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

Ireland to intervene in South Africa’s ICJ genocide case against Israel

Irish Defense and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, left, meets with Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 16, 2023. (Zain Jaafar/Pool Photo via AP)
Irish Defense and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, left, meets with Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 16, 2023. (Zain Jaafar/Pool Photo via AP)

Ireland says it will intervene in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, in the strongest signal to date of Dublin’s concern about Israeli operations in Gaza since October 7.

Announcing the move, Foreign Minister Micheal Martin says that while it was for the World Court to decide whether genocide is being committed, he wants to be clear that Hamas’ October 7 attack and what is happening in Gaza now “represents the blatant violation of international humanitarian law on a mass scale.”

“The taking of hostages. The purposeful withholding of humanitarian assistance to civilians. The targeting of civilians and of civilian infrastructure. The indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The use of civilian objects for military purposes. The collective punishment of an entire population,” Martin says in a statement.

“The list goes on. It has to stop. The view of the international community is clear. Enough is enough.”

In January the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, ordered Israel to refrain from any acts that could fall under the Genocide Convention and to ensure its troops commit no genocidal acts against Palestinians after South Africa accused Israel of state-led genocide in Gaza.

Israel and its Western allies described the allegation as baseless. A final ruling in South Africa’s ICJ case in The Hague could take years.

Martin does not say what form the intervention would take or outline any argument Ireland plans to advance but adds that the step was decided following legal and policy analysis and consultation with several partners including South Africa.

Martin’s department says such third-party interventions do not take a specific side in the dispute, but that the intervention would be an opportunity for Ireland to put forward its interpretation of one or more of the provisions of the Genocide Convention at issue in the case.

US military says it destroyed four Houthi long-range drones

The US military says it had destroyed four long-range drones launched by Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

US Central Command says in a post on the social media site X that the drones were “aimed at a US warship” in the Red Sea.

‘An exemplary public servant, champion of the Jewish people’: PM eulogizes Lieberman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Sen. Joe Lieberman in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2020. (GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Sen. Joe Lieberman in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2020. (GPO)

“Sara and I grieve with Hadassah and the entire Lieberman family on the passing of our beloved Joe Lieberman,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweets.

“Joe was an exemplary public servant, an American patriot and a matchless champion of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”

“In my very first meeting with him decades ago, I was struck by his integrity, decency and civic courage. He had a deep moral sense and common sense and was fearless in the defense of truth.”

“He was also an extraordinarily kind and loyal personal friend.”

“We will miss you greatly, Joe. May the Lieberman family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

In 11th hour U-turn, gov’t asks High Court for extension to prevent mandated Haredi draft

In a last-minute U-turn, the government requests a half-day extension to the High Court’s deadline for filing a response to petitions demanding that the state immediately start conscripting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

The Attorney General’s Office had filed a draft response asserting that the state would be obliged to begin conscription for such men on April 1 after a government resolution postponing drafting procedures expired but sent out the deadline extension request shortly afterward.

The government was supposed to have drafted an outline proposal for a law that would lead to an increase in ultra-Orthodox enlistment and pass it as a government resolution by Wednesday, but failed to arrive at a consensus over the explosive issue within the coalition.

The state’s request for an extension until 2 p.m. tomorrow afternoon appears to indicate that there will be a last-gasp effort to formulate some kind of realistic proposal to show the court by that time.

Former US senator Joe Lieberman, first Jewish VP nominee for major party, dies at 82

Then-US senator from Connecticut Joe Lieberman leaving the West Wing of the White House after meeting with then-US president Donald Trump, on May 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Olivier Douliery/File)
Then-US senator from Connecticut Joe Lieberman leaving the West Wing of the White House after meeting with then-US president Donald Trump, on May 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Olivier Douliery/File)

Former US senator Joe Lieberman, the first Jewish vice presidential nominee on the ticket of a major American political party, has died at 82.

Lieberman, who was Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, died from complications from a fall, Punchbowl News reports in a social media post on X, citing the former senator’s family.

In bombshell filing, AG to tell High Court gov’t must get ready to draft yeshiva students

Ultra-Orthodox men protest outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox men protest outside the army recruitment office in Jerusalem, March 4, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

In a bombshell draft filing to the High Court, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s office says the government will no longer be able to defer military conscription of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students come Monday morning.

Following the failure of the government to come up with a realistic plan to increase ultra-Orthodox enlistment to present to the court, and with the government resolution delaying the conscription of Haredi yeshiva students set to expire midnight on Sunday, the attorney general says the relevant state agencies will have no legal option other than to begin drafting such men on Monday.

Baharav-Miara also tells the High Court that, as a result, there will be no legal basis to continue the state funding of yeshiva student stipends, since those funds are grounded in the framework of the students’ military service exemptions.

AG to cabinet secretary: Government acting to increase the burden on the serving public

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/ Flash90/ File)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/ Flash90/ File)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has sent a fiery response to Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs’s letter from earlier today on why the government failed to advance a proposal addressing the political hot potato of exemptions from military enlistment for ultra-Orthodox students.

The two-page response from Baharav-Miara’s office, which was signed by one of her deputies, calls Fuchs’s letter “misleading and full of inaccuracies,” and criticizes the original government proposal that did not set a quota of ultra-Orthodox men enlisting each year, saying it lacks the “minimal professional support.”

“We were not presented with any legal opinions or documents that show how the government intends to come up with an arrangement that will lead to increasing equality in the burden of [military] service,” the response says. “This is particularly significant when the government is acting to increase the burden on the serving public — both conscripts and reservists — and at the same time seeks to further delay the enlistment of yeshiva students.”

Hezbollah announces 5 more of its members killed, following latest Israeli strikes

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

They are named as Kamel Shehadeh, from Deyrintar; Hassan Hassan, from Mazraat Mechref; Ali Yazbek, from Naqoura; Ali Aqeel, from Jebbayn; and Hussain Zahoor, from Yohmor.

Shehadeh and Hassan are identified by Hezbollah as paramedics in the terror group’s Islamic Health Authority.

Their deaths bring the terror group’s toll since the beginning of the war in the Gaza Strip to 255.

Hezbollah on its media channels also publishes statements on the deaths of a member of the affiliated Amal Movement, and another paramedic with the Islamic Message Scouts Association.

The announcements come following several IDF strikes on Hezbollah targets over the past day.

Smotrich walks off stage after jeers at Eilat conference

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich walks off stage at a real estate conference in Eilat after being jeered.

As he was interviewed on stage, Smotrich was heckled by members of the crowd, with one woman yelling at him, “Go fight [in Gaza] instead of my children.”

When Smotrich then referred to a speaker from the previous day, a man shouted at him, “[His] children are in the army with mine. Your son is a shirker.”

In response, Smotrich threatened to leave, “if you don’t change the discourse.” The threat was met with chorus of “Go!” that continued as he walked off stage.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev spoke before Smotrich and was also jeered, but rather than storming out returned fire.

“This won’t help you. We will continue to act for the people of Israel,” she said as the shouts continued.

IDF says Lebanon strikes targeted two Hezbollah cells; 8 said killed, including terrorists

The IDF says it eliminated two Hezbollah cells in airstrikes in southern Lebanon a short while ago.

One cell was targeted while residing in a building in Tayr Harfa, while the other group of operatives was hit in Naqoura, according to the IDF.

At least eight people, including Hezbollah operatives, were killed in the strikes, security sources tell Reuters.

White House: Netanyahu ‘agreed to reschedule the meeting dedicated to Rafah’

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirms that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has agreed to reschedule the meeting dedicated to Rafah,” referring to planned talks in Washington this week that the premier called off to protest the US non-veto of a UN Security Council resolution.

“We’re now working with them to find a convenient date,” Karine Jean-Pierre tells reporters during the daily press briefing. “When we have a date we’ll share it with you.”

Israeli scientists chronicle the early stages of a supernova

A mosaic image, one of the largest ever taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, of the Crab Nebula, a six-light-year-wide expanding remnant of a star's supernova explosion. (NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University) - HubbleSite: gallery, release. Public domain)
A mosaic image, one of the largest ever taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, of the Crab Nebula, a six-light-year-wide expanding remnant of a star's supernova explosion. (NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University) - HubbleSite: gallery, release. Public domain)

About 20 million years ago, in a galaxy not so far away, a large star exploded and sent elements representing the building blocks of life racing through space.

About a year ago, by chance, as the light it emitted reached Earth, a team of scientists in Israel observed it and for the first time collected data on the earliest stages from such an explosion, known as a supernova.

The picture they are putting together offers a detailed look at the origins of crucial elements around us, like the calcium in our teeth and the iron in our blood.

“We are actually seeing the cosmic furnace in which the heavy elements are formed, while they are being formed. We are observing it as it happens. This is really the unique opportunity,” Weizmann Institute of Science astrophysicist Avishay Gal-Yam says.

The findings, published today in the journal Nature, also indicate that the giant star, located in a neighboring galaxy called Messier 101, likely left behind a black hole after it exploded.

An amateur astronomer who happened to be watching that galaxy tipped off the researchers that something appeared to be occurring. They quickly focused their ground-based telescopes at the star and started documenting the early stages of the explosion.

The team, which included doctoral student and study lead author Erez Zimmerman, contacted NASA, which changed its schedule and aimed the Hubble Space Telescope at the supernova. This allowed early-stage observation of ultraviolet light from the explosion, which is blocked by the atmosphere and not picked up on Earth.

Along with tracking elements like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen blasted into space, the ultraviolet data showed a discrepancy between the star’s initial mass and the mass it ejected into space during the explosion.

“We suspect that after the explosion a black hole was left behind — a newly formed black hole that wasn’t there before. It’s the remnant of the explosion. A little bit of the mass of the star collapsed to the center and created a new black hole,” Gal-Yam says.

From left: The Weizmann Institute’s Ido Irani, Erez Zimmerman and Prof. Avishay Gal-Yam (Courtesy)

Black holes are extraordinarily dense objects with gravity so strong that not even light can escape.

Having created a sort of fingerprint of the supernova from start to finish, Gal-Yam says it could help scientists identify impending supernovas elsewhere.

Father of hostage thanks Israelis for standing with them: We don’t feel alone after 173 days

Jon Polin and Leebie Goldberg-Polin, center, in Jerusalem’s hostage family tent on March 27, 2024. (Jessica Steinberg/ Times of Israel)
Jon Polin and Leebie Goldberg-Polin, center, in Jerusalem’s hostage family tent on March 27, 2024. (Jessica Steinberg/ Times of Israel)

Hundreds of people crowd into the hostage family tent this evening at Jerusalem’s Paris Square with Jon Polin and Leebie Goldberg-Polin, father and sister of hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin. Many of those in attendance are wearing pieces of tape marked with the number 173, listing the days since he was taken hostage.

“It strengthens me and my family to see you all here,” says Polin, who adds the gathering is to talk about Hersh, and what people can do for him and the other hostage families.

The crowd overflows into the street, Jerusalem’s Azza Road, and is completely silent in order to hear Polin’s words over the microphone.

He tells stories about Hersh, while his daughter, Hersh’s sister, Leebie, talks about October 7, “which feels like a lifetime ago.”

“To be a hostage or family of a hostage isn’t something that many people experience,” says Polin. “There’s no playbook.”

Polin says the family has been in touch with other former hostages and their families from around the world, to hear what they went through and did, although every experience is vastly different.

He recounts walking in Jerusalem and being approached by a soldier with a big bag on his back, who, after weeks of fighting in Gaza told Jon and Rachel, “We’re doing it to bring Hersh and the others home.”

He says that he and other hostage families went to Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market for a few hours, holding placards of their loved ones, and “spoke with the people, with the nation.”

“People said, ‘We’re with you, you’re not alone.’ That’s what we’re feeling for these 173 days so thank you.”

Kirby: There are other ways, apart from a major ground op, to go after Hamas in Rafah

White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, February 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, February 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

White House National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby reiterates US opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, albeit in terms that are not entirely categorical.

Speaking to Channel 12 news, he says that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Defense Minister Yoav Gallant yesterday that the US “just can’t support a major ground offensive in Rafah that doesn’t include an achievable, verifiable plan to look after the safety and security of the 1.5 million Gazans that have sought refuge there.”

Kirby elaborates: “Look, we recognize that there’s a need to go after Hamas… Hamas still represents a viable threat and we know that there are Hamas fighters in Rafah.” But, he goes on, “we don’t believe that going in on the ground in Rafah is a good idea in a major way, that there are other ways to get after that threat.”

He says that is why the US was “so looking forward to being able to have an Israeli delegation here this week to talk about some other ways to do that.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday canceled that planned trip, after the US chose not to veto a UN Security Council Resolution demanding a Gaza ceasefire and the release of all hostages, but he is now reportedly ready to reschedule it. Kirby, in the interview, insists the US withholding of its veto did not represent a shift in policy.

Reiterates Kirby: “Again, we believe that a major ground operation in Rafah is a mistake. We believe that there are other ways to go after Hamas in Rafah… to do it in a way that doesn’t put those people, the refugees, in harm’s way.”

Asked about National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir alleging that President Biden prefers to align with Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar rather than Netanyahu, Kirby responds: “I can’t think of anything more offensive or incorrect.”

When Sinwar “decided to… slaughter 1,200 Israelis, from that moment on President Biden has been in full support of the Israeli people and the Israeli state’s right and responsibility to defend itself and its citizens from any further attack,” he says. “And Hamas has made clear that they’d like nothing better than to conduct another slaughter like they did on the 7th of October, and that’s why we’re continuing to support Israel in their self-defense needs.”

“This is deeply personal for President Biden,” says Kirby. “He has said many times you don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist. He strongly believes in the State of Israel and the need to protect and defend themselves. But he also strongly believes in the importance of the Israeli nation’s credibility and reputation in the international community. And he wants to make sure that’s preserved too. And a lot of that is tied to not just to what operations are being prosecuted, but how those operations are being prosecuted.”

Lebanese media reports several killed after Israeli airstrikes in southern Lebanon

Lebanese media outlets report several dead in Israeli airstrikes in Tayr Harfa and Naqoura in southern Lebanon.

A security source tells Reuters that five people were killed, including Hezbollah fighters.

The IDF has not yet commented on the strikes.

The strikes come after Hezbollah fired a barrage of rockets at the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona this morning, killing a civilian.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Left-wing activist barred from Knesset after alleged altercation with far-right MK

The head of the Parents Against Child Detention group has been barred from entering the Knesset following an alleged altercation with a far-right MK.

Arriving at the Knesset today, Moria Shlomot, was informed that she is prohibited from entering the building, despite being registered to attend a debate in the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on a proposed measure to allow minors under the age of 14 to be jailed for certain terror-related offense.

“I got permission to attend the meeting and when I arrived at the Knesset, a minute before the start of the committee, I received a call from the Knesset sergeant-at-arms stating that the secretary of the committee turned to him to prevent my entry,” she tells The Times of Israel.

“Until this morning I did not know that there was a ban on entering the Knesset. No paper. No warning. No nothing. This is not what democracy looks like,” she says, promising to appeal the decision.

Another member of Shlomot’s team, Michal Fruchtman, was expelled from the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee today, following an argument with lawmakers over the extent of her organization’s foreign funding.

Last month, far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech accused Shlomot of physical assault and demanded that she be banned permanently from the Knesset, citing a confrontation after a heated debate over the bill.

In a letter to Knesset speaker Amir Ohana and Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms Yuval Chen, Son Har-Melech claimed that the activist chased her outside the committee chamber, pushing her “violently.”

No video of the incident has been released and the Knesset spokesman did not respond to a request to access the footage.

Shlomot, who was in the Knesset testifying against the proposed measure, denied the allegations, and has stated that she gently tapped the lawmaker to “get her attention.”

“I didn’t push her. I didn’t hit her. There was no attack. It’s all garbage,” she said at the time.

Asked for comment today, Son Har-Melech tells The Times of Israel that “Moria Shlomot physically attacked me.”

“This is a violent woman. Therefore, I filed a complaint with the Knesset sergeant-at-arms, who is not allowing her to enter,” Son Har-Melech says. “Feel free to contact him and ask for the documentation of the attack, which is not ambiguous.”

Hamas releases recording of military chief urging Muslims to ‘liberate Al-Aqsa’

Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif. (courtesy)
Hamas military wing commander Muhammad Deif. (courtesy)

Muhammad Deif, the commander of Hamas’s military wing, releases a short audio recording exhorting Muslims to “join the fight to liberate Al-Aqsa.” The remarks appear to be from a recording of Deif published on October 7, when Al Jazeera broadcast his announcement of the “Al-Aqsa Flood” attack against Israel, in which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 and took 253 as hostages.

In the recording aired today, which is only 35 seconds long, Deif addresses Muslims in a number of Arab and Muslim countries: “To our people in Jordan and Lebanon, in Egypt, Algeria, and the Maghreb, in Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia.”

“Start marching now, not tomorrow, toward Palestine, and do not let borders, regimes, and restrictions deprive you of the honor of waging jihad and taking part in the liberation of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he says. He concludes his short speech with a Quranic quote: “March forth whether it is easy or difficult for you, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the cause of Allah.”

The shadowy commander of Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, Deif has been on Israel’s most-wanted list since 1995 for his involvement in the planning and execution of a large number of terror attacks, including many bus bombings in the 1990s and early 2000s. He has survived at least seven assassination attempts over the years.

He is believed to have played a central role in the shock October 7 massacre in southern Israel, and to be currently hiding in tunnels under Gaza.

Echoing Deif’s brief remarks, Hamas top politburo member Khaled Mashal gave a speech in Jordan earlier today urging Muslims around the world to support Hamas’s struggle so that “their blood will mix with the blood of the people of Palestine.”

Cabinet secretary blames Gallant as government fails to advance Haredi enlistment proposal

Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs arrives for a meeting with families of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, as well as Israelis who were released from the terror group's captivity, in Herzliya, on December 5, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs arrives for a meeting with families of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, as well as Israelis who were released from the terror group's captivity, in Herzliya, on December 5, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs blames Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for the government’s failure to advance an outline plan to resolve the ultra-Orthodox enlistment conundrum it is currently facing, alleging that Gallant has refused to cooperate with the government’s efforts to find a solution, according to a letter published by the Kan public broadcaster.

Fuchs claims in the letter sent to cabinet ministers that the Attorney General’s Office “is precisely aware of the background” to the proposed ultra-Orthodox enlistment targets in the government’s proposed outline for legislation, which is supposed to be formalized in a cabinet decision, but that Gallant’s alleged refusal to cooperate meant that the government could not append the professional position of the defense ministry to its proposal.

“My request to append a declaration on my behalf describing the staff work that was done with representatives of the Defense Ministry which supports the section on [ultra-Orthodox] enlistment targets to ‘cure’ the ‘deficiency’ of ‘not having received a professional position from the Defense Ministry,’ was also refused,” writes Fuchs.

He says that as a result, the cabinet will not convene today, since it will not be legally possible to adopt the proposed cabinet resolution since the Attorney General’s Office would not be able to defend it in the High Court of Justice owing to the lack of professional input from the Defense Ministry.

Gallant denies Fuch’s allegations, describing them as “biased and false” and saying that every request for cooperation or information from the professional ranks of the Defense Ministry “was answered affirmatively.” He also says his ministry will continue to cooperate “in order to arrive at a law which has the consensus of all parts of the emergency government which will meet security needs.”

Today is the deadline given by the High Court of Justice to the government to respond to petitions demanding the immediate drafting of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, and it is now unclear how the government will answer the court in light of Fuch’s letter.

IDF says it struck Gazan terrorist who fired rocket at Kissufim

The IDF says it carried out an airstrike on a Palestinian terrorist who launched a rocket from the Gaza Strip at the southern community of Kissufim earlier today, within minutes of the attack.

The rocket struck an open area, causing no damage or injuries.

After canceling top aides’ trip to Washington, Netanyahu now seeking to reschedule

File: From left to right: Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi at the State Department in Washington on March 7, 2023. (Antony Blinken/Twitter)
File: From left to right: Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi at the State Department in Washington on March 7, 2023. (Antony Blinken/Twitter)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has reached out to the White House, asking to reschedule a meeting regarding a potential Israeli operation in Rafah, which the premier canceled earlier this week, a US official tells The Times of Israel.

Just a few hours ago, Netanyahu boasted of his decision to cancel the delegation of his top aides to Washington in protest of the US decision to allow the passage of a UN Security Council vote that called for an immediate ceasefire and hostage release that didn’t explicitly condition the former on the latter. Netanyahu said the cancellation was a message to Hamas that Israel would not bow to international pressure regarding the war in Gaza.

The US official says the sides are working on a new date for the inter-agency meeting that it was supposed to hold today with Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanedgbi.

The US official notes that top Biden officials Jake Sullivan, Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin and William Burns held “constructive” meetings with visiting Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and that Rafah was a key topic of discussion.

The US maintains that a Rafah offensive will not advance Israel’s war aims because it will lead to even more civilian casualties, cut off the delivery of humanitarian aid, further isolate Israel internationally and harm Israel’s long-term security.

Responding to the American official’s comments, Netanyahu’s office releases a statement saying “the prime minister did not approve the departure of the delegation to Washington,” while not directly denying that talks on the trip are taking place.

An Israeli official also tells The Times of Israel that the reports about talks to reschedule the trip are “not wrong,” and that it would be Dermer and Hanegbi who travel, “whenever the trip is finalized.”

Givati infantryman killed fighting in southern Gaza, bringing ground op toll to 253

Staff Sgt. Nisim Kachlon (Israel Defense Forces)
Staff Sgt. Nisim Kachlon (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF announces the death of a soldier killed during fighting against Hamas in the Khan Younis area of the southern Gaza Strip earlier today.

He is named as Staff Sgt. Nisim Kachlon, 21, of the Givati Brigade’s Rotem Battalion, from Hadera.

Kachlon’s death brings the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 253.

GOP Senator Graham: UNRWA is ‘dead’ to the United States

UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, is “dead to the Congress” and “dead to the United States,” GOP Senator Lindsey Graham tells reporters in Jerusalem.

“For decades now, Palestinian children have been taught through UNRWA and other agencies to kill all the Jews,” Graham says of the agency, which is facing intense scrutiny for the involvement of some of its employees in the October 7 attacks.

“Somebody needs to pull the Palestinian school system up by its roots and destroy it,” Graham adds.

He also says that the Palestinian Authority, “as it exists today, in my view, is not a legitimate partner for the State of Israel.”

Graham says that he is hopeful that through a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Arab countries “will begin to change the Palestinian trajectory, that they will replace old and corrupt with newer leaders, that they will come up with a new governing formula for the West Bank and Gaza that Israel would have somebody to talk to about the future of the Palestinian people.”

Turning to growing tensions between the Biden White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Graham says that the situation “is not as bad as it seems.”

“I know it seems bad, but I’m there on the ground. There’s a lot of common view in the Senate that Israel has to destroy Hamas militarily,” he explains.

He says that the fight over the UN Security Council resolution earlier this week “will be behind us soon.”

“Israel cannot afford to let Hamas or anyone else know that there will be a pause in fighting for 30 seconds without the hostages being released,” he says, backing Israeli frustration over the US not using its veto.

On the desire by some Israelis to establish settlements in Gaza, Graham says that it would “not be a practical solution that would have much support anywhere.”

He argues that the best plan for the day after Hamas is to let Arab states “take ownership of the Palestinian file in a fashion to demilitarize West Bank and Gaza and to come up with a plan to deradicalize the populations.”

Asked by The Times of Israel about the potential for the White House to slow down arms deliveries to Israel to pressure it to change its policies in Gaza, Graham says that “there would be a violent reaction in the Congress if there was a whiff of any suggestion that we’re slowing down arms to Israel when it’s in a fight for its very existence.”

He says he hasn’t heard about any plans to delay or halt weapons shipments.

Government to ask High Court for more time to file response in Haredi draft case — source

An illustrative photo of the High Court of Justice convening in Jerusalem on October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of the High Court of Justice convening in Jerusalem on October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government will likely file a request to the High Court of Justice asking for an extension to today’s deadline for submitting a response to petitions demanding the immediate drafting of ultra-Orthodox men, a source in the Justice Ministry says.

It’s still unclear if Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara will support such a request. Several Hebrew media outlets report that the attorney general will not back what would be the second request for an extension; her office does not respond to a request for comment.

According to the Kan public broadcaster’s political reporter Yaara Shapira, if Baharav-Miara does not offer her support the government’s request will be conveyed to the court by Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs. The broadcaster also reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told representatives of allied ultra-Orthodox parties that he would promote a private bill exempting yeshiva students from military conscription following the upcoming Knesset recess.

Hebrew media reported earlier today that Netanyahu was considering asking for an extra 10 days from the court, which earlier this month gave him until March 27 to file a response to petitions against a government resolution passed in June 2023 instructing the IDF not to draft ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students for nine months.

If Netanyahu does not submit a response, the justices stated that they would rule on the petitions on the basis of the information they already have.

The resolution expires on March 31 and the government is struggling to reach a compromise between enlistment advocates and the Haredi parties in order to present the court with new legislation on the issue — an effort which has so far failed.

The Attorney General’s Office has previously stated that without an extension, the state will not be legally entitled to continue exempting yeshiva students from military conscription and will need to start enlisting them on April 1.

An initial enlistment outline proposed by the government earlier this week failed to include quotas for how many ultra-Orthodox would be drafted annually, leading Baharav-Miara to inform the government that she would be unable to defend its initial proposal in court.

An updated proposal, which has failed to garner coalition support, called for quotas but did not include specific numbers.ver.”

Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman dies at 90

Israeli-American winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, Professor Daniel Kahneman, at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem. June 20, 2013 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israeli-American winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, Professor Daniel Kahneman, at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem. June 20, 2013 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Prof. Daniel Kahneman, who in 2002 shared the Nobel Prize in economics for his work on behavioral economics, has died at 90.

US and UK sanction Gaza media outlet over Hamas fundraising

WASHINGTON — US and UK authorities unveil sanctions against two people and three companies related to the popular media channel Gaza Now over its fundraising efforts in support of Hamas.

The US Treasury Department says in a statement that Gaza Now, whose popular Telegram channel has more than 1.8 million followers, and its founder Mustafa Ayash started fundraising for Hamas after its unprecedented terror attack on October 7.

“Treasury remains committed to degrading Hamas’ ability to finance its terrorist activities, including through online fundraising campaigns that seek to funnel money directly to the group,” US Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Brian Nelson says in a statement.

The Treasury Department accuses the group of “having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, Hamas.”

The US also unveils sanctions against Aozma Sultana, the director of two companies that allegedly gave “thousands of dollars to Gaza Now and advertised Gaza Now as a partner during a joint fundraiser shortly after the October 7 terrorist attack.”

The Treasury Department’s actions are being carried out alongside similar actions by UK authorities.

“The UK Government has announced a full asset freeze against two individuals suspected of providing financial support for Gaza Now — a news agency that promotes the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist groups,” the UK Treasury says in a statement.

“All funds and economic resources in the UK belonging to or controlled by Sultana and Ayash have been frozen,” they add.

Poll: Most Americans disapprove of Israel’s ‘military action’ in Gaza

File: A pro-Palestinian demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag near the White House during the "March on Washington for Gaza" in Washington, DC, on January 13, 2024. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)
File: A pro-Palestinian demonstrator waves a Palestinian flag near the White House during the "March on Washington for Gaza" in Washington, DC, on January 13, 2024. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP)

In a reversal from its previous survey, Gallup releases a poll showing more respondents now disapprove of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza against Hamas than approve.

Asked “do you approve or disapprove of the military action Israel has taken in Gaza,” 55% of respondents disapprove, versus 36% who approve and 9% with no opinion. In the poll from November, 50% approved, 45% disapproved and 4% didn’t know when asked the same question, which doesn’t mention Hamas or the terror group’s October 7 attack that triggered Israel’s “military action” in Gaza.

The Gallup survey was published on the heels of a poll from Harvard-Harris that indicated support for Israel among Americans remains robust, with 79% saying they back the Jewish state over Hamas. Two-thirds of respondents in that poll also say they believe Israel is trying to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza, while 63% back a ceasefire “only after the release of all hostages and Hamas [is] removed from power.”

IDF troops find ‘significant’ tunnel network in Khan Younis

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published March 27, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published March 27, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF has discovered a”significant” tunnel network in the Al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis amid a new offensive in the area.

With new intelligence from interrogated terror operatives, the IDF says it has reached three previously undiscovered tunnel shafts.

The IDF previously operated in Al-Amal last month, and returned earlier this week following intelligence indicating that Hamas was using civilian sites in the neighborhood, including a hospital, for terror activity.

Smotrich to propose Basic Law enshrining government benefits for reservists

Finance Bezalel Smotrich holds a press conference at the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Finance Bezalel Smotrich holds a press conference at the Knesset, Jerusalem, March 13, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is set to propose a Basic Law to provide IDF reservists with a raft of government benefits and advantages over those who do not serve in the military — including affirmative action in the areas of civil service employment, land purchases via the Israel Land Authority and university admission.

According to the Israel Hayom daily, the bill cites the high financial and social cost of reserve service seen in recent months as hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been mobilized to serve in Gaza and along the northern border, arguing that for decades the country has failed to provide its reservists with “special preference.”

Speaking with the Hebrew newspaper, Smotrich says that previous efforts to give reservists advantages over the general public had been stymied by “legal advice claiming that it is impossible to prefer reservists over other populations, due to inequality.”

That being the case, it must be passed “as a Basic Law, so that it overrides everything else.”

Sharing the article on X, Smotrich says reservists are “there for us, every day, in the cold and in the rain. They left everything to fight for each and every one of us.”

“The Basic Law of the Reserves will shape the basic principles of Israeli society for years to come. They, the fighters, are the national priority,” he adds.

Smotrich’s proposal comes amid growing public criticism of the push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to delay the retirement age for reservists and increase the number of days they serve annually, while maintaining ultra-Orthodox draft exemptions.

IDF says Lebanese terror cell hit in overstrike strike was planning cross-border attack

According to the IDF, the al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya cell that was targeted in an airstrike in southern Lebanon’s Habbariyeh overnight planned an infiltration attack on the border.

All seven killed in the strike were members of the terror group, according to the military.

In response to the strike, Hezbollah fired a barrage of some 30 rockets at Kiryat Shmona, killing an Israeli civilian.

Longtime AIPAC leader Howard Kohr to retire at end of the year

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr addresses the Policy Conference in Washington on March 24, 2019. (Screen capture/AIPAC)
AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr addresses the Policy Conference in Washington on March 24, 2019. (Screen capture/AIPAC)

Howard Kohr, the CEO who has led the powerhouse American Israel Public Affairs Committee since 1996, is set to retire by the end of this year.

Under Kohr’s leadership, AIPAC has traversed five United States presidencies and more than 10 Israeli elections. In that time, its budget and staff have enjoyed significant growth as it has become one of the best known and most powerful lobbies in Washington. During his tenure, US military aid to Israel increased to $3.8 billion per year, and AIPAC has been a leader in adding sanctions on Iran. In the last election cycle, 98% of the candidates its eponymous PAC endorsed won their races.

Before the onset of the pandemic, the lobby’s annual conference would bring up to 18,000 people to the nation’s capital — the largest Jewish gathering of the year. The final day of the conference would see cohorts of loyal activists take a three-point lobbying agenda to their representatives on Capitol Hill. Within weeks those items would often be the talk of the Capitol and on their way to passage.

Kohr’s decades also saw their share of controversy, especially in recent years: There was an espionage scandal in which two of former AIPAC employees were ultimately vindicated; a bruising fight with US president Barack Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, which ultimately passed over AIPAC’s objections; and the launch of political action committees aimed in part at stemming the rise of progressive Democrats who are outspoken critics of Israel. Its actions have come at the cost of increasing hostility from progressive Democrats. Since 2020, it has not held a large national conference.

“With your support, Richard Fishman (z”l) and I spent our careers advancing our shared mission and ensuring that AIPAC was always able to strengthen and expand the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Kohr says in an email to the AIPAC board announcing his plans and referencing Fishman, his co-CEO and brother in arms at the lobby, who died unexpectedly in late October.

Kohr, 68, had long wanted to retire at the end of this year, insiders said, and planned last October to announce his exit with Fishman. But Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, the ensuing war and Fishman’s death led Kohr to delay the announcement.

The announcement comes in a presidential election year and an acrimonious campaign between US President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump. It also comes nearly six months into the Israel-Hamas war, as Israel is facing mounting criticism from progressives, and the Biden administration, over its military campaign in Gaza. Trump, who has vowed to support Israel, also recently cautioned it in an interview to “be very careful because you’re losing a lot of the world.”

In Jerusalem, Lindsey Graham calls claims Israel starving Gaza ‘BS,’ says Hamas to blame

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, speaks in Jerusalem, March 27, 2024 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, speaks in Jerusalem, March 27, 2024 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says that accusations that Israel is using starvation as a tool of war in Gaza are “bullshit.”

“You’re talking about an accusation that is just a blood libel,” continues Graham.

“Never in the history of warfare have I seen such an effort by one of the protagonists in a war to lessen the effect on the population of the other side,” argued Graham, who met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, and spoke with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi by phone, today.

“The Israeli military and government, in my view, are doing incredible efforts in a time of war to make sure that innocent Palestinians can have the basics of life,” he says. “I know it is miserable in Gaza. I’m sure it is. But the food is flowing. Health care is flowing the best it can.”

“The Israeli people through their military and elected officials have chosen to help the Palestinian people,” he says, responding directly to US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant that protecting Palestinians was a “moral imperative.”

“Was there a moral imperative in World War II by the United States to lessen casualties in Germany and Japan?” Graham asks. “If you had told the American people after Pearl Harbor, you need to come up with a plan to feed civilian populations and lessen casualties at the expense of military victory, you would have been run out of town.”

The senator, in Israel on his fourth trip since October 7, says he was briefed on the Israeli plan to evacuate civilians sheltering around Rafah, and that it is “very impressive.”

Graham also places the blame for suffering in Gaza on the Hamas regime.

“They are cowards,” he says of Hamas. “They hide in tunnels. They hide behind children, women, the elderly, and the Palestinian people pay a heavy price.”

Israeli Air Force resumes training exercises following halt since October 7

Illustrative: This picture taken from a position in northern Israel shows an Israeli Air Force fighter jet flying over the border area with southern Lebanon on March 10, 2024. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Illustrative: This picture taken from a position in northern Israel shows an Israeli Air Force fighter jet flying over the border area with southern Lebanon on March 10, 2024. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The Israeli Air Force has returned to carrying out exercises, which had largely been on hold since the onset of the war on October 7.

The military says it has approved a new training program for the IAF amid the war, with an emphasis on preparing for war in the north.

The IDF says that as the war began on October 7, the IAF “froze the annual training program and all resources and attention were directed to the war effort.”

For the past few weeks the IAF has gradually been returning to training, and a new program was recently approved, the IDF says.

“The training program will focus on increasing the Air Force’s readiness for war in the northern arena and in other theaters, amid prolonged combat,” the IDF says in a statement.

The IDF says the drills will include “massive, long-range strikes, flights deep in enemy territory, decision-making in war conditions… and surprise exercises will be held for the various units.”

According to the IDF, the drills have been adapted to not harm the IAF’s routine operations amid the war in the Gaza Strip and on other fronts.

Netanyahu: US non-veto was ‘very, very bad,’ and ‘encouraged Hamas’; cancellation of aides’ US trip aimed to show Hamas pressure won’t work

This handout photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with US Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, at his office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)
This handout photo shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with US Senator Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, at his office in Jerusalem on March 27, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defends canceling a trip by his top aides to Washington in protest of the Biden administration’s decision to allow the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate Gaza ceasefire and hostage release, after the White House suggested the premier was intentionally seeking a blowup with the US.

Hosting Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida at his Jerusalem office, Netanyahu says he thought the US decision not to veto the resolution was “very, very bad.”

“The bad thing about the US decision… was it encouraged Hamas to take a hard line and to believe that international pressure will prevent Israel from freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas,” he says.

He insists his move was “a message to Hamas: ‘Don’t bet on this pressure, it’s not going to work.’ I hope they got the message.”

Lebanese claim medics killed in Israeli strike that IDF says hit terror group

The Lebanese Ambulance Association says seven of its volunteers were killed in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon overnight that the IDF says struck a military building housing a terror group.

The Islamic Emergency and Relief Corps claims that the strike targeted its office in Habbariyah.

Muheddine Qarhani, head of the group, tells reporters at the scene that the center that was struck was set up late last year, after the latest round of violence broke out. He says they were surprised that a paramedic group was targeted.

“They were here waiting to respond to a rescue call and ended up getting hit by missiles that brought the building over their heads,” he says.

The Israeli military said its strike killed a top member of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim al-Jamaa al-Islamiya terror group and several other terrorists.

Pope, appearing hale, points to friendship of grieving Israeli, Palestinian fathers

Appearing healthier than he has recently, Pope Francis highlights grieving Palestinian and Israeli fathers during his weekly general audience.

The Vatican press office says the pontiff met with Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan in private before the general audience and then warmly greeted the two men at the end.

Both of them had lost their daughters over the course of the Middle East conflict, “and they are both friends,” Francis says.

“They do not look at the enmity of war,” he adds. “They look to the friendship of two men who care about each other and have experienced the same crucifixion.”

Aramin’s daughter Abir was killed in 2007 by a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli Border Police officer as she left school; Elhanan’s daughter Smadar was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 1997.

The two men’s story of friendship was told in the novel “Apeirogon” by Colum McCann, a winner of the Terzani Prize who met with Francis during an audience with artists on June 23.

“Let us think of the beautiful witness of these two people who have suffered the war in the Holy Land in the loss of their daughters,” the pope says.

Iranian leaders praise Hamas chief for turning world opinion against Israel as Gazans die

A man holds up an anti-Israel banner during a demonstration at Palestine Square in Tehran late on March 24, 2024 (AFP)
A man holds up an anti-Israel banner during a demonstration at Palestine Square in Tehran late on March 24, 2024 (AFP)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei fetes Hamas politburo leader Ismail Haniyeh for galvanizing world support for Palestinians and against Israel, crowing that the group’s propaganda has outshone Israel’s attempts to garner international backing, semi-official Iranian media reports.

“Despite the enemy’s wishes, it has turned Palestine to the world’s first issue,” Khamenei says, urging that further efforts be invested into building support for the terror group.

The theme is repeated in a separate meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

“Today, with the fierce resistance and standing of the oppressed and powerful people of Gaza, the issue of Palestine has gone beyond the Islamic world and has become the issue of the world of humanity. The people of the world hate the criminal Zionist regime and its main supporter, the United States, with all their heart. They love the oppressed people of Gaza,” Raisi is quoted saying by state-run media

Raisi also says Arab countries that normalized with Israel have been left with egg on their face, calling Israel’s war against Hamas the largest genocide in world history.

Hamas has been accused by Israel and others of hiding behind Gazan civilians and pursuing a strategy that seeks to increase their suffering amid Israel’s military campaign — triggered by the terror group’s brutal onslaught on southern Israel, massacre of some 1,200 people and kidnapping of 253 others — in order to turn Israel into a pariah on the world stage.

Rocket fire reported in north as fire official warns of dry season dangers

Hezbollah says it shelled a site in the Har Dov area of the eastern Galilee near the border with Lebanon.

Reports in Israel indicate two rockets were fired at northern Israel, landing in open areas.

Speaking to Army Radio, the top fire official in the north warns that while such attacks outside populated areas are largely harmless now, as the weather heats up, they will become increasingly dangerous.

“We need to prepare for the summer, fire season…. in May, when everything is dry, every impact will ignite a blaze,” Yair Elkayam says. “We’re doing yeoman’s work to see how we can prepare for incidents affecting multiple areas at once.”

Troops find Hezbollah drone in northern kibbutz, army says

The IDF says a Hezbollah drone was found crashed near the northern border community of Rosh Hanikra in the Western Galilee earlier today.

It says troops were dispatched to the scene to safely remove the device.

It is unclear when the drone was launched, or what it was intended to have been used for.

The incident is under further investigation, the IDF adds.

Army says drone strike kills Gaza fighter scouting troop movements

The IDF publishes footage showing a recent airstrike on what it says is a member of a terror group surveilling troops in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis.

According to the IDF, the operative was passing information on troop locations to other gunmen over a phone.

The operative was spotted by the Givati Brigade, who called in the deadly drone strike against him, the IDF adds.

 

Khaled Mashaal says hostages will not be released before end of war

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)
Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)

Former Hamas politburo head Khaled Mashaal says that Israeli hostages will remain captive until Israel halts hostilities, withdraws its troops from Gaza, allows displaced civilians to return to their homes, and ends a blockade on the Strip, saying the terror group will not budge but indicating it is continuing to negotiate with Israel.

Speaking at a women’s event in Jordan, Mashaal says that Hamas is waging a “negotiating battle that is no less fierce” than its armed fight to achieve a halt of the Israeli “aggression.” He seems to imply that the group is preparing for an intensification of Israeli operations at the end of Ramadan, saying there are “threats” looming at the end of the holy Muslim month.

Mashaal says Hamas will keep on fighting on the ground, and urges Muslims around the world to support the struggle so that “their blood will mix with the blood of the people of Palestine.” He also calls for financial donations for the people of Gaza.

Israel says 25 aid trucks reached north Gaza during night

This picture taken from Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip shows a military aircraft releasing parachutes of humanitarian aid over the enclave on March 27, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
This picture taken from Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip shows a military aircraft releasing parachutes of humanitarian aid over the enclave on March 27, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Some 25 aid trucks reached the northern Gaza Strip overnight, a sharp increase from the seven trucks that arrived the previous night, an Israeli official says. No looting was reported on either night.

The trucks are entering through Crossing 96, a new gateway into the enclave set up next to Kibbutz Be’eri. They enter after first being checked in Kerem Shalom.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says 76 Palestinians were killed in the past day, bringing the death toll since October 7 to 32,490. The numbers cannot be verified and do not differentiate between combatants and civilians.

Report: Israel preparing for Rafah ground operation in mid April or early May

Palestinians check the rubble of buildings that were destroyed following overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 27, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Palestinians check the rubble of buildings that were destroyed following overnight Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 27, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Following the failure of the latest round of negotiations in Qatar, Israel is not willing to make any further concessions to Hamas and is gearing up for an invasion of Rafah after Eid al-Fitr — the three-day holiday that follows Ramadan and ends around April 12 — or in early May at the latest, according to Egyptian sources who have been in contact with IDF officials, quoted by the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar daily.

The ground op inside the last bastion of Hamas in the Gaza Strip would last between four and eight weeks, the sources say, and would be accompanied by an evacuation of the civilian population sheltering in Rafah, which amounts to about 1.5 million people, toward the center of the Strip along specific routes and at specific times, announced to civilians in each area of Rafah in advance.

The mass evacuation would be monitored from the ground and the air to ensure that no Hamas fighters or Israeli hostages are hidden among the Gazan civilians, the Egyptian officials say.

From its side, Cairo expresses its deep concerns over an IDF operation in the Rafah area, noting that it could lead to a further escalation not only in Gaza, but in the whole region, Al-Akhbar says. Israel reportedly vowed to notify the Egyptians in advance of an IDF incursion into the Philadelphi corridor, which runs west of Rafah along the border between Gaza and Egypt.

The Lebanese paper also reports that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi refused a request by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a direct line to remain in contact.

Additionally, it claims that negotiations are underway under UAE mediation to bring medication to Israeli hostages in exchange for large amounts of medicines to be allowed into the Strip.

Liberman urges court to reject Netanyahu ‘tricks’ on Haredi IDF draft bill

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset, on April 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yisrael Beytenu party chairman MK Avigdor Liberman at the Knesset, on April 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hawkish opposition politician Avigdor Liberman calls on the High Court of Justice not to buy into Benjamin Netanyahu’s “tricks,” following reports that the prime minister will request a 10-day extension to today’s deadline to present an explanation as to why the IDF should not begin drafting ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students.

“I expect the High Court not to agree to all of Netanyahu’s attempts and tricks, which are intended solely for the purpose of jumping over the legal hurdle,” the Yisrael Beytenu chairman tweets.

“Netanyahu has no real intention of enacting an equal conscription law, and therefore I expect the High Court to issue a ruling instructing every young man upon reaching the age of 18 to report for military or civilian service, without tricks, shtick or flimflammery. The State of Israel should not continue to finance those who choose not to bear the burden [of military service] — the era of suckers is over.”

Earlier this month, the justices told the state that if it does not file a response to petitions against a government resolution passed in June 2023 — which instructed the IDF not to draft ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students for nine months — by March 27 the court will rule on the petitions on the basis of the information it already has.

The extension expires on March 31 and the government is struggling to reach a compromise between enlistment advocates and the Haredi parties in order to present the court with new legislation on the issue.

Ombudsman says Supreme Court judge Kabub was wrong to rule in case involving his kids

State Ombudsman for Judges Uri Shoham upholds a complaint against Supreme Court Judge Chaled Kabub for having ruled on a case involving his children when he was serving as a judge on the Tel Aviv-Jaffa District Court in 2019.

The case was a lawsuit relating to a complicated financial dispute involving property worth several million shekels. An accountant who filed the suit was a good friend of Kabub’s son Walid Kabub, while the companies being sued were represented by Kabub’s children.

Despite this apparent conflict of interests, Kabub issued a decision in the case before ultimately recusing himself from it.

The complaint was brought by two right-wing legal advocacy organizations, Lavi and B’Tzalmo, following a report on the case by the Kan public broadcaster.

“I believe that a review of the case in question… would have revealed that his children are connected, either directly or indirectly, to the proceedings, and that he should not have been involved in the case, and certainly not make any decision in the matter,” writes Shoham.

Kabub, the Supreme Court’s first permanent Muslim justice, has been the subject of several investigative items by Kan news in recent months, which have given rise to at least one other ethics complaint against his conduct.

War cabinet to meet tonight, hostage talks said on agenda

The war cabinet will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight, an official from the Prime Minister’s Office tells The Times of Israel.

The Ynet news site reports that the meeting will focus on efforts to reach a hostage deal, after talks have appeared to break down with Hamas rejecting a US compromise agreed to by Israel.

Shifa maternity ward being used to deliver Hamas propaganda, Israel charges

Troops of the Navy's Shayetet 13 commando unit operate at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, in a handout image published March 25, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the Navy's Shayetet 13 commando unit operate at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, in a handout image published March 25, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel believes that the maternity ward in Gaza City’s Shifa hospital was being used as Hamas propaganda headquarters, an Israeli official tells The Times of Israel.

The IDF is expected to release photos from the ward to back up the assessment.

On Monday, the army said Hamas gunmen were firing on troops from the maternity ward, among other medical facilities in the hospital-slash-battle zone.

Rocket alarm blares near Gaza border

Rocket sirens are sounding in Kissufim near the Gaza border, the IDF’s Home Front command says.

Report: PM told Haredi MKs he’d circumvent cabinet to push private bill on IDF conscription, as compromise hopes fade

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told representatives of the ultra-Orthodox parties that he would promote a private bill exempting yeshiva students from military conscription following the upcoming Knesset recess.

According to national broadcaster Kan, Netanyahu promised the Haredim he would promote private legislation because there is little chance that a government-sponsored bill currently under discussion would receive the go-ahead from either the cabinet or Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who has expressed reservations regarding its legality.

By taking the private bill route, Netanyahu may be able to bring the legislation to the Knesset floor without needing to win approval from the cabinet or attorney general, though he will be unlikely to find much support for it outside United Torah Judaism and Shas, the coalition’s two Haredi parties.

Netanyahu’s promise was reportedly made during an hours-long meeting on Tuesday night with representatives of the two parties, which came to an end without any major progress, reports said.

A law allowing young Haredi men to repeatedly push off their military service in favor of yeshiva study until they reached the age of exemption expired last year. The High Court of Justice ruled that the current system is discriminatory and has given the government until April 1 to present a new bill and until June 30 to pass it.

Haredi news site Kikar HaShabbat reports that ultra-Orthodox representatives at the Tuesday meeting said they would not agree to even one yeshiva student being drafted, with another official stating that “there will be no compromises.”

The Haredim will resist such efforts even if it leads the High Court to cut yeshiva budgets, the first official reportedly said.

Baharav-Miara has previously told the High Court that as long as there is no law granting exemptions to ultra-Orthodox students, the government cannot continue to fund the yeshivas they attend.

A senior official from the Hasidic Agudat Israel faction told Kikar HaShabbat that the idea that it would withdraw from the government and force wartime elections was only Likud “spin.”

Unless Netanyahu can reach a compromise today, he will likely ask the court for a 10-day extension to submit his response, which is due today, to petitions demanding that the state begin drafting Haredi men of military age.

Rocket attack victim was planning engagement, factory employed special needs workers

Israeli security forces look at the damage after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit the Alon paper goods factory in Kiryat Shmona on March 27, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Israeli security forces look at the damage after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit the Alon paper goods factory in Kiryat Shmona on March 27, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A cousin of Zaher Bashar says the 32-year-old victim of a rocket attack in Kiryat Shmona today was planning to propose to his partner in the near term, and had been his family’s breadwinner.

“Seven years ago, his father died and Zaher became the family’s lifeline. He worked hard to support his family. Everyone relied on him and for them he was a father, brother and son,” Dr. Majed Bashara tells Ynet.

Bashar was working at the Alon paper goods factory when it was hit by a rocket, setting the building on fire. Workmate Dovrat Ohana tells the news outlet that Bashar worked as a driver for the company.

“It’s a small factory, very much like a family, we’re really a small crew. Workers at the factory are high functioning special needs workers,” Ohana says. “Zaher was the soul of the factory, did everything, helped everyone, loved everyone. This is a loss.”

Suspended government spokesman Levy to be officially booted — report

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein/ Zman Israel)
Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, November 2023. (Avner Hofstein/ Zman Israel)

Israeli spokesman Eylon Levy, who rose to fame over the course of the war for his interviews with often combative international media outlets and for his social media presence, will be removed from his position, according to Channel 12 news.

Levy had been suspended since he responded on X directly to British Foreign Minister David Cameron earlier this month, causing the British Embassy to ask the Prime Minister’s Office whether Levy’s response was an expression of official Israeli policy.

The National Public Diplomacy Directorate tells The Times of Israel only that Levy is suspended.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara has been reportedly seeking to remove Levy for having previously participated in Tel Aviv protests against the proposed judicial reform.

Netanyahu recently bemoaned the fact that Israel had a dearth of spokespeople who could “string two words together” in English.

Levy, who had previously worked as a journalist as well as an adviser to President Isaac Herzog, declined to comment when asked by The Times of Israel about the report.

IDF shuts roads near Lebanon border in sign north may still be heating up

Smoke billows from in the Upper Galilee after an exchange of fire between Israel and Hezbollah near Moshav Margaliot on Israel's border with Lebanon on November 11, 2023. (jalaa marey / AFP)
Smoke billows from in the Upper Galilee after an exchange of fire between Israel and Hezbollah near Moshav Margaliot on Israel's border with Lebanon on November 11, 2023. (jalaa marey / AFP)

A road in the Galilee panhandle near the border with Lebanon has been shut to civilian traffic by the army, according to reports, in a sign that Israeli authorities expect hostilities to continue to ratchet up following a deadly rocket barrage on the area earlier in the day.

In a statement carried by Hebrew-language outlets, the Upper Galilee Regional Council says traffic has been prohibited by the army on roads leading from Tel Hai west to Margaliot, on a slope that sits just below the border. Traffic is also banned on a road along the ridge line leading north from Margaliot to Misgav Am, and south to Manara.

The IDF regularly closes roads in the north in reaction to situational assessments amid ongoing hostilities with the Hezbollah terror group on Lebanon.

All 18 Filipinos on tanker seized by Iran released, Manila says

Iran's navy seizes the oil tanker St. Nikolas, formerly known as the Suez Rajan, off the coast of Oman, January 11, 2024. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Iran's navy seizes the oil tanker St. Nikolas, formerly known as the Suez Rajan, off the coast of Oman, January 11, 2024. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Philippines says Iran has freed all 18 Filipino crew members of an oil tanker that was seized in the Gulf of Oman in January.

Iran’s navy had boarded the Greek-owned St. Nikolas, which was carrying 19 crew, off the coast of Oman. The only Greek crew member was released the following week.

Tehran began freeing the Filipino crew in batches at the end of January after a replacement crew was hired from Russia and other countries, Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Eduardo de Vega tells AFP.

“They were not hostages… but they were not allowed to leave without replacements,” de Vega says of the Filipino crew.

The last of the Filipino crew returned to Manila last week, he adds.

The Marshall Islands-flagged ship was carrying 145,000 tons of oil from Iraq and heading to Turkey when it was seized. It has been anchored in the vicinity of the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

Iran’s state media has said the seizure was in retaliation to the “theft” of Iranian oil by the United States from the same tanker, at the time named the Suez Rajan.

Hamas telegraphs skepticism over claim Marwan Issa killed by Israel

Khaled Fawzi (3rd-L) head of the Egyptian Intelligence services, shares a laugh with Hamas leader Izzat al-Rishq (2nd-L) and Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad (C) following the signing of a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)
Khaled Fawzi (3rd-L) head of the Egyptian Intelligence services, shares a laugh with Hamas leader Izzat al-Rishq (2nd-L) and Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad (C) following the signing of a reconciliation deal in Cairo on October 12, 2017. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

A top Hamas official is casting doubt on Israel’s claim that it killed Marwan Issa, deputy head of Hamas’s military wing, in an airstrike earlier this month.

“We have no trust in the Israeli military’s claims about the alleged death of the brother and jihad leader Marwan Issa,” writes Izzat al-Rishq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, on his Telegram channel.

“The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades [the military wing of Hamas] have the final say on the issue,” he adds.

Marwan Issa, the deputy head of Hamas’s military wing, circled in a photo circulated on social media in 2015. The photo or its source could not be immediately verified.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari officially confirmed in a press conference yesterday that Issa, considered the group’s third-most senior figure, was slain in an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip on March 10. The US previously announced Issa’s death, although at the time, Israel said it was still evaluating the results of the bombing.

Al-Rishq claims that the timing of Israel’s announcement of the news was to “cover up the crises facing Netanyahu, and the failure [of the IDF] to achieve its goals.”

IDF confirms killing 3 Palestinians in Jenin raid

The IDF confirms killing three Palestinians during an arrest raid in Jenin overnight and Wednesday morning.

The army says it carried out a drone strike in the West Bank city, killing two Palestinian gunmen.

The IDF says another Palestinian killed by Israeli fire during the raid had hurled explosive devices at troops, who opened fire on the man.

Combat engineers destroyed a vehicle in Jenin that contained several primed explosive devices, the army says. Two suspects in the car were detained by the troops before it was blown up. One more wanted Palestinian was captured in Jenin, and weapons were seized, the IDF adds.

Combat engineers also uncovered roadside explosives in the city, the IDF says.

Idan Amedi, actor wounded in Gaza, turns down Independence Day torchlighter role

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

Entertainer and wounded soldier Idan Amedi has turned down an offer to light a ceremonial torch at the main state ceremony marking the start of Independence Day, saying others deserve to be honored for heroism on and after October 7.

Amedi, a singer and actor on hit show “Fauda,” was badly burned in an explosion on January 8 as he served as a commander in the Combat Engineering Corps reserves in Gaza. Six soldiers were killed in the incident, which was apparently accidentally caused by troops.

Amedi says he was approached about lighting a torch for the ceremony under the banner of “Israeli heroism,” but has chosen to turn down the opportunity.

“There’s no greater honor but unfortunately I cannot accept the honor this year,” he writes on Instagram. “So many heroes were discovered on that same black Shabbat. Some were my troops in the past or in the current war.”

“This year I’ll stay home and commune with their memory, like many others in the nation of Israel,” he writes. “I hope perhaps in the future I will be granted the merit to raise a torch thanks to the words I write and not due to war heroism.”

He writes that one day he will write about his experiences in the war, and harbors no regrets over his decision to join the fighting.

Upon his release from a hospital last month, he said he hoped to return to his former career as an entertainer.

An official committee chooses 12 individuals to honor by lighting torches at the annual Mount Herzl ceremony marking the transition from Memorial Day to Independence Day, which will take place on May 13 this year.

Zaher Bashara, from Druze village, named as fatality in rocket attack

The victim of the Hezbollah rocket attack on Kiryat Shmona this morning is named by media reports as Zaher Bashara, a resident of the Druze village of Ein Qiniyye in the Golan Heights.

Bashara, 25, was pulled out of an industrial building that was hit by one of the some 30 rockets.

He was declared dead at the scene, medics said.

Two reported killed in Jenin drone strike, raising toll in West Bank clash

The Palestinian death toll in clashes with Israeli forces in Jenin has risen to three, the head of a local hospital is quoted telling official Palestinian news outlet Wafa.

Hamza Ararawi, 27, and Muhammad Nasser Al-Sabti, 19, are reported killed in an Israeli drone strike in front of a house in the city, according to Wafa.

Another person in the northern West Bank city was killed in clashes with troops overnight, Palestinians said earlier.

Dozens of gunmen killed as Shifa hospital raid grinds on, IDF says

Smoke billows following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 27, 2024. (Said KHATIB / AFP)
Smoke billows following Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 27, 2024. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

The IDF says its raid on Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital is ongoing, with the military saying troops killed dozens of gunmen and captured weapons over the past day.

Hundreds of members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have been captured so far in the Shifa operation, which began early on March 18, according to the IDF.

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

The Israeli Air Force also targeted dozens of sites across the Gaza Strip, largely in support of forces maneuvering on the ground, the IDF says.

The IDF says the sites included tunnels and buildings used by Hamas gunmen, and other infrastructure.

In central Gaza, the IDF says the Nahal Brigade killed several gunmen over the past day, including by calling in airstrikes.

Man killed in rocket strike on Kiryat Shmona industrial building

A 25-year-old man has been declared dead after being pulled out of a building struck by a Hezbollah rocket in Kiryat Shmona’s industrial zone, the Magen David Adom ambulance service says.

The man, who is not a Kiryat Shmona resident, had no vital signs when he was pulled out of the industrial structure by rescue workers, the service says.

Medics declared his death at the scene. He is not named.

Another man in his 30s, was rescued unharmed from the damaged building.

Injured person pulled from burning workshop hit in Kiryat Shmona

One person is being treated for injuries after being pulled out of an industrial building that was struck by a Hezbollah rocket in Kiryat Shmona, rescue authorities say.

The Fire and Rescue Services says it is working to extinguish a fire at the structure in Kiryat Shmona’s industrial zone, which suffered a direct rocket strike.

Reports indicate that the injured person is in serious or critical condition after being pulled from rubble in the workshop.

Teams are searching for possible additional victims, the fire services say.

Hezbollah says bombardment revenge for attack on allied group

Hezbollah claims responsibility for a barrage on Kiryat Shmona, saying it targeted the northern city and a nearby army base with “dozens of rockets.”

The terror group says the attack is a response to an Israeli airstrike overnight in southern Lebanon’s Habbariyeh, which reportedly killed seven people.

The IDF had said it targeted a key terror operative from a group allied with Hezbollah in the strike, killing others as well.

At least 30 rockets fired in barrage on north, IDF says

A barrage of at least 30 rockets were fired from Lebanon at the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, the IDF says.

Footage circulating online shows the Iron Dome air defense system downing some of the rockets.

Police say officers are handling several sites of rocket impacts in the city, where damage was caused to property.

Buildings seen damaged in northern rocket attack

Pictures and video published online show damage to at least two buildings in Kiryat Shmona, and several interceptions in the sky, as well as smoke rising from an apparent impact on the ground.

Several rockets reportedly fired at Kiryat Shmona in salvo

Unverified reports indicate heavy rocket fire on Kiryat Shmona and the surrounding area in the last several minutes, with at least 10 rockets fired toward the city.

The Magen David Adom rescue service says there are no initial reports of injuries in the attack.

Rocket sirens ring in Kiryat Shmona

Successive rocket sirens are sounding in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona and several surrounding areas.

The Lebanon border region has seen an uptick in violence over the last several days.

Israel says it killed senior member of Lebanese terror group aiding Hezbollah, Hamas

A man passes by a poster showing Jamaa al-Islamiya members killed in an earlier Israeli strike, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP/Bilal Hussein)
A man passes by a poster showing Jamaa al-Islamiya members killed in an earlier Israeli strike, in Beirut, Lebanon, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP/Bilal Hussein)

The Israel Defense Forces says an overnight strike in southern Lebanon killed a key member of the Jamaa al-Islamiya terror group.

The army says the terrorist, who is not named, had “advanced [terror plots] against Israeli territory in the past.”

The strike took out a building in the town of Habbariyeh some five kilometers (3 miles) from the border with Israel.

It says the figure was killed “along with other terrorists who had been in the building.”

Two security sources told Reuters earlier Wednesday that seven people were killed in a strike on Jamaa al-Islamiya’s emergency and relief center in Habbariyeh.

On Tuesday, Jamaa al-Islamiya head Sheikh Mohammed Takkoush told the Associated Press the group was closely coordinating with both Hezbollah and Hamas along the border with Israel, where they have claimed responsibility for several attacks over the past months.

“Part of (the attacks against Israeli forces) were in coordination with Hamas, which coordinates with Hezbollah,” he said, adding that direct cooperation with Hezbollah “is on the rise and this is being reflected in the field.” He did not elaborate further.

It carries out attacks against Israel mainly from the southern city of Sidon where the group once enjoyed wide influence.

The group is one of Lebanon’s main Sunni factions but has kept a low profile politically over the years. It has one member in Lebanon’s 128-seat legislature. Elections within the group in 2022 brought its leadership closer to Hamas.

Two members of the group were killed in an apparent Israeli strike in Beirut on January 2 that killed top Hamas terrorist Saleh al-Arouri. Three others were killed in an Israeli strike earlier this month, Takkoush said.

Palestinian reported killed amid heavy clashes in Jenin

Palestinians say a 19-year-old man was shot and killed in intense clashes with Israeli forces carrying out a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Videos show army vehicles and bulldozers operating in the northern West Bank city, amid pops of gunfire and at least one large explosion.

According to Palestinian media accounts, clashes in the city are ongoing, including a drone strike carried out in the past several minutes.

The slain man is named by official Palestinian outlet Wafa as Ayman Yousef Hassan Azouqa.

The outlet reports that at least three people were arrested by Israel before the vehicle they were in was blown up.

There is no comment from the Israel Defense Forces.

Jordanian police beat protesters, arrest dozens trying to march toward Israeli embassy

AMMAN (Reuters) — Jordanian anti-riot police beat and arrested dozens of demonstrators trying to march towards the heavily guarded Israeli embassy in the capital Amman, witnesses and residents say.

More than two thousand protesters gathered late on Tuesday, the third day of demonstrations which have been marred with clashes, after baton wielding-police pushed back hundreds of angry crowds seeking to storm the embassy compound in the affluent Rabae district of Amman.

The Israeli embassy, where protesters gather daily, has long been a flashpoint of anti-Israel protests at times of escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israel.

Many demonstrators chanted slogans in support of the Palestinian Islamist terror group Hamas.

Jordanian authorities are concerned that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 massacre, could broaden Hamas’s popularity among many Jordanians.

“Oh Hamas…All of Jordan’s people are behind you,” the protesters chanted.

Passions have run high among Jordanians, many of whom are of Palestinian origin, over the ongoing war in Gaza and the scene of carnage in the Palestinian enclave.

Jordan has seen some of the biggest outpourings of public anger in the region since the war was triggered by Hamas’s murderous rampage across southern Israel almost six months ago, when thousands of terrorists killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages.

Authorities in Jordan say peaceful protests are allowed but they would not tolerate any attempt by mobs who sought to exploit anger against Israel to create havoc or try to reach a border zone with the West Bank or Israel.

Amnesty International last month called on Jordanian authorities to end what it said was a sweeping crackdown that has seen hundreds of people arrested for expressing their support for Palestinians in Gaza or criticizing Jordanian government polices towards Israel.

Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel is widely unpopular among many citizens who see normalization as betraying the rights of their Palestinian compatriots.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

7 killed in alleged Israeli strike in south Lebanon, say local security sources

At least seven people were killed in an alleged Israeli strike on the south Lebanon town of Nabatieh, two security sources tell Reuters.

Senior Israeli official: Hamas demands ‘ridiculous,’ Sinwar not looking for truce deal

A senior Israeli official who is familiar with the negotiations toward a truce and hostage release deal in Doha says tonight that Hamas’s response to the offer on the table was “ridiculous and left no room for doubt” that the terror group’s Gaza chief Yahya “Sinwar does not want to move forward with a deal at the moment.

In a statement late Monday, Hamas said it had informed mediators that it was sticking to its original position, which includes an end to the war, a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and a return of displaced Gazans to the northern part of the enclave, before hostage negotiations in exchange for Palestinian security prisoners.

Israel has repeatedly rejected these demands as “delusional” and unrealistic, and said they were non-starters.

The official tells Channel 12 tonight that Sinwar is “playing for time” and “still dreams” of an escalation of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank during the Muslim fasting month, which began over two weeks ago. Hamas had called for such violence before the start of Ramadan, when mediators were scrambling to secure a temporary ceasefire.

“Under the conditions created, when [Sinwar] in a tunnel surrounded by hostages as a human shield with food and medicine, and when the diplomatic pressure is exerted on Israel even more strongly – he still dreams of unifying the fronts during Ramadan,” says the official.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier said Israel would not accept Hamas’s demands for a ceasefire and accused Hamas of being uninterested in proceeding with negotiations toward a deal.

He said Hamas’ rejection “served as unfortunate testimony to the damage of the Security Council decision,” which on Monday approved a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages captured by Hamas, without linking the two. The US abstained, which allowed the resolution to pass, sparking a spat with Israel.

Netanyahu said Israel would not give in to Hamas’ “delusional” demands and continue to work to destroy the terror group’s military and governing capabilities, as well as seek the release of the remaining hostages taken during Hamas’s October 7 massacre.

After handful of far-left protesters heckle him over Gaza, Biden says, ‘They have a point’

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech about healthcare at an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)
US President Joe Biden delivers a speech about healthcare at an event in Raleigh, North Carolina, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)

Dozens of far-left, pro-Palestinian protesters have been heckling US President Joe Biden throughout his trip to Raleigh, North Carolina for a campaign event in the battleground state.

A group of them manage to briefly interrupt his remarks at an event promoting his administration’s healthcare agenda by shouting, “What about healthcare in Gaza?”

“Everybody deserves healthcare,” Biden responds.

One of the protesters then shouts, “Ceasefire now!”

To which, Biden responds, “They have a point… We need to get a lot more care into Gaza.”

“Women are being raped!” another extremist protester shouts, apparently referring to claims reported on Al Jazeera, which were subsequently taken down from the network’s news site.

The hecklers annoyed the crowd, which sought to shout them down, but Biden responded, “Be patient with them,” before carrying on with his remarks.

Earlier today, reporters pressed Biden regarding a potential Israeli offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which the US opposes. “I don’t want to get into that. We have plenty of time to talk about Rafah,” he said.

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