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Israel-Hamas war: Hamas' reaction to possible hostage deal is 'positive,' Qatari prime minister says

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that while there's still a lot of work to do, "we continue to believe that an agreement is possible."

What we know

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi today as part of his trip to the Middle East to promote the framework of a hostage release and cease-fire deal. He is also set to meet with several Qatari ministers. Yesterday, he discussed an ''enduring end'' to the war in Gaza with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said yesterday that the country's military will shift its focus to Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city, where more than 1 million people are sheltering. He said it was Hamas' "last remaining stronghold'' in the enclave. The U.S. stressed the importance of Rafah as Gaza's main entry point for aid and the border through which foreign nationals are able to leave.
  • Gallant also said that the leader of Hamas is ''on the run'' and running from hideout to hideout. He added that Yahya Sinwar has been too concerned with his own survival to actively lead the militant group.
  • More than 27,500 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 64,900 have been injured, and thousands more are missing and presumed dead.
  • Israeli military officials said at least 224 soldiers have been killed during the ground invasion of Gaza.
  • NBC News’ Keir Simmons, Raf Sanchez, Courtney Kube, Matt Bradley and Chantal Da Silva are reporting from the region.

U.S. House votes against stand-alone Israel aid bill

The House failed to pass a stand-alone bill today to provide aid to Israel amid congressional infighting over a bipartisan Senate border bill that also included foreign aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan.

The Israel-only bill would have included $17.6 billion in military aid Israel, as well as funding for U.S. forces in the region.

Biden has called on Congress to pass funding for Israel and Ukraine, as well as other issues.

The vote on the Israel-only bill was 250-180. The bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass in the House under an expedited process for its consideration.

Read the full story here.

Houthis fired 6 anti-ship ballistic missiles toward the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden

WASHINGTON — Iranian-backed Houthi militants fired six anti-ship ballistic missiles from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, a U.S. defense official told NBC News.

Three of the missiles were attempting to hit MV Star Nasia, a bulk carrier transiting the Gulf of Aden. Star Nasia sustained minor damage but no injuries. MV Star Nasia remains seaworthy and is continuing toward its destination. 

The remaining three missiles were most likely targeting MV Morning Tide, a cargo ship operating in the southern Red Sea. The three missiles hit the water near the ship without effect.

MV Morning Tide is continuing its journey and reported no injuries or damage.

Earlier today, the Houthis released a statement threatening to "escalate more and more" unless the "aggression" on Gaza ended.

Iranian envoys says country supplies Palestinians but not Houthis

Amir Saeid Iravani, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, told NBC News’ Lester Holt that his country is supplying arms to Palestinians but denies any similar involvement with Houthi rebels.

Qataris received Hamas counterproposal one hour before Blinken met with emir

DOHA, Qatar — The Qataris received the response from Hamas to a potential hostage deal just an hour before Blinken was set to meet with the Qatari emir, a senior State Department official said.

The emir, or head of state, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, informed Blinken about the counterproposal when they first met shortly after he landed in Doha, according to the official, but Al Thani did not provide details.

When Blinken walked into the meeting with Al Thani, the emir passed around the counterproposal to go over the details with the U.S. delegation.

Soon afterward, department officials briefed White House officials on the counterproposal, the official said. The response was then announced to the public at a joint news conference between Blinken and Qatar's prime minister.

Intelligence agency analysis highlights close relationship between Iran and Houthi rebels

The Defense Intelligence Agency said today that an analysis of publicly available images shows Houthi forces in Yemen are using Iranian-made missiles and drones against civilian and military targets in the Red Sea.

The DIA said its findings are laid out in a soon-to-be released report that highlights the increasingly close relationship between the Houthis and Iran. The U.S. has long maintained that Iran has provided weapons and know-how to Houthi forces.

Three U.S. officials told NBC News that Iran is continuing to provide weapons and intelligence to its proxies, which include Houthi forces in Yemen.

Blinken said that in a visit to Tel Aviv tomorrow, he will talk with Israel's government about Hamas' response to a proposed hostage deal.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Blinken said. “But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it.”

Education Department to investigate allegation Harvard failed to protect pro-Palestinian students

The Education Department's Office of Civil Rights has opened a formal investigation into a civil rights complaint filed last week accusing Harvard of "failure to protect Palestinian students and allies from targeted racism and harassment on campus."

The complaint, filed by the Muslim Legal Fund on behalf of more than a dozen students, alleges the university failed to protect them "from harassment, intimidation, and threats based solely on their status as Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and supporters of Palestinian rights," according to a news release. Examples include "doxxing, stalking, and assault,” the fund said.

The university’s administration is also accused of threatening to limit the students’ future academic opportunities when they asked for help.

“We applaud the DOE’s swift action,” said Chelsea Glover, a co-counsel on the complaint. “When Harvard students were being harassed and doxxed by their peers and outside parties for months, Harvard officials brushed them to the side and instead met with prominent donors and alumni who encouraged the student harassment and doxxing."

A spokesperson for Harvard University did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Senior Hamas official says group wants largest number of Palestinians possible being held by Israel

CAIRO — Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said Tuesday that the group wants the largest number of Palestinians possible to be released from Israeli prisons.

His comments came after Hamas announced today that it had delivered a response to a framework agreement devised by Egypt and Qatar that aims to bring a complete ceasefire to Gaza.

“Netanyahu is trying to make everyone believe that he has or will achieve victory to preserve his coalition government,” Hamad told Reuters, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He added that it took Hamas some time to issue a response because “many of (the agreement’s) issues were unclear and ambiguous.”

Here's what we know about the 136 hostages still in Gaza

Of the 136 hostages who remain in captivity, 132 were taken into Gaza on Oct. 7, and four were already being held there against their will.

According to a statement today from Israel's directorate in charge of abductees, 31 of the hostages are believed to be dead. This includes two Israeli soldiers whose bodies have been held by Hamas since 2014, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

One of the 29 other hostages was killed during a failed rescue attempt, according to the prime minister's office. The majority of the others are believed to have been killed on Oct. 7, the Israel Defense Forces said today.

Despite U.S. airstrikes, Iran continues to arm its proxies

Despite large-scale U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed militants across the Middle East, Iran is continuing to provide weapons and intelligence to its proxies, according to three U.S. officials, a Middle Eastern official and a congressional aide with knowledge of the matter.

Iran’s flow of arms and intelligence to its surrogates, who recently conducted a drone strike in Jordan that killed three American service members and wounded dozens of others, persists even as the Biden administration continues to contend that Tehran does not want a wider war in the region, the sources said.

The assistance from Iran has included intelligence for Houthi forces in Yemen that helps them more precisely attack sites where U.S. forces are stationed in the region, as well as target commercial ships in the Red Sea, according to the U.S. officials.

“They are using intelligence from Iran to give them some targeting information,” Rear Adm. Marc Miguez, the commander of the U.S. carrier strike group currently deployed in the Red Sea, said of the Houthis in an interview with NBC News.

Read the full story here.

Hamas confirms it sent response on deal framework, seems to indicate it still wants 'complete ceasefire'

Hamas confirmed that it delivered its response on a hostage deal framework put together by negotiators from Qatar, Egypt, the U.S. and Israel.

“We value the role of our brothers in Egypt, Qatar, and all countries that seek to stop the brutal aggression against our people,” Hamas said in a statement.

The group said it dealt with the proposal "in a positive spirit," echoing a similar characterization from Qatar's prime minister. Hamas' statement seemed to indicate that it was still looking to secure a "comprehensive and complete ceasefire" and wanted the siege on Gaza lifted.

Hamas officials previously told NBC News it would not agree to release hostages in exchange for Palestinians in Israeli detention without assurances that Israel would cease fighting.

Qatari P.M. says Hamas response to potential hostage deal is 'positive'

DOHA, Qatar — Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told media today that officials received the first response from Hamas regarding a hostage deal framework and it indicated the group is open to negotiations.

"With regards to the general framework of the agreement with regard to hostages," Thani said, "the reply includes some comments, but in general it is positive."

He declined to provide more information, noting the "sensitivity" of the situation but said negotiators are "optimistic." The response has been delivered to Israeli officials.

Blinken confirmed that he will be discussing the response with Israel's government tomorrow during his visit to Tel Aviv.

"There’s still a lot of work to be done," Blinken said. "But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible, and indeed essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it."

Hezbollah and IDF continue to exchange fire a day after Gallant warned warplanes are 'pointed north'

Hezbollah and the IDF exchanged fire over the border separating northern Israel and southern Lebanon today, just a day after Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the countries warplanes' noses are "pointed north."

Sirens sounded in northern Israel in a false alarm after defense systems indicated a "hostile aircraft infiltration," the IDF said.

But Israel's military did confirm several launches were directed at the country from southern Lebanon. Hezbollah said it launched multiple rocket attacks toward Israel, purporting to have made direct hits, which NBC News was unable to confirm.

No injuries were reported, according to Israel's military.

The IDF said it struck an observation post and infrastructure used by the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. National News Agency, Lebanon's state news, reported there was shelling and drone strikes in the area.

Israel says 31 hostages are dead following New York Times report

Israeli officials responded to a New York Times report today that indicated a fifth of the hostages are dead by confirming that 31 hostages have been killed and the military is working "all available resources" to gain more information.

The newspaper reported today that it had obtained an internal Israeli military document that stated at least 32 of the 136 remaining hostages were likely deceased. Four unnamed officials also told the Times of unconfirmed reports that 20 others may have also been killed and are being investigated.

Official data is that 31 of the hostages are dead, according to a statement from Israel’s directorate of the returnees, missing and abducted.

"Before the article was distributed, an orderly message was given to all the families of the abductees by the liaison officers that there is no change in the assessment situation," the statement said.

Eylon Levy, a spokesperson for the prime minister, said last week during a briefing that 29 of the remaining hostages were believed to be dead, one of whom was killed in an unsuccessful rescue attempt.

“We notified all of the families of hostages that we received credible information indicating that their loved ones have been killed in captivity,” The IDF said in a statement today. “The vast majority were murdered on October seventh.”

The statement went on to reiterate that the military will continue to do its best to return the hostages and support their families.

Report on allegations that staff took part in Hamas attacks to be completed by April, UNRWA says

The head of the United Nations refugee agency says a report about whether some of its staff took part in Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks will be published in April.

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said in a statement that he had “appointed an independent Review Group to assess whether the Agency is doing everything within its power to ensure neutrality and to respond to allegations of serious breaches when they are made.”

The group will be led by Catherine Colonna, the former foreign minister of France, the statement added.

IDF says it killed several Hamas fighters involved in the Oct. 7 attacks

The Israeli military said in a statement today that it had killed dozens of Hamas fighters including some who took part in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces added that its forces had located numerous weapons and struck a compound used to store explosives.

NBC News could not independently verify these claims.

The statement added that around 80 people had been apprehended on suspicion of being involved in terrorist activities.

Right-wing Israeli minister apologizes for his son's tweet that implied Biden has Alzheimer’s disease

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's right-wing national security minister, has apologized after his son likened President Joe Biden to an Alzheimer’s patient in a post on X.

In his own post on X, Ben-Gvir described his son Shuvael's post as a "serious mistake" that he disapproved.

“The United States of America is our great friend and President Biden is a friend of Israel. Even if I disagree with his conduct, there is no room, God forbid, for a disparaging style,” he added. “I apologize for my son’s words.”

Slight majority of Israelis believe hostages should be prioritized over Hamas' defeat, poll finds

TEL AVIV — A slight majority of Israelis believe that freeing the remaining hostages should be the priority of Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip, according to a new poll, which also found that little more than a third believe the main goal should be to defeat Hamas. 

Yet, when categorized by ethnic and religious identity, the survey results among Jewish Israelis appeared more evenly split. A total of 47% of Jewish Israeli respondents said bringing home the hostages should be the war’s main goal, while 42% prioritized defeating Hamas.

Among the Arab Israeli respondents, 69% wanted to see the hostages take precedence, while a slim 8% opted for defeating Hamas.

The polling was conducted by the Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute between Jan. 28 and 30, and included 619 Jewish Israelis and 153 Arab Israelis.

On the eve of the four-month anniversary of Hamas’ terror attack against Israel that set off the latest round of fighting, Israelis increasingly see the war’s goals as a zero-sum game in which freeing the hostages and defeating Hamas are diametrically opposed.

The question has divided and even threatened to collapse Israel’s ruling Cabinet while widening familiar political fissures in Israeli society. 

The survey showed that those who prioritize defeating Hamas aligned more closely with the current right-wing government, whereas respondents who favored freeing the hostages were more likely to identify with the opposition.

U.S. actions in the Middle East could trigger ‘new regional turmoil,’ Chinese ambassador to the U.N. says

HONG KONG — China has urged the U.S. to stop military operations in the Middle East, warning against “the vicious circle of responding to violence with violence.”

“The military action is undoubtedly triggering new turmoil in the region and further intensifying conflicts,” the Chinese envoy to the U.N., Zhang Jun, said at a Security Council meeting on the recent U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. The attacks came in response to a drone attack that killed three U.S. troops in Jordon by an Iran-backed militia in Iraq late last month.

Zhang said the main way to ease the tensions in the Middle East is to “implement an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.”

“All parties should respond to the strong voice and overwhelming consensus of the international community and support forceful actions by the Security Council to promote an immediate ceasefire, save lives, mitigate the humanitarian disaster and contain the spillover effects of the conflict,” he said.

Iran goes public with stark warning over suspected spy ship

ERBIL, Iraq — After a weekend of U.S. strikes against its proxies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Iran has issued a strongly worded warning not to target a ship that U.S. officials and analysts suspect of providing real-time intelligence for attacks on other vessels in the Red Sea and serving as a forward operating base for its commandos. 

In a slickly produced video published on the Iranian army’s Telegram channel Sunday, a narrator says in English that “those engaging in terrorist activities against the MV Behshad or similar vessels, jeopardize international maritime routes, security and assume global responsibility for potential future international risks.” 

Describing the Behshad as a “floating armory,” the narrator says it is involved in missions to “counteract piracy in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden,” although Iran is not publicly known to have taken part in any recent anti-piracy campaigns in the region. 

The video ends with footage of what appears to be ships in an American carrier group flashing red as though they are being targeted. A man then lowers the U.S. flag.

Read the full story here.

Gazans struggle to survive at Rafah camp

Thousands of Palestinians who fled the Israeli army attacks and took refuge in Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip are struggling to survive under hard conditions. Some families live in tents due to the density in the city. Displaced Palestinians, who are trying to live in tents despite the cold weather conditions, are short of beds and blankets.
Abed Zagout / Anadolu via Getty Images

A displaced family huddles around a makeshift oven built from mud and bricks to cook bread on the ground in an encampment in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. A boy warms his hands by a fire made out of a tin can as the sun sets last night. Many families struggle to keep warm inside thin tents without enough blankets.

Thousands of Palestinians who fled the Israeli army attacks and took refuge in Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip are struggling to survive under hard conditions.
Abed Zagout / Anadolu via Getty Images

Two young girls smile in spite of their difficult living conditions.

Thousands of Palestinians who fled the Israeli army attacks and took refuge in Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip are struggling to survive under hard conditions. Some families live in tents due to the density in the city. Displaced Palestinians, who are trying to live in tents despite the cold weather conditions, are short of beds and blankets.
Abed Zagout / Anadolu via Getty Images

An injured man sits holding a crutch with his foot bandaged outside a tent.

Thousands of Palestinians who fled the Israeli army attacks and took refuge in Rafah city in the southern Gaza Strip are struggling to survive under hard conditions. Some families live in tents due to the density in the city. Displaced Palestinians, who are trying to live in tents despite the cold weather conditions, are short of beds and blankets.
Abed Zagout / Anadolu via Getty Images

Israeli military detains New Orleans woman in the occupied West Bank

An American woman is being held by Israeli authorities after a raid near the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, her son told NBC News.

Samaher Esmail from New Orleans, Louisiana, was detained by IDF soldiers while visiting a property she owns in Silwad, about 8 miles northeast of Ramallah, Ibrahim Hamed said.

Esmail is a U.S. citizen and grandmother with family in the West Bank. She is being treated for cancer in Louisiana and needs access to medication, Hamed said.

“My mom is a sweet lady,” he said. “Before she got sick, she used to work as an ESL teacher at a high school and elementary school.”

In videos shared by Esmail’s neighbors, soldiers are seen leading her blindfolded to a jeep Monday morning.

Asked about her detention, an IDF spokesperson told NBC News that “individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activity are being detained and questioned.” They added that “individuals who are found not to be taking part in terrorist activities are released.”

Rep. Troy Carter, a Democrat, who represents Louisiana’s 2nd congressional district where Esmail lives, said in a Facebook statement that he was “praying for her safety.” He added that he had “been in contact with the American Embassy and the State Department to inquire why a U.S. citizen is being held.”

A State Department spokesperson told NBC News that they were aware of reports that a U.S. citizen had been detained in the West Bank and were seeking additional information.

Houthi rebels say they targeted two ships in the Red Sea

Yemen’s Houthi rebels said today on Telegram that they targeted an American and a British ship in the Red Sea.

The hits “were precise and direct,” the statement said.

Separately, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said on X that a projectile was fired at a ship from a “small craft,” causing damage to its windows. No injuries were reported, it said.

Israel’s evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of the Gaza Strip

Evacuation orders issued by Israel now cover 67% of the Gaza Strip, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said yesterday in a report.

The covers almost 6,400 acres, the report said, adding that two orders were reinstated by Israel's military which will affect some of those sheltering in the southern city of Khan Younis.

Before the war broke out, almost 1.78 million Palestinians lived in areas currently under evacuation orders, the report added.

Gaza death toll since Oct. 7 climbs to 27,585, Health Ministry says

The death toll in Gaza since Oct. 7 has climbed to 27,585 after 107 people were killed in the enclave during the past day, the Gaza Health Ministry said today.

Nearly 67,000 people have been wounded since the conflict began, the ministry said. It added that many more were still missing under the rubble of destroyed buildings in the enclave.

Mourners collect the bodies of friends and relatives on Feb. 6, 2024 in Rafah, Gaza.
Mourners collect the bodies of friends and relatives today in Rafah, Gaza. Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images

Palestine Red Crescent Society evacuates Khan Younis hospital

An estimated 8,000 displaced civilians are evacuating from the Palestine Red Crescent Society’s campus in Khan Younis after days of heavy fighting in the area, the organization said in a post on X.

Al-Amal Hospital staff and administrators will stay at the location, which houses the hospital and the organization headquarters. There are 80 patients remaining, along with 40 elderly civilians.

Khan Younis in southern Gaza is where the bulk of fighting between the IDF and Hamas militants has moved following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the northern area of the strip. Many civilians who left the north since October fled for safety in Khan Younis and are now forcibly displaced again by the violence.

The IDF said in a statement that it was allowing the evacuation of uninvolved civilians sheltering in the hospital.

Blinken meets Egyptian leader in Cairo

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo this morning.

The US top diplomat's stop in Egypt is part of a Middle East crisis tour seeking a new truce and "an enduring end" to the Israel-Hamas war.
Mark Schiefelbein / AFP - Getty Images

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