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Netanyahu slams Schumer’s call for new election as inappropriate, says Israel ‘no banana republic’

The head of Israel’s intelligence service arrived in Qatar over the weekend to resume talks on a potential cease-fire and hostage exchange.

What we know

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated in a government meeting today that Israel will continue with its plans for a military incursion into Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering, in defiance of the Biden administration. The Palestinian foreign ministry called the repeated threats to invade Rafah a "blatant challenge to the international and American consensus on protecting civilians."
  • Netanyahu criticized remarks by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., calling for a new election in Israel as "totally inappropriate." Schumer is the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S., as well as a longtime supporter of Israel. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., defended Schumer's remarks and described them as an "act of love for Israel."
  • Talks are expected to resume today in Doha, Qatar, led by Israel's intelligence chief, according to Reuters, which reported that this round of talks is in direct response to a proposal put forth by Hamas last week. The new proposal pulled back on its original demand for an immediate, permanent cease-fire. Israel had originally dismissed it as "unrealistic."
  • Aid agencies, which have been sounding increasingly urgent alarms over acute hunger and malnutrition in Gaza, say a cease-fire, which would allow safe and continuous delivery of aid by truck, is the best way to ensure that the enclave does not tip into famine.
  • The private aid ship that arrived off Gaza over the weekend has unloaded its cargo. The ship, which took several days to chug across the sea, delivered 200 tons of aid, the equivalent of about 10 trucks.
  • The death toll in Gaza has surpassed 31,600, including at least 30 people who have died of malnutrition, according to the Health Ministry. Another 73,500 have been reported injured. The Israeli military said at least 247 soldiers have been killed since the ground invasion of Gaza began.

Turkish president slams 'hypocrisy' of Western countries in speech at iftar meal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan criticized Western government during a speech at an iftar meal in Istanbul today, describing the Israeli government as behaving with "lawlessness and arrogance."

"The hypocrisy of Western countries, which criticize Israel before the public but support Israel with weapons and ammunition so that it can carry out its massacres, has turned Gaza into the world's largest graveyard of children and women," Erdoğan said, according to a release from his office.

His remarks also touched on the heaviness this month of celebrating Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, saying it comes as "one of the most brutal genocides of the century is taking place in Gaza." Erdoğan also offered criticism to Muslims by saying they need a "self-reckoning."

"I believe that the sooner and more open-heartedly we make this self-criticism, the better it will be for the Palestinian people and the entire Ummah of Muhammad," he said, referring to the Muslim community. "As Türkiye, we will not hesitate to speak the truth, to shout out what is right and the truth, even if it is painful. "

IDF chief of staff says Rafah invasion will happen only after political approval

Yarden Segev

Yarden Segev and Doha Madani

The military will not announce an invasion into Rafah, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said today, telling reporters a plan is being decided on with final approval from the country's "political echelon."

Halevi was responding at a news conference to a direct question about why the IDF has yet to launch a ground assault on Rafah, which has been looming for weeks as Israeli authorities continue to describe the city as Hamas' last stronghold.

"The IDF is preparing for attacks in additional areas, and together with the political echelon we will decide on the appropriate timing and conditions," Halevi said earlier in the briefing, without directly referring to Rafah.

Netanyahu's office said last week that he had approved a plan to invade Rafah, which reportedly includes evacuations for the more than 1 million civilians sheltering there. Officials from varying ally countries, including the U.S. and Germany, have warned that invading Rafah could complicate the already difficult situation in Gaza and the wider region.

Netanyahu has said the Rafah invasion will happen regardless of international pressure, describing it as a vital step in winning the war against Hamas.

Second aid ship expected to set sail for Gaza as Palestinians await distribution from first delivery

JERUSALEM — A shipment of aid that arrived on Gaza’s shore Friday is expected to bring some respite to starving Palestinians in the enclave’s north — but how and when it will be distributed has yet to be seen.

Tons of flour, rice and canned foods were offloaded Saturday, according to World Central Kitchen, the charity that collected the food and organized the maritime aid shipment. The much-needed aid was transported 200 miles from the Larnaca port of Cyprus to Gaza by the Open Arms, a ship named after the charity.

World Central Kitchen, which was launched by celebrity chef José Andrés and which runs a network of around 60 kitchens across the Gaza Strip, said today that the aid was in a warehouse and had yet to be distributed.

The second vessel from World Central Kitchen.
The second vessel, left, with food aid from aid group World Central Kitchen prepares to depart Saturday for Gaza at Larnaca port, Cyprus.Petros Karadjias / AP

The statement countered an update from COGAT, Israel’s military liaison with the Palestinians, which said 12 World Central Kitchen trucks had “distributed the aid” from the maritime delivery in northern Gaza.

World Central Kitchen emphasized that the aid was still awaiting distribution. COGAT did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the discrepancy.

Read the full story here.

Schumer reacts to Netanyahu's criticism of his speech

Schumer called for Israel to hold elections and deemed Netanyahu an “obstacle to peace” in a short statement responding to Netanyahu's criticism of his speech.

“It’s a good thing that a serious discussion has now begun about how to ensure Israel’s future security and prosperity once Hamas has been defeated,” Schumer said in a statement today following Netanyahu's criticism.

Netanyahu called Schumer's speech "totally inappropriate" in an appearance this morning in CNN.

"It’s inappropriate for a — to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there. That’s something that Israel, the Israeli public, does on its own, and we’re not a banana republic," Netanyahu said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I think the only government that we should be working on to bring down now is the terrorist tyranny in Gaza, the Hamas tyranny that murdered over 1,000 Israelis, including some dozens of Americans, and is holding Americans and Israelis hostage," he added. "That’s what we should be focused on."

NBC News

Congressional Democrats defend Schumer's call for a new election

Some congressional Democrats came out in support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's call for new elections in interviews that aired this morning.

In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a former House speaker, said that Schumer's remarks were "an act of courage, an act of love for Israel," and that she wishes Netanyahu would read his entire speech, because it speaks to "the need to defeat Hamas.”

After mentioning that many people in Gaza are dying from the lack of food and calling it a "very sad situation," Pelosi also noted that Schumer, who supports Israel, is the top Jewish elected official in the U.S.

Asked whether she supports Schumer's call for new elections after Netanyahu expressed his opposition, Pelosi replied that she thinks "it’s a very serious proposal."

“What does that say if he won’t even say that as the war winds down, the people of Israel should speak? That’s all Chuck [Schumer] was saying, but read the speech, because it condemns Hamas," Pelosi said, adding that Netanyahu gave a "very weak presentation" when he stated his opposition to new elections.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who is considered a front-runner in the California Senate race, also defended Schumer's comments in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."

“First of all, I want to highlight that Chuck Schumer laid the responsibility for this war exactly where it lies, and that is with Hamas terrorists that attacked and murdered and raped and tortured Israelis on Oct. 7 and continues to hold hostages, continues in a cowardly way to use the Palestinian people as human shields," Schiff said.

Schiff stressed that "the responsibility lies with Hamas" and that Schumer's comments should be a wake-up call for Netanyahu.

"And we are holding Israel to a high standard because we share not only national security interests with Israel, but also share our values with Israel," he said. "And while I wouldn’t go as far as the leader and setting out the timing of elections, the fact that Israel’s most staunch defender in the U.S. Congress, Chuck Schumer, should be making these remarks should be an earthquake in Israel."

In an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin, D-Md., was asked whether he would go as far as Schumer did in calling Netanyahu an “obstacle to peace.”

"I think it’s up to the Israelis to determine their own leaders," he said. “I recognize that we had challenges with the Netanyahu coalition prior to Oct. 7 — real concerns that could cause major division within Israel before Oct. 7. There’s unity now because of the war. Let’s see what happens here after the war.”

Cardin also praised Schumer’s speech, saying it “came from his heart, what he believes is necessary for peace.”

“He was very clear about Hamas needs to be eliminated, that there can be no peace in the Middle East for either the Palestinians or the Israelis with Hamas. The responsibilities for what is happening there is clearly on Hamas,” he said. “Israel has the total right to defend itself. And then he’s talking about how do we move after the war. How do we get peace in the region, and he was very clear about the fact that you need security.

“You need an authority for the Palestinians that will provide security for the Palestinians and Israelis, but you also need to have a pathway to two states living together in peace,” he added. "And I think he was very clear that it’s the Israelis, their system, need to give clear direction as to who they want to be their leaders.”

Palestinian foreign ministry: Israel has no plan to protect Rafah's civilians

Leila Sackur

Confirmed Israeli plans to invade Rafah do not mention “any practical plan” to protect the 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering there, the Palestinian foreign affairs ministry said in a statement, describing the plans as “a blatant challenge to the international community in general and the American administration in particular.”

The Israeli military has “turned the entire Gaza Strip into an uninhabitable area,” the ministry said, calling on it to secure “basic humanitarian needs” and to achieve its “war goals” through political means.

The government’s focus on “revenge” for the events of Oct. 7 is damaging the “security and stability of the region and the world,” the ministry added, calling on international governments to continue opposing the expansion of the ground war into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

The Palestinian foreign affairs ministry is part of the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank and is not connected to Hamas.

Israel approves federal holiday honoring the Oct. 7 attack and soldiers killed in war

Omer Bekin

Omer Bekin and Doha Madani

Israel's Cabinet unanimously approved a new federal holiday to pay tribute to those killed during the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the current war.

The country will conduct two ceremonies this year: a memorial ceremony for the soldiers who were killed during the war and a civil ceremony honoring the civilians murdered in the Hamas-led attacks.

Instead of falling on Oct. 7 on the Gregorian calendar, the holiday will be celebrated on the Jewish calendar date of the 24th of Tishrei every year. The Jewish calendar follows a lunisolar calculation, which means it follows lunar months but with adjustments for the solar year, which is 11 days longer.

That ensures that the Jewish holidays still fall within the correct season, though the specific dates may change every year.

“This year, due to the fact that the 24th of the Hebrew month of Tishrei falls on Shabbat, the ceremonies will be held on Sunday, the 25th of Tishrei, as they will be every year when the 24th of Tishrei falls on Shabbat,” Israel’s government said in a statement today.

UNRWA calls for land deliveries of aid to be reinstated

Leila Sackur

Airdrops of aid have limited capacity, and they are expensive and can harm civilians, and Gaza does not have the port infrastructure to support large amounts of aid via sea vessels, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said on X today, calling for a greater number of land crossings of aid to be allowed into Gaza.

"Safe, unimpeded and sustained access throughout the Gaza Strip is a matter of life and death," the agency said, adding that Gaza was "on the verge of famine."

There are six land crossings into the Gaza Strip, five of which cross from Israeli territory into Gaza. Of those, only Rafah, between Gaza and Egypt, is reliably open, alongside Kerem Shalom, between Gaza, Egypt and Israel.

International agencies such as the U.N. and the World Health Organization have said stringently enforced Israeli border checks at crossings are creating significant delays to aid, making the humanitarian situation in Gaza worse.

Netanyahu says Schumer's call for new elections in Israel is 'totally inappropriate'

Netanyahu described last week's call for new elections from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the highest-ranking Jewish official in the U.S., as "totally inappropriate" and something for the "Israeli people to decide."

In an interview on CNN today, Netanyahu described it as inappropriate "to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership." He evaded a question about whether he would commit to new elections when the war winds down.

"I think that's something for the Israeli people to decide. I think it's ridiculous to talk about it," Netanyahu said.

Schumer, who has supported Israel throughout his political career, accused Netanyahu of "allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel." Thousands of Israelis have protested for weeks in demonstrations calling for new elections while criticizing Netanyahu’s leadership.

Netanyahu said that his policies are supported by the majority of Israelis and that if Schumer opposes him, he opposes the Israeli people.

Israel is not a "banana republic," he said, referring to a phrase used for small countries that are economically dependent on a single crop. Political scientists often use this term to describe a corrupt regime.

Aid from maritime shipment being readied for distribution

TEL AVIV — Aid that was delivered to Gaza's shores earlier this week on a vessel carrying tons of much-needed food has been moved to a warehouse and is awaiting distribution, organizers told NBC News.

The shipment, which was coordinated by World Central Kitchen, a charity launched by celebrity chef José Andrés and which runs a network of around 60 kitchens across the Gaza Strip, reached the enclave's coast on Friday after a roughly 200-mile journey from Cyprus' Larnaca port. It was towed by a vessel belonging to the Spanish charity Open Arms.

COGAT, Israel’s military liaison with the Palestinians, had said in an update on Sunday that 12 World Central Kitchen trucks had "distributed the aid to the northern Gaza Strip."

The charity disputed that, saying the aid was still awaiting distribution. COGAT did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the discrepancy.

The aid includes tons of flour, rice and protein, which is much needed in northern Gaza, where access to aid has been extremely limited, resulting in a spiraling humanitarian crisis amid fears of a famine. World Central Kitchen has said a second vessel carrying roughly 204 tons of food was being readied to set sail for Gaza. The charity said it hoped to "establish a maritime highway" of future boats and barges packed with aid for Palestinians.

Netanyahu rejects calls for elections, says Rafah invasion will happen

Leila Sackur

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected growing international calls for elections in Israel and to delay a ground invasion of Rafah, accusing global allies of trying to “silence the country.”

“It’s no secret that the international pressure against us is growing,” Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting today. “They do this by trying to bring about elections now, in the midst of the war,” he added, saying that elections would “silence” Israel for “at least six months.”

Netanyahu’s comments came after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a longtime supporter of Israel who led a congressional delegation to the country in October in a show of U.S. support, described Netanyahu as an “obstacle to peace” last week and called for fresh elections.

“If we stop the war now, before achieving all its objectives, it means that Israel has lost the war, and we will not allow that,” Netanyahu said.

He added that “no international pressure will stop us from achieving all the goals of the war” and that a ground invasion of Rafah, where over 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering, would go ahead.

Image: Protests Take Place In Tel Aviv
Crowds gathered in Tel Aviv yesterday protesting the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and calling for an election.Amir Levy / Getty Images

92 people killed in Gaza overnight

Leila Sackur

The death toll in Gaza climbed past 31,600 today after 92 people were killed overnight, according to Gaza's Ministry of Health.

More than 130 people were injured in nine separate attacks, the Health Ministry added.

Image: PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT
A man mourned yesterday over the victims of an Israeli strike on Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.AFP - Getty Images

Mossad chief expected to resume Gaza cease-fire talks in Doha on Sunday

Reuters

DOHA — The head of Israeli intelligence is expected to lead cease-fire talks with mediators that resume in Qatar on Sunday in direct response to a new proposal from Hamas, a source close to the talks told Reuters on Saturday.

The talks between Mossad head David Barnea, Qatar’s prime minister and Egyptian officials will focus on remaining gaps between Israel and Hamas including over prisoner releases and humanitarian aid, the source said.

Israel had said on Friday it would be sending a delegation to Doha, but did not spell out when it would do so or who would take part. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to convene the security Cabinet before the talks.

Israeli officials were not immediately available to comment on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Barnea was involved in previous significant pushes for a deal. A short-lived truce in November was agreed and came into effect after his participation in talks in Doha. His last meeting with Qatar’s prime minister in January led to a proposal for a temporary cease-fire that Hamas ultimately rejected.

Hamas this week presented a new cease-fire proposal to mediators and Israel’s ally the United States that includes the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners.

Repeated efforts to agree a cease-fire and exchange hostages for prisoners have fallen apart this year, despite mounting international pressure over the human cost of Israel’s ground and air assault in Gaza.

Situation in Gaza ‘catastrophic & deteriorates by the minute,’ UNRWA says

The situation in Gaza is “catastrophic & deteriorates by the minute,” said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

UNRWA teams are working to provide aid to families in need in the enclave, including flour, dairy, water, medicine and hygiene kits.

“Safe, unimpeded & sustained access across the #GazaStrip is needed NOW,” the organization said on X.

WHO director-general ‘gravely concerned’ about reports of Israeli military expansion into Rafah

Segilola Arisekola

Segilola Arisekola and Mirna Alsharif

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus is “gravely concerned” about reports of an imminent Israeli military expansion into Rafah.

“Further escalation of violence in this densely populated area would lead to many more deaths and suffering,” Tedros wrote on X.

Over a million Palestinians have been displaced to Rafah.

“There are no fully functional, safe health facilities that they can reach elsewhere in #Gaza,” he wrote. “Many people are too fragile, hungry and sick to be moved again.”

Tedros appealed to Israel not to move forward with the military expansion.

“This humanitarian catastrophe must not be allowed to worsen,” he wrote.

Catch up on NBC News' latest coverage of the war

NBC News