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Second American hostage in Gaza declared dead as a senior Israeli minister warns the war could expand

“The stopwatch for a diplomatic solution is running out,” Benny Gantz said.

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What we know

  • Benny Gantz, a former military chief and current member of Israel's war Cabinet, warned yesterday that his country could increase military activity against the Hezbollah militant group, which has been firing into Israel from Lebanon’s southern border. He also said that time for a negotiated end to the fighting with Hamas in Gaza was "running out."
  • Judy Weinstein, an American Canadian Israeli triple citizen, was killed Oct. 7 during Hamas’ incursion, alongside her Israeli American husband, a spokesperson for the Nir Oz kibbutz said today. Weinstein, a mother of four and grandmother of seven, was 70.
  • Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians are fleeing Israel’s expanding offensive into central and southern Gaza.
  • In northern Gaza, much of which lies in ruins, the Israeli military gave NBC News a tour of what it says is the largest Hamas tunnel yet discovered.
  • More than 21,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The vast majority of the enclave's 2.2 million people are displaced, and the U.N. has warned that more than half a million people face starvation.
  • Israeli military officials say 167 soldiers have been killed during the country's ground invasion in Gaza, which came after 1,200 people were killed and about 240 hostages were seized after Hamas launched multipronged attacks on Israel on Oct. 7.
  • NBC News’ Jay Gray and Josh Lederman are reporting from the region.

U.S. sanctions money network tied to Houthi rebels blamed for shipping vessel attacks

WASHINGTON — The U.S. imposed sanctions today on a group of money exchange services from Yemen and Turkey alleged to help provide funding to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who have been launching attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the southern Red Sea.

Included in the sanctions are the head of a financial intermediary in Sana’a, Yemen, along with three exchange houses in Yemen and Turkey. The U.S. Treasury Department alleges that the people and firms helped transfer millions of dollars to the Houthis at the direction of sanctioned Iranian financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal.

The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans.

Thursday’s action is the latest round of financial penalties meant to punish the Houthis.

The U.S. announced sanctions this month against 13 people and firms alleged to be providing tens of millions of dollars from the sale and shipment of Iranian commodities to the Houthis in Yemen.

Brian E. Nelson, the undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the action today “underscores our resolve to restrict the illicit flow of funds to the Houthis, who continue to conduct dangerous attacks on international shipping and risk further destabilizing the region.”

Nelsons said the U.S. and its allies “will continue to target the key facilitation networks that enable the destabilizing activities of the Houthis and their backers in Iran.”

The Houthis have sporadically targeted ships in the region in the past, but the attacks have increased since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, spiking after an Oct. 17 explosion at a hospital in Gaza killed and injured many people. Houthi leaders have insisted Israel is their target.

The White House also announced this month that it was encouraging its allies to join the Combined Maritime Forces, a 39-member partnership that exists to counter malign action by nonstate actors in international waters, as it looks to push back against the Houthis.

The attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi rebels have scared off some of the world’s top shipping companies and oil giants, effectively rerouting global trade away from a crucial artery for consumer goods and energy supplies, which is expected to trigger delays and rising prices.

Navy destroyer shoots down drone, anti-ship ballistic missile in Red Sea

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mason shot down a drone and an anti-ship ballistic missile that was fired by Iranian-backed Houthis rebels, according to U.S. Central Command.

The drone and the ballistic missile were fired in the southern Red Sea this evening local time, it said.

There were no reported injuries and no damage to any of the 18 ships nearby, Central Command said.

Since Oct. 19, Houthis have attempted 22 attacks on international ships, it said.

Palestine Red Crescent setting up first camp for displaced Gazans in Khan Younis

The Palestine Red Crescent Society, with help from the Egyptian Red Crescent, is working to set up the first organized camp for civilians in Gaza who have been displaced by the war.

The camp will be in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, the PRCS said.

The camp's initial phase will include 300 tents and eventually expand to 1,000, with the intention of providing shelter to hundreds of displaced families, it said.

IDF: Soldiers who mistakenly killed 3 hostages had 'insufficient awareness'

The accidental killing by IDF fire of three Israeli hostages during fighting in the Shijaiyah area of Gaza City occurred after soldiers falsely identified the victims as a threat, despite one of them shouting "Help!" and "They are shooting at me!" in Hebrew, according to an investigation published by the IDF.

IDF commanders gave the order to hold fire after hearing the cries for help, but two soldiers who did not hear the command shot at and killed the third hostage, according to the investigation.

The investigation concluded that IDF forces had "insufficient awareness" of what to do in the event they encountered hostages, and lacked information about which building in the Shijaiyah area the hostages were in.

"The shooting at the hostages should not have occurred — this shooting did not match up to the risk and the situation," said IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Helevi, who nonetheless maintained that soldiers carried out the right action to the best of their understanding of the event at that moment.

U.S., Israeli defense chiefs speak about next steps in military campaign

WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant today to discuss Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and preparations for the stabilization phase that will follow major combat operations.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said Austin reiterated U.S. resolve to ensure Hamas can no longer threaten Israel’s security and he also underscored “the importance of protecting Gaza’s civilians and accelerating humanitarian assistance.”

Ryder said Austin and Gallant also discussed other threats to regional security, including Hezbollah’s activities in southern Lebanon, Houthi attacks against ships in the Red Sea, and Iranian-backed militia attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria.

IDF claims to have obtained more than 65 million files belonging to Hamas

The Israeli Defense Forces said today that it's seized more than 65 million files belonging to Hamas, including half a million documents that detail operational plans and combat methods.

A military unit has been coordinating the examination of Hamas assets since the start of the war, the IDF said. Among the documents, according to the IDF statement, is a map of Hamas' underground tunnel network.

"A key explaining the map was located and collected by the division at the residence of another operative," the IDF said. "With the arrival of the materials to the research team, the important link between the map and the key was created — making it possible to identify the tunnel shafts in the field, of which many tunnel shafts were destroyed."

NBC News has not independently verified the IDF's claims and has not seen the documents.

UNIFIL peacekeeper attacked in south Lebanon, organization says

A peacekeeper working with the United Nations' Interim Forces in Lebanon was attacked last night by a group of young men in Taybeh, the agency said in a statement today.

A vehicle was damaged, UNIFIL said, and there was no additional information on the peacekeeper's condition. The organization said it would continue its work of monitoring and de-escalating hostilities at the Lebanon — Israel border.

"Peacekeepers’ freedom of movement is vital as we work to restore security and stability along the Blue Line," the statement said. "We call on the Lebanese authorities to undertake a full and swift investigation, and for all perpetrators to be brought to justice."

Biden on the death of American couple killed by Hamas: 'No family should have to endure such an ordeal'

President Biden expressed his condolences for the death of Judith Weinstein, an American citizen believed to have been killed by Hamas on Oct. 7. The news follows the president's statement last week about the death of Gad Haggai, Weinstein's husband and an American citizen.

"We are holding Judith and Gad’s four children, seven grandchildren, and other loved ones close to our hearts. I will never forget what their daughter, and the family members of other Americans held hostage in Gaza, have shared with me," Biden wrote in a statement.

The president reaffirmed his pledge to the families of those still held hostage that the White House will do everything it can to bring them home.

"No family should have to endure such an ordeal," Biden said.

Blinken to return to Israel in New Year, Israeli sources tell NBC News

TEL AVIV — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to Israel at the beginning of January, two Israeli officials told NBC News.

It will be Blinken's fifth visit to Israel since the war started in October, which includes two stops in Israel that occurred during the same trip to the region earlier this year.

The State Department has not publicly confirmed Blinken’s travel plans nor any other potential stops on the trip.

Blinken’s Israel trip was earlier reported by Axios and The New York Times.

Hezbollah targets Israel again today, both IDF and Hezbollah say

Hezbollah targeted sites in northern Israel today, according to both the Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah.

According to the IDF, sirens sounded in northern Israel after an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, was identified crossing from Lebanon into Israeli territory. The Israeli military said it was intercepted by the IDF Aerial Defense Array.

Hezbollah said in a statement that it had targeted a "gathering of enemy soldiers" in Hunin. The group also went after a site in Shebaa Farms, a disputed area of land near the Golan Heights that formerly belonged to Lebanon.

Israel's war Cabinet to convene tonight, source says

TEL AVIV— An Israeli official confirmed to NBC News that the country's war Cabinet is set to meet tonight.

The official said the Cabinet is expected to discuss the latest in the war in Gaza and the plan for after Hamas is defeated.

IDF regrets 'unintended harm' caused to civilians at Maghazi refugee camp

The IDF is reviewing strikes at Al-Maghazi refugee camp over the Christmas weekend that it says included Israeli fighter jets hitting two buildings adjacent to its intended target.

"A preliminary investigation revealed that additional buildings located near the targets were also hit during the strikes, which likely caused unintended harm to additional uninvolved civilians," the IDF said in a statement today.

The IDF said it takes steps to minimize civilian casualties and "regrets the harm caused to uninvolved civilians."

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, at least 70 people were killed in the strike at the camp.

Palestinians mourn their relatives killed at Al-Maghazi refugee camp, during a mass funeral at the Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Al-Balah
Palestinians mourn their relatives killed at Al-Maghazi refugee camp, during a mass funeral at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, on Christmas Day.Mahmud Hams / AFP - Getty Images

Shipping giant Maersk returns to the Red Sea after Houthi attacks

Danish shipping giant Maersk is going to resume passage through the Red Sea after avoiding it and the Suez Canal for a week because of attacks on ships.

A shipment advisory released by the company yesterday indicated that several of its vessels would continue to sail via the Suez Canal, where more than 22,000 ships transited through last year.

The Iran-backed Houthis have been attacking international vessels in the Red Sea, saying that they are retaliating against what Israel has been doing in Gaza.

Many other shipping companies, including Swiss-based MSC, will still reroute their ships to ensure the safety of their vessels and crew.

Israeli American hostage Judy Weinstein was killed in Hamas incursion Oct. 7; her body remains in Gaza

Judy Weinstein, an American Canadian Israeli triple citizen, was killed Oct. 7 during Hamas’ incursion, alongside her Israeli American husband, a spokesperson for kibbutz Nir Oz said today. 

Weinstein, a mother of four and grandmother of seven, was 70.

The spokesperson said Weinstein was “fatally wounded” Oct. 7 and her death has “now been confirmed.” Her husband, Gad Haggai, 72, was also killed that day.

“Their bodies remain held in captivity by Hamas,” the spokesperson said.

Weinstein was remembered as an English teacher and poet who taught mindfulness to children with anxiety caused by rocket fire from Gaza.

Egypt awaits responses on plan to end Gaza war

CAIRO — Egypt has not received any response to a framework proposal it put forward to end the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the head of the country's State Information Service said in a statement today.

Dia Rashwan said the proposal includes three stages ending with a cease-fire. He added that his country has "not yet received any responses to the proposed framework from any of the concerned parties," and would give further details of the plan once those responses are received.

Rashwan said that the proposal was attempting “to bring viewpoints between all concerned parties closer, in an effort to stop Palestinian bloodshed and the aggression against the Gaza Strip and restore peace and stability to the region.”

But, he said, "everything related to the issue of the Palestinian government is a purely Palestinian issue and is the subject of discussion among all Palestinian parties."

Number of children killed in the West Bank reaches 'unprecedented' levels

The number of children who have been killed in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, reached “unprecedented” levels, the United Nations Children’s Fund’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa said today.

This year has been the “deadliest year on record” for children in the region, Adele Khodr said in a statement, adding that 83 children were killed in the past 12 weeks.

This was more than double the number of deaths throughout last year, she added.

UNICEF urged all parties to abide by the obligations to protect children from “conflict-related” violence and their basic rights to be alive, Khodr said, adding that children should “never” be the target of violence.

“As the world watches on in horror at the situation in the Gaza Strip, children in the West Bank are experiencing a nightmare of their own,” she said. “The suffering of children in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, must not fade into the background of the current conflict — it is part of it.”

Death toll climbs to 21,320 in Gaza, Health Ministry says

Around 21,320 people have been killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Health Ministry said today.

The spokesperson added that 55,600 people had been injured in Israeli strikes after it launched it's military campaign in the enclave following Hamas' multipronged attacks on the country.

UNRWA says 40% of Gaza at risk of famine; warns of 'catastrophic hunger'

Gaza is grappling with “catastrophic hunger,” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said today on X, as it warned that 40% of the enclave's population was at risk of famine.

“Every day is a struggle for survival, finding food and finding water,” the post quoted Thomas White, the director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza, as saying.

The post added that the "only remaining hope for the Strip was a humanitarian cease-fire.

Israeli president criticizes Erdoğan’s comparison of Netanyahu with Hitler

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said he strongly condemned and rejected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s comparison of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Herzog said in a statement on X yesterday that Erdoğan’s words were “deeply offensive to every Jew around the world, and to the memory of the millions of Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis.”

Israel's President Isaac Herzog.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog.Maya Alleruzzo / AP file

His comments came after Erdoğan compared Netanyahu to Hitler in a speech at an awards ceremony yesterday.

“We watched Israel’s Nazi camps in the stadiums, right?” he said, referring to videos of half-naked men being rounded up in Gaza.

“Is there anything different in Netanyahu’s actions compared to Hitler’s?” he added.

Fighter jets destroyed Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, IDF says

Israeli fighter jets completed a “raid on terrorist targets” in Lebanon destroying infrastructure and sites belonging to the Hezbollah militant group, a spokesperson said in a statement yesterday.

Avichay Adraee added that several rocket shells were fired from areas in northern Lebanon, landing in an open area. He added that the Israel Defense Forces attacked sources of fire and other areas in that country.

NBC News could not independently verify his claims.

Terminally ill mother pleads with Biden to help free her daughter

The terminally ill mother of 26-year-old Noa Argamani, who became one of the faces of the hostage crisis, has written to President Joe Biden asking him to grant her dying wish to see her daughter “one last time.”

Before she "part ways with my family forever," Liora Argamani, who suffers from stage 4 brain cancer, said she wanted the "chance to hug my daughter, my only child, one last time.”

“I want to know that she is safe in her father’s care, and out of harm’s way,” she said.

Noa Argamani.
Noa Argamani.via Facebook

It is the second time that she has asked Biden for help to secure her daughter's release, having previously sent him a video message via the Red Cross.

“Beyond a mother’s plea to bring back her daughter from captivity, this is an urgent humanitarian matter, and Noa must be included in any release,” Liora Argamani wrote in the letter, which was first reported by CNN and released via the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, an advocacy group for those held captive and their families.

Senior Israeli minister warns war could expand into Lebanon

Israeli could ramp up military action in the north against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, a senior member of the country’s war Cabinet said yesterday.

“If the world does not act to stop the shooting into the northern settlements and to remove Hezbollah from the border — the IDF will do it,” Benny Gantz said in a televised statement.

He added that the next steps in the fighting would be “powerful, deep and surprising.”

Iran-backed Hezbollah has been firing artillery and rockets into Israel on an almost daily basis since the country began its military campaign against Hamas in Gaza, shortly after the attacks Oct. 7.

Gantz also warned that in Gaza, the “the stopwatch for a political settlement is running out.”

Civilians hit by shelling outside Gaza hospital, Red Crescent says

Dozens of civilians were killed and injured outside Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis yesterday, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said in a post on X.

The organization said it was the fourth time the hospital was targeted in the last week, blaming Israel for the attack in a post on X. In a statement, Hamas also blamed Israel for casualties outside the hospital.

The IDF did not immediately have a response to a request for comment and NBC News has not been able to verify the claims.

‘We need to be allowed to do the work’ in Gaza, UNICEF spokesperson says

While all children under age 5 are at risk for preventable death, it is “impossible” to provide care to every child and every civilian in Gaza who needs it “while bombs are falling,” UNICEF spokesperson Joe English said on “Meet the Press NOW.”

“The number, the proportions we are talking about, knock you sideways,” he said of the number of children in desperate need of help, including water, protection and nutritional services. But UNICEF can’t help them until there is a pause in the fighting, he said.

Appointment of U.N. humanitarian coordinator an ‘important step,’ White House says

The White House today called yesterday’s appointment of Sigrid Kaag as the U.N. coordinator for humanitarian efforts in Gaza “an important step” and said the United States wants to increase the flow of aid there.

“Yesterday’s announcement appointing Sigrid Kaag as United Nations Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza is an important step as we continue to work with the UN as a critical partner in the delivery and distribution of life-saving humanitarian assistance in Gaza,” the White House said in a statement.

“The United States is the largest financial supporter of the humanitarian assistance efforts to support Palestinian civilians who are caught in the middle of the conflict between Israel and Hamas,” it said. “We welcome Ms. Kaag’s leadership and look forward to working together closely to increase the flow of aid into Gaza, and ensure safety and security for the aid delivery and the humanitarian staff providing the life-saving support to those in need.”

Kaag, from the Netherlands, is set to begin her role Jan. 8. She was the first deputy prime minister and the first female finance minister in the Dutch government, and she also worked as the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon from 2015 to 2017.

Catch up on NBC News’ latest coverage of the war