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

Biden says he’s prepared to return to Israel, give Knesset speech regarding war in Gaza

Illustrative: US Vice President Joe Biden delivers a eulogy at a memorial ceremony for former prime minister Ariel Sharon at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2014 (Haim Tzach/GPO)
Illustrative: US Vice President Joe Biden delivers a eulogy at a memorial ceremony for former prime minister Ariel Sharon at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 13, 2014 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

US President Joe Biden indicates that is he prepared to return to Israel and even speak before the Knesset.

Some left-leaning pundits have been urging Biden to take this step in order to bypass Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government and speak directly to the Israeli public about the US vision for ending the war in Gaza, starting with a hostage deal and extended truce followed by Arab stakeholders helping rehabilitate the Strip, a reformed Palestinian Authority returning to governing the enclave, Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel, the creation of a pathway toward a Palestinian state and the bolstering of broader regional alignment against Iran.

The MSNBC interviewer doesn’t get into these specifics, sufficing with asking Biden whether he would be prepared to return to Israel and address the Knesset.

“Yes,” Biden responds, without elaborating further.

Pressed on whether this would have to be at the invitation of Netanyahu or President Isaac Herzog, Biden responds, “I’d rather not discuss it more.”

Asked whether his initial response means that the idea of a Knesset speech has been discussed with his aides, the US president says, “It doesn’t mean anything.”

Biden: PM hurting more than helping Israel; Gaza death toll contrary to what Israel stands for

Palestinians sit in a vehicle loaded with sacks of humanitarian aid outside the distribution center of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. (AFP)
Palestinians sit in a vehicle loaded with sacks of humanitarian aid outside the distribution center of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2024. (AFP)

US President Joe Biden says in his MSNBC interview that he believes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” in how he is approaching its war against Hamas in Gaza.

The US leader reiterates his support for Israel’s right to pursue Hamas after the October 7 terror onslaught, but says Netanyahu “must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.”

Biden has for months warned that Israel risks losing international support over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, and these latest remarks point to the increasingly strained relationship between the two leaders.

Biden says of the death toll in Gaza, “It’s contrary to what Israel stands for. And I think it’s a big mistake.”

Biden says a potential Israeli invasion of the Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering, is “a red line” for him, but said he would not cut off weapons like the Iron Dome missile interceptors which protect the Israeli civilian populace from rocket attacks in the region.

Biden says IDF Rafah invasion a ‘red line,’ but asserts he’ll ‘never leave Israel’

US President Joe Biden is interviewed by MSNBC on March 9, 2024. (Screen capture/MSNBC)
US President Joe Biden is interviewed by MSNBC on March 9, 2024. (Screen capture/MSNBC)

US President Joe Biden says in an MSNBC interview that the Israeli planned major offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah would be a “red line,” before he seemingly backtracks and says, “I’m never going to leave Israel” and that “there’s no red line.”

In the somewhat contradictory exchange with his interviewer, Biden says “There cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead as a consequence of going after” Hamas.

Biden and his aides have urged Netanyahu in strong terms not to launch a major offensive in Rafah until Israel crafts a plan for mass evacuation of civilians from the last area of Gaza it has not yet invaded with ground forces. More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering in the Rafah area.

“There [are] other ways… to deal with … the trauma caused by Hamas,” Biden said, referring to the terror group’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 were kidnapped into Gaza.

Asked whether an Israeli invasion of Rafah would be a red line for him with Netanyahu, Biden said: “It is a red line, but I’m never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical. So there’s no red line (in which) I’m going to cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them.”

Biden insists, however, that Netanyahu “must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken.”

The US president reiterates his call for a six-week ceasefire for hostage releases and aid delivery.

Asked whether a ceasefire could still be reached before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins around March 10, Biden says: “I think it’s always possible. I never give up on that.”

Police launch probe after body of man found in car near northern city

Illustrative: Police at the scene of an apparent criminal shooting at the Re'im Parking Lot, near the border with the Gaza Strip, December 24, 2022. (Israel Police)
Illustrative: Police at the scene of an apparent criminal shooting at the Re'im Parking Lot, near the border with the Gaza Strip, December 24, 2022. (Israel Police)

Police say they opened an investigation after the body of a man was found in a car near the northern city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, just hours after two men were slain at a gas station in Arad in the south.

The anti-violence Abraham Initiatives watchdog says it is the 36th death due to violent crime in the Arab community since the start of the year. That compares with 29 deaths during the same period last year.

‘A disgrace and insult to IDF soldiers’: Lawmakers respond angrily to chief rabbi’s threat

Impassioned reactions are pouring in after the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said ultra-Orthodox citizens would leave the country if they are forced to be drafted into the army.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, chair of the centrist Yesh Atid party, says the comment “is a disgrace and insult to IDF soldiers who sacrifice their lives for the defense of the country.”

“Rabbi Yosef is a state employee, with a salary from the state — he cannot threaten the state,” he writes on X.

Avigdor Liberman, chair of Yisrael Beytenu, writes: “Without duties, there are no rights.”

“A shame that Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and the ultra-Orthodox hustlers continue to harm the security of Israel and act against halacha,” he says.

The coalition’s far-right Religious Zionism party says in a statement: “Drafting to the military: A good deed! We are grateful for the privilege of serving the people of Israel, learning Torah, and helping Israel in a time of need.”

“After two thousand years of exile, we will never leave our country. A community that is willing to pay with its life for the Land of Israel will not give it up under any conditions,” it says.

The ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party says that “army service is a huge privilege for a Jew who defends himself in his country and a great deed.”

Chief Sephardic rabbi says ultra-Orthodox will bolt country if forced into army

File: Sephardic chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at an inauguration ceremony for a new women's mikve, in the northern town of Safed, August 17, 2023. (David Cohen/FLASH90)
File: Sephardic chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at an inauguration ceremony for a new women's mikve, in the northern town of Safed, August 17, 2023. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef threatens that ultra-Orthodox Jews will leave Israel en masse if the government ends exemptions of mandatory military enlistment enjoyed by the community.

“If you force us to go to the army, we’ll all move abroad,” Yosef says during a weekly lecture.

Yosef is the son of late Shas party spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef and wields major influence with the faction, which is part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

“All these secular people don’t understand that without kollels and yeshivas, the army would not be successful,” he says, referring to institutions where religious men study Jewish texts rather than working or enlisting. “The soldiers only succeed thanks to those learning Torah.”

Pressure is mounting for the coalition to end the exemption from military and national service for the ultra-Orthodox community, especially amid the war against Hamas.

The IDF’s Personnel Directorate told a Knesset committee last month that some 66,000 young men from the ultra-Orthodox community, the fastest-growing sector of the population, received an exemption from military service over the past year, reportedly an all-time record. Some 540 of them decided to enlist since the war started, the IDF said.

In 2022, the Haredi population was some 1,280,000, about 13.3% of Israel’s total population, according to the Israel Democracy Institute.

Anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv appears to end as activists head home

Anti-government demonstrators in Tel Aviv have largely dispersed, after a police commander threatened to begin arresting people.

As they leave the scene, activists yell at the commander that he is working for hardline National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

Notably, police made no use of horses or water cannons against demonstrators, after being criticized over violence employed in past weeks.

UNRWA chief says more funding to be unfrozen in coming weeks

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini tells Swiss broadcaster RTS he is “cautiously optimistic” more countries will resume funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees “in the coming weeks,” after Canada and Sweden ended freezes.

“I think a certain number of countries in the Gulf are going to in fact increase their contributions to the agency,” Lazzarini adds.

“Today I am having to manage an existential crisis for our agency in a region going through a seismic crisis that will certainly have consequences for decades to come,” he says. “The agency is at risk of death, at risk of being shut down.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry calls on both Canada and Sweden to “not support an organization whose ranks include hundreds of members of the Hamas terrorist organization.”

The renewed aid, according to the Israeli statement, shows that Canada and Sweden have chosen “to ignore the involvement of UNRWA employees in terrorist activity.”

Police clear Tel Aviv protesters off road, block activists from freeway

Traffic in Tel Aviv is flowing again after anti-government protesters who had sat on the road are forcefully moved to the sidewalk.

A few dozen demonstrators who advance toward a section of the Ayalon freeway beneath Schiffman Bridge are prevented by police from blocking the freeway.

In a statement, police say they scuffled with protesters, but no arrests are announced.

Activists rally for hostages outside PM’s residence in Jerusalem

Israelis protest for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Jerusalem, March 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Israelis protest for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, in Jerusalem, March 9, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

In Jerusalem, protesters calling for the release of Hamas-held hostages in Gaza are gathered outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem to mark the 155th day of the hostages’ captivity.

A day after International Women’s Day, most speakers are focusing on the 19 female hostages that remain in Hamas captivity, criticizing both Netanyahu’s government and international organizations for ignoring the hostage families’ plight.

Gail Shoresh, a former senior Mossad official, stands beneath a banner with the names and faces of the 19 women hostages remaining in Gaza and derides what she dubs “the silence of international women’s and human rights organizations” which “resounds to this day.”

She urges female leaders and decision-makers around the world to “denounce Hamas’s masculine sexual terrorism” and to use “political, economic and legal pressure to bring all hostages home and all terrorists to justice.”

Protest organizers list the remaining hostages in Gaza as the crowd chants after each name: “Back home, now!”

Police keep anti-government protesters off freeway

Protesters block a road in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2024. (Iddo Schejter / Times of Israel)
Protesters block a road in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2024. (Iddo Schejter / Times of Israel)

Police have prevented protesters from blocking the Ayalon freeway, pushing a group who tried to stop traffic back onto Begin Street.

Demonstrators are continuing to block Begin Street and have continued moving northward.

At the corner of Al Parashat Drachim Street, protesters calling for the release of hostages are sitting down to block the junction.

 

Two killed at Arad gas station

Two people have been reported killed at a gas station in the southern city of Arad, police and medics say.

The double homicide appears to be linked to criminal activity and not terror, police say.

Both men, in their 30s, are declared dead at the scene, the Magen David Adom rescue service says. A third man is transported to a Beersheba hospital in moderate condition.

Police are searching for suspects in the slayings.

Protesters in Tel Aviv clash with cops, move toward Ayalon freeway

Police say they have arrested a protester who used a smoke grenade, as anti-government demonstrators clash with cops who unsuccessfully try to block them from breaking through barricades.

Protesters who broke through a police barrier on Begin Street have begun crowding near the Ayalon freeway.

Many are carrying torches and Israeli flags, blowing whistles and horns, as they call for immediate elections.

Former captive slams timing of anti-government protest at Hostages Square rally

Activists attend an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2024. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Activists attend an anti-government demonstration in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2024. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Agam Goldstein, a 17-year-old who was released from captivity in Gaza, criticizes the anti-government protests being timed to coincide with weekly rallies in Tel Aviv for the release of hostages being held by Hamas.

“I didn’t plan on saying this but on the way over, I saw the other rally,” says Goldstein, who was released in December along with 104 other hostages as part of a prisoner swap with Hamas. “It was sad to see that rally,” she says of the anti-government event. “Not because I’m against, but because I think this is not the time. The hostages are the first priority and something that unites all of us.”

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which organizes the weekly Hostages Square rally, has taken pains to remain apolitical, but has largely avoided criticizing the growing anti-government protests, which also highlight the hostages’ plight but have diverted attention from the hostage rally.

Chen Goldstein-Almog and her daughter Agam, who on Novemner 26, 2023 were released from captivity in Gaza, light Hanukkah candles together with members of their Kibbutz Kfar Aza at a hotel in Shefayim, central Israel, on December 10, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The fact that many who attend the Hostages Square rally also participate in the anti-government rallies that have been taking place nearby for several weeks has exposed the Forum to criticism that it is partisan, a charge it rejects.

Goldstein urges Israelis to “keep fighting” for the release of the 134 hostages presumed to be held by Hamas or other terrorists in Gaza. She addresses Hamas in Arabic, saying: “If you have a shred of humanity left in you, release the hostages.”

In Hebrew, she adds: “I was taught that Islam believes in adding good to the world and objects to wrongdoing. The Quran has verses that command men to treat women decently and it has verses about holding hostages.”

Female relatives deliver emotional plea for the release of women held in Gaza

Ofri Levy breaks down in tears as she recalls at a rally on Hostages Square in Tel Aviv how her sister-in-law Shiri Bibas “defended her sons with her own body” from Hamas terrorists who abducted the two children and their parents to Gaza on October 7.

“Dear Shiri, we miss your distinct laughter, and sitting down with you and watching the kids horse around together,” says Levy at the rally Saturday, which focuses on women in recognition of International Women’s Day.

The Bibas family — 4-year-old Ariel and his baby brother Kfir, Shiri and her husband Yarden – were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz. The filmed image of Shiri hugging her two redheaded children surrounded by terrorists is an icon of the plight of the hostages.

Shira Albag, the mother of hostage Liri Albag, who turned 19 last month, tells the thousands of people in attendance that Shabbat “is not longer Shabbat” without her laughter and cooking.

Simona Steinbrecher, whose daughter Doron, 30, was abducted from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, notes that her daughter – “who has kind, laughing eyes, blond hair and endless love for people and animals alike” – says, “This is International Women’s Day but it’s also the Women’s Day of Doron Steinbrecher and the other hostages.”

Anti-government protesters block major Tel Aviv thoroughfare

Protesters march on Begin Street in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2024. (Iddo Schejter / Times of Israel)
Protesters march on Begin Street in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2024. (Iddo Schejter / Times of Israel)

Hundreds of anti-government protesters in central Tel Aviv are marching up Begin Street, blocking traffic while tooting horns and crying out chants against the government and for the release of hostages.

The march follows the end of a rally against the government, as protesters surround police barricades around so-called Democracy Square at the intersection of Begin and Kaplan Street, turning a main thoroughfare into a chaotic mess.

Government ‘excommunication’ of academia excoriated at Jerusalem protest march

Hundreds of protesters calling for an immediate hostage deal and elections to replace the government have gathered outside the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, preparing for their weekly march to Netanyahu’s official residence.

Prominent academics and public figures affiliated with the Jerusalem protest group Save our Shared Home deliver speeches against the government.

Criticizing Education Minister Yoav Kisch’s decision to drastically cut down this year’s Israel Prize ceremony, Israeli academic Haim Weiss accuses the politician of “alienating” academia and “harming its power and status within Israel and throughout the world,” noting the unfriendly atmosphere many Israelis at universities face due to academics championing the Palestinian cause abroad.

“While Israeli academia is working tirelessly to preserve its international status and is dealing with burgeoning ostracisms and boycotts, the education minister, the man charged with nurturing it, comes and personally excommunicates it,” he says.

Relatives of the hostages are set to speak to the crowd once the march ends at Paris Square, next to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

IDF beefing up forces ahead of Ramadan as truce hopes fade

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari says the military is “strengthening” its security preparations ahead of Ramadan, due to begin tomorrow, and is readying for “all possible scenarios in all arenas.”

The preparations come as Israel accuses Hamas of toughening its stance on a potential hostage deal, meaning the Gaza Strip will likely not see a deal to pause fighting before the Muslim holy month begins.

“Hamas prevents an agreement and acts contrary to what was suggested by the mediators,” Hagari says in an evening press conference.

He says that according to Israeli intelligence, “Hamas is stockpiling equipment and food for its members, while the population of Gaza is having trouble getting supplies.”

“By refusing an agreement, Hamas prevents a humanitarian ceasefire and continues to increase the suffering of the Gazan population,” Hagari adds.

Women take center stage at anti-government rally in Tel Aviv

In honor of yesterday’s International Women’s Day, an emcee on stage at an anti-government rally in Tel Aviv reads off the names of all the women – alive and dead – who remain in Gaza as Hamas hostages, calling for their immediate release.

Like in previous weeks, the lineup of speakers includes a person who was evacuated from their home following October 7, a retired IDF general, and a reserve soldier.

Yahel Kolander, a sociologist from Beit Hillel in northern Israel who was evacuated with her family because of rocket fire from Lebanon, accuses the government of being unable to protect residents against the Hezbollah terror group.

“You all know that the hostages in Gaza could have been us, and the government knows this as well,” Kolander says. “He who abandoned the south will not save the north.”

Between speakers, the crowd chants: “Elections now!”

Gal Alkalai, a student and a reservist in the counterterrorism unit, tells the crowd “Countries that fail in how they treat women, fail,” speaking out against the government’s funding cuts to the Michal Sela fund, which works to prevent violence against women.

She adds that the conduct of women soldiers on October 7 and during the ensuing war “proved once and for all” that women can serve in all positions in the IDF.

An organizer asks protesters to obey police orders and remain on the sidewalks as the speakers end, a week after demonstrators blocked off Begin Street for hours and clashed with police.

Israel said to fear Arab push to suspend it from UN General Assembly; Erdan warns of ‘forceful response’

File: Israeli envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, presents a cake for Kfir Bibas on the occasion of his first birthday in Hamas captivity in Gaza, at the UN, January 9, 2024. (Screenshot/Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
File: Israeli envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, presents a cake for Kfir Bibas on the occasion of his first birthday in Hamas captivity in Gaza, at the UN, January 9, 2024. (Screenshot/Channel 12, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israel believes that the Arab League and the Palestinians are at work on an initiative to try to suspend Israel from the UN General Assembly — depriving Israel of the right to participate in General Assembly debates and votes, Channel 12 reports. It says the Foreign Ministry believes the initiative will be timed to coincide with the looming IDF operation against Hamas in Rafah.

“If they really try to push for the suspension of Israel from the General Assembly, that would cross a red line,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, tells the TV station. “Israel would be compelled to respond forcefully, and take unprecedented steps such as closing the UN headquarters in Jerusalem and evicting UNRWA facilities so that any state that considers supporting this destructive move will know that it would only harm the Palestinian issue.”

Channel 12 notes that such a move has only happened once before, when South Africa’s General Assembly rights were suspended in 1974 because of its apartheid policies.

It says the complex process would require the support of the Security Council and a two-thirds majority in the General Assembly. It is not clear how this could be achieved, since the US could veto such an effort in the Security Council.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has heard leaks from internal Arab League discussions pointing to this plan, the TV report says. It adds that even if the initiative fails, it would cause reputational damage to Israel.

South Africa repeated its allegations of apartheid against Israel at the International Court of Justice last week, and Channel 12 says South Africa’s ambassador to the United Nations said at the UN General Assembly last week that Israel should not be allowed to continue to sit in the forum.

Women link hands at Tel Aviv rally to highlight plight of female hostages

Thousands of women create a human chain at the weekly rally calling for the release of hostages at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, as they spotlight the 19 remaining female prisoners presumed to be held by Hamas.

The 21st consecutive weekly rally comes a day after International Women’s Day and less than a week after the release of a UN report which determined that female hostages were likely subjected to sexual violence and torture.

The rally, organized by The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, features a predominantly female lineup, including Shira Albag, the mother of hostage Liri Albag, who turned 19 last month, and Daria Gonen, the sister of hostage Romi Gonen.

The event’s host, actress Yael Abecassis, thanks the women in the crowd for cooperating with her request that the women in attendance hold hands in recognition of International Women’s Day.

“I know it’s maybe weird and maybe feels too intimate but let’s join hands and send strength to our sisters in Gaza,” says Abecassis.

Officer killed fighting in Gaza Friday, IDF announces

Maj. (res.) Amishar Ben David, killed during fighting in the Gaza Strip on March 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Maj. (res.) Amishar Ben David, killed during fighting in the Gaza Strip on March 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says Maj. (res.) Amishar Ben David was killed during fighting in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 248.

Ben David, 43, was head of the Commando Brigade chief’s forward command team.

He was from the West Bank settlement of Eli.

Israeli official: Sinwar believes Gazan suffering will improve his position in talks

Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas's Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Shortly after the statement from the Mossad that Hamas was “fortifying its position” with regard to a potential hostage deal, an unnamed individual with knowledge of the discussions tells Channel 12 that terror leader Yahya Sinwar believes he can get better terms if Gazans are seen to be suffering.

“Sinwar believes that the more his public suffers, the more the pressure on Israel will increase and the better the terms he will receive in the negotiations,” the unnamed official says. “There are two sides to make a deal, and right now the other side doesn’t want one.”

Earlier this evening, Mossad said in a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office that Hamas is looking to “ignite the region during Ramadan.”

Attempts to reach a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas in negotiations in Qatar and Cairo in recent weeks have apparently stalled.

IDF, Shin Bet approve ‘plans for continuation of the war’ in meeting at Southern Command HQ

L-R: Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, and head of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman attend a meeting at the command's HQ in Beersheba, March 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
L-R: Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, and head of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman attend a meeting at the command's HQ in Beersheba, March 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and the head of the Shin Bet Ronen Bar approved battle plans at the Southern Command headquarters in Beersheba earlier today.

The IDF says the meeting was attended by the commander of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, the deputy of the Shin Bet, and other officers.

The IDF says Halevi and Bar “approved plans for the continuation of the war” without elaborating.

US, coalition forces downed at least 28 drones over Red Sea on Saturday – CENTCOM

US military and coalition forces downed at least 28 drones over the Red Sea this morning, the US Central Command says in a statement.

“No US or coalition Navy vessels were damaged in the attack and there were also no reports by commercial ships of damage,” CENTCOM says.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who control much of war-torn Yemen, have been attacking vessels in the vital shipping lane since November in a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians during Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the terror group’s devastating October 7 attack.

Demonstrators calling for elections gather for main anti-government rally in Tel Aviv

Protesters urging elections march toward Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street, March 9, 2024. (Pro-democracy protest movement)
Protesters urging elections march toward Tel Aviv's Kaplan Street, March 9, 2024. (Pro-democracy protest movement)

Demonstrators are gathering in Tel Aviv outside the Kirya military headquarters to protest against the government, demanding early elections.

The protest begins with a drum circle as demonstrators chant a series of songs against the government, with particular focus on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

Many of the demonstrators are carrying Israeli flags or signs calling to remove Netanyahu from office. A small number of demonstrators carry signs calling for a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas.

The police have come prepared for the possibility of demonstrators trying to block the Ayalon freeway; dozens of police officers and border police officers are standing by near Democracy Square where fences and trucks have been placed as barricades to prevent demonstrators from entering the Square or going down to the highway.

US conducts 5th airdrop to Gaza, delivering over 41,000 meals

The US military airdrops more than 41,000 meals to Gaza, in Washington’s fifth operation this month to deliver urgently needed aid to the coastal territory.

A US military cargo plane “dropped over 41,400 US meal equivalents and 23,000 bottles of water into Northern Gaza, an area of great need, allowing for civilian access to the critical aid,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) says of the joint operation.

The amount of aid brought into Gaza by truck has plummeted during five months of the war, and Gazans are facing dire shortages of food, water and medicine. Israel says there is no limit to the amount of aid that can enter the Strip and blames shortages on aid agencies’ failure to distribute supplies.

The US launched its first airdrop of food into Gaza on March 2, providing more than 38,000 meals, then dropped more than 36,000 on Tuesday, more than 38,000 on Thursday, and more than 11,500 on Friday.

With the number of people in need of aid in Gaza much greater than could be fed by airdrops alone, US President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the US military will establish a temporary port off Gaza’s coast to bring in more assistance.

IDF strikes Hezbollah command posts, infrastructure in southern Lebanon

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

Sites hit by fighter jets included buildings where members of the terror group were operating in Ayta ash-Shab, command centers in Majdal Zoun and Kafra, and additional infrastructure in Mhaibib, according to the IDF.

The IDF says it also shelled launch sites in south Lebanon following rocket and missile fire on northern Israel today.

WSJ: Qatar threatening to deport Hamas chiefs if they don’t agree to hostage truce deal

Illustrative: This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on February 13, 2024, shows Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh preparing to welcome the Iranian foreign minister in Doha. (Iranian Foreign Ministry/AFP)
Illustrative: This handout picture provided by the Iranian foreign ministry on February 13, 2024, shows Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh preparing to welcome the Iranian foreign minister in Doha. (Iranian Foreign Ministry/AFP)

Qatar is threatening to expel Hamas’s leaders from Qatar if they can’t convince them to agree to a hostage deal, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing an unnamed Hamas official and Egyptian official.

Qatar hosts Hamas’s political bureau, including its leader, Ismail Haniyeh.

Husam Badran, a senior official of the terror group based in Doha, denies the claim. He tells the WSJ that without a deal, violence will escalate during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, set to begin this week.

“We didn’t declare negotiations have been stopped. We are the party most keen to stop this war,” he says.

Badran says Hamas’s conditions for a hostage deal include a permanent ceasefire, a return of displaced civilians to northern Gaza, boosted humanitarian aid and for Israel to pull out their troops from the Strip.

Israel wants a more limited truce and has vowed that they will continue their offensive to eliminate the terror group and free all the hostages.

Badran blames Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a lack of a breakthrough in the talks, claiming he “refuses to deal with anything on the table.”

“Netanyahu is the most dangerous [person] for the stability of this region. He is the fire starter.”

Mossad says Hamas toughening demands for hostage deal, wants to ‘ignite the region during Ramadan’

File: Mossad Director David Barnea speaks during a Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, on September 10, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Mossad Director David Barnea speaks during a Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, on September 10, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Mossad in a statement carried by the Prime Minister’s Office says Hamas is “fortifying its position” with regard to a potential hostage deal, and instead is looking to “ignite the region during Ramadan,” set to begin tomorrow.

The statement says the spy agency’s director David Barnea met on Friday with the chief of the CIA, Bill Burns, “as part of the ceaseless effort to advance another deal for the return of the hostages.”

“At this stage, Hamas is fortifying its position as if it is not interested in a deal, and it strives to ignite the region during Ramadan at the expense of the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip,” the Mossad says.

The Mossad adds that “the talks and cooperation with the mediators continue all the time in an attempt to narrow the gaps and advance agreements.”

British defense minister says navy shot down two Houthi attack drones

LONDON, United Kingdom — UK Defense Minister Grant Shapps says a British warship had shot down two Houthi attack drones, joining American and French forces in acting to protect shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

“Last night, HMS Richmond used its Sea Ceptor missiles to shoot down two attack drones – successfully repelling yet another illegal attack by the Iranian-backed Houthis,” Shapps says in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday.

“The UK and our allies will continue to take the action necessary to save lives and protect freedom of navigation.”

Demonstrators showing solidarity with Gaza hostages barred from International Women’s Day rally in Oslo

The organizers of the International Women’s Day March in Oslo prevented marchers from expressing support for hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza despite having been given their prior permission, Norwegian media reports.

Among the 6,000 marchers were demonstrators holding signs saying “Me too — unless you’re a Jew,” among other slogans highlighting victims of October 7 and hostages who have undergone sexual abuse at the hands of terrorists, the state-owned Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation says.

A group of demonstrators were prevented from boarding trains, the report says, and eventually, the event committee ruled that they could not participate in the march.

A video posted on social media by the Defend Israel Democracy group shows other marchers forming a human chain to prevent demonstrators carrying posters showing hostages from joining the main march.

Women who spoke to the broadcaster say that they received prior permission from the organizers to participate.

Police say they detained suspects in shooting of Haifa woman

Police say they’ve arrested several suspects they believe were involved in the killing of 33-year-old Odia Gabai last night in Haifa.

Police say Gabai was shot amid a brawl at a nightclub in Haifa, where she worked as a barwoman. She was later declared dead at the hospital.

Police say the mother of five was not involved in the violence.

Police will request to extend the custody of the suspects in court.

Egypt’s Sissi: Cost of rebuilding Gaza could exceed $90 billion

A Palestinian woman searches amid the rubble of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A Palestinian woman searches amid the rubble of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi says the cost of rebuilding Gaza after the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas could exceed $90 billion.

Turkish state media quotes him as saying he “requested an estimate [from Egyptian state institutions] for the cost of rebuilding the Gaza Strip as a result of the Israeli bombing it witnessed,” during a speech marking Martyrs’ and Veterans’ Day in Egypt.

Egypt Today also quotes Sissi as saying, “Egypt is keen on keeping its Rafah border crossing open 24/7 to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip,” refuting allegations about its closure.

Rafah has been the focus of regional and international concern in recent weeks, as Israel plans military operations around Gaza’s southernmost city, where much of its population has sought safety, sharpening Egyptian fears that Palestinians could attempt to flee the offensive by attempting to rush the border.

Spanish PM vows to push Spain’s Congress to recognize Palestinian state

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a press conference at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, on March 8, 2024. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP)
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks during a press conference at La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, on March 8, 2024. (Rodrigo Arangua/AFP)

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announces that he will push Spain’s Congress to recognize a Palestinian state before the end of his mandate in 2027.

“We will do it because of moral conviction, because it’s a just cause, but also because it is the only way that two states — Israel and Palestine — can live together and coexist in peace and security,” he says.

Sanchez caused a stir in November when said he had “serious doubt” over the legality of Israel’s ongoing war with Hamas in Gaza. Spain’s ambassador to Israel was summoned for a reprimand over the comments.

Red Cross: Gaza war has ‘ruptured any sense of a shared humanity’

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross says the war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacres, has “ruptured any sense of a shared humanity.”

ICRC head Mirjana Spoljaric calls for an urgent ceasefire and says Israel and Hamas must respect international law and protect civilians caught up in their conflict.

She also says getting a steady, substantial flow of humanitarian aid into the Strip — where the United Nations says more than 90 percent of the population is on the brink of famine — is “only part of the solution.”

“Alleviating the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza starts with a clear will and measures that safeguard civilian life and human dignity, meaning both sides must conduct their military operations in a way that spares the civilians who are caught in the middle,” Spoljaric says.

She also urges Hamas to release the hostages it has been holding since October 7, care for their safety and medical needs, and allow the ICRC to visit them.

War in Gaza erupted with Hamas’s October 7 massacres, which saw thousands of terrorists burst into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping another 253, mostly civilians, half of whom remain in captivity.

IDF confirms overnight strike on Rafah residential tower it says housed ‘Hamas military asset’

Palestinians gather in front of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians gather in front of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The IDF confirms that it struck one of the largest residential towers in southern Gaza’s Rafah overnight, saying it housed a “Hamas military asset.”

“Acts of terror against our forces and the civilian home front were planned from this asset,” the IDF says in response to a query on the matter.

According to a military source, the building was used by Hamas’s so-called emergency committee.

The IDF says it warned residents of the 12-floor tower ahead of the strike, and they all evacuated in time. There were no reports of injuries.

Rocket alert sirens sounding again in northern communities

Rocket warning sirens are sounding again in northern Israel.

Sirens go off in largely evacuated communities including Netua, Fassuta, Matat, Alkosh and Hurfeish.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

NYT highlights emaciated 10-year-old boy as ‘face of starvation in Gaza’

Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)
Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

The New York Times publishes an article highlighting 10-year-old Yazan Kafarneh, who died in a Rafah hospital on Monday, calling him “the face of starvation in Gaza.”

Photos of Kafarneh, who suffered from cerebral palsy and required a special diet to survive, circulated on social media in recent weeks amid UN estimates that hundreds of thousands of Gazans are close to starvation.

“Yazan’s parents had struggled for months to care for their son, whose condition, experts say, would have meant he had trouble swallowing and needed a soft, high-nutrition diet,” the Times report says, noting that the family had fled their home in northern Gaza and moved repeatedly to seek shelter since the war erupted. “Day after day, I saw my son getting weaker,” Shareef Kafarneh, Yazan’s taxi driver father tells the paper.

“Eventually, they ended up in Al-Awda [Hospital], in the southern city of Rafah, where Yazan died on Monday morning,” the report says. Dr. Jabr al-Shaer, a pediatrician who treated him, cites malnutrition and a respiratory infection, and says the lack of food had weakened his frail immune system.

“It’s often that a child is extremely malnourished, and then they get sick and that virus is ultimately what causes that death,” a malnutrition expert is quoted as saying in the article. “But they would not have died if they were not malnourished.”

A 10-year-old Palestinian boy, Yazan al-Kafarna, who was born with cerebral palsy, lies at a hospital in Rafah, March 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

The report also cites health officials in Hamas-run Gaza as saying that 20 Palestinian children have died from malnutrition and dehydration since the war began on October 7, sparked by Hamas’s brutal onslaught on southern Israel.

In January, Col. Moshe Tetro, head of COGAT’s Coordination and Liaison Administration to Gaza, said that contrary to UN reports that detail widespread starvation, “there is no food shortage in Gaza.”

Israel, which checks all humanitarian aid trucks entering Gaza from both the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossings, has blamed the UN for not delivering supplies fast enough after they are cleared, and for leading to a general fall-off in deliveries over the past month.

Report: Mossad, CIA chiefs met yesterday to discuss hostage deal talks

Mossad chief David Barnea reportedly met CIA chief Bill Burns yesterday in an unidentified country in the region, likely Qatar, to discuss efforts to secure a hostage agreement with the Hamas terror group.

Quoting an unnamed source privy to the details, the Walla news site says that Burns updated Barnea on talks in Cairo over the past week.

Burns reportedly arrived in Qatar yesterday after quietly spending the previous day in Egypt, as the Biden administration makes what may be a last-ditch attempt to secure a hostage agreement before Ramadan begins at the beginning of next week.

The talks appeared to reach an impasse as a Hamas delegation left Cairo without any breakthrough reported in the talks being brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the US.

Tens of thousands gathering at London anti-Israel protest

Anti-Israel activists and supporters wave flags and carry placards on a march through London, during a National Day of Action for Palestine on March 9, 2024. (Henry Nicholls/AFP)
Anti-Israel activists and supporters wave flags and carry placards on a march through London, during a National Day of Action for Palestine on March 9, 2024. (Henry Nicholls/AFP)

Tens of thousands of people are gathering in London for a weekly pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstration.

This week’s protest comes after the UK’s counterterrorism commissioner warned that the streets of central London have become “a no-go zone for Jews every weekend.”

London police urged demonstrators to stick to their permitted route and warned them to “comply with orders and requests from our officers. Those who are found to be breaking the law will be dealt with accordingly.”

Rocket warning sirens sound in northern Israel

Rocket warning sirens are sounding in northern Israel.

Sirens go off in the town of Kiryat Shmona and several nearby communities including Manara, Margaliot and Misgav Am.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

UNRWA chief says agency at ‘risk of death’ over funding cuts

Illustrative: UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UNRWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Illustrative: UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UNRWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency is at “risk of death” after a string of donors suspended their funding over Israeli allegations some staff took part in the October 7 attacks by Hamas in southern Israel, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini says.

“The agency is at risk of death, it is risking dismantlement,” Lazzarini tells Swiss broadcaster RTS in an interview aired today.

“What is at stake is the fate of the Palestinians today in Gaza in the short term who are going through an absolutely unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”

US Treasury official pushes Lebanon to halt the flow of funding to Hamas

A top US Treasury official visiting Beirut this week pressed Lebanese authorities to prevent funds from being funneled to Hamas by way of Lebanon, officials say.

Jesse Baker, deputy assistant secretary of the Treasury for Asia and the Middle East in the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, met with Lebanese politicians and officials from the financial sector Thursday and Friday.

A Treasury official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters said Baker had shared with Lebanese authorities “specific concerns” about “the movement of Hamas funds through Lebanon, Hezbollah funds from Iran into Lebanon and then out into other regional areas” and called for “proactive measures” to combat it.

The official says that the groups need the flow of funds to pay their fighters and conduct military operations and cannot achieve their aims otherwise.

The Treasury official adds that, for Lebanon, showing compliance with global anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing standards is key to attracting investment from the US and the rest of the world and to pulling the country out of its protracted crisis.

Israeli strike said to hit 12-story tower in Rafah after residents warned to leave, no casualties

Palestinians gather in front of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians gather in front of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Israel struck one of the largest residential towers in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, residents say.

The 12-floor building, located some 500 meters from the border with Egypt, was damaged in the strike. Dozens of families were made homeless though no casualties were reported, according to residents.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the incident.

One of the tower’s 300 residents told Reuters that Israel gave them a 30-minute warning to flee the building at night.

Harris: It’s important to distinguish between Israeli people and government

US Vice President Kamala Harris claps before US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Washington. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP)
US Vice President Kamala Harris claps before US President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Washington. (Shawn Thew/Pool via AP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris indicates the US will not end its support to Israel amid the Biden administration’s mounting frustrations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Gaza war, saying it is important to distinguish between the Israeli government and the people.

Speaking in an interview with CBS, Harris was asked if the US could end aid to Israel over the growing number of Palestinian casualties and a failure to get enough humanitarian assistance into Gaza, following US President Joe Biden’s comments picked up on a hot mic that he was going to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with Netanyahu.

“On this topic, I think it is really important to distinguish  — and there are a lot of feelings rightly based on the horror of what has happened. October 7, 1200 people slaughtered, many young people who were just attending a concert, women were horribly, horribly abused and raped, rape being a tool of war, and then you look at what’s been happing with the humanitarian crisis in Gaza which again, the horrific images which were are seeing come out of there — I think it is important to distinguish, or at least not conflate, the Israeli government with the Israeli people,” Harris says.

“The Israeli people are entitled to security as are the Palestinians in equal measure,” she says.

French military says it destroyed four combat drones in Gulf of Aden

A French warship and fighter jets destroyed four combat drones that were heading towards a European naval mission in the Gulf of Aden, the French military says.

“This defensive action directly contributed to the protection of the cargo ship True Confidence, under the Barbados flag, which was struck on March 6 and is being towed, as well as other commercial vessels transiting in the area,” the army says in a statement.

Iran: Blocking Khamenei’s social media accounts ‘a violation of freedom of expression’

An Iranian woman holds a poster of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during an election campaign rally ahead of the March 1, parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
An Iranian woman holds a poster of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during an election campaign rally ahead of the March 1, parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran denounces US tech giant Meta’s decision to remove the Facebook and Instagram accounts of its supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling it a “violation of freedom of expression.”

Instagram and Facebook are among the most popular social media platforms for Iranians, but while the government blocks their use, officials in the Islamic Republic have accounts on them.

Meta said last month it had removed Khamenei’s accounts from Facebook and Instagram for having “repeatedly violated” its policy on “dangerous organizations and individuals.”

In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian says the move was “not only a violation of freedom of speech, but also an insult to millions of followers of his positions and news.”

“The mottos of freedom of expression by some Western claimants are hollow and showy slogans and a cover for their illegitimate political goals,” he tells the Middle East Eye news outlet in remarks also published by Iran’s foreign ministry.

Khamenei, 84, has been the country’s supreme leader since 1989, a position that allows him the final say in major state policies. He had about five million followers on Instagram.

Meta’s move on February 8 came as Khamenei increasingly voiced support for Palestinian terror group Hamas following the October 7 assault on Israel killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking a further 253 hostages.

“Khamenei is the most prominent supporter of the oppressed people of Palestine and Gaza in the world, and the Silicon Valley Empire cannot prevent this voice from reaching the public opinion of the world,” Amir-Abdollahian says.

Despite the Iranian government’s ban on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms including X, internet users in the Islamic Republic can still access them using virtual private networks, or VPNs.

Erdogan says Netanyahu writing his name next to that of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint press conference with Ukrainian President at the Dolmabahce Presidental office in Istanbul on March 8, 2024. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint press conference with Ukrainian President at the Dolmabahce Presidental office in Istanbul on March 8, 2024. (Ozan Kose/AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compares Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.

“Netanyahu and his administration, with their crimes against humanity in Gaza, are writing their names next to Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin, like today’s Nazis,” Erdogan says in a speech in Istanbul.

Erdogan has been one of the most virulent critics of Israel since the start of the war in Gaza, which began after an October 7 assault by Hamas on Israel that killed some 1,200 people and saw another 253 taken hostage.

Erdogan has previously called Israel a “terrorist state” and accused it of conducting a “genocide” in Gaza.

Earlier in his speech, he again refused to recognize Hamas as a terror group and says Turkey firmly backs Hamas and its leaders.

Erdogan says Turkey ‘firmly backs’ Hamas leaders

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following their meeting at Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks during a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following their meeting at Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that Ankara “firmly backs”  Hamas.

“No one can make us qualify Hamas as a terrorist organization,” he says in a speech in Istanbul. “Turkey is a country that speaks openly with Hamas leaders and firmly backs them.”

Iran arrests two women for dancing in public

Two young women were arrested in Tehran after the publication of a video in which they danced to celebrate the coming of the Persian New Year, Iranian media says.

The clip of the two women hip shaking near Tajrish square, a popular gathering spot for young people in the north of the Iranian capital, went viral on social media.

“The Tehran prosecutor ordered the arrest of two women who broke social norms by dancing in Tajrish,” the Tasnim news agency reports.

The two women were dressed up as Hadji Farouz, a red-clad folklore character whose dancing and songs announce the coming of Nowruz, the Persian New Year that will begin on March 20.

Islamic law as practiced in Iran prohibits mixed dancing or women being alone in public.

Numerous videos of women dancing in public places, especially the metro, have gone viral in recent months in Iran, after a mass protest movement shook the country in late 2022 following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini in September of that year.

A 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, Amini had been arrested by the morality police in Tehran for not respecting the strict dress code in force in the Islamic Republic.

Hamas says Gaza death toll at 30,960

A young Palestinian boy stands next to a wrecked car in the rubble of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A young Palestinian boy stands next to a wrecked car in the rubble of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2024. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Hama-run Gaza health ministry says the Palestinian death toll in the Strip has reached 30,960.

These figures cannot be independently verified, do not differentiate between civilians and combatants and also include hundreds killed by the terror group’s own misfired rockets. The IDF says it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas terrorists in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Sweden resumes UNRWA funding after Palestinian agency promises new controls on personnel

People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)
People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on February 15, 2024. (AFP)

Sweden says it was resuming aid to the cash-strapped UN agency for Palestinians with an initial disbursement of $20 million after receiving assurances of extra checks on its spending and personnel.

Like several other countries, Sweden suspended aid to UNRWA in October after several of its employees actively took part in the October 7 Hamas assault on Israel that killed some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took 253 hostages.

“The government has allocated 400 million kronor to UNRWA for the year 2024. Today’s decision concerns a first payment of 200 million kronor,” the Swedish government says in a statement.

It says that to unblock the aid, UNRWA had agreed to “allow controls, independent audits, to strengthen internal supervision and extra controls of personnel.”

The Swedish move came after the European Commission earlier this month said it would release 50 million euros in UNRWA funding.

Hezbollah claims to target IDF base with rocket fired at northern Israel

One rocket was fired from Lebanon at the Yiftah area in northern Israel earlier this morning.

Hezbollah claims to have directly hit an army base in the area with the heavy “Burkan” rocket, though the IDF says the projectile struck an open area.

The IDF says it shelled the launch site with artillery.

The IDF also confirms that overnight and last night, airstrikes were carried out against Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon’s Labbouneh and Ayta ash-Shab.

It releases footage of the strike in Ayta ash-Shab.

Islamic Jihad releases footage of West Bank IED attack on Israeli troops

A local wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the northern West Bank city of Jenin releases footage of Friday’s attack on IDF troops in the town of Silat ad-Dhahr.

The clip shows gunmen opening fire at an army post near the Homesh outpost, before fleeing the scene.

Troops searching after the gunmen then encounter an explosive device planted in the area ahead of time by the gunmen.

Seven troops were wounded by the blast, including three in moderate condition, the IDF said.

IDF says dozens of Hamas terrorists killed in fighting, airstrikes in past day

IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip in a photo released on March 9, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip in a photo released on March 9, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says troops killed dozens of gunmen during operations across the Gaza Strip over the past day, as the Air Force struck targets in central Gaza, from which rockets were fired at Sderot.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, the IDF says the Bislamach Brigade killed more than 20 Hamas operatives, in close-quarters combat and by calling in airstrikes.

In the Hamad Town residential complex in Khan Younis, the Givati Brigade raided several sites belonging to Gaza-based terror groups, where they captured operatives and seized weapons including explosive devices, the IDF says.

The IDF says Givati troops also directed an airstrike against a cell spotted moving toward them in the area.

In central Gaza, the IDF says the Nahal Brigade killed some 10 operatives, including by calling in airstrikes.

In northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun, the 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit spotted several gunmen near troops in the area, and called in an airstrike by a fighter jet, the IDF says.

The IDF also says airstrikes were carried out on several “military positions” in central Gaza, from which rockets were fired at Sderot recently.

Houthis claim to fire barrage of 37 drones at US warships in Red Sea

A Yemeni youth brandishes a weapon people march in the Houthi-run capital Sanaa on March 8, 2024, in support of Palestinians amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)
A Yemeni youth brandishes a weapon people march in the Houthi-run capital Sanaa on March 8, 2024, in support of Palestinians amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS / AFP)

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis targeted US bulk carrier Propel Fortune in the Gulf of Aden, the group’s military spokesman Yahya Sarea said in a televised speech early on Saturday.

The spokesman also said they targeted “a number of US war destroyers at the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden with 37 drones.”

US charity aid ship set to sail from Cyprus to Gaza on new maritime corridor

A handout picture provided by the Cypriot government's Press and Information Office (PIO) shows Cyprus' President Nikos Christodoulides (R) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen inspecting the Larnaca Port, in Larnaca, Cyprus on March 8, 2024 (Photo by Andreas LOUCAIDES / PIO / AFP)
A handout picture provided by the Cypriot government's Press and Information Office (PIO) shows Cyprus' President Nikos Christodoulides (R) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen inspecting the Larnaca Port, in Larnaca, Cyprus on March 8, 2024 (Photo by Andreas LOUCAIDES / PIO / AFP)

A US charity says it is loading aid for Gaza onto a boat in Cyprus, the first shipment to the Strip along a maritime corridor the EU Commission hopes will open this weekend.

The Spanish-flagged vessel Open Arms docked three weeks ago in the port of Larnaca in Cyprus, the closest European Union country to the Gaza Strip.

“World Central Kitchen teams are in Cyprus loading pallets of humanitarian aid onto a boat headed to northern Gaza,” the charity says.

“We have been preparing for weeks alongside our trusted NGO partner Open Arms for the opening of a maritime aid corridor that would allow us to scale our efforts in the region,” it adds.

“The endeavor to establish a humanitarian maritime corridor in Gaza is making progress, and our tugboat stands prepared to embark at a moment’s notice, laden with tons of food, water, and vital supplies for Palestinian civilians,” Open Arms says on social media platform X.

In Larnaca, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen had earlier expressed hope that a maritime corridor could open this Sunday, although details remained unclear.

US navy shoots down 15 drones in large-scale Houthi attack in Red Sea

Houthi supporters attend a rally against the US airstrikes on Yemen and the Israeli offensive against Hamas in Gaza Strip, in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)
Houthi supporters attend a rally against the US airstrikes on Yemen and the Israeli offensive against Hamas in Gaza Strip, in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Osamah Abdulrahman)

US Navy ships and aircraft shot down 15 uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) fired by Yemen’s Houthis in the Red Sea area early on Saturday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) says.

The military was responding to a large-scale attack by “Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists” launched into the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden between 4 a.m. and 6:30 a.m (1300-1530 GMT), CENTCOM says in a post on X.

The UAVs were determined to present “an imminent threat to merchant vessels, U. Navy, and coalition ships in the region,” it said.

Woman declared dead after being critically wounded in Haifa shooting

A woman has been declared dead at a Haifa hospital after she was critically wounded in a shooting in the northern city.

Police announce an investigation into the shooting of the woman, who Hebrew media outlets report is in her 30s, which they say is not terror related.

CENTCOM denies US carried out humanitarian aid airdrop that killed Gazans

US Central Command releases a statement denying that American humanitarian aid airdropped into Gaza caused the deaths of several Palestinians.

“We are aware of reports of civilians killed as a result of humanitarian airdrops. We express sympathies to the families of those who were killed,” the CENTCOM statement says. “Contrary to some reports, this was not the result of US airdrops.”

Indiana passes bill defining antisemitism after removing text opposed by Israel critics

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana lawmakers have come to a compromise to pass a bill defining antisemitism in state education code.

The bill — meant to address antisemitism on college campuses — stalled this month amid persistent disagreement between lawmakers in the legislative session’s final days. The final version accepted by both the House and Senate chambers makes concessions in language that was opposed by critics of Israel.

Indiana House Republicans passed House Bill 1002 two months ago after listing it among their five priorities for the 2024 session. The legislation would broadly define antisemitism as religious discrimination, claiming it would “provide educational opportunities free of religious discrimination.”

This is the second time the House has tried to pass the legislation, but an identical bill died last year after failing to reach a committee hearing in the state Senate. The legislation rose to new importance this session in light of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The House bill used the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, and explicitly included “contemporary examples of antisemitism” provided by the alliance, which make references to Israel. These have been adopted by the US Department of State.

State senators, however, passed an amended version of the bill Tuesday that removed language opposed by critics of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. The amended version still includes the IHRA’s broad definition of antisemitism but deleted the alliance’s name and examples that include explicit references to Israel.

Opponents argued that such direct references would stifle criticism of Israel in academic settings and advocacy on campuses for Palestinians in a worsening humanitarian crisis. Support of the bill virtually flipped once the changes were made.

Some Jewish organizations called on lawmakers to reverse course and include the entirety of the original House bill.

The conference committee, a body consisting of lawmakers from both chambers, reached an agreement Friday to add the IHRA name back to the bill. The clause about its examples remained cut from the final version.

The bill is approved by both chambers of the General Assembly Friday evening with bipartisan support. It now goes to Republican Governor Eric Holcomb for final review.

Biden says concerned about violence in Jerusalem if no temporary Gaza ceasefire for Ramadan

US President Joe Biden talks with reporters, March 8, 2024, in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
US President Joe Biden talks with reporters, March 8, 2024, in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

SWARTHMORE, Pennsylvania — US President Joe Biden says it’s “looking tough” for a temporary ceasefire agreement in Gaza by the start of Ramadan on Sunday.

Biden, speaking to reporters after visiting a family at their home near Philadelphia, also says he’s concerned about violence in East Jerusalem without a ceasefire.

Hamas’s military wing earlier Friday urged supporters to mobilize toward the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, a flashpoint for violence during Ramadan in past years.

It also said there would be no compromise on the terror group’s demand that Israel withdraw from Gaza to secure the release of hostages seized by Hamas.

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