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Independent review finds Israel hasn't provided proof that U.N. refugee agency staffers were terrorists

Israel has claimed that some were members of Hamas but hasn't come up with evidence to support it.

What we know

  • An independent review published today found that Israel has not provided evidence of its claims that staff members for the U.N.'s agency on Palestinian refugees were Hamas terrorists.
  • The intelligence chief of the Israel Defense Forces has resigned over failures surrounding the Hamas-led attack Oct. 7. Aharon Haliva becomes the first senior Israeli figure to step down over the attack, as the IDF faces mounting criticism at home and abroad.
  • The U.S. is expected to impose sanctions on a unit of the Israeli military accused of human rights violations in the occupied West Bank, a move that Israeli leaders have vowed to reject and decried as "the height of absurdity."
  • In Gaza, doctors saved a baby from the womb of a woman who was killed alongside her husband and their other child in airstrikes on the southern city of Rafah. And in Khan Younis, civil defense officials said they had recovered more than 200 bodies from mass graves inside the Nasser Hospital complex.
  • As tensions over the Israel-Hamas war continue to erupt in the U.S., Columbia University will hold classes virtually amid warnings from Jewish leaders about student safety, while police arrested pro-Palestinian protesters at a Yale University encampment.

Head of UNRWA welcomes finding of U.N. report into agency's neutrality

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations' Palestinian refugee agency, known as UNRWA, said he welcomed the findings of an independent review into the agency's practices.

The report was published today after Lazzarini requested a probe into UNRWA's neutrality and what it can do to improve after Israel alleged its staff had terrorism ties. While the review acknowledged limitations in UNRWA's practices, it said Israel had provided no evidence to substantiate its allegations.

"@UNRWA is dedicated to applying UN values & principles + will implement the recommendations of the report without any delay," Lazzarini said on X. "This will strengthen our efforts and response during one of the most difficult moments in the Palestinian people’s history."

UC Berkeley becomes first West Coast campus to join pro-Palestinian call to action

BERKELEY, Calif. — Dozens of students gathered on the Savio Steps, named for Mario Savio, the leader of the 1960s Free Speech Movement, at the University of California, Berkeley, today to protest the Israel-Hamas war and the UC system’s investments in companies that do business with Israel.

Protesters said they planned to set up an encampment on campus as UC Berkeley became the first West Coast university to join a call for solidarity among colleges across the country to show their opposition to Israel’s military action in Gaza.

The Savio Steps lead to Sproul Hall, which housed the offices of the chancellor and administrators in the 1960s and were occupied by students from the Free Speech Movement. 

The movement is considered the first mass act of civil disobedience on a U.S. campus in the '60s as students demanded the school lift a ban on on-campus political activity and secure their right to free speech and academic freedom.

UC Berkeley Students Hold Rally In Support Of Gaza
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators in front of Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif., today.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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Baby Sabreen Alrouh Joudeh was born an orphan after she was delivered from her dead mother’s womb following an Israeli airstrike that also killed her father and sister. NBC News captured the emotional moment Sabreen’s grandmother and uncle met her for the first time in the neonatal unit in Rafah’s Emirati Hospital.

Israeli foreign ministry rejects UNRWA report, calls on countries to defund agency

Yael Factor

Yael Factor and Doha Madani

Israel's Foreign Affairs Ministry rejected the independent review of the U.N.'s Palestinian refugee agency, which found Israel had not provided evidence of its claims that staff members in Gaza were Hamas operatives.

Ministry spokesperson Oren Marmorstein reiterated in a statement today that Hamas has "infiltrated" the agency, known as UNRWA, and said the review was not "genuine and thorough." He called on donor countries to suspend funding to UNRWA to avoid funding Hamas, but no evidence was provided to support the claims.

Multiple countries, including Canada and Australia, suspended their donations to UNRWA after Israel first made its allegations in January but resumed funding weeks later. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong admitted in February that Australia had not seen evidence from Israel about the allegations before it paused its financial support.

Janez Lenarčič, the head of humanitarian aid and crisis management at the European Commission, said last month that neither he nor any other European executive had been provided evidence for the allegations. He said he was unaware of any donor country that had been provided proof by Israel, saying in addition that UNRWA reacted to the claims "properly, immediately, effectively."

Efforts underway to restore service at Khan Younis hospital

Matthew Nighswander

Works to reactivate Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis
A worker tries to repair damage at the closed Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis on Sunday.Doaa Albaz / Anadolu via Getty Images

Israel pulled its ground forces from Khan Younis on April 7 after it carried out what it called a "precise and limited operation" at the Nasser Medical Complex, one of the biggest hospitals in the Palestinian territory.

Rep. Ilhan Omar says nationwide Gaza solidarity protests are 'more than the students hoped for'

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., praised the solidarity emerging as campuses across the country protest the Israel-Hamas war after faculty members at Columbia University staged a walkout over the administration's crackdown.

"On Thursday, Columbia arrested and suspended its students who were peacefully protesting and have now ignited a nationwide Gaza Solidarity movement," Omar wrote on X. "This is more than the students hoped for and I am glad to see this type of solidarity."

Omar's daughter, Isra Hirsi, was arrested participating in the protests and suspended from Columbia's nearby sister school, Barnard College. Omar said she was "enormously proud" of her daughter.

Hirsi told MSNBC she believed the school targeted for suspension students who were speaking to the media. She denied the protest encampment on campus was threatening, describing it as a "beautiful" community and saying students held Shabbat during that time.

Gazans will suffer long-term physical and mental trauma, U.N. expert on right to health says

While the physical injuries being inflicted on people in Gaza are clear, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to health urged people to intentionally think about the "acute mental distress" that will later develop into other mental health issues.

"As a practicing medical doctor, I know the length the long-term trauma that the people of Gaza — its children — will carry with them because of enduring intergenerational physical and mental health impacts of racism, structural discrimination, violence and imperialism," Tlaleng Mofokeng told the media today.

A Palestinian reacts to seeing the young victim of an Israeli airstrike, at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah, central Gaza, Monday, April 22, 2024.
A Palestinian reacts to seeing the young victim of an Israeli airstrike at Al-Aqsa Hospital today in Deir al Balah, central Gaza.Abdel Kareem Hana / AP

Mofokeng called it a "war on the right to health," because the medical infrastructure in Gaza has been "obliterated." She also noted that the violence puts disability rights at the forefront because of the types of injuries "created as a result of the type of military arsenal used."

"I continue to be unreasonably hopeful that the realization of the rights of everyone to the highest attainable standard can be promoted, fulfilled and respected," Mofokeng said.

Israeli troops storm back into eastern Khan Younis in surprise raid


Israeli troops fought their way back into an eastern section of Khan Younis in a surprise raid, residents said today, sending people who had returned to abandoned homes in the ruins of the southern Gaza Strip’s main city fleeing once more.

Israel abruptly pulled most of its ground troops out of the southern Gaza Strip this month after some of the most intense fighting of the seven-month-old war. Residents have begun making their way home to previously inaccessible neighborhoods of what had been the enclave’s second-biggest city, finding homes reduced to rubble and the dead still left unrecovered in the streets.

People walk with salvaged items past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on April 22, 2024.
People carry salvaged items as they walk past destroyed buildings in Khan Younis today in the southern Gaza Strip.AFP - Getty Images

“This morning, many families who had left here in the past two weeks to go back home to Abassan came back. They were too frightened,” Ahmed Rezik, 42, told Reuters from a school where he is sheltering in the western part of Khan Younis, referring to a district in the east.

“They said tanks pushed in the eastern area of the town under heavy fire, and they had to run for lives,” he told Reuters via a chat app.

PEN America cancels award ceremony after writers withdraw over Gaza controversy

PEN America, a nonprofit group dedicated to free expression, has canceled its literary award ceremony this year following the withdrawal of several nominees who said the group had not taken action to protect Palestinian writers.

"We greatly respect that writers have followed their consciences, whether they chose to remain as nominees in their respective categories or not," said Clarisse Rosaz Shariyf, PEN's chief literary programming officer. "We regret that this unprecedented situation has taken away the spotlight from the extraordinary work selected by esteemed, insightful and hard-working judges across all categories."

Writers have criticized PEN America for months; 600 of them signed an open letter in February criticizing its response to the war in Gaza. It cited platforming speakers such as actor Mayim Bialik, who has made controversial statements in defense of Israel, while dragging out Palestinian writer Randa Jarrar, who protested Bialik's event.

"We demand PEN find the same zeal and passion that they have for banned books in the US to speak out about actual human beings in Palestine," the letter said.

Israel hasn't provided evidence that U.N. refugee agency staff are Hamas terrorists, independent review finds

An independent review of the United Nations' agency for Palestinian refugees found that Israel has not provided evidence of its claims that staff members were Hamas terrorists.

Published today, the report adds that UNRWA has submitted its staff lists to Israel since 2011 and did not receive any complaint or concerns from the country's officials before it leveled its accusations in January. The Israel Foreign Affairs Ministry, according to the report, said those lists failed to provide proper identification numbers.

"During meetings with Israeli officials, it was communicated that Israel does not consider the sharing of the staff list as a screening or vetting process, but as a standard procedure for the registration of UN and diplomatic staff to ensure their privileges and immunities," the report said.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini requested the review into how the agency maintains its obligation of neutrality and its limitations. A different U.N. agency is tasked with investigating Israel's claims that UNRWA staff members were involved in the Oct. 7 attack.

Israel's 'Empty Chair' campaign highlights hostages as Passover begins

As Jews around the world begin to celebrate Passover, Israel has launched an "Empty Chair" advertisement campaign to highlight the pain for families of the 133 people still captive in Gaza.

According to a statement from Israel's public diplomacy office, the advertisement will play on platforms across North America during the week of Passover. The symbolism of the empty chair has been used in hostage awareness demonstrations by groups for several months.

Passover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the liberation of Israelites from slavery in Egypt, a story described in many religious texts. The eight-day holiday is observed with a Seder meal, usually on the first two nights. It’s common for observers of the holiday to leave a chair empty at the table for the prophet Elijah.

“No family in the world should celebrate like this,” a voice narrates after showing multiple family meals focused on an empty chair. The ad ends with “Let our people go,” a reference to Moses’ quote in the Book of Exodus.

Nearly 1,000 tons of aid dropped in Gaza, U.S. military says

The U.S. military has air-dropped nearly 1,001 tons of humanitarian aid into Gaza since it began the operations, the Central Command said yesterday in a post on X.

The military dropped more than 50,000 read-to-eat meals into Gaza yesterday, using four U.S. Air Force C-130 aircrafts, it said, adding one of the bundles "landed in the sea."

But amid reports that the air-dropped aid was injuring civilians on the ground in Gaza, CENTCOM said it "does not assess civilian harm or damage to infrastructure at this time."

Hezbollah denies rumors of resuming attacks on U.S. forces

Hezbollah denied rumors today that it had issued a statement about resuming attacks on U.S. forces, three months after they had been suspended.

"No statement has been issued by the Islamic Resistance — Kataeb Hezbollah, in the past 48 hours," it said in a post on Telegram, calling it a "fabricated story."

This comes as the Iran-backed militant group said separately that it had attacked Israeli positions in Hanita in northern Israel with artillery shells today.

Israeli strikes on the al-Bureij camp in central Gaza

Max Butterworth

Palestinian medics gather at the site of an Israeli strike on al-Bureij camp in the central Gaza Strip today.

Israeli air strike on al-Bureij camp in the central Gaza Strip
AFP via Getty Images

Iran indicates it's satisfied with Israel exchange, tamps down nuclear rhetoric

Iran will not retaliate again after Israel's limited strike, foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani has signaled, again belittling the Israeli attack.

"Iran has achieved what it needed to achieve," he said today, according to the state news agency IRNA. Israel's attack was "not of great importance," he said, claiming that Iran's defense systems protected it from the attack.

However, Kanaani said Iran has not ruled out a "tougher response" if Israel "takes another action."

He also said that nuclear weapons have no place in Tehran's nuclear doctrine.

Nearly 300 bodies found in mass graves at Khan Younis hospital, Gaza officials say

At least three mass graves have been found at a hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, and 283 bodies have so far been recovered from them, Gaza's civil defense said in a statement today.

The graves were found in the courtyard of the Nasser Medical Complex when Israeli forces withdrew, it said. Teams have been digging since Friday to recover the bodies.

Israeli forces withdrew from southern Gaza this month but have continued to bombard the area and stage occasional operations there.

The burial area was built when the Israeli military was besieging the Nasser Hospital facility last month, the civil defense said, as people were not able to bury the dead in a cemetery. Since the withdrawal, residents have been returning to the site hoping to find their loved ones so they can bury them in permanent graves elsewhere.

Police arrest pro-Palestinian supporters at encampment on Yale University plaza

Police officers have arrested protesters who had set up an encampment on Yale University’s campus in support of the Palestinian cause this morning. 

Protesters had been on their third night of camping out in an effort to urge Yale to divest from military weapons manufacturers, the Yale Daily News reported. 

After the arrests, a crowd of over 200 protesters blocked an intersection on campus as organizers “announced that people arrested are being charged with Class A misdemeanors,” the school paper wrote on X.

Read the full story here.

Baby born an orphan after Gaza doctors save her from womb of mother killed in Rafah airstrike

Palestinians in Gaza are hailing doctors who saved a baby from the womb of its mother after she was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the southern city of Rafah. Sabreen Al-Sakti was 30 weeks pregnant when she, her husband, Shukri, and their 4-year-old daughter were all killed in their home.

In that scene of carnage, doctors were able to perform an emergency caesarian section and revive the baby, which was then transferred to the nearby Kuwaiti Hospital for treatment. Born an orphan, Sabreen Jouda was also fighting for her life but was saved by medical workers who gave her oxygen, the workers and family members said.

“We don’t know what to do,” the baby’s uncle told NBC News' crew in Gaza. She “is born without father and without a mother and no hope in life. The whole house is gone. I don’t know what to say.”

The family is among the growing number of civilians killed in Israel's intensifying bombardment of Rafah, the overcrowded city where most Palestinians have fled but which the Israeli military says it plans to assault on the ground in its campaign against Hamas.

The ministry of health in Gaza said 26 children were killed in the city over the weekend.

Netanyahu under pressure from all sides as Israel's reputation takes new hits

Richard EngelNBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent, Host of MSNBC's "On Assignment with Richard Engel"

JERUSALEM — Israel and Iran were in an unprecedented direct conflict last week that nearly spun out of control.

And with Israel’s reputation taking a beating across the world, pressure is growing against Netanyahu on all sides.

The Biden administration is set to impose sanctions on a unit of Israel's military, protests are growing across the world and inside the country people increasingly want their leader gone.

Jerusalem car attack injures 3; Suspects arrested

Two suspects have been arrested after running over three pedestrians and opening fire this morning in Jerusalem, Israeli police have said.

The pedestrians were "lightly injured," the spokesperson's unit said in a statement. The two suspects fled the scene and discarded the weapon along the way, it said.

Car ramming in Jerusalem
Israeli police cordon off the site of the attack in Jerusalem this morning. Menahem Kahana / AFP - Getty Images

The police added that the duo were found hiding and were now being interrogated by the Israeli Security Agency.

Netanyahu promises to step up pressure on Hamas with cease-fire talks broken down

Israel's prime minister has vowed to intensify military force against Hamas after the latest attempts at negotiating a cease-fire broke down.

Hamas “has only hardened its conditions for the release of our hostages. It is hardening its heart and refusing to let our people go,” Netanyahu said in a video address yesterday. “Therefore, we will strike it with additional painful blows — and this will happen soon,” he said, adding that Israel would “increase the military and diplomatic pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to free our hostages and achieve our victory.”

Israel has in recent days carried out a series of airstrikes on Rafah, the southern Gaza city where most of the enclave’s population have fled. Israel has indicated that it plans to invade Rafah because this is where some Hamas leaders and personnel are holed up.

Israel blames the Palestinian militant group, banned in the West as a terrorist organization, for thwarting an agreement to end the fighting. It is demanding a return for the hostages seized Oct. 7 but says Hamas must be destroyed. Hamas says any agreement must involve an end to the fighting, withdrawal of Israeli troops and reconstruction of Gaza.

Israeli military intel chief announces resignation over Oct. 7 failings

Raf Sanchez

TEL AVIV — The head of Israeli military intelligence has announced his resignation, becoming the first senior official to step down after the failure to prevent the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack.

“The intelligence division under my command did not live up to the task we were entrusted with. I have carried that black day with me ever since, day after day, night after night, I will carry the pain with me forever,” Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva wrote in a letter of resignation. 

Other senior security officials — including the head of the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency — have indicated they intend to resign after the war in Gaza. 

Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva.
Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva.via IDF

Haliva’s resignation may add to pressure for accountability from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing sustained protests calling for early elections. Demonstrators say they have lost faith in his government. 

Netanyahu has so far resisted calls for an early vote. And while he has promised to set up a national commission to investigate the failures of Oct.7, he has not yet given any timetable for when the probe would start or when it would report. 

A similar commission looked into Israel’s failure to prepare for the joint Egyptian-Syrian attack launched in October 1973. It recommended the firing of the then-military intelligence chief along with several other generals. 

Haliva said he believed that for “the sake of the State of Israel, for the sake of the people of Israel, and for the sake of future generations” a national commission should investigate the Hamas attack in a “thorough, in-depth, comprehensive, and precise manner.”

Haliva is not expected to resign immediately. He said in his letter he would remain in post until “the completion of the investigative phase” and until a successor is appointed. 

Buildings around Al-Shifa Hospital flattened by airstrikes

Max Butterworth

A young boy walks through the rubble of destroyed buildings yesterday after Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital.

Debris left behind from Al-Shifa Hospital after the Israeli forces withdrawal
Mahmoud Issa / Anadolu via Getty Images

Columbia to hold classes virtually as Jewish leaders warn about safety amid tensions over pro-Palestinian protests

A growing number of leaders and organizations have called on Columbia University and its president to protect students amid reports of antisemitic and offensive statements and actions on and near its campus, which was the site last week of a pro-Palestinian encampment and protest.

The protest and encampment on campus have drawn attention to the right of free speech and the rights of students to feel safe from violence, with a campus rabbi recommending Jewish students return home for their own safety.

Columbia President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik said classes would be held virtually today, and said school leaders would be coming together to discuss a way to bring an end to “this crisis.”

Read the full story here.

Catch up with our latest coverage of the war

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