike in Lebanon against Hezbollah targets on January 4, 2024. (Screen capture/X)
An IDF airstrike in Lebanon against Hezbollah targets on January 4, 2024. (Screen capture/X)

The IDF says a fighter jet carried out airstrikes on several Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon a short while ago.

The targets included a rocket launch position, an observation post, and other infrastructure used by the terror group, according to the IDF.

Another Hezbollah observation post was hit by the IDF in the south Lebanon village of Maroun el-Ras, it adds.

The IDF says troops also opened fire to “remove a threat” in the area of Ayta ash-Shab, close to the Israeli border.

Hezbollah meanwhile launched several projectiles at Manara and Misgav Am in the last hour. The IDF says it is shelling the launch sites with artillery.

UK foreign minister: Houthis’ Red Sea attacks must stop

This handout satellite picture released by Maxar Technologies on November 28, 2023, shows the recently seized Israeli-linked Galaxy Leader ship, that was captured by Houthi fighters on November 19, next to a support vessel in the southern Red Sea near Hodeida, Yemen. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies/AFP)
This handout satellite picture released by Maxar Technologies on November 28, 2023, shows the recently seized Israeli-linked Galaxy Leader ship, that was captured by Houthi fighters on November 19, next to a support vessel in the southern Red Sea near Hodeida, Yemen. (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies/AFP)

Attacks by Houthi rebels in Red Sea shipping lanes have to stop, otherwise international action will be taken, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron says.

When asked, Cameron declines to specify what action Britain would take.

“This is illegal. It’s not to do with Gaza, it’s not to do with Israel. This is about the freedom of navigation. This is about the ability of ships to carry their cargo,” he tells reporters during a trip to Kosovo.

“The world economy, every economy, will suffer if ships keep coming under attack in this illegal and unacceptable way. And these attacks need to stop or actions will be taken.”

Qatar and Kuwait join condemnations of Ben Gvir and Smotrich for advocating displacement of Gazans

L-R: MKs Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich at a rally of their Religious Zionism party in the southern city of Sderot on October 26, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen / AFP)
L-R: MKs Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich at a rally of their Religious Zionism party in the southern city of Sderot on October 26, 2022. (Gil Cohen-Magen / AFP)

Qatar and Kuwait join the chorus of condemnations of two Israeli ministers calling for encouraging Palestinians to emigrate from the Gaza Strip.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Monday called for promoting “a solution to encourage the emigration of Gaza’s residents” and the re-establishment of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, a day after far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich made similar comments.

Qatar, which played a mediating role in the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas at the end of November, “condemned in the strongest terms” the comments made by the two ministers.

“The policy of collective punishment and forced displacement practised by the occupation authorities against the inhabitants of Gaza will not change the fact that Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian,” reads a statement published by Qatar’s foreign ministry.

Kuwait warns against “Israeli plans to displace Gaza residents in particular, and the Palestinian people in general.”

The United States, France and the European Union have also denounced the comments.

Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says war death toll at 22,438

Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Gaza Strip outside a morgue in Khan Younis on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)
Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Gaza Strip outside a morgue in Khan Younis on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says at least 22,438 people have been killed in the Strip since the war between Hamas and Israel erupted on October 7.

A ministry statement records 125 fatalities over the past 24 hours, while a total of 57,614 people have been wounded in the fighting.

The Hamas figure doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants and includes Palestinians killed by errant rocket fire from Gaza. Israel says it has killed 8,500 terrorists since launching its war.

IDF says it killed senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza airstrike

Senior Islamic Jihad official Mamdouh Lulu, killed in an Israeli airstrike on January 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Senior Islamic Jihad official Mamdouh Lulu, killed in an Israeli airstrike on January 4, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says it has eliminated a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander in an airstrike in the Gaza Strip.

In a joint statement with the Shin Bet, the IDF says Mamdouh Lulu served as an assistant to the commanders of the Islamic Jihad’s northern Gaza division.

The statement says Lulu also maintained contact with Islamic Jihad officials abroad.

“Lulu was a central figure in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, initiating and leading numerous terror attacks and assaults from Gaza against the State of Israel, routinely and during the war,” the joint statement adds.

The IDF releases footage showing the strike.

High Court urges ministers to reverse decision to fire postal chief, suggesting move politically motivated

Likud members (L-R) Shlomo Karhi, David Bitan and David Amsalem attend a committee meeting at the Knesset on November 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud members (L-R) Shlomo Karhi, David Bitan and David Amsalem attend a committee meeting at the Knesset on November 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice recommends to cabinet ministers Shlomo Karhi and David Amsalem that they reverse their decision to fire Israel Postal Company chairman Mishael Vaknin, warning the two that the court would compel them to do so if they failed to comply.

Justices Isaac Amit, Chaled Kabub and David Mintz express skepticism over the reasons for Vaknin’s dismissal, with Kabub heavily implying that it was a political decision and not one based on professional considerations.

“The law for government companies has existed for 50 years, ministers have appointed directors, and never has one been fired. When you look at the sequence of events, the suspicion arises that the ministers removed a chairman who was appointed by the previous minister with a strong basis [for doing so],” says Kabub during Thursday’s hearing, according to a Ynet report.

In September, the High Court froze Karhi and Amsalem’s decision to fire Vaknin following arguments by Vaknin’s lawyers that he was fired for political reasons, and in light of the refusal of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to support the ministers’ decision.

Harvard taps Jewish provost who lamented school’s failure to denounce Hamas as interim president

Harvard Provost Alan Garber confers degrees in a virtual ceremony honoring the Class of 2021 on May 27, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Harvard Provost Alan Garber confers degrees in a virtual ceremony honoring the Class of 2021 on May 27, 2021. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Harvard has named its provost and professor Alan Garber as its interim president following the resignation of Claudine Gay.

Gay stepped aside yesterday amid plagiarism accusations and criticism over her testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say unequivocally that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.

Garber, who is Jewish, teaches courses on healthcare policy, economics, public policy, health policy and management at various Harvard schools and departments.

In a November interview with the Harvard Crimson, Garber lamented the school’s initial statement on Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, which failed to condemn the terror group and did not comment on a letter signed by over 30 Harvard student groups that said Israel was “entirely responsible” for the violence.

“I certainly have regrets about the first statement,” he told the Crimson. “Our goal is to ensure that our community is safe, secure, and feels well supported — and that first statement did not succeed in that regard.”

He noted that a subsequent statement issued by Gay condemning Hamas’s “terrorist atrocities” was “important in rectifying some of the misimpressions that we created with that first statement.”

Garber will serve as president “until a new leader for Harvard is identified and takes office,” the Harvard Corporation says.

Gallant tells US envoy Amos Hochstein there is a ‘short window’ to reach deal with Hezbollah

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) meets US special envoy to the region Amos Hochstein at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) meets US special envoy to the region Amos Hochstein at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tells US special envoy to the region Amos Hochstein that there is “a short window of time for diplomatic understandings” to be reached with Hezbollah, as the Lebanese terror group carries out daily attacks on northern Israel.

“There is only one possible result — a new reality in the northern arena, which will enable the secure return of our citizens,” Gallant says to Hochstein, according to remarks provided by his office, referring to residents of the northern border area who were displaced by the attacks.

“Yet we find ourselves at a junction. There is a short window of time for diplomatic understandings, which we prefer. We will not tolerate the threats posed by the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah and we will ensure the security of our citizens,” he adds.

Gallant’s meeting with Hochstein at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv was also attended by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Herzog, and other senior defense officials.

The Defense Ministry says Hochstein was briefed on “the security situation on Israel’s northern border and the conditions required by the defense establishment to facilitate the secure return of Israel’s northern communities to their homes in the region.”

“Gallant reflected the determination of Israel’s defense establishment to change the security reality in northern Israel and along the border with Lebanon, and emphasized the top priority of enabling over 80,000 displaced Israelis to return to their homes,” his office says.

Gallant’s office adds that the defense minister expressed his appreciation to Hochstein for “his work in the region and for reflecting the United States’ and US President Biden’s commitment to the security of the State of Israel.”

Israeli artists sign onto letter opposing ‘dehumanization of Gazans, Palestinians, Israelis, Jews’

Author David Grossman speaks at a protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, outside the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on April 1, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Author David Grossman speaks at a protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, outside the President's Residence in Jerusalem, on April 1, 2023. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

A range of Israeli artists and other figures have signed onto a statement issued by Amnesty International Israel opposing the “dehumanization of Gazans, Palestinians and Muslims, and the dehumanization of Israelis and Jews in general.”

The signatories include singer Achinoam Nini, actor Ala Dakka, author David Grossman, film director Nadav Lapid and a range of others.

The letter criticizes the “disturbing trend” in the West of “dehumanizing Israelis, and, sometimes, Jews. This serves to rationalize killing them or violating their rights,” as well as the arenas in which “dehumanization of Palestinians in general and Gazans in particular is common, mainly expressed by associating all Gazans with Hamas. This association is used by them to rationalize indiscriminate killing and denial of humanitarian aid.”

US military source confirms it killed Iraqi paramilitary leader in drone strike

Ambulances line up in front of a building used by the the Iraqi militia group Hezbollah al-Nujaba after it was hit by an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Ambulances line up in front of a building used by the the Iraqi militia group Hezbollah al-Nujaba after it was hit by an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The US military has carried out a strike in Baghdad against an Iraqi paramilitary leader it blames for attacks against US forces in the country, killing him and another person, a US official tells Reuters.

The US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the strike hit a vehicle in Baghdad. It targeted a leader of Harakat al Nujaba, the official says, without naming the person.

UN says it is ‘very disturbed’ by Smotrich, Ben Gvir’s call for Palestinians to leave Gaza

Palestinians wait at the Rafah border crossing in Egypt after being evacuated from the Gaza Strip, on December 26, 2023. (AFP)
Palestinians wait at the Rafah border crossing in Egypt after being evacuated from the Gaza Strip, on December 26, 2023. (AFP)

UN human rights chief Volker Turk says he is “very disturbed” after comments by far-right Israeli ministers calling for Palestinians to leave Gaza.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called this week for promoting “a solution to encourage the emigration of Gaza’s residents” and the re-establishment of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. His comments came the day after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also called for the return of Israeli settlers to Gaza, adding that Israel should “encourage” the territory’s approximately 2.4 million Palestinians to leave.

“Very disturbed by high-level Israeli officials’ statements on plans to transfer civilians from Gaza to third countries,” Turk writes on X, adding that “international law prohibits forcible transfer of protected persons within or deportation from occupied territory.”

Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor the cabinet as a whole have officially suggested plans to evict Gazans or to send Jewish settlers back to the territory since the war broke out in October, and Israeli officials have rejected reports that it is pursuing such aims.

After report of US pressure, Smotrich repeats refusal to transfer ‘single shekel’ of tax funds to PA for Gaza

Finance Minister and head of the Religious Zionism Party Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Minister and head of the Religious Zionism Party Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hard-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich reiterates his refusal to allow the transfer of Palestinian tax funds to Gaza, telling public broadcaster Kan that he “appreciates the support of the United States and President [Joe] Biden very much but as long as I am the finance minister, we will not transfer a single shekel to the Palestinian Authority that will go to the families of the terrorists and Nazis in Gaza.”

Israel recently warned it will not allow the PA to transfer funds earmarked for services and salaries in the Gaza Strip, alleging the money could reach Hamas while Israel is at war with the terror group.

Smotrich’s comment comes in response to a report that the White House is pressuring Israel to release the funds, warning the government that continuing to withhold the monthly tax revenues it collects on Ramallah’s behalf could lead to the collapse of the PA.

An Israeli official tells Kan that the US has been sending the message that “this must happen, otherwise the authority will collapse financially. We must find a solution… these funds need to be released to the Palestinian people. They benefit the Palestinian people and help stabilize the situation in Judea and Samaria, which also benefits Israel.”

Last week Biden reportedly took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to task over the issue during what was described as a “frustrating” phone call by US news site Axios.

IDF still operating in West Bank’s Nur Shams more than 30 hours after start of operation

Smoke rises above buildings in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, during an ongoing IDF raid on January 4, 2024. (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)
Smoke rises above buildings in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank, during an ongoing IDF raid on January 4, 2024. (Zain JAAFAR / AFP)

The IDF says it is continuing a counter-terror operation in the West Bank’s Nur Shams refugee camp that began more than 30 hours ago.

So far, it says troops have questioned hundreds of suspects in the camp near Tulkarem, although only some of them have been arrested.

The IDF says troops also seized several weapons during the raid.

In all, across the West Bank, the IDF says it arrested 29 wanted Palestinians in overnight raids.

Since October 7, troops have arrested more than 2,600 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,300 affiliated with Hamas, according to the IDF.

Troops in south Gaza have killed many gunmen, significantly damaged Hamas control in Khan Younis – IDF

IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2024. (IDF)
IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2024. (IDF)

The IDF says reservists of the Kiryati Armored Brigade and 55th Paratroopers Brigade operating in southern Gaza have killed many Hamas fighters of the terror group’s northern and eastern Khan Younis battalions, and significantly damaged their command and control, preventing operatives from carrying out large-scale attacks on troops.

The IDF releases footage of the two reserve brigades operating in the Khan Younis area, killing Hamas gunmen in tunnels and detaining operatives of the terror group’s elite Nukhba force.

The commander of the Kiryati Brigade, Col. Mickey Sharvit, says that in their area of operations “there is no innocent infrastructure.”

“We encounter terror in almost every home, in hospitals and schools. Our forces even eliminated terrorists who emerged from an underground [tunnel] in a school,” he says.

The IDF says the reservist troops located and destroyed a Hamas tunnel shaft leading to an underground passage of several hundred meters in the Khan Younis area.

Sharvit says some 20 Hamas operatives, including a company commander, were killed by the IDF inside the tunnel.

Five members of the terror group’s elite Nukhba force escaped the tunnel and surrendered to troops, according to the IDF.

The IDF says the gunmen who surrendered told field interrogators that strikes on underground Hamas hideouts in the area killed many operatives, including two company commanders in Hamas’s northern and eastern Khan Younis battalions.

The commander of the 55th Brigade, Col. Oded Ziman, meanwhile, hails the “extraordinary” cooperation with the Israeli Air Force.

“As a brigade commander I never dreamed of such good and fast cooperation,” Ziman says, recalling an incident this morning in which an attack helicopter provided air support within two minutes of radioing in the request.

Iraqi PM slams ‘unjustified’ attack on paramilitary force, blames US-led coalition

Ambulances line up in front of a building used by the the Iraqi militia group Hezbollah al-Nujaba after it was hit by an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Ambulances line up in front of a building used by the the Iraqi militia group Hezbollah al-Nujaba after it was hit by an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Iraq says that the US-led international coalition bears responsibility for an “unjustified” attack today on an Iraqi security force, according to the prime minister’s office.

“The attack is a dangerous escalation and a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty,” the office says.

IDF says it struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon after missiles fired at Israel

A picture taken from northern Israel shows smoke billowing from across the border in south Lebanon on January 3, 2024. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
A picture taken from northern Israel shows smoke billowing from across the border in south Lebanon on January 3, 2024. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

The IDF says a fighter jet struck a Hezbollah observation position and military site in southern Lebanon’s Maroun el-Ras, amid repeated cross-border attacks carried out by the terror group.

Shortly after the strike, troops struck an anti-tank missile squad in the area, the IDF adds.

Overnight, the IDF says, troops launched mortars “to remove a threat” in the area of the southern Lebanese village of Rab el-Thalathine.

This morning, Hezbollah fired several projectiles at northern Israel, near Shtula, Arab al-Aramshe, Manara, and Metula. The IDF does not report any injuries in the attacks.

Iraqi pro-Iran paramilitary force says its senior commander killed in US drone strike

Ambulances line up in front of a building used by the the Iraqi militia group Hezbollah al-Nujaba after it was hit by an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
Ambulances line up in front of a building used by the the Iraqi militia group Hezbollah al-Nujaba after it was hit by an airstrike in Baghdad, Iraq, January 4, 2024. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

A “US strike” in Baghdad killed a commander of the Hashed al-Shaabi, the paramilitary force says, with an Iraqi security official reporting two deaths in a drone attack.

“A drone targeted the logistical support headquarters of Hashed al-Shaabi,” which are pro-Iranian paramilitary units largely integrated into the Iraqi armed forces, the security official says.

The strike killed “two members and wounded seven others,” says the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A Hashed source, also asking not to be named, confirms the death toll and charges that the United States was behind the attack.

Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the Hashed’s factions, says in a statement that “the deputy commander of operations for Baghdad, Mushtaq Talib al-Saidi” has been “martyred in a US strike.”

WSJ: Russia moving ahead with plan to buy Iranian ballistic missiles

A handout picture from Iran's Defense Ministry shows a 4th generation Khorramshahr ballistic missile being launched at an undisclosed location in Iran, May 25, 2023. (AFP)
A handout picture from Iran's Defense Ministry shows a 4th generation Khorramshahr ballistic missile being launched at an undisclosed location in Iran, May 25, 2023. (AFP)

Russia is planning to buy short-range ballistic missiles from Iran, a step that would enhance Moscow’s ability to target Ukraine’s infrastructure, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing US officials.

Last year, the White House said it was seeing more indications that Russia and Iran were expanding an unprecedented defense partnership that would help Moscow prolong its war in Ukraine as well as pose a threat to Iran’s neighbors.

In a call last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for “the dangerous cooperation between Russia and Iran,” according to the Israeli readout.

IDF intelligence chief tells new officers to always ‘voice your professional opinion’

Military Intelligence Directorate chief Maj. Gen Aharon Haliva speaks at an intelligence officers' graduation ceremony, January 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Military Intelligence Directorate chief Maj. Gen Aharon Haliva speaks at an intelligence officers' graduation ceremony, January 3, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Speaking at an intelligence officers’ graduation ceremony, the chief of the Military Intelligence Directorate says the IDF’s intelligence is enabling “widespread blows against our enemies, from Gaza to Iran.”

“For almost 90 days the State of Israel and the IDF have been in a multi-front war. The IDF, including the Military Intelligence Directorate, is operating in all the arenas and fronts, in defense and offense,” says Maj. Gen Aharon Haliva. “The IDF’s activity, in all dimensions of combat, is based on intelligence.”

“The high-quality and rich intelligence that the Military Intelligence Directorate provides saves the lives of many soldiers every day who risk their lives in the field, and results in widespread blows against our enemies from Gaza to Iran, in all arenas in the face of complex challenges,” Haliva says.

“This is not an easy campaign. It will take time. But we will achieve the goals. We have the strength, the power, and the ability. And we have you; you are the most valuable and important asset we have,” he continues.

Amid reports that senior intelligence officers ignored had warnings by lower-ranking soldiers about Hamas’s planned October 7 onslaught, Haliva says: “I expect you to voice your professional opinion, always. Everywhere, in front of every echelon and every rank. Even if it is different, critical, and disagreeable.”

“You, all of you, are the future generation of the Intelligence Directorate. The ones who will apply the lessons of war, will pass them on and will do everything, so that such an event never happens again. Learn from the mistakes and remember to keep the good things,” he says.

Saudis join condemnation of Smotrich, Ben Gvir for advocating displacement of Gazans

Far-right leaders Itamar Ben Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Far-right leaders Itamar Ben Gvir (L) and Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Saudi Arabia rejects “extremist remarks” by two Israeli ministers who called for the displacement of Gaza’s population, the reoccupation of the Strip and the construction of settlements there, the foreign ministry says in a statement.

Far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir have both made comments to this effect in recent days, garnering a wave of criticism from the international community as well as from within the Israeli government.

Outrage after religious newsletter publishes caricature of Hayut stabbing soldier

A cartoon in the Shvi'i magazine depicting Supreme Court of Justice President Esther Haut standing with a flag with the justice symbol impaled in an IDF soldier, on January 4, 2024. (Shvi'i:  used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A cartoon in the Shvi'i magazine depicting Supreme Court of Justice President Esther Haut standing with a flag with the justice symbol impaled in an IDF soldier, on January 4, 2024. (Shvi'i: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The court system as well as several lawmakers slam a weekly publication aimed at the religious community for a caricature depicting the former Supreme Court president stabbing an IDF soldier with a flag.

The Shvi’i free weekly newsletter — often distributed in synagogues — prints a cartoon drawn by Or Reichert showing former Supreme Court president Esther Hayut impaling a dead IDF soldier with the flag of the courts system — presumably in response to the court’s ruling this week striking down the “reasonableness” clause. Some have criticized the top court for issuing the contentious ruling during a time of war.

In response to a wave of outrage against the caricature, Reichert writes that he is merely “criticizing the authorities.”

The courts system issues a statement that the caricature is “suspected incitement to violence” and calls for the newsletter to remove it.

National Unity MK Matan Kahana writes on X that the cartoon is “one of the lowest things I’ve seen lately.”

COGAT again slams UN for ‘stalling’ entry of aid to Gaza and ‘avoiding the facts’

An aid truck on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing waits to cross into the southern Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023. (AFP)
An aid truck on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing waits to cross into the southern Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023. (AFP)

The Defense Ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs again accuses the United Nations of not doing enough to process humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

“You can’t keep avoiding the facts: There is no collective punishment. 2 crossings are open. You said you can transfer 200 trucks a day in Kerem Shalom, yet you’re not scraping 100,” says COGAT in a post on X, responding to claims by Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, who says “the Palestinian people subjected to collective punishment with too little humanitarian aid allowed in.”

“Over the last 80 days, we’ve adjusted ourselves, all you’ve been doing is stalling,” COGAT adds.

Prior to Hamas’s shock assault on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent war with the Gaza terror group, around 500 trucks of humanitarian aid would enter Gaza on a daily basis, primarily through Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.

However, following the terror onslaught, Israel had permitted aid to enter Gaza only via Egypt’s Rafah Crossing after each individual truck is inspected. In a bid to facilitate an increase in the number of aid trucks that can enter Gaza each day, Israel recently also reopened Kerem Shalom Crossing for the transfer of aid.

Drone strike in Baghdad kills at least two Iran-affiliated operatives – sources

At least two Iranian-backed paramilitary operatives were killed and five others wounded in a drone strike that targeted Iran-backed militia headquarters in eastern Baghdad, police and security sources say.

The sources say they have no further details regarding who might have carried out the strike.

Health Ministry says contrary to reports, suicides have dropped since Oct. 7

The Health Ministry issues a statement denying a report that claimed suicides had increased in Israel since October 7, saying that the data actually shows the opposite.

The ministry says that “in contrast to the rumors and reports in the news and on social media, the figures do not show a rise but actually show a drop in suicides in Israel from the months of October to December in comparison to past years, including the period of COVID.” It did not provide the exact figures.

The monthly average seen in the past few months is lower than the overall monthly average, the ministry says, citing data collected by the Institute of Forensic Medicine. It notes that this phenomenon has been seen in both Israel and the world during “times of war and disasters, and is explained by social cohesion during times of emergency.”

Dr. Gilad Bodenheimer, head of mental health services at the Health Ministry, says in a statement that the data showing no rise in suicides “does not minimize the difficulty we are all experiencing, but strengthens the understanding that our psyche knows how to muster forces for survival and coping.”

China criticizes attacks on vessels in Red Sea without mentioning Houthis

An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Eilat on December 26, 2023. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
An Israeli navy missile boat patrols in the Red Sea off the coast of Eilat on December 26, 2023. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

China calls the Red Sea an important shipping lane for the international goods and energy trade, and says it is of common interest to safeguard its peace and stability.

“China opposes attacks against civilian vessels. I believe all sides need to play a constructive and responsible role in safeguarding the security of shipping lanes in the Red Sea,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin says during a regular news briefing.

Wenbin does not specifically mention the Houthis, the Yemenite rebel group responsible for a series of attacks on vessels traveling through the Red Sea in recent months, which claims its attacks are a response to the Israel-Hamas war.

Fighting intensifies in southern, central Gaza as IDF strikes several Hamas anti-tank squads

IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2024. (IDF)
IDF troops seen operating inside the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 4, 2024. (IDF)

The IDF says it struck several Hamas anti-tank squads in Gaza over the past day, as fighting intensifies in the southern and central parts of the Strip.

In Khan Younis, the IDF says, reservists of the Kiryati Brigade directed an Israeli Air Force aircraft to strike three Hamas operatives attempting to plant a bomb near the forces.

The troops killed another two Hamas gunmen hiding in a nearby building, according to the IDF.

An IAF fighter jet also hit a Hamas weapons depot in Khan Younis, the IDF adds.

Also in southern Gaza, the IDF says Hamas operatives fired anti-tank missiles at the 7th Armored Brigade, and a short while later, an IAF aircraft struck the cell behind the attack and the launch position.

In central Gaza’s Deir al Balah, the IDF says the 98th Division directed an airstrike on a building used by Hamas as an anti-tank missile launch position.

An IAF fighter jet hit the launch site, as well as two more buildings in the area where some of the operatives fled, it says.

The IDF says another Hamas operative who arrived later to search the area for weapons was hit in a separate airstrike.

In al-Bureij, also in central Gaza, the IDF says troops of the Golani Brigade located several long-range rocket launchers.

Meanwhile, the Navy has continued to carry out strikes along Gaza’s coast, aiding the ground forces. The IDF says Navy strikes over the past day killed a number of Hamas operatives attempting to ambush ground forces.

Report: Hamas used office where Arouri was killed for 1st time this week since Oct. 7

Investigators stand in an apartment building where an alleged Israeli strike killed top Hamas terror chief Saleh Arouri, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 3, 2024. (AP/Hussein Malla)
Investigators stand in an apartment building where an alleged Israeli strike killed top Hamas terror chief Saleh Arouri, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 3, 2024. (AP/Hussein Malla)

According to a report in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar news outlet, the location where Hamas official Saleh Al-Arouri was assassinated in Beirut was a known Hamas office that the terror group abandoned in the wake of its October 7 attack on Israel.

The news outlet claims that the apartment building where the strike occurred had not been used by Hamas officials between that date and Tuesday, when Arouri entered the office after a period of travel in Qatar and Turkey, and was killed in a purported Israeli assassination.

The report also says that an investigation into the strike notes that relatively small missiles were used but they carried “highly explosive materials,” and were “not of the type used to demolish the building, but rather to kill those in it.”

Likud minister slams Smotrich, Ben Gvir: Emigration of Gazans not ‘realistic,’ no reason to discuss publicly

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar arrives at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar arrives at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud’s Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar speaks out against comments by fellow ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir, who have pushed for “voluntary emigration” of Gazans to other countries.

“It’s not realistic, and it’s clear that the international community will not accept it… with things like this, even if you have a belief or a goal like this, it can be discussed and debated behind closed doors,” says Zohar in an interview with Ynet.

Zohar also says that “it’s clear that there is nobody in Israel who wouldn’t be happy if Gazans decided to emigrate voluntarily if they were happy to leave,” but notes that it is not remotely realistic and not helpful to discuss publicly.

He continues that “even if we believe in a topic like this, we need to have a deeper discussion and investigate it before we make it public — and we see the repercussions, we see what happened with the Americans,” he says, referring to US condemnation of public comments by Smotrich and Ben Gvir pushing for the resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza.

Family of hostage killed in failed rescue attempt: ‘We were afraid this would happen’

Sahar Baruch, who was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 from Kibbutz Be'eri, and later confirmed dead. (Courtesy)
Sahar Baruch, who was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 from Kibbutz Be'eri, and later confirmed dead. (Courtesy)

The family of Sahar Baruch, the Israeli hostage killed in a failed IDF rescue attempt, says they were afraid his life would end in such a manner after he was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7.

His aunt Merav Barkai tells 103 FM radio that there is a “terrible sense of missed opportunity… when we received the notification that he had been killed, it could have been a different notification. This was a rescue attempt; we were so close to being there.”

“We were scared from the beginning that there would be a military attempt to rescue him and it would end this way,” she adds. “It’s incredibly sad and difficult. Hostages were freed, people left there alive, we felt like we were close, just a step away from that embrace. On October 7 we lost my mother and Edan, Sahar’s brother. It is a sense of loss we should not have to feel.”

She notes that the family is sad to hear that IDF soldiers were wounded in the attempt to rescue Baruch, and that while they desperately want to retrieve his body for burial, it should “not come at the price of human life.”

The IDF said yesterday that it does not know if Baruch was murdered by Hamas or killed by Israeli fire during the failed hostage rescue on December 8.

Air raid sirens sound in Ashkelon and surrounding communities

Air raid sirens sound in Ashkelon and surrounding communities near the northern Gaza Strip, after about 15 hours of silence in the area.

The Ashkelon municipality later said there were two Iron Dome interceptions over the city.

Iran revises death toll from explosions near Soleimani’s grave down to 84

Iranian emergency services arrive at the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Guards general Qasem Soleimani, near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in the southern Iranian city of Kerman on January 3, 2024. (MEHR NEWS / AFP)
Iranian emergency services arrive at the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Guards general Qasem Soleimani, near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in the southern Iranian city of Kerman on January 3, 2024. (MEHR NEWS / AFP)

Two bombs exploded and killed at least 84 people at a commemoration for a prominent Iranian general slain by the US in a 2020 drone strike, Iranian officials say, revising the death toll down again following updates.

An earlier death toll of 103 was twice revised lower after officials realized that some names had been repeated on a list of victims and due to the severity of wounds suffered by some of the dead, health authorities say. Many of the wounded were in critical condition, however, so the death toll could rise.

The explosions struck minutes apart yesterday, shaking the city of Kerman, at the grave of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps General Qassem Soleimani. The second blast sprayed shrapnel into a screaming crowd fleeing the first explosion.

Report: Majority of those IDF counts as Haredi recruits don’t define themselves as part of sector

Haredi men who decided to join the military amid the war between Israel and Hamas, at the IDF recruiting offices in Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv, October 23, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Haredi men who decided to join the military amid the war between Israel and Hamas, at the IDF recruiting offices in Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv, October 23, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

According to a Kan public radio report, the vast majority of IDF enlistees considered to be Haredi by the military do not identify themselves that way.

The report says that around 70% of those included in figures provided by the military over Haredi enlistment define themselves as not belonging to the sector, with most saying that they consider themselves ex-Haredi and many calling themselves secular.

Last year the IDF said about 9% of graduates from Haredi educational institutions enlisted in the IDF, but the new report suggests that most of those would not consider themselves ultra-Orthodox today.

A few thousand members of the community were said to volunteer for military duty in the wake of the October 7 attacks.

Jewish-owned Toronto deli set ablaze in suspected antisemitic arson attack

Toronto Police officers walk the scene at Danforth St. at the scene of a shooting in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 23, 2018.
(AFP /Cole BURSTON)
Illustrative: Toronto Police officers patrol in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 23, 2018. (AFP /Cole BURSTON)

A Jewish-owned delicatessen in Toronto was set alight yesterday in what police are investigating as a hate crime.

Firefighters were alerted to a blaze inside International Delicatessen Foods, located in the north of Canada’s largest city. No one was injured, according to Toronto media reports.

Graffiti reading “Free Palestine” had been painted on the doors of the establishment.

The business was named in local media as “International Deli Foods,” with a large red sign above the door reading IDF.

Toronto Police Staff Superintendent Pauline Gray says the arson attack was a crime and could not be considered a lawful protest.

“It’s criminal. It’s violent, targeted and organized. We’ll use all resources available to investigate, arrest and prosecute those who are responsible for this,” she says.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow posts on social media that “acts of antisemitism, hate and violence are not welcome here.”

Hezbollah names four of its members killed in Israeli airstrike in south Lebanon

A picture taken from northern Israel shows smoke billowing from across the border in south Lebanon on January 3, 2024. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)
A picture taken from northern Israel shows smoke billowing from across the border in south Lebanon on January 3, 2024. (Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Hezbollah names four of its operatives who it says were killed in an overnight Israeli airstrike in south Lebanon, according to media reports.

That would bring the total of Hezbollah members the group says have been killed since the start of the Israel-Hamas war last year to 151 — mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria.

The four were named in foreign outlets as Hussein Hadi Yazbek — a senior official in the terror group — as well as Ibrahim Pahtz, Hadi Racha and Hossein Ghazala.

Report: Despite rhetoric, Khamenei practicing ‘strategic patience,’ avoiding escalation with US, Israel

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressing an audience from Kerman and Khuzestan in Tehran, December 23, 2023. (Khamenei.ir/AFP)
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressing an audience from Kerman and Khuzestan in Tehran, December 23, 2023. (Khamenei.ir/AFP)

Despite his raging rhetoric, a report in The New York Times suggests that Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not seeking a military escalation with either the US or Israel.

Citing two people “familiar with Iran’s internal discussions,” the report says that Khamenei has been ordering his military chiefs to practice “strategic patience” and avoid any major escalation with the US, including limiting proxy attacks on US military bases in Syria and Iraq as well as minimizing responses to any purported Israeli operations inside Iran.

The report also says that while intelligence does not point to Israeli involvement in the deadly blast yesterday at the grave of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the country’s leaders have made a decision to hold Israel publicly responsible for the attack no matter the evidence — and even if another group claims responsibility.

Protesters calling for Gaza ceasefire disrupt 1st day of California legislative session

Protesters calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war stand and sing in the Assembly chamber of the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024. The Assembly adjourned shortly after the protest began. (AP/Adam Beam)
Protesters calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war stand and sing in the Assembly chamber of the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024. The Assembly adjourned shortly after the protest began. (AP/Adam Beam)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Hundreds of protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza interrupted the first day of California’s legislative session on Wednesday, forcing the state Assembly to adjourn just moments after convening.

Lawmakers had just listened to the opening prayer and said the Pledge of Allegiance when protesters wearing matching black t-shirts stood from their seats and started singing “Ceasefire now” and “Let Gaza live.”

A few people unfurled banners from the chamber’s gallery that read: “Jews say never again for anyone.”

At first, Jim Wood, a Democratic assemblymember from Healdsburg who was presiding over the session, tried to continue the session despite the singing. Eventually though he called for a recess and adjourned a few minutes later.

Nearly all of the lawmakers left the floor. Protesters cheered when officials turned the lights off in the chamber, holding up the flashlights on their phones as they continued to sing.

Wednesday’s protest was organized by groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. In addition to singing, protesters engaged in a lengthy call-and-response chant from the gallery.

“We are Jews and Californians, assembly members, we call on you to join us in demanding a ceasefire now,” they said.

Democratic Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas’ office declined to comment. Assemblymember James Gallagher, the Republican leader, said the protesters obstructed their work.

“Look, we’re trying to open up our session. Granted, we probably didn’t have a whole lot of, you know, big business to do today. But if the objective is to shut down the government functions, I don’t think that’s a good way to go about getting your message across,” he said. “We can’t let them shut us down. We have to go about our business. We have big pressing issues this year.”

Across the country, it was a day of multiple disruptions at state capitols. A bomb threat emailed to officials in several states prompted evacuations of statehouse offices or buildings in Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi and Montana.

The election-year legislative session in California will likely be dominated by decisions on artificial intelligence and the state’s struggling budget.

The budget is a big issue every year in California, which is the nation’s most populous state and has an economy larger than that of all but four countries. But this year, lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will have to figure out how to cover an estimated $68 billion deficit — a shortfall that is larger than the entire operating budgets of many states.

And with many California companies at the forefront of the artificial intelligence boom, a number of state lawmakers are eyeing ways to govern the use of the technology before it dominates daily life — much like social media.

State Sen. Steve Padilla proposed a measure Wednesday to require California to establish safety, privacy, and nondiscrimination standards around generative AI tools and services. Those standards would eventually be used as qualifications in future state contracts. He also introduced a plan to create a state-run research center to further study the technology.

Assemblymember Akilah Weber said she’ll try to tackle “deepfakes” through a bill that would require labeling on AI-generated content.

But, as Wednesday’s protest showed, focus on the Israel-Hamas war is likely to continue throughout California’s legislative session.

On Wednesday, the Legislative Jewish Caucus sent a letter to state lawmakers calling for the creation of a committee to explore policy changes to protect the Jewish community.

“We cannot recall another time in recent history when Jews in California felt as targeted, threatened, and unsafe as they do now,” the letter, signed by 18 lawmakers, said.

EU’s top diplomat condemns ‘terrorist attack’ in call with Iran FM

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell offered his condolences to Iran after what he described as a “terrorist attack” that killed over 100 people during a call with Iran’s foreign minister.

Twin bomb blasts in southern Iran ripped through a crowd commemorating General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq exactly four years ago.

The attacks remain unclaimed but Iran has blamed Israel and the United States.

Borrell spoke to Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian “to convey condolences following the horrific bombings today in Kerman that killed dozens of civilians”, the EU’s foreign policy chief says on social media.

“I condemned this terrorist attack in the strongest terms and expressed solidarity with the Iranian people,” Borrell adds.

Iran has multiple foes who could be behind the assault, including exile groups, armed organizations and state actors. While Israel has carried out attacks in Iran over its nuclear program, it has conducted targeted assassinations, not mass casualty bombings. Sunni extremist groups, including the Islamic State group, have conducted large-scale attacks in the past that killed civilians in Shiite-majority Iran, though not in relatively peaceful Kerman.

Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional terror activities and is hailed as a national icon among supporters of Iran’s theocracy.

Soleimani, who led the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, was credited with helping arm, train and lead armed groups across the region, including the Shiite militias in Iraq, fighters in Syria and Yemen, the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, and Palestinian terror groups in the West Bank and Gaza.

Blinken to depart for Mideast today, include stop in Israel

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will depart on Thursday for the Middle East, including a stop in Israel, as the United States continues diplomatic consultations on the Israel-Hamas war, says a senior US official.

Blinken leaves Thursday night “for stops in a number of capitals, including Israel,” the official says. The official provides no further details.

The official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, also said US diplomatic envoy Amos Hochstein will also travel to Israel to work to soothe mounting tensions between Israel and Hezbollah.

US President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days as he works to improve access to Gaza for humanitarian aid and gain the release of hostages held by Hamas.

UN Security Council members call for Iran-backed Houthis to stop attacks on shipping

Members of the UN Security Council are calling on Yemen’s Houthis, backed by Iran, to halt their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, saying they threaten regional stability, global freedom of navigation and food supplies.

Addressing the council’s first formal meeting of 2024, members also demanded that the Houthis release Galaxy Leader, a Japanese-operated cargo ship linked to an Israeli company, and its crew, which the group seized on November 19.

The United States believes the situation has reached an “inflection point,” said Chris Lu, a US representative to the United Nations.

“These attacks pose grave implications for maritime security, international shipping and commerce, and they undermine the fragile humanitarian situation in Yemen,” threatening the delivery of aid, Lu said.

“The Security Council should not let this continue. In this regard, and in view of the urgency and the importance of the matter, Japan believes the Security Council should take an appropriate action to deter additional threats by the Houthis and maintain international peace and security,” Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kazuyuki Yamazaki, told the Council.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis said earlier they had “targeted” a container ship bound for Israel, a day after the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the group had fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles in the southern Red Sea.

The Houthis, who have launched more than 20 attacks on merchant ships in recent weeks, said they attacked the Malta-flagged freighter, believing it was headed for Israel. The ship was not hit.

The Houthis, who control much of impoverished Yemen and have been fighting a civil war since 2014, say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians because of Israel’s war on Hamas, following the terror group’s shock assault on Israel on October 7.

The Houthi attacks, centered on the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb southern chokepoint, have disrupted shipping in a waterway that carries about 12 percent of global trade.

In response to the attacks, the US set up a multinational naval task force to protect Red Sea shipping.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Senior adviser to Iran’s president blames US, Israel for twin blasts that killed 103

A senior adviser to Iran’s president blamed Israel and the United States for twin blasts that killed at least 103 people in the country’s south earlier today.

“Washington says USA and Israel had no role in terrorist attack in Kerman, Iran. Really? A fox smells its own lair first,” says Mohammad Jamshidi, an advisor to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

“Make no mistake. The responsibility for this crime lies with the US and Zionist regimes,” he claims, without proof.

A US official said the attacks today near the grave of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq exactly four years ago, “does look like a terrorist attack, the type of thing we’ve seen ISIS do in the past, and as far as we are aware that is kind of, I think, our going assumption at the moment.”

The ceremony was to commemorate Soleimani who was killed by a US drone in 2020 ordered by then-President Donald Trump.

No one has claimed responsibility for the explosions.

Biden official says US believes Hezbollah not seeking full-scale war with Israel

The US does not think Hezbollah is seeking to fully open up a new front against Israel after the IDF allegedly assassinated Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut yesterday, a senior Biden administration official says.

“I think from everything that we can tell, there is no clear desire from Hezbollah to go to war with Israel, and vice versa,” the senior administration official tells reporters on condition of anonymity.

The senior Biden official doesn’t go as far as to justify the alleged assassination but notes that the US had put a $5 million reward for information on Arouri, adding that senior members of Hamas “must be held accountable.”

The official also echoes an assertion made yesterday by one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesmen who ostensibly sought to convince Hezbollah not to respond by declaring that the assassination specifically targeted Hamas figures and was not an attack on the Iranian proxy or on Lebanon.

Asked about today’s deadly explosions in Iran near the grave of former Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani, the senior administration official says the attack was similar to ones carried out by the Islamic State in the past.

“That’s the going assumption at the moment.”

Explaining the impetus behind a US-led joint statement earlier today against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, the senior US official says that US President Joe Biden wanted to send “a very clear warning to the Houthis that they will bear the full consequences and responsibility for any further attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.”

“I would not anticipate another warning because this speaks very much for itself,” the official says.

US dispatching senior envoy Hochstein to cool simmering tensions on Lebanon border

US Senior Adviser for Energy Security Amos Hochstein arrives at at meeting in Beirut on July 31, 2022. (Anwar AMRO / AFP)
US Senior Adviser for Energy Security Amos Hochstein arrives at at meeting in Beirut on July 31, 2022. (Anwar AMRO / AFP)

Amos Hochstein, US President Joe Biden’s special envoy, is set to arrive in Israel tomorrow, a senior Biden administration official says, as the US intensifies its diplomatic engagement to lower tensions between Israel and Hezbollah.

Israeli officials plan to tell Hochstein that without a diplomatic agreement in place to shove Hezbollah away from the border, it won’t be able to return residents to northern towns, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

According to a report in Ynet earlier this week, Israel is hoping the agreement will lead to talks on setting an official border between the countries, which have only a ceasefire line and technically remain in a state of war.

Hochstein was heavily involved in shepherding talks that culminated in Israel and Lebanon demarcating a maritime border in 2022.

A senior Biden administration official briefing reporters says he just met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib and that the US has a “diplomatic effort underway to help resolve some of the tension” between Israel and Hezbollah, without elaborating further.

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