Rafah ground assault looms over Palestinians who ‘have no idea where to go’


CIA Director Bill Burns to travel to Egypt for hostage negotiations

CIA Director Bill Burns is going to Egypt on Tuesday to continue hostage negotiations, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News.

The trip was first reported by Axios.

Burns has been negotiating with officials from Egypt and Qatar, who are representing Hamas, as well as with Israeli intelligence officials from Mossad, Shin Bet and the IDF on behalf of Israel’s government.

The U.S. official said Burns will be working on the next steps for achieving the release of the estimated 136 hostages still being held in Gaza. Last week, Hamas delivered a counteroffer to the original proposal that Burns and other negotiators had agreed upon in Paris last month.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday that while some of the elements of the Hamas counteroffer were “nonstarters,” the Hamas response also contained elements that the U.S. could work with.

Other U.S. officials, and Qatari diplomats, described the Hamas response as “positive.” But shortly after Blinken spoke to reporters, Netanyahu held his own news conference and denounced the Hamas proposal as “delusional.”

The Israeli leader also repeated his pledge to keep fighting until Hamas is defeated, a goal U.S. officials do not believe is achievable without risking the lives of the hostages and killing a high number of Palestinian civilians. 

On Thursday night, President Joe Biden publicly criticized Israel’s rejection of the proposal as “over the top.”

According to a second senior administration official, the most immediate disagreement between the U.S. and Netanyahu is over Israel’s plans for a ground invasion in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, where more than a million displaced Palestinians have been sheltering in makeshift tents.

Separately, other Arab leaders have told the U.S. and Israel time is running out to reach an agreement if they want to free the remaining hostages while they are still alive.

2 killed, 5 injured after shots fired inside Nasser Hospital, Doctors without Borders says

Two people were killed and five were injured after shots were fired inside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, Doctors without Borders staff reported.

One of the injured, a nurse, was severely wounded, the humanitarian organization said on X.

“Medical staff are afraid to move within and around the hospital due to fear of being shot,” the organization wrote.

Israeli vehicles surrounded the Nasser complex today, reached its northern gate and closed the southern road leading to it, according an NBC team in Gaza.

Israeli army vehicles fired a sound shell in front of the hospital’s eastern gate, causing injuries among the displaced.

The crew reported shooting in the eastern hospital yard by snipers and quadcopter drones more than once during the night and dawn hours, which led to the death of a civilian, Hazem Abu Rajila, as a result of a gunshot to the abdomen.

Israeli army forces are preventing access to the body of a civilian who died yesterday in front of the northern gate of the complex, and are opening fire on anyone who moves to retrieve her.

The Palestinian Ministry of Information said that two civilians were killed today in a sniper attack inside the Nasser Medical Complex.

The complex has been under Israeli siege for 20 days, according to the ministry.

Israel says it killed Hamas operatives in Rafah

Israel said it killed a senior Hamas commander in Rafah, according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces.

“Earlier today, following IDF and ISA intelligence, aircraft struck and eliminated Ahmed Eliakubi, a senior Hamas operative in the area of Rafah,” the statement read. “Eliakubi was responsible for the security provisions for senior Hamas leaders and served as a senior commander in the Rafah district. During the strike, Iman Rantisi, a Hamas senior military operative was eliminated, and an additional operative was killed.”

NBC News has not been able to verify the IDF’s claims.

UAE deeply concerned about planned Israeli operation in Rafah

The United Arab Emirates is deeply concerned about the Israeli military’s plan to launch an operation in Rafah, according to a news release from the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The ministry warned of “the serious humanitarian repercussions that may result from the operation,” and that it “threatens to cause the loss of more innocent life.”

“The Ministry reaffirmed its strong condemnation of any forced displacement of the brotherly Palestinian people, and all practices that violate the resolutions of international legitimacy and international and humanitarian law,” the ministry said in the statement.

The ministry reiterated its calls for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Qatar condemns planned Israeli offensive in Rafah, warns of ‘humanitarian catastrophe’

Qatar condemned Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah and warned of a “humanitarian catastrophe,” the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on X.

The ministry said the southern Gaza city is “a final refuge for hundreds of thousands of displaced people inside the besieged Strip.”

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls on the UN Security Council to take urgent action to prevent the Israeli occupation forces from invading Rafah and committing genocide in the city, and to provide full protection of civilians under international law and international humanitarian law,” the ministry said in the statement.

Qatar reiterated its rejection of the displacement of Palestinians and its support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israeli military operation in Rafah ‘can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy,’ UNRWA commissioner says

An Israeli military operation in Rafah “can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy,” said Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

There are around 1.4 million displaced people in Rafah, according to UNRWA.

“There is a sense of growing anxiety and growing panic in Rafah. People have absolutely no idea where else to go,” Lazzarini wrote on X.

Red Cross pays tribute to Hind Rajab, 6, girl found dead in Gaza

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies described the death of Hind Rajab, a 6-year-old child trapped inside a car by Israeli tanks, and the health care workers sent to rescue her as “tragic,” as it paid tribute to her and to its colleagues.

“Since the beginning of the conflict, we lost 17 of our network,” the IFRC said in a statement, including 14 in the occupied Palestinian territories and 3 in Israel.

Hind was fleeing Gaza City with her family when their vehicle was surrounded by tanks, according to audio records of calls between Hind and emergency staff. First responders who discovered her and her family’s bodies found signs of shooting and shelling, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said in a statement earlier. Two PRCS ambulance workers, Yusuf Zeino and Ahmed Al-Madhoun, were also killed in an attempted rescue mission.

Zeino and Al-Madhoun were “on duty when their ambulance was hit,” the IFRC added.

Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a ‘humanitarian catastrophe,’ German foreign minister says

An Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe,” said German Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock.

“The distress in #Rafah is already unbelievable. 1.3 million people are seeking protection from the fighting in a very small space,” Baerbock wrote on X.

“The people in #Gaza cannot disappear into thin air.”

While Israel has a right to defend itself, Baerbock added in another post on X, it needs to do what it can to “alleviate the suffering of the civilian population.”

The minister for foreign affairs will travel to Israel next week where she plans on discussing another cease-fire “so that the hostages can finally be released,” she wrote.

Iraq calls for international intervention in Gaza

Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs today called for “international intervention” to prevent “the mass forced displacement” that would occur as a result of an Israeli military operation in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah.

More than 1.4 million people are living in Rafah, many in makeshift camps or inside schools and medical facilities.

The Iraqi foreign ministry described a potential military operation in the city as “a new humanitarian catastrophe and massacre” and reiterated demands to “stop military operations against the Palestinians” and the need for the delivery of humanitarian aid in the strip.

Shipment of food for Gaza stuck at Israeli port, UNRWA says

A shipment of food for 1.1 million people in Gaza is stuck in an Israeli port due to restrictions from Israeli authorities, said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

“1,049 containers of rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar & cooking oil are stuck as families in #Gaza face hunger & starvation,” the agency wrote on X.

UNRWA previously said that half of the U.N. requests to deliver aid to Gaza have been denied.

U.S. Central Command conducts more strikes on Yemen

U.S. Central Command (Centcom) conducted a number of strikes against vessels and missiles it says were preparing to launch against ships in the Red Sea yesterday, according to a statement.

Centcom forces struck two mobile unmanned surface vessels, four mobile anti-ship cruise missiles, and one mobile land attack cruise missile, the command said.

The missiles and vessels were identified in “Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen,” the statement said and were thought to present “an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.”

The fresh strikes follow statements from President Joe Biden in January that military action against the Houthi movement in Yemen would continue, even as he acknowledged that they may not be hindering attacks.

Over 350 attacks on health care in Gaza since Oct. 7, says WHO

The World Health Organization has documented 721 attacks on health care facilities in the occupied Palestinian territories, of which over 357 were attacks on Gaza, according to the organization’s spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.

“Health facilities are protected under international humanitarian law, and we keep repeating to all parties involved in the conflict to respect that,” Jasarevic added in a video clip uploaded to X on Friday.

Direct attacks on health care in Gaza have resulted in 645 deaths and over 800 injuries, he added.

UNRWA chief: ‘I am almost becoming wordless’

Phillippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, has described a potential military offensive by Israel in Rafah as a “recipe for disaster.”

The 1.4 million people currently living in Rafah are “completely exposed, vulnerable,” Lazzarini said, adding that he was “almost becoming wordless” about the conditions in the Gaza Strip.

A potential Israeli ground invasion of Rafah, announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, has been condemned by international organizations such as the U.N. and the WHO, which have repeatedly warned that internally displaced people living in the southern city have nowhere to evacuate to.

Family members were among the group that found Hind Rajab’s body, Red Crescent says

TEL AVIV — Some of 6-year-old Hind Rajab’s family members were among a group that found her body 12 days after she was last heard from in a call with an emergency dispatcher, a Palestine Red Crescent Society spokesperson told NBC News today.

After Israeli troops appeared to leave the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City, some of Hind’s family members entered the area in hopes of finding her, said Nebal Farsakh. There, they found her body, along with the remains of her aunt, uncle and four cousins, who were also killed, she said.

Farsakh said they also found the remains of first responders Yusuf Zeino and Ahmed Al-Madhoun, who were sent to rescue the little girl after she made a desperate plea for help on a call with an emergency dispatcher, the audio of which was later released by the PRCS.

Photos published online by the PRCS appear to show the ambulance completely destroyed.

Farsakh said the ambulance was attacked after the PRCS had coordinated with the Israeli military through a third party to allow the team to conduct the rescue in a desperate bid to save Hind.

NBC News could not independently verify this claim and has asked the Israel Defense Forces for comment.

Moody’s downgrades Israel’s credit rating

Moody’s is the first major credit agency to downgrade Israel’s credit rating on Friday, citing material, political and financial risks to the country over its prolonged war with Hamas.

Moody’s downgraded Israel’s credit rating from A1 to A2, keeping its credit outlook at “negative,” meaning that a future downgrade is possible. The downgrade implies a higher credit risk of lending to Israel, but the rating is still within the middle of an “investment grade” category, suggesting low credit risk.

“The main driver for the downgrade of Israel’s rating to A2 is Moody’s assessment that the ongoing military conflict with Hamas,” said Moody’s in a statement, adding that the war and its “wider consequences” raise “political risk for Israel as well as weaken its executive and legislative institutions.”

“While fighting in Gaza may diminish in intensity or pause, there is currently no agreement to end the hostilities durably and no agreement on a longer-term plan that would fully restore and eventually strengthen security for Israel,” Moody’s said in a statement Friday. It’s review into Israel’s downgrade began on Oct. 19, the statement added.

Hezbollah and Israel trade fire over Lebanese border

Israel and the Hezbollah militant group traded fire over Lebanon’s border today.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement on Telegram that its fighter jets struck a military compound around a mile and a half north of the border. It added that it had also hit an observation post in the border town of Markaba.

IDF forces also struck a “command center” and a “military site” used by Hezbollah yesterday, the statement said, although it did not specify the location of the attacks.

Separately, Hezbollah said in a Telegram post today that it had attacked a barracks in northern Israel using rocket fire this afternoon.

NBC News could not independently verify either claim.

Death toll in Gaza tops 28,000

The death toll in Gaza since Oct. 7 has risen to 28,064, the enclave’s health ministry said in a Telegram post today. It added that 117 people were killed in the last 24 hours.

More than 67,000 people have also been injured, the post said.

NBC News cannot independently verify the figures and it is thought that more bodies remain unaccounted for under the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes on the strip.

Palestinians mourn after identifying bodies of relatives

Image: PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-GAZA-CONFLICT
SAID KHATIB / AFP – Getty Images
Image:
Fatima Shbair / AP

Palestinians mourn at a hospital in Rafah after identifying the bodies of relatives killed by Israeli strikes on southern Israel.

Hezbollah chief receives Iranian foreign minister in Beirut

The Hezbollah militant group hosted diplomatic talks with representatives from Iran’s foreign ministry, Lebanese media reported today, amid heightening tensions with Israel on Lebanon’s southern border.

Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah received Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s minister of foreign affairs, alongside a delegation from the ministry and Iran’s diplomats in Lebanon, according to Al-Manar TV, a broadcaster owned by Hezbollah.

Iran is a key financial and political backer of Hezbollah, coordinating training of the group alongside its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and supplying it with weapons.

Exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah have increased in recent months. Hezbollah has increased the scale of rocket attacks over the border in support of Hamas and in protest of Israel’s full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Overnight strikes in Rafah kill 28 as Israel prepares ground invasion

Three airstrikes on homes in Rafah killed 28 people overnight, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli military to prepare to evacuate civilians from the southern city ahead of a ground invasion.

Each strike killed multiple members of three families, a health official told The Associated Press. A total of 10 children were killed, the youngest of whom was 3 months old, the official said.

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are packed into Rafah, many after being uprooted repeatedly by Israeli evacuation orders that now cover two-thirds of Gaza’s territory. U.S. officials have said an invasion of Rafah without a plan for the civilian population would lead to disaster.

Internally displaced people in Gaza have not thus far been allowed to return to their homes by Israeli forces, and many do not have homes to return to. It is not clear where they would be able to evacuate to escape increasing attacks on Rafah.

Israel airstrikes hit near Damascus, Syria says

Israeli strikes hit a number of sites in the countryside around the Syrian capital of Damascus, the country’s ministry of defense said in Facebook post today.

Air defenses had only managed to shoot down “some” of the missiles, the post said, adding that the attacks resulted in “material losses.” It did not expand on what those losses were.

The attack was launched from the Golan Heights, the statement said. The area on Syria’s western border has been occupied by Israel since it was captured in a 1967 war.

The Israel Defense Forces told NBC News that it did not comment on foreign reports.

Gazan health officials sound alarm over attacks on Nasser Hospital

One person has died and a number of others were injured after “intense shooting” inside the Nasser Medical Complex in southern Gaza, a spokesperson for the enclave’s health ministry said today.

Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra said that Israeli forces had fired toward the “gates, buildings and courtyards” of the complex, which is the main hospital in Gaza’s second city of Khan Younis.

“Medical teams cannot move between the buildings of Nasser Medical Complex,” he said, adding that hundreds of health personnel and wounded individuals, as well as up to 10,000 internally displaced people, were sheltering inside the hospital compound.

The targeting of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals is considered a war crime under international humanitarian law, unless significant measures are taken to protect civilian life. Israel has repeatedly claimed that Hamas militants operate from within and around Gaza’s medical facilities, a claim that Hamas has consistently denied.

6-year-old Hind Rajab found dead 12 days after desperate call with emergency dispatcher.

TEL AVIV — The search for Hind Rajab, a 6-year-old girl who was missing in Gaza City for 12 days after she made a desperate plea for first responders to rescue her, has reached a tragic end.

Both Hind and the two first responders dispatched in a bid to save her have been found dead in Gaza City, the Palestine Red Crescent Society told NBC News today.

The little girl’s body was found “trapped” in the vehicle where she had spoken with an emergency dispatcher for more than three hours as gunfire rang out around her, the PRCS said. First responders Yusuf Zeino and Ahmed Al-Madhoun were also killed, it added.

Palestinian girl Hind who remains trapped amid desperate efforts to recover her safely in Gaza
“Come take me. Please, will you come?” Hind, 6, had said on an emergency call with a dispatcher at the Palestine Red Crescent Society.via PRCS

Hind was traveling with her aunt, uncle and four cousins when their car came under bombardment.

Her 15-year-old cousin Layan called first responders for help, telling the operator that an Israeli tank appeared to be closing in before a burst of gunfire rang out.

After she screamed the line fell dead.

When the dispatchers called back, Hind had answered, saying Layan had been killed.

“Come take me. Please, will you come?” she begged the dispatcher in the call that was released by the medical service.

PRCS spokesperson Nebal Farsakh confirmed today that Hind was “found dead,” along with the ambulance crew.

The PRCS accused Israeli forces of targeting the ambulance after it arrived at the scene despite prior coordination to allow the crew to reach the area.

NBC News has approached the Israel Defense Forces for comment.

Before her daughter’s body was found, Hind’s mother, Wissam Hamadah, told NBC News of her desperation to be reunited with her daughter. “We want our daughter, she is innocent. It’s a sin what is happening to her,” she said.

Hamadah said the family had fled fighting in the Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City. As the family fled, she said she placed Hind in the vehicle with her relatives, hoping she would be safer there.

Palestinians look at destruction after Israeli airstrike on Rafah

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah yesterday. More than 1 million people in Gaza’s southernmost city are bracing for attack after Israel said it launch a ground assault against Hamas fighters hiding there.

Image:
Fatima Shbair / AP

Palestinians fear time is running out in ‘last stop’ Rafah 

Palestinians in Rafah, the packed city on Gaza’s southern border, were terrified Friday of an impending Israeli ground assault — which the United States and aid groups have warned risks “disaster.”

More than half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people have sought shelter in Rafah, crowding tents in refugee camps stalked by growing hunger, disease and more recently fear that there will be nowhere to escape if troops enter the city.

Washington said it could not support such an operation without proper planning, world leaders voiced growing alarm, and aid officials warned of a “bloodbath.”

In the face of that pressure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Friday that civilians would be able to flee before the expected ground assault, which he said was necessary in the campaign against Hamas.

Read the full story here.

Catch up with NBC News’ coverage of the war





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