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

Meeting between Netanyahu, Haredi parties on conscription law ends without agreement being reached

An hours-long meeting about the ultra-Orthodox conscription bill between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and representatives of the Haredi United Torah Judaism and Shas parties has come to an end without either side agreeing on what the proposal should look like, Hebrew media reports.

Earlier in the day, it was reported that UTJ had threatened to leave the government should the proposal include annual recruitment targets for yeshiva students and financial penalties for Haredi educational institutions that don’t meet those quotas.

Hezbollah announces death of three members killed in Israeli strikes

The Hezbollah terror group announces the death of three members killed “on the road to Jerusalem,” its term for operatives slain in Israeli strikes.

They are named as Ali Din, from Zboud in the Baalbek District; Ali Jawhari, from the nearby city of Hermel; and Ali Akhras, from south Lebanon’s Toul.

Their deaths bring the terror group’s toll since the beginning of the war in the Gaza Strip to 251.

The announcement comes following several recent IDF strikes on Hezbollah targets over the past day, including in the Baalbek and Hermel regions in northeastern Lebanon.

Two of the protesters arrested in Tel Aviv are family members of hostages – report

Demonstrators block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, March 26, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Demonstrators block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, March 26, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Hebrew media reports that two of the protesters arrested in Tel Aviv this evening were family members of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

Referring to the reports, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid says that Israel’s leadership “should show much more compassion and sensitivity to the families of the hostages.”

“They and their families were abandoned, and their fight is the most just fight there is,” he writes on X, formerly Twitter. “The minimum is to let them scream out their cries.”

Four protesters arrested in Tel Aviv for blocking traffic on highway

Four protesters were arrested for public disturbances during this evening’s rally outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, the Israel Police says.

The protest had not been authorized in advance by the police, but was allowed to take place because it was organized by family members of hostages, the police say.

However, after protesters blocked traffic on the Ayalon Highway, police forces began to disperse the demonstration, upon which four protesters were arrested for violating the dispersal order, the statement says.

Knesset votes to require graphic warnings on all cigarette and smoking product packaging

File: Cigarette packages with a warning label reading 'Watch out- smoking kills' for sale at the Ben Gurion International Airport on September 13, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
File: Cigarette packages with a warning label reading 'Watch out- smoking kills' for sale at the Ben Gurion International Airport on September 13, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The Knesset votes to require and legally enforce the printing of graphic warnings on all cigarette and smoking product packaging.

The new requirement is an amendment to the existing law outlawing advertising and limiting the marketing of tobacco products.

The responsibility for issuing specific instructions about the photographs showing the health damage caused by smoking to be printed on individual packs and multi-pack cartons falls to the Health Minister.

Producers and importers of cigarettes and smoking products who do not affix the graphic warning labels or print them on packaging will have committed a criminal offense.

Protesters descend on Begin Street in Tel Aviv after collapse of hostage talks in Qatar

Demonstrators protest for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Demonstrators protest for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, March 26, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Protesters gather outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv after the collapse of the latest round of hostage negotiations in Qatar and the return of the Israeli delegation from Doha.

Family members of the hostages still in Gaza block Begin Street with cages to represent their loved ones, who have been held captive by Hamas since October 7.

The protest is taking place against the backdrop of an interview given by released hostage Amit Soussana and published by The New York Times this evening in which she shared details of the sexual assault she endured at the hands of her Hamas captor.

“There are still 19 women in captivity, it’s already been almost six months,” Ayala Metzger — whose father-in-law Yoram Metzger is still captive — tells the Kan public broadcaster from the scene of the protest.

“We’re celebrating Passover soon, the holiday of freedom, what freedom? What freedom are we talking about?” she continues. “They’re going through so much, it hurts to imagine it. One woman told us what she experienced there – what is happening to the other 19?”

“I’m addressing my prime minister – this is your responsibility,” says Metzger. “It is your responsibility, Netanyahu, to bring them home, whatever the cost.”

 

Hostage Uriel Baruch murdered by Hamas, his body held in Gaza, family confirms

Uriel Baruch, who was presumed taken hostage from the Supernova desert rave by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, and whose death in Hamas captivity was announced on March 26, 2024. (Courtesy)
Uriel Baruch, who was presumed taken hostage from the Supernova desert rave by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023, and whose death in Hamas captivity was announced on March 26, 2024. (Courtesy)

The Tikva Forum for Families of Hostages announces the death of Uriel Baruch, who was taken hostage from the Supernova music festival on October 7.

His body is being held in Gaza, the Forum says.

He is survived by his wife Rachel and their two sons.

“Uriel was a happy and loved man, he was loved by everyone around him,” his family says in a statement released via the Tikva Forum.

His death brings the number of confirmed deaths of hostages in Gaza to 34.

IDF confirms: Top Hamas commander Marwan Issa killed in airstrike earlier this month

These images released by the IDF on March 26, 2024, show Marwan Issa (left)  the deputy commander of Hamas's military wing, and Ghazi Abu Tama'a, another senior commander in the terror group, killed in an Israeli strike on March 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
These images released by the IDF on March 26, 2024, show Marwan Issa (left) the deputy commander of Hamas's military wing, and Ghazi Abu Tama'a, another senior commander in the terror group, killed in an Israeli strike on March 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari in a press conference officially confirms that Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’s military wing, was killed in an Israeli airstrike carried out in the central Gaza Strip earlier this month.

Alongside Issa, senior Hamas commander Ghazi Abu Tama’a was killed in the March 10 strike in Nuseirat, according to Hagari.

The US previously announced that Issa was killed in the strike, although at the time, Israel said it was still evaluating the results of the bombing.

US laments reports that Palestinians drowned trying to retrieve aid from sea in northern Gaza

WASHINGTON — US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller laments reports that several Palestinians drowned while trying to retrieve air-dropped aid that landed off the coast of northern Gaza.

“It is a tragedy,” Miller says when asked about the reports in a briefing. “It is not just a tragedy that [these] individuals died trying to get aid. It is a tragedy that they felt so desperate that they had to swim out into the ocean to try and retrieve it in the first place.”

“No one should have to put themselves at risk to try and get food, water and medicine for their families. It should just be there for them, and that is what we’re trying to accomplish through the work that we’re doing to provide humanitarian assistance and in our engagements with the government of Israel to facilitate the delivery of additional humanitarian assistance,” the State Department spokesman says.

Miller says the US has not yet confirmed who was responsible for the airdrops that landed in the sea. Last month, several Palestinians were killed after packages from an Emirati airdrop landed on top of them.

The US official says that there has been a modest increase in aid going into Gaza in recent weeks, but that such boosts have been seen before and weren’t sustained, so Washington is pushing Israel to ensure that aid continues to increase.

Haredi UTJ party threatens to bolt coalition if minimum draft quotas introduced for ultra-Orthodox men – report

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party is threatening to resign from the government if the Haredi enlistment law includes annual recruitment targets for yeshiva students and financial penalties for Haredi educational institutions that don’t meet those quotas, Channel 12 reports.

According to the report, UTJ’s ultimatum was the reason for the last-minute postponement of a Cabinet meeting on the draft exemption law earlier today.

France’s defense minister denies supplying arms to Israel amid Gaza war

France’s defense minister denies allegations from investigative journalists that France supplied components for ammunition used by the Israeli army in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Marseille-based firm Eurolinks had sold Israel M27 links, metal pieces used to join rifle cartridges into ammunition belts for machine guns, investigative websites Disclose and Marsactu wrote.

Such ammunition “could have been used against civilians in the Gaza Strip,” they claimed.

The investigative outlets’ reporting was supported by photos of the links that they said were taken on October 23, weeks after Hamas’s bloody October 7 massacre in southern Israel that triggered the intense fighting in Gaza.

AFP was unable to verify the reported shipment.

But French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu tells reporters in Paris that Eurolinks’ license to export to Israeli firm IMI Systems “only covers re-export to third countries” rather than use by the Israeli army.

According to a 2023 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which studies conflicts and arms, 69 percent of Israel’s arms purchases come from US firms, 30% from Germany and 0.9% from Italy.

Tal Schneider contributed to this report.

IDF confirms additional strikes against Hezbollah in Baalbek after 50 rockets fired at Israel

The IDF confirms carrying out strikes against Hezbollah in northeastern Lebanon’s Baalbek a short while ago, after the terror group fired a barrage of some 50 rockets at northern Israel.

The strike in Baalbek, the second in the area today, targeted another “military compound used by Hezbollah’s aerial unit,” which included a launchpad for drones and several buildings, according to the IDF.

The IDF says it intercepted some of the 50 rockets fired in the barrage, with the remaining striking open areas.

There were no reports of injuries.

Separately, the IDF says fighter jets struck a Hezbollah weapons depot in Hanine and another site in Beit Yahoun.

Released hostage Amit Soussana tells NYT she was sexually assaulted by Hamas captor in Gaza

Amit Soussana, taken captive by Hamas terrorists from her home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7, 2023 and released on November 30, 2023. (Courtesy)
Amit Soussana, taken captive by Hamas terrorists from her home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7, 2023 and released on November 30, 2023. (Courtesy)

Released hostage Amit Soussana, 40, was sexually assaulted and attacked by her Hamas captor during her captivity in Gaza, she tells The New York Times.

Soussana was released from captivity on the last day of a weeklong truce in late November.

In an interview with the Times, she recounts how she was held alone, chained up in a child’s bedroom where she was forced to commit sexual acts for her Hamas captor, who she says went by the name Muhammad.

Sometime around October 24, he attacked her while she was briefly unchained in order to use the bathroom.

“He came towards me and shoved the gun at my forehead,” Soussana says.

She recounts being forced to remove her towel while Muhammad groped her before being marched at gunpoint back to the bedroom, where he forced her to “commit a sexual act on him.”

The Times adds that Soussana’s account of what happened is consistent with reports viewed by the newspaper that she gave to medical professionals and a social worker immediately after her release.

Her account is the first time that a released hostage has publicly spoken about being sexually assaulted by Hamas terrorists while in captivity.

Earlier in March, the United Nations published a report indicating that rape and gang rape likely occurred during the October 7 Hamas terror onslaught, and said that there is “clear and convincing” evidence showing that hostages were raped while being held in Gaza, and that those currently held captive are still facing such abuse.

57% of Israelis think Netanyahu’s performance since October 7 has been subpar, poll finds

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference at the Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv. November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference at the Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv. November 22, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

A majority of Israelis believe that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s performance since October 7 has been subpar, a rating significantly lower than that of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other senior officials.

According to a survey of more than 700 people carried out by the Israel Democracy Institute this month, 57 percent of the public rates Netanyahu’s performance as “poor or very poor,” while only 28% believe it is “good or excellent.” 14% assess his performance as “so-so.”

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi leads the rankings with 48% rating his performance as good and 28% as poor — followed by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (40% and 33%) and war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz (34% and 35%).

Netanyahu’s allies on the far right fare little better.

61% of respondents rate National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s performance as poor while Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich comes in at 64% disapproval. They each received 26 and 18% approval, respectively.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s perceived credibility and popularity — already battered by nearly a year of fighting over his government’s controversial judicial overhaul — suffered heavily in the aftermath of October 7, when Hamas terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages.

Netanyahu has notably avoided taking responsibility for the October 7 onslaught, unlike the defense minister and many top IDF officers.

Last November, a survey from Bar Ilan University and polling company iPanel found that less than 4% of the Jewish Israeli public believed the prime minister was a reliable source of information on the war in Gaza.

Knesset legal adviser pans attempt to remove judicial oversight on foreign media censorship bill as ‘constitutionally problematic’

Knesset Legal Adviser Sagit Afik speaks during a hearing of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, July 17, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Legal Adviser Sagit Afik speaks during a hearing of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, July 17, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik pans draft legislation allowing the government to censor foreign media as “constitutionally problematic” after lawmakers attempt to remove a clause requiring judicial authorization for the closure of outlets deemed to pose “an actual harm to the state’s security.”

During a debate in the Knesset National Security Committee, Afik objects to efforts by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and rightwing lawmakers to change a clause requiring a judge to sign off on shuttering foreign networks operating in Israel and instead only grant the judiciary the power to hear an appeal against a government decision on the matter.

Committee legal adviser Miri Frenkel-Shor also objects, stating that shutting down a media outlet “is a matter of balancing freedom of expression and state security here and we need to be extremely careful.”

Communications Minister Karhi pushes back against their objections, stating that there is “no precedent” for requiring a judge to sign off on a government decision “and it must not be allowed.”

“Too few people understand that the media today is a weapon, and if we do not neutralize this weapon, it may strike us dead,” adds committee chairman MK Zvika Fogel (Otzma Yehudit). “This law is good and the responsibility should remain with those who are responsible.”

Under the bill, the communications minister will be empowered to shutter foreign networks operating in Israel and confiscate their equipment if the defense minister identifies that their broadcasts pose “an actual harm to the state’s security.”

If ultimately passed into law, the bill — which would also allow for the censoring of a targeted network’s website — would pave the way for Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi to follow through on his threat to shut down Qatari news channel Al Jazeera, which he has said is working against Israel’s defense interests and fueling anti-Israel sentiment.

It passed a first reading in the Knesset plenum in February and is currently being prepared for its second and third readings in the committee.

A previous amendment pushed by Fogel — which would have given National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, in consultation with the National Security Committee, the power to make the final determination in banning an outlet — received strong pushback from Minister Benny Gantz’s National Unity faction, which threatened to veto the controversial legislation.

Karhi has previously taken aim at domestic media as well, threatening to halt government advertising in “Bolshevik abomination” Haaretz and promoting a far-reaching communications reform that critics assert undermines the freedom of the press.

Lebanese media reports renewed IDF strikes in Hezbollah stronghold Baalbek

Lebanese media are reporting renewed IDF strikes in northeastern Lebanon’s Baalbek.

The strikes come hours after the IDF said it targeted a Hezbollah compound near Zboud, in the Baalbek District, in response to missile fire by the terror group on the Mount Meron air traffic control base.

Baalbek, an area identified in the past as a Hezbollah stronghold, is around 100 kilometers from the Israeli border.

 

Hezbollah claims to target IDF base in northern Israel with barrage of 50 rockets

Smoke rises after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit Moshav Avivim, northern Israel, March 26, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
Smoke rises after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit Moshav Avivim, northern Israel, March 26, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Hezbollah claims to target an IDF base in the Golan Heights with a barrage of 50 Katyusha rockets.

The terror group says the barrage comes as a response to an Israeli airstrike near northeastern Lebanon’s Baalbek earlier today.

Rocket sirens had sounded in several communities in the Upper Galilee, as well as the city of Katzrin in the Golan.

There are no reports of injuries in the rocket attack.

IDF releases video footage of Hamas, Islamic Jihad operatives revealing how they use hospitals as operational hubs

Islamic Jihad operative Nabeel Rajab Abed Shteiwi is seen being interrogated in a video released by the IDF on March 26, 2024, after he was detained by the IDF near Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. (Screenshot/Israel Defense Forces)
Islamic Jihad operative Nabeel Rajab Abed Shteiwi is seen being interrogated in a video released by the IDF on March 26, 2024, after he was detained by the IDF near Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. (Screenshot/Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Directorate releases video footage of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives detailing how the terror groups used Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital as a hub for terror operations.

The terror operatives were detained in the vicinity of Shifa Hospital in recent days amid the ongoing large-scale military operation, the military says.

The Islamic Jihad operative, identified by the IDF as Nabeel Rajab Abed Shteiwi, says during the interrogation that he has been working with the terror group in missile production since 2012.

“Shifa, or schools and places like that, are our shelter,” Shteiwi says of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas, adding that he has been living in the hospital for three months.

Asked by the interrogator where the group’s headquarters inside the hospital are located, Shteiwi says that the group “does not have specific headquarters. They are in all the buildings, scattered everywhere.”

He says that a large number of Hamas operatives use the hospital’s “Specialist Building” as their hub, but adds that this “doesn’t mean that they aren’t in other buildings” as well.

As to how so many terror operatives can move around the hospital undisturbed, he says, “You might see someone who doesn’t look like a nurse but is dressed in nurse clothes walking around.”

A video released by the IDF on March 26, 2024, shows Hamas operative Bakr Ahmed Bakr Qanita being interrogated after he was detained by the IDF near Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital. (Screenshot, Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF also releases footage from the interrogation of Hamas operative Bakr Ahmed Bakr Qanita, who says he was in Shifa Hospital for 25 days.

Telling the interrogator that there are 600-1,000 Hamas operatives inside the hospital, Qanita says that there are “certain places” in Shifa that belong to the group, including in the medical residency department where terror operatives store weapons.

He confirms that the group uses the Specialist Building as one of its primary locations, as Shteiwi said, along with the Management Building.

The two terror groups tend to use hospitals across Gaza as their operation hubs because of “the large population and the large displacement,” Qanita says, adding that access to water and electricity is also a factor in the decision.

In a statement released alongside the video footage, the IDF says “the terrorists disclosed details of Hamas terror infrastructure deeply embedded within the hospital, which is used by senior Hamas operatives for planning and directing terror attacks.”

In Pentagon meeting, Austin tells Gallant there’s moral imperative to protect civilians

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, at far left, speaks while meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, across table at far right, at the Pentagon, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, at far left, speaks while meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, across table at far right, at the Pentagon, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says there is “a moral necessity and a strategic imperative” to protect Palestinian civilians, calling the situation in Gaza a “humanitarian catastrophe” that is “getting even worse.”

Austin’s comments come at the start of the meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon.

“In Gaza today, the number of civilian casualties is far too high and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low,” Austin continues. “We need immediate increases in assistance to avert famine, and our work to open a temporary humanitarian corridor by sea will help, but the key is still expanding aid deliveries by land.

He tells Gallant he looks forward to discussing surging Gaza aid with him.

Turning to a potential Israeli operation in Rafah — which the US opposes — Austin says, “the safety of the 1.5 million Palestinian civilians in Rafah is also a top priority for the United States.”

“We continue to share the goal of seeing Hamas defeated, so we’ll discuss alternative approaches to target Hamas elements, and we must also plan for Israel’s security after this conflict ends, and that includes working in renewed cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and our regional partners to stabilize Gaza and to move toward a two-state solution,” he adds.

Speaking after Austin, Gallant thanks the US defense chief personally and the US more broadly for its support in the war against Hamas.

“While we are sitting at the Pentagon, on the other side of the world, the leader of Hamas is meeting with senior Iranian government officials. There is no more tangible expression of the war of the free world against the axis advancing terror,” Gallant tells Austin.

“Today, we will discuss developments in Gaza and the means to achieve our goals: the destruction of Hamas organization and bringing back the Israeli hostages back home.”

“The negotiation on the hostages issue and Hamas positions require us to join hands in the — in our military and diplomatic efforts, and to increase pressure on Hamas,” he continues.”I will also raise the growing threats on our northern border, and our commitment to returning displaced communities to their homes.”

“We will also discuss strategic issues and the important cooperation between our establishment, which will ensure Israel’s military edge and capabilities,” Gallant says.

Hamas rejection preceded Security Council vote, US says, blasting PM for ‘playing politics’

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield votes abstain on a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, during a United Nations Security Council meeting at UN headquarters in New York on March 25, 2024. (Angela Weiss / AFP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield votes abstain on a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, during a United Nations Security Council meeting at UN headquarters in New York on March 25, 2024. (Angela Weiss / AFP)

The US says Hamas’s rejection of the latest hostage deal offer was issued before yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire and hostage deal that Washington allowed to pass.

Blasting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office for claiming that the adopted Security Council resolution led Hamas to harden its stance in the talks, a senior Biden administration official tells The Times of Israel, “This statement is inaccurate in almost every respect and unfair to the hostages and their families.”

“The description of the Hamas response reflects news reports and not the actual substance of that response, which was prepared before the UN vote even took place,” the official says.

“We will not play politics with this most important and difficult issue, and we will remain focused on a deal to free the remaining hostages,” the official adds.

IDF Reserves commanders warn planned conscription legislation could harm Israel’s security

Ultra-Orthodox Jews walking next to a sign about the IDF draft law in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She'arim, in Jerusalem, March 15, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews walking next to a sign about the IDF draft law in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She'arim, in Jerusalem, March 15, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Dozens of commanders in the IDF reserves send a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and other senior officials warning that the current outline of the planned conscription legislation will not only deepen the inequality between those who serve in the IDF and those who do not but will harm Israel’s security.

The IDF’s plan to increase the time conscripts and reservists serve in the military, combined with the Haredi enlistment law, will create an “extremely unequal” situation, the commanders charge.

The government is trying to “solve the need for more soldiers in the easiest way for politicians — increasing the burden on those who are already serving,” the letter warns.

“Under the new outline, the IDF will no longer be the ‘People’s Army.’ This is an outline that will greatly increase injustice and inequality and perpetuate serious discrimination between our people,” it continues.

The commanders also warn that beyond the feeling of inequality, there are concerns that under the new proposal, “the reserve system will not be able to meet its requirements, to the point of difficulty in manning operations.”

“We demand from you, the people responsible by law and by virtue of your authority for our routine and emergency operation, to stand firm and prevent any discriminatory and offensive recruitment plan of this kind,” the commanders add.

Finance Ministry officials warn that financial sanctions will be ineffective in solving Haredi conscription issue

Senior Finance Ministry officials express opposition to the financial sanctions included in the government’s proposed ultra-Orthodox enlistment outline, arguing that they would be ineffective in persuading yeshiva students to join the IDF.

According to national broadcaster Kan, ministry officials object to the use of financial penalties on yeshivas that fail to meet whatever enlistment quota is ultimately approved and say that only sanctions on individuals will have the desired effect.

In addition, officials believe that offering positive incentives is discriminatory, Kan reports.

Netanyahu released an amended version of the draft text on Monday following pushback from within his coalition and a warning by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara that she would be unable to defend the initial proposal in court.

According to Hebrew media reports on Tuesday morning, the attorney general requested revisions to the original proposal to include annual recruitment targets in pursuit of a “significant and gradual increase” in enlistment by yeshiva students and graduates of ultra-Orthodox educational institutions.

Channel 12 and Ynet reported that the attorney general has requested that the recruitment target figures be included in the legislation, while ultra-Orthodox parties reject that proposal.

After members of his government expressed strong objections to the plan, Netanyahu postponed a planned cabinet discussion on the issue and instead entered into marathon talks within his coalition on the controversial reform.

Israeli Air Force responsible for overnight strikes on Iran-linked operatives in eastern Syria

This picture taken on March 26, 2024 shows a view of a damaged building following an air strike in Syria's eastern city of Deir Ezzor. (AFP)
This picture taken on March 26, 2024 shows a view of a damaged building following an air strike in Syria's eastern city of Deir Ezzor. (AFP)

The Israeli Air Force was responsible for overnight airstrikes in eastern Syria, which reportedly killed several Iranian-linked operatives, The Times of Israel has learned.

The strikes in the Deir Ezzor and al-Bukamal area targeted assets belonging to Iran’s Unit 4000, the Special Operations Division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Intelligence Organization, and the special operations unit of the IRGC’s Quds Force in Syria, known as Unit 18840, according to Israeli defense sources.

Yesterday, the Shin Bet announced that it had foiled attempts by those two Iranian units to smuggle advanced weapons to West Bank Palestinian terrorists.

The strikes overnight, defense sources say, were a response to the smuggling attempts and targeted assets related to the Iranian plot.

Israel is aware that several Iranian or Iran-linked operatives were killed in the strikes. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, previously accused of inflating tolls and false reporting, claims nine were killed in the strikes.

Visiting Tehran, Hamas leader Haniyeh extols ‘unprecedented political isolation’ of Israel

Ismail Haniyeh (L), the Doha-based political bureau chief of the Gaza terrorist organization Hamas, speaks to the press after a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (R) in Tehran on March 26, 2024. (AFP)
Ismail Haniyeh (L), the Doha-based political bureau chief of the Gaza terrorist organization Hamas, speaks to the press after a meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian (R) in Tehran on March 26, 2024. (AFP)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, on a visit to Iran, says Israel is experiencing “unprecedented political isolation,” a day after the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire in the Gaza war and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

“Although this resolution came late and there may be some gaps that need to be filled, the resolution itself indicates that the Israeli occupation is experiencing unprecedented political isolation,” the terror group’s Qatar-based leader tells a news conference in Tehran.

He adds that Israel is “losing political cover and protection even in the Security Council” and “the US is unable to impose its will on the international community.”

Hamas welcomed the Security Council resolution calling for Israel to cease fighting, but is not expected to obey the demand for the immediate release of the 134 hostages still held captive in Gaza.

Haniyeh is accompanied by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who made no comment during the press conference.

Haniyeh arrived in Tehran earlier on Tuesday and met with Amir-Abdollahian. He is scheduled to meet other senior officials during his visit, Iran’s state news agency IRNA says.

IDF confirms striking Hezbollah sites deep in Lebanon after missile fire at Meron air traffic control base

The IDF confirms targeting Hezbollah sites deep in Lebanon, near the northeastern town of Zboud, in response to the missile fire carried out by the terror group against the Mount Meron air traffic control base earlier today.

According to the IDF, the strike targeted “a military compound used by Hezbollah’s aerial unit” near Zboud in the Baalbek District, which is more than 110 kilometers (70 miles) from Israel’s border.

The compound included several buildings and a landing pad for drones, the IDF says.

The IDF also says it struck a building and other infrastructure used by Hezbollah in Ayta ash-Shab and Kafr Kila, and an observation post in Maroun al-Ras.

Rocket sirens across northern Israel

Rocket warning alerts sound across the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights regions in northern Israel.

The sirens can be heard in locations including Katzrin, Mevuot Hermon Regional Council and Hatzor Haglilit.

Supernova festival survivors harassed by Manchester Airport staff identified as brothers Daniel and Neria Sharabi

Brothers Daniel (R) and Neria (L) Sharabi, who saved dozens at the October 7 Nova massacre, in a Channel 13 TV interview, December 28, 2023. (Screen capture: Channel 13. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law.)
Brothers Daniel (R) and Neria (L) Sharabi, who saved dozens at the October 7 Nova massacre, in a Channel 13 TV interview, December 28, 2023. (Screen capture: Channel 13. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law.)

The two Israeli survivors of the Supernova music festival who were harassed by UK Border Force staff at Manchester airport yesterday are identified by the Daily Mail as brothers Daniel and Neria Sharabi.

The two saved dozens of lives during the Hamas music festival massacre on October 7 by providing fire cover for escapees with weapons they found in a tank, while receiving instructions over the phone from an IDF officer.

When they arrived in England to raise awareness for a nonprofit established to help survivors of the October 7 massacre, the two were stopped at the airport and told they would be questioned further about the purpose of their visit.

A short video clip of the incident shared on social media showed one of the guards upbraiding the Israelis, who cannot be seen onscreen, after one appears to say they are not being allowed to enter.

“Nobody has said that once, so knock the attitude off,” the guard is heard saying. “We’ve made the decision, and you’re coming in. Just let us do the checks we need to go and keep quiet.”

The two were then detained for two hours and upon being released, the same guard told them, “They had to make sure that you are not going to do what you are doing in Gaza over here,” according to a copy of a complaint filed over the incident by the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Daniel Sharabi says he has “no doubt at all” that he was detained for being Israeli.

“We kept asking the officials why they had stopped us – was it because we are Israeli or because we are Jewish,” he adds. “Of course they never admitted it, but it was obvious to us it was the only reason.”

He tells the news outlet that he doesn’t feel safe in the UK after the incident and that he’ll be leaving later today.

“This is my first time in the country and my last time in the country. I don’t want to feel what I felt again,” he adds.

Hamas says 12 drown trying to reach aid dropped in water off Gaza

Twelve people have drowned trying to reach aid dropped by plane off a Gaza beach Monday, Hamas health authorities in Gaza say.

Video of an airdrop obtained by Reuters shows crowds of people running toward a beach in Beit Lahiya in north Gaza, as crates with parachutes floated down, then people standing deep in water and bodies being pulled onto the sand.

It is the latest in a string of incidents involving deaths during aid deliveries in the tiny, crowded Palestinian enclave where some people are foraging for weeds to eat and baking barely edible bread from animal feed.

The video shows the apparently lifeless body of a bearded young man being hauled onto the beach, the eyes open but unmoving, and another man trying to revive him with chest compressions as somebody says “It’s over.”

“He swam to get food for his children and he was martyred,” says a man standing on the beach who does not give his name.

A piece of paper retrieved from Monday’s airdrop said in Arabic written over an American flag that the aid was from the United States.

A statement from the Hamas-run health ministry puts the number of people who drowned at seven.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Colombia’s president threatens to cut ties with Israel; FM Katz: He’s a ‘disgrace’ to his people

Colombian President Gustavo Petro delivers a speech during swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed Attorney General Luz Adriana Camargo at the Presidential Palace in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)
Colombian President Gustavo Petro delivers a speech during swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed Attorney General Luz Adriana Camargo at the Presidential Palace in Bogota, Colombia, Friday, March 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz blasts Colombian President Petro Gustavo’s call yesterday for countries to cut off diplomatic ties with Israel if it doesn’t comply with the UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Katz tweets that Gustavo’s support for “the Hamas murderers who carried out terrible acts of slaughter and sexual crimes against babies, women, and adults is a disgrace to the Colombian people.”

“Israel will continue to defend its citizens and will not give in to any pressure or threats,” he declares.

PMO denies suggesting IDF enlist 2,500 ultra-Orthodox youth each year

The Prime Minister’s Office denies suggesting that the IDF enlist 2,500 ultra-Orthodox young men annually.

In a statement published by Ynet, the PMO says that “the reported figure refers to the current number of those serving in all existing military and civilian service tracks.”

The Haaretz daily reports that during a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Sunday afternoon, the prime minister suggested that the government’s Haredi enlistment outline include a recruitment quota of 2,500 — far less than the total number of Haredim of enlistment age.

A planned cabinet discussion on Netanyahu’s proposed amendments to the Haredi military enlistment law scheduled for today at noon was postponed at the last minute as the premier held marathon talks within his coalition on the controversial reform.

The postponement came after National Unity party chairman and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz on Monday reiterated an earlier threat to bolt the coalition if an agreement cannot be reached on ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

Gallant denies instructing his staff to stop cooperating with Netanyahu on Haredi draft law

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attends a press conference in Jerusalem on December 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant attends a press conference in Jerusalem on December 26, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s office denies a report that he instructed his staff to refuse to cooperate with the Prime Minister’s Office on the government’s conscription outline.

“The false publication according to which Defense Minister Yoav Galant instructed the professionals in his office not to cooperate with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Government Secretariat regarding the conscription law is not true and motivated by political interests only,” Gallant’s office says in a statement.

“The defense minister conveyed his position on the government’s decision — and as he made clear in the past, he emphasized that he would only support a proposal that would be raised with the consent of all parts of the emergency government.”

Gallant — who has stated he cannot support any legislation passed without broad agreement from all coalition parties, especially Benny Gantz’s — opposes Netanyahu’s proposal. He insisted in a statement on Sunday that a flexible agreement on the issue was “essential for the existence and success of the IDF.”

According to national broadcaster Kan, Gallant is concerned that Netanyahu will attempt to push the outline through the cabinet while he, Gallant, is abroad and his decision to withhold his cooperation could make it harder for the government to take meaningful action on the matter.

“It is like submitting a budget without the cooperation of the Finance Ministry,” Kan quoted one anonymous official as saying.

Israel said to hit Hezbollah stronghold deep inside Lebanon, marking northernmost strike amid war

Lebanese media outlets report that Israeli airstrikes have occurred near northeastern Lebanon’s Baalbek.

The strikes reportedly take place near the town of al-Ain area in the Baalbek District, more than 110 kilometers (70 miles)  from the Israeli border

Footage shows smoke rising from an allegedly targeted site.

Baalbek has been identified in the past as a Hezbollah stronghold.

The strike would be the fifth time that Israel has hit Hezbollah positions in the Baalbek area since hostilities on Israel’s northern border began on October 8, and the deepest strike in Lebanon amid the Israel-Hamas war.

The strikes come after Hezbollah fired missiles at the Mount Meron air traffic control base in northern Israel. Rocket fire over the last day has also damaged a winery in the border community of Avivim and a home in the town of Betzet.

Sirens have also sounded twice in the last hour in the border village of Hanita.

Houthis claim multiple attacks on ships, destroyers and Eilat over last 3 days

Yemen’s Houthis say they mounted six attacks on ships with drones and missiles in the last 72 hours in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, as well as targeting Eilat.

The Houthis attacked the Maersk Saratoga, APL Detroit, Huang Pu and Pretty Lady after identifying them as either US or British, according to a statement from the group’s military spokesperson Yahya Sarea.

Sarea adds that the group also attacked two US destroyers in the Red Sea as well as Eilat.

It was not immediately clear which, if any, of the targets were struck by the drones or missiles. Eilat was last attacked on Thursday, according to Israeli authorities, but has not been struck.

Minister backs decision to nix US trip over ceasefire resolution, says war in ‘home stretch’

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer walks into the Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington, DC on December 26, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer walks into the Executive Office Building next to the White House in Washington, DC on December 26, 2023. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer tells Bloomberg TV that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the right decision in canceling a trip to Washington where Dermer was to discuss alternate options for dealing with Hamas in Rafah.

Netanyahu nixed the trip last night after the US declined to use its veto on a ceasefire resolution in the UN Security Council, thus allowing it to pass.

Dermer says he has not spoken to US officials since the resolution passed, but he was in touch with the Biden administration on Sunday night to warn against the move.

“When I heard what was happening, I said, look, you’re going to have the wrong message, at the wrong time.”

It was a “very, very bad message,” Dermer argues, because it doesn’t tie a ceasefire to the return of the hostages, and it’s the wrong time because of the ongoing talks in Qatar.

“It’s not surprising that Hamas decided to reject the latest proposal that was put forth by the Americans,” he says. “They think they’re going to get a ceasefire without giving up the hostages because that’s what the resolution said.”

“What message is it going to send to Hamas that the day after the Americans separate these two issues and say you know what, you can have a ceasefire without hostage negotiations, and then the United States is presenting its proposal on how we should not go into Rafah. That’s a real big problem, and that’s why the prime minister made the right decision to stop the delegation.”

He says Israel and the US have not discussed a new date for the delegation, but that American ideas would still be shared.

If the US continues to insist there not be a major military operation in Rafah, then “we won’t be on the same page.” He adds that the US has not threatened any specific consequences in conversations with Israel if there is an operation in Rafah.

Dermer implores the US to stand with Israel until the end of the fight against Hamas, saying the war is in “the home stretch.”

“Stand with us, let us finish the job, and let’s get to a day after where can have a real peace process that can give hope not only to Israelis, but also to Palestinians,” he says.

He argues that Israel has “real partners in the region” to create a new reality in Gaza after Hamas is finished, pointing at the Saudis and Emiratis.

Zelensky a ‘peculiar kind of Jew,’ Kremlin says to explain its claim that he supports ISIS

The Kremlin says Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a “peculiar kind of Jew,” to explain how he can be linked to an attack in Moscow claimed by Islamic jihadists.

“Well, there is a peculiar kind of Jew over there,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says.

“A Jew who in many ways shows sympathy and inclination to the nationalist spirit that has permeated the leadership of the Kyiv regime,” he adds, appearing to refer to Russian claims of neo-Nazi sympathys by Zelensky, who is Jewish.

He declines to elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation into the concert hall attack.

Michigan voters no more likely than others to vote with Gaza war in mind — poll

Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud speaks during an election night gathering, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Dearborn, Michigan (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud speaks during an election night gathering, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Dearborn, Michigan (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

A survey released by Bloomberg polling voters in seven key swing states in the US finds that 67 percent of Michigan respondents think Israel’s war with Hamas is somewhat or very important when deciding on who to vote for in the 2024 presidential election, slightly below the figure found in other states.

Across all seven states, 70% of respondents say it is somewhat or very important. Only 1% of respondents in Michigan list it as their top issue, the same percentage found across the board in the Morning Consult poll, which surveyed voters in Michigan, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, Nevada and North Carolina.

Much has been made of Michigan’s sizable Arab population being unwilling to support Biden over his stance toward Israel, which was seen a factor pushing the administration’s change in tone in recent weeks.

The polling finds that voters in all seven states are more likely to trust former president Donald Trump over current president Joe Biden to handle the war, by a margin of 44% to 32%, with 24% trusting neither.

In Michigan, 42% of voters trust Donald Trump to handle the war while 33% back Biden dealing with it.

Hamas says 81 Gazans killed in past day

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says 81 people have been killed in the past day, raising the number of Gazan deaths since fighting broke out on October 7 to at least 32,414.

Another 93 people were injured in the past 24 hours, the ministry statement adds.

The numbers cannot be verified and do not differentiate between combatants and civilians.

Rocket sirens sound in northern town

Rocket sirens are sounding in the small community of Hanita on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

The alarm is the first since rocket sirens went off just before 1 a.m. in nearby Shlomi, though there have been several attacks since that did not trigger an alert.

MKs vote to take six-week vacation, drawing protests from hostage families

Despite ongoing hostilities in Gaza and along the northern border, lawmakers have approved an annual spring recess for the Knesset from April 7 until May 19.

Families of the hostages holding pictures of their kidnapped relatives chant “shame” in protest as the Knesset House Committee votes 8-3 in support of the recess.

“Soldiers don’t have a recess. Hostages don’t have a recess,” declares Hen Avigdori, whose wife and son were released from Hamas captivity in November.

“You represent us and the most important thing for you right now is your recess,” he charges, promising to keep an eye on the activities of every lawmaker who votes yes.

During the recess, Knesset committees will be allowed to meet four times while the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will have no limitations placed on its activities.

Following a proposal by National Unity MK Pnina Tamano-Shata — who protested the fact that the Knesset plenum will not be able to pass war-related legislation during the break — committees will be allowed to hold two additional meetings on issues relating to oversight of the war.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman protests the decision to take a break during a time of national crisis, calling out the “disconnected elected officials who do not deserve to lead the people of Israel.”

Yisrael Beytenu, Labor, Yesh Atid and National Unity have all pushed for lawmakers to be able to continue legislative activities over the break.

Herzog: Getting rid of Sinwar only way to get back hostages

President Isaac Herzog says capturing or killing Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar is the determining factor in releasing hostages held by the terror group in Gaza.

“At the end of the day, there’s no choice, we have to keep fighting, we need to bring Sinwar dead or alive so we can see the hostages brought home,” Herzog says at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a Mobileye campus in Jerusalem.

The comments come as Israel appears to abandon indirect talks with Hamas aimed at freeing the hostages, after the terror group rejected a US compromise for a six-week truce.

“This is the reality, and the world should take note: It all starts and ends with Sinwar,” he says, according to comments from his office. “He’s the one who decided on the October 7 massacre, it’s he who has looked to spill the blood of innocents, he who works to enflame the whole region, to destroy Ramadan, does everything to ruin coexistence, here and across the region, to cause us to fight with each other and with the whole world. It’s he who seeks to deploy terror, and the whole world and the whole region should know that responsibility is his alone and he won’t get away with it. We won’t let him.”

Qatar says Gaza truce talks ongoing, says UN resolution had no effect

Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, tells reporters that negotiations on a truce in Gaza are still ongoing, without providing details.

He rejects Israeli claims that a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire that passed Monday had “an immediate impact” on the talks.

Hamas leader Haniyeh arrives in Tehran for ‘significant’ talks with Iran

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh arrives in Tehran with a top-level Hamas delegation for talks with Iranian officials, the terror group reports.

The visit comes as Israel appears to have bolted truce and hostage deal negotiations in Qatar after Hamas rejected its latest offer, according to an Israeli official.

The terror group said yesterday that it informed the mediators it is sticking to its original position it put forth on March 14, which stipulated a permanent ceasefire, a withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip, the return of displaced Gazans, and a “real exchange of prisoners,” demands that Israel has repeatedly rejected as “delusional.”

Iranian state news agency IRNA describes Haniyeh’s visit to Tehran as “significant” as it comes one day after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and a release of hostages taken on October 7, after the United States abstained from the vote, sparking a spat with Israel.

Only 28,000 evacuees still living in state-funded digs, Knesset hears

Israeli flags decorate rooms of Israelis who evacuated from cities and towns along the border with Lebanon, in the Kibbutz Ginosar hotel, northern Israel, March 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli flags decorate rooms of Israelis who evacuated from cities and towns along the border with Lebanon, in the Kibbutz Ginosar hotel, northern Israel, March 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Only 28,000 Israeli evacuees, most of them from Israel’s north, remain in state-funded temporary accommodations, the Tourism Ministry says.

The figure represents a 40% decrease in the number of evacuees from two months ago and a 77% drop from the 125,000 evacuees in first weeks of the war with Hamas following the October 7 onslaught in Israel’s south, ministry official Michael Itzhakov tells the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee.

So far, the state has spent NIS 4.8 billion ($1.36 billion) on accommodations and other payments to evacuees, Itzhakov, Tourism Minister Haim Katz’s chief of staff, tells the committee.

Of the 28,000 evacuees, about half are staying in hotels and the other half occupy apartments under a short-term lease. Most evacuees prefer to stay in apartments but can’t find one because the ministry has delayed paying landlords, says Avihay Shtern, the mayor of Kiryat Shmona. His northern city, which Hezbollah has been targeting regularly since October 7, accounts for most of the remaining evacuees.

Payments to hundreds of landlords are on pause pending an investigation into suspected fraud. ISTRA, the association that represents the landlords, says this is creating uncertainty that is preventing many landlords from opening their assets to hosting evacuees.

Committee chair David Bitan notes that having evacuees stay at hotels is roughly twice as expensive for the state as housing them in short-term apartments and urges the Tourism Ministry to resolve the issue without delay.

Qatar talks on Gaza truce continuing as some Israeli negotiators stay behind, source tells Reuters

Officials from Israel’s Mossad spy agency remain in Doha for negotiations mediated by Egypt and Qatar on a Gaza truce and hostage releases, a source briefed on the talks tells Reuters.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that it had recalled its team from Doha, effectively ending negotiations, as an official statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office indicated that Jerusalem no longer saw Hamas as willing to compromise.

The source tells Reuters, however, that only a small Mossad team was returning to Israel from Doha for consultations on developments in the talks.

IDF: 6,400 troops have gone through medical, mental rehab since October 7

The Defense Ministry rehabilitation center says it has received some 6,400 soldiers since the beginning of the war on October 7, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The number is three times that of the total number of wounded veterans dealt with by the rehab center in all of 2022, the ministry says.

According to the ministry, 21% of those treated by the rehab center during the war have “head injuries” or are suffering from PTSD or other psychological conditions.

The ministry expects thousands more wounded veterans in the coming year, as fighting continues in the Gaza Strip and on other fronts.

Currently, the rehab center aids more than 64,000 soldiers, including 8,000 suffering from PTSD, according to the ministry.

Hezbollah missiles fired at Meron air control base, IDF says

View of an Israeli military base in Meron, northern Israel, February 27, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)
View of an Israeli military base in Meron, northern Israel, February 27, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The IDF says projectiles, apparently anti-tank missiles, were fired from Lebanon at the military’s sensitive Mount Meron air traffic control base a short while ago.

The strike caused no injuries and “no harm to the unit’s capabilities,” the IDF says.

The IDF says it shelled the launch site in southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah has attacked Mount Meron, which is located some eight kilometers (5 miles) from the Lebanon border, several times amid the ongoing war, launching large barrages of rockets at the mountain, as well as missiles at the base that sits atop it.

Russian court extends detention of US reporter Gershkovich until late June at earliest

In this photo released by the Moscow City Court Press Service, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (Moscow City Court Press Service via AP)
In this photo released by the Moscow City Court Press Service, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (Moscow City Court Press Service via AP)

A Moscow court has ordered Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich to remain in jail on espionage charges until at least late June, court officials say.

The 32-year-old US citizen was arrested in late March 2023 while on a reporting trip and has spent a year behind bars. His arrest is extended until June 30.

Photos from the courtroom released by court officials show Gershkovich, clad in a black checkered shirt, smiling from the glass defendant’s box.

Gershkovich and his employer have denied the allegations, and the US government has declared him to be wrongfully detained.

His arrest in the city of Yekaterinburg rattled journalists in Russia, where authorities have not detailed what, if any, evidence they have to support the espionage charges.

Gershkovich is being held at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, which is notorious for its harsh conditions.

US ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy attended the court hearing on Tuesday and reiterated that “the accusations against Evan are categorically untrue.”

“They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction,” Tracy tells reporters outside of the courthouse. “No justification for Evan’s continued detention, and no explanation as to why Evan doing his job as a journalist constituted a crime. Evan’s case is not about evidence, due process or rule of law. It is about using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends.”

Winery in north goes up in flames after rocket attack

Hezbollah fired three projectiles from Lebanon at the northern community of Avivim, hitting a winery structure and causing a fire, according to the IDF.

The terror group claims to have targeted buildings used by Israeli forces.

There are no reports of injuries in the attack. Sirens did not sound in the largely evacuated community.

The IDF says it shelled the launch site in southern Lebanon with artillery.

The owner of the winery tells Ynet that this is the fourth time his business has been hit by projectiles fired from Lebanon.

Dozens protest bill on Haredi draft avoidance outside Netanyahu’s office

Protesters rally against proposed legislation on ultra-Orthodox military enlistment outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 26, 2024. (Sam Sokol / Times of Israel)
Protesters rally against proposed legislation on ultra-Orthodox military enlistment outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 26, 2024. (Sam Sokol / Times of Israel)

Chanting “elections now,” dozens of demonstrators gather outside the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem to protest the government’s draft legislation on ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

Standing on top of a full-size model “unity tank” across from the PMO, a veteran of the Yom Kippur War demands that the government impose “equality” of the burden between Haredim, Arabs and secular Israelis.

In response, protesters, many of whom belong to the Brothers in Arms anti-government movement, chant “Equality for everyone” and “Elections now.”

“God is not on your side,” one of the protesters screams into a bullhorn.

The protest was planned to coincide with a cabinet discussion of the legislation, which was postponed at the last moment due to pushback by Netanyahu’s political allies. Both Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and war cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, among others, have expressed objections to the legislation, whose passage Netanyahu has reportedly stated is necessary for the continued existence of the coalition.

Gantz has threatened to bolt the coalition if the legislation passes, arguing that he needs to see “a solution for recruitment, not an exemption from recruitment.”

Other protesters gathered earlier this morning outside Bnei Brak’s Slabodka Yeshiva, demonstrating against the long-time exemption from military service given to students at ultra-Orthodox seminaries.

Israel pulls negotiating team from Doha, says Hamas uninterested in talks

Men watch from afar as people search the rubble of destroyed buildings in the Asra residential compound, northwest of Nuseirat in the Gaza Strip, on March 25, 2024. (AFP)
Men watch from afar as people search the rubble of destroyed buildings in the Asra residential compound, northwest of Nuseirat in the Gaza Strip, on March 25, 2024. (AFP)

Israel is recalling its negotiating team from Qatar after Hamas rejected its latest offer in talks for a hostage deal and truce, an Israeli official tells The Times of Israel.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says Hamas’s decision to reject a US-brokered compromise is “clear proof it is not interested in continuing talks, and a sad testament to the damage caused by the UN Security Council resolution,” referring to a call for a ceasefire passed last night.

The PMO accuses Hamas of retreating to its “extreme demands” including a complete end to the war and full IDF withdrawal from Gaza.

“Israel will not cave to Hamas’s delusional demands,” it adds.

A diplomatic official quoted by Hebrew-language media says Hamas demanded that Gazans be given carte blanche to return to the north of the Strip and did not even address a hostage release.

“There is no one to talk to on the other side and the Israeli negotiating team has nothing to do in Qatar,” the source is quoted saying.

Gun, ammo seized in West Bank town after shots fired at settlement, IDF says

IDF troops operate in the West Bank early March 26, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops operate in the West Bank early March 26, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF says troops raided a Palestinian town in the West Bank overnight after shots were fired at a nearby settlement late last night, causing slight damage to a home.

The IDF says troops captured a handgun and ammunition in Beit Ummar, from which authorities suspect shots were fired toward the settlement of Karmei Tzur.

In the nearby town of Beit Fajjar, another two handguns were seized, and explosive devices were destroyed, the IDF says.

The army says 14 wanted Palestinians were arrested during overnight raids across the West Bank and handed over to the Shin Bet for further questioning.

During a “brigade-level raid” in the northern West Bank’s Balata camp, adjacent to Nablus, the IDF says a soldier opened fire at a suspect who allegedly attempted to snatch his gun. The suspect’s condition was not immediately known.

Official Palestinian news outlet WAFA says the man was shot in the foot, citing the Red Crescent. According to WAFA, some 25 Palestinians were arrested during the overnight raids.

Troops in Balata also located and destroyed explosive devices, the IDF says.

The IDF says no troops were hurt in the overnight operations.

Since October 7, troops have arrested some 3,600 wanted Palestinians across the West Bank, including more than 1,600 affiliated with Hamas, according to the IDF.

Meeting on Haredi conscription legislation pushed off as PM scrambles to bridge gaps

Ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She'arim neighborhood in Jerusalem on March 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jews celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She'arim neighborhood in Jerusalem on March 25, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

A cabinet meeting meant to discuss draft legislation regulating conscription requirements for the ultra-Orthodox community has been delayed indefinitely, amid coalition turbulence over the proposal, a spokesperson for Benny Gantz confirms to The Times of Israel.

According to reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding marathon meetings with ministers and other lawmakers in an effort to find a way to bridge disagreements over the regulations that satisfy the Attorney General’s Office and his warring coalition partners.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has rejected any proposal that does not include quotas for numbers of ultra-Orthodox youths to be drafted in the coming years, according to reports.

Netanyahu’s Haredi coalition partners reject any law requiring members of the community to be included in draft requirements mandatory for most other Israelis. Other members of the coalition, including many in Netanyahu’s own Likud party, reject legislation that will allow the ultra-Orthodox to continue avoiding sharing in the burden of military service.

According to Channel 12 news, Likud lawmakers have complained that proposed legislation put forward by Netanyahu in recent days does little to change the status quo, or make up manpower shortages in the military set to force those who do serve to be conscripted for longer periods.

Reports also detail a letter sent by the Finance Ministry to Baharav-Miara stating that proposed financial penalties on yeshivas that take in draft dodgers, in lieu of criminal penalties or financial sanctions on draft dodgers themselves, will not be sufficient to raise Haredi conscription rates.

Picture shows home hit by Hezbollah rocket overnight

A picture shared by the Hebrew media outlets shows significant damage to a home in the northern community of Betzet hit by rocket fire from Lebanon overnight.

Another video shows damage to an agricultural area, with the Walla news site reporting that high-tension electricity cables were severed as a result of the attack.

Two rockets were fired from Lebanon just before 1 a.m., setting off sirens in the village and the neighboring town of Shlomi, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Hezbollah claimed the attack.

No injuries are reported. Both Betzet and Shlomi are largely evacuated of civilians.

Several cars, truck believed to have plunged into water in Baltimore span collapse

Several vehicles are thought to have fallen into the Patapsco River after a major bridge in Baltimore collapsed, a fire official says, with rescuers attempting to reach at least seven people believed to have been on the bridge at the time of the incident.

In a video, several construction vehicles can be seen on the span.

“The entire bridge collapsed into the Patapsco River,” Baltimore Fire Department spokesperson Kevin Cartwright says, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“We have reason to believe that there were vehicles and possibly a tractor-trailer” on the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

He notes that the number of vehicles that had been on the bridge is unknown, and calls the collapse a “developing mass casualty event.”

“This is a dire emergency,” Cartwright says.

US non-veto a ‘moral, ethical’ lapse bolstering Hamas in truce talks, foreign minister charges

Foreign Minister Israel Katz attends a United Nations Security Council meeting about the conflict in the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York on March 11, 2024. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)
Foreign Minister Israel Katz attends a United Nations Security Council meeting about the conflict in the Middle East at UN headquarters in New York on March 11, 2024. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz says the US decision to withhold a veto on a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza will wind up hurting Israel in talks to free its hostages held by terrorists in the enclave.

Speaking to Army Radio, Katz draws a direct line between Hamas’s rejection of Israeli terms for a truce and hostage deal in exchange for prisoners and the US decision to allow the measure to pass, which he calls “a moral and ethical mistake.”

“Hamas is building on the fact that… there will be a ceasefire without it needing to pay a thing,” he says.

Katz maintains that ties between Jerusalem and Washington remain strong, noting an upcoming meeting with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and describing President Joe Biden’s position as the result of pressure from a “radical wing” within the Democratic party.

But he says the message that came through with the resolution, especially its Arabic language version, is that “Hamas does not need to rush” into a deal.

He says the result is that Israel will need to up military pressure to prove its commitment to releasing the hostages and taking down Hamas.

“In our view, there was a message, a no-good message, to anyone on Hamas’s side, that the US does not support Israel as much, and so we need to prove, militarily, that we will stand by our goals,” he says.

Major Baltimore bridge collapses into water after being hit by cargo ship

A major bridge in Baltimore has collapsed into the water after a cargo ship collided with it, according to multiple reports.

Video shows the the 3-kilometer (1.6-mile) long Key Bridge, which carries Baltimore’s  I-695 beltway, falling into the water.

“All lanes closed both directions for incident on I-695 Key Bridge. Traffic is being detoured,” the Maryland Transportation Authority says in a post on X.

Baltimore police and the city’s fire department have not responded to a request for comment.

Israel steps up Gaza airstrikes as Shifa push grinds on

Israeli Air Force fighter jets stepped up air attacks in Gaza over the past day, hitting more than 60 targets across theStrip, largely in support of forces maneuvering on the ground, the Israel Defense Forces says.

The targets included attack tunnels and buildings where gunmen were gathered, according to the IDF. The number of strikes is higher than it has been in recent weeks.

The IDF says it also struck targets in an area from which three rockets were fired at the southern city of Sderot last night.

Meanwhile, the IDF’s operation against Hamas at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital continues, with the military saying troops killed several gunmen and captured weapons over the past day.

The raid at Shifa, which began early March 18, is being carried out by the Navy’s Shayetet 13 commando unit, the 401st Armored Brigade, and Nahal Infantry Brigade.

The IDF says many more Hamas operatives were killed during operations over the past day in southern Gaza’s al-Qarara and the al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis, where troops of the Commando Brigade and Paratroopers Brigade also captured caches of weapons.

The 7th Armored Brigade, also operating in the Khan Younis area, raided several buildings used by Hamas, and in the process captured weapons, destroyed infrastructure, and killed operatives, the IDF says.

Nahal troops operating in central Gaza killed several more Hamas operatives over the past day, including by calling in airstrikes against cells spotted near them, the IDF says.

Syrian NGO says at least 9 pro-Iran fighters killed in airstrikes; origin as yet unknown

At least nine pro-Iranian fighters including a leader have been killed in air strikes in war-torn eastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“Nine pro-Iranian fighters, including a leader and a Syrian, were killed and more than 20 wounded in air strikes targeting the villa they were staying in, which served as a communications centre,” says the Britain-based war monitor, which did not yet know the origin of the strikes.

Israel has for years carried out attacks on what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in a civil war that started in 2011, but rarely comments on them publicly.

Since the Hamas terror group’s brutal October 7 massacres, which saw some 1,200 people killed in Israel and 253 kidnapped, mostly civilians, Israel has escalated its strikes on Iranian-backed terror targets in Syria and has also struck Syrian army air defenses and some Syrian forces.

Hamas’s Haniyeh heading to Tehran to meet Iranian officials

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh will travel to Tehran today to meet Iranian officials, a day after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian group, Iran’s official Press TV reported.

Iran and its terror proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq have been threatening a regional conflict since the start of the war, sparked by Hamas’s brutal October 7 assault on southern Israel that killed some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw some 253 people taken hostage in Gaza.

Following Hamas’s onslaught, Israel vowed to eliminate the terror group from the Gaza Strip, which it has ruled since 2007, and launched an operation from the air and the sea, and on the ground.

Haniyeh has lived in Qatar, which hosts the terror group’s political bureau, since he was replaced by Yahye Sinwar as Hamas leader in Gaza in 2007.

25-year-old man seriously wounded in shooting in southern Beduin town

Medics provide first aid to a 25-year-old man who was seriously wounded in a shooting in the Negev early this morning.

Magen David Adom says the man was evacuated from the Beduin town of Segev Shalom in a serious and unstable condition to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center.

Police also arrive at the scene and open an investigation, according to Hebrew media reports.

Report: UK border guards harassed October 7 survivors at Manchester airport over Gaza war

A Jewish group in Manchester, England, says two survivors of the October 7 Hamas massacre were detained at the city’s airport upon arrival as they traveled to the UK to share their experiences and raise awareness for a non-profit established to help survivors of the attack.

According to a complaint published online, a border guard told the pair they were stopped because “they had to make sure that you are not going to do what you are doing in Gaza over here.”

A video of the encounter shows a border agent telling the pair, off screen, to be quiet and let the officials do their job.

 

British Home Secretary James Cleverly responds on X, formerly Twitter, that the incident is being investigated.

“We do not tolerate antisemitism or any form of discrimination,” he adds.

 

IDF: Rockets fired at northern towns overnight, Hezbollah sites in south Lebanon attacked

The Israel Defense Forces says two rockets were fired toward the northern border town of Shlomi overnight.

Rocket alarms had sounded in both Shlomi and the neighboring village of Betzet at 12:50 a.m. Tuesday.

There is no word on injuries or damage from the overnight attack, which was claimed by the Hezbollah terror group.

The army also says fighter jets carried out airstrikes on buildings used by Hezbollah in Tayr Harfa and Dhayra in southern Lebanon during the night.

It also attacked the source of the overnight rocket fire.

Hezbollah announces death of 248th operative in fighting with Israel

Hezbollah announces the death of a fighter “on the road to Jerusalem,” its code for operatives killed in ongoing hostilities with Israel.

It names the fighter as Hussein Ali Dabouq, 29 or 30 years old, from the town of Chabriha, on the coast north of Tyre.

Dabouq is the 248th Hezbollah fighter killed in nearly six months of fighting with Israel, according to the Iran-backed terror group.

Israel said late last night that it carried out airstrikes against Hezbollah in Mays al-Jabal and Abou Chach in southern Lebanon.

 

US, Israeli defense chiefs to meet as tensions rise over Gaza war

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin shake hands while delivering joint statements at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on October 13, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin shake hands while delivering joint statements at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv on October 13, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant later today and discuss ways to defeat Hamas other than conducting a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the Pentagon says, at a time of rising tensions between the two countries.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, tells reporters that Austin’s planned morning meeting with Gallant is still on, even though Israel abruptly canceled the visit of a high-level delegation to Washington this week to discuss the Rafah operation.

The two trips were planned separately. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was due to send his top aides but canceled the visit in protest over Monday’s UN Security Council decision calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The US abstained, deciding not to use its veto power, and the resolution passed 14-0.

“There are ways to go about addressing the threat of Hamas, while also taking into account civilian safety. A lot of those are from lessons, our own lessons, conducting operations in urban environments,” Ryder says. “I would expect the conversations to cover those kinds of things.”

Israel says it cannot defeat Hamas without going into Rafah, where it says the group has four battalions composed of thousands of fighters. The city is also serving as shelter for over a million people displaced by fighting elsewhere in the enclave

Blinken reiterates US ‘opposition to major ground operation in Rafah’ in meeting with Gallant

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant leaves the State Department after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the US State Department in Washington, DC, on March 25, 2024. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant leaves the State Department after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the US State Department in Washington, DC, on March 25, 2024. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised US opposition to a major ground operation in Rafah with Israel’s defense minister on Monday, after a delegation to discuss Washington’s concerns was scrapped earlier in the day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to send the delegation to Washington to discuss the Rafah offensive but cancelled it after the United States abstained on a UN Security Council resolution that demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza during Ramadan.

In his meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Washington, Blinken reiterated US “opposition to a major ground operation in Rafah,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller says in a statement.

Such a move “would further jeopardize the welfare of the more than 1.4 million Palestinian civilians sheltering there,” Miller says.

Netanyahu’s determination to launch a ground operation in Rafah, the city on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt
— Hamas’s last stronghold and where most of the territory’s population is sheltering — has become a key point of contention with Washington.

Blinken “underscored that alternatives exist to a major ground invasion that would both better ensure Israel’s security and protect Palestinian civilians,” Miller says.

The two additionally “discussed the need to immediately surge and sustain additional humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of civilians in Gaza,” he adds.

Israel said earlier in the day that the United States abstention “hurts” both its war effort and attempts to release hostages taken by terrorists on October 7.

It was “a clear retreat from the consistent position of the US,” Netanyahu’s office said.

UK airdrops 10 tons of food supplies into Gaza

A handout picture taken and released by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) on March 25, 2024 shows humanitarian aid being airdropped over Gaza from a RAF A400M aircraft. (AFP / CROWN COPYRIGHT 2024 / MOD / AS1 LEAH JONES / RAF)
A handout picture taken and released by the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) on March 25, 2024 shows humanitarian aid being airdropped over Gaza from a RAF A400M aircraft. (AFP / CROWN COPYRIGHT 2024 / MOD / AS1 LEAH JONES / RAF)

Britain’s Royal Air Force airdropped more than 10 metric tons of food supplies into Gaza for the first time on Monday, Britain’s defense ministry says in a statement.

“The aid, which consists of water, rice, cooking oil, flour, tinned goods and baby formula, will support the people of Gaza,” the ministry says.

Blinken tells Gallant alternatives exist to Rafah ground offensive

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscores in a meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that alternatives exist to a ground invasion of Rafah that would both better ensure Israel’s security and protect Palestinian civilians, the State Department says.

Gallant is in Washington on a pre-planned trip at the invitation of Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin.

A plan to send a senior Israeli delegation to Washington to discuss a Rafah offensive was scrapped by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the US abstained from a UN Security Council vote on a resolution calling for a Gaza ceasefire and a release of the hostages, ensuring it would pass.

Egypt and Qatar, who serve as mediators in truce talks, welcome UNSC resolution on Gaza ceasefire

Cairo says the United Nations Security Council resolution that passed earlier today demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the immediate release of the hostages taken on October 7 “represents the first important and necessary step to stop the bloodshed,” the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs writes in a statement to the UN.

The United States withheld its veto and abstained from the vote, allowing the resolution to pass with 14 votes in favor. It was the first time that the Security Council passed a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza since the start of the war in October.

Qatar, which has been hosting indirect talks on a temporary truce and hostage release deal, says it hopes the resolution “represents a step towards a permanent cessation of fighting in the Strip.”

Three rockets fired from Gaza at Sderot area intercepted; sirens blare in southern city

Three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at the southern city of Sderot a short while ago.

All three were intercepted by air defenses, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Sirens sounded in Sderot and nearby communities.

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have launched more than a dozen rockets at southern Israel today.

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