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U.S. strikes Houthi drones as it readies retaliation for Jordan attack

As hostage negotiations reach a crucial juncture, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to return to the Middle East in the coming days, a senior U.S. official told NBC News.

Coverage on this live blog has ended. Follow live updates here.

What we know

  • President Joe Biden is expected to issue an executive order today, targeting Israeli settlers in the West Bank, a U.S. official confirmed to NBC News. Separately, a senior administration official said policy staff members had been tasked with looking into the idea of the U.S.’ recognizing a Palestinian state before it reaches a final deal with Israel to end the war in Gaza.
  • Earlier, the White House blamed an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias, collectively known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, for the drone strike on a base in Jordan that killed three American service members. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said U.S. retaliation to the attack will be sustained over time.
  • And overnight, U.S. Central Command said it struck Houthi targets in Yemen that were readying attack drones as part of the militia's campaign against shipping in the Red Sea.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called yesterday for the dissolution of UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees and the chief provider of aid in Gaza, following Israeli allegations that some of its workers participated in the Oct. 7 attacks. UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said it was irresponsible to sanction an entire agency for the alleged acts of individuals.
  • More than 27,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 66,000 have been injured, and thousands more are missing and presumed dead.
  • Israeli military officials said at least 223 soldiers have been killed during the ground invasion of Gaza. About 1,200 people were killed and about 240 hostages were taken after Hamas' multipronged attacks on Oct. 7.
  • NBC News’ Keir Simmons, Raf Sanchez, Matt Bradley and Chantal Da Silva are reporting from the region.

Pro-Palestinian activists take up residence outside Blinken's Virginia home

WASHINGTON — Activists Hazami Barmada and Laila El-Haddad spoke to reporters about their protest outside the secretary of state’s home in the suburbs of Virginia, a campsite they’ve named ‘"Kibbutz Blinken" where they have been for six days.

Barmada quoted Rep. John Lewis, the late civil rights icon, saying they were there to "make good trouble with hopes to appeal to the heart and mind of the secretary.”

protest israeli hamas conflict usa
Pro-Palestinian activists protest outside the home of Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Virginia.Julia Jester / NBC News

El-Haddad — plaintiff in a lawsuit against Biden, Blinken and Austin — says she has lost five of her close family members and 90 members of extended family who have been killed in Gaza. She noted that Blinken has not met with any families of Americans who have been evacuated from Gaza or were injured while trapped there in the early weeks of the war.

“We’re speaking on a day when Secretary Blinken is attempting to meet performatively with members of the Palestinian community, the overwhelming majority of who declined the invitation to shed some crocodile tears while going back to business as usual and genociding our families,” she said.

The activists said they’ve tried to have a direct conversation with Biden, saying they don’t want to have one at the State Department because previous meetings “gaslit” attendees, resulted in “zero tangible action” and were “hush hush” compared to widely publicized meetings with Israelis.

Asked why they’re refusing to meet with Blinken, El-Haddad told reporters, “Really, there’s nothing more to say that hasn’t already been said."

“We are not a box for you to check off.”

Former Israeli prime minister says it's time to choose a path

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak says that distrust of Israel's government is growing and that it is time "to choose our way."

In comments critical of Netanyahu, Barak said he preferred Biden's vision of the future for Israel. But he also said a two-state solution might be hard to sell to the Israeli public following Hamas' Oct. 7 attack.

Barak said the two-state solution is the "only viable long-term position."

"The other position is a tragedy," Barak said.

Gaza’s GDP could take decades to return to pre-war level, U.N. trade agency says

It could take until the end of the century for Gaza’s gross domestic product to return to its pre-war level if the conflict ends immediately, the U.N. trade agency said in a statement.

The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development said it estimated a 24% drop in GDP and a 26% drop in GDP per capita last year.

“If the 2007–2022 growth trend persists with an average growth rate of 0.4%, it will take Gaza 70 years just to restore the GDP levels of 2022 with GDP per capita continuously and precipitously declining given the population growth rate,” it said.

“A lasting cease-fire is needed now to allow sufficient and adequate humanitarian aid to enter Gaza,” it added. “Reconstruction and recovery need to start now to put Gaza back on a sustainable development path.”

Security minister, who called for resettlement of Gaza, says U.S. should rethink position on settlers

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has been vocal in his belief Israel should resettle Gaza, wrote on X that the U.S. should "rethink" its position on settlers following an order sanctioning those involved in violent attacks.

"President Biden is wrong about the citizens of the State of Israel and the heroic settlers," Ben-Gvir wrote, according to an NBC News translation. "Those who are attacked, those who are pelted with stones in an attempt to hurt and murder them, are the heroic settlers in Judea and Samaria."

In 2007, Ben-Gvir was convicted of racist incitement against Arabs during his time with the Kahane Chai, or Kach, political party. Kach was placed on the U.S.' list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997 and removed in 2022, as it is now considered a defunct group.

The Times of Israel reported last year that Ben-Gvir claimed to have "refined" his views after some sought to challenge his appointment to Israel's Cabinet, saying it was a mistake to promote the expulsion of Arabs.

In recent weeks, he has repeatedly suggested that settlers should go back to Gaza after the war, saying Israel should encourage Palestinians to migrate out of the strip. He made a keynote address at an event Sunday reiterating those beliefs, which U.S. officials deemed "reckless" and "incendiary" this week.

Israel's war Cabinet waiting for Hamas' response to principles of hostage deal

Israel’s war Cabinet is on standby for Hamas’ reaction to the principles ironed out in Paris on Sunday by CIA director William Burns, head of the Mossad David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and an Egyptian senior intelligence official, according to a senior adviser to the war Cabinet.

“Everyone is waiting to see Hamas’ reaction,” the adviser said, who asked not to be named given the sensitivity of the talks, adding that it could take several days.

The war Cabinet is expecting to start negotiations according to the principles sent to Hamas once Hamas replies, the adviser said.

Israel has floated a two-month pause in fighting in order to get the hostages back, NBC News has previously reported, but current and former Israeli officials say no terms have been set in stone.

There are still “wide gaps” between Israel and Hamas on the outline of a potential deal, according to professor Jacob Nagel, former national security adviser to Israel who is also in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s orbit.

Hamas has previously demanded that Israel end the war and withdraw all troops from Gaza, that Hamas stay in power in the enclave, and that Israel not make any changes along the border of Israel and Gaza.

“There might be a deal if Sinwar will give up his three basic demands, meaning going back to Oct. 6th,” said Nagel, who is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Netanyahu posted a video Tuesday responding to “rumors” about the deal.

“We are committed to getting a hostage deal, but not at any price. I have red lines,” he said. “Among them are: we won’t end the war, we won’t remove the IDF from the Gaza Strip, and we won’t release thousands of prisoners.”

Hamas is currently fragmented, with leadership split geographically between Doha, Qatar, and inside the Gaza Strip. There are both physical and ideological divides between the political and military wings, making consensus-building a challenge.

Adding to the logistical hurdles, Hamas’ leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar is in hiding in Gaza, working to mask his communications so Israel’s military doesn’t find him.

Nagel said he believes Sinwar will likely keep some hostages forever as “his insurance policy.”

“We also want that the deal to be for all the hostages, not only the 35 humanitarian prisoners,” Nagel said.

Another senior Israeli official said that, given all the challenges, it’s unclear if the deal will come together. “I don’t think it’s more than 50/50 it will materialize,” the senior official said.

Blinken announces sanctions on 4 Israeli citizens following executive order, says 'Israel must do more'

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the State Department has moved to sanction four Israeli citizens involved in extremist settler activities following President Joe Biden's executive order today.

The State Department named four people who it said were involved in settler-led attacks on Palestinians: David Chai Chasdai, Einan Tanjil, Shalom Zicherman and Yinon Levi. Blinken said there can be no justification for extremist violence "whatever their national origin, ethnicity, or religion."

"Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians in the West Bank and hold accountable those responsible for it," he said in a statement.

"The United States will continue to take actions to advance the foreign policy objectives of the United States, including the viability of a two-state solution, and is committed to the safety, security, and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians alike," he added.

Dearborn mayor says Arab Americans want to speak to policymakers, not Biden campaign staff

Arab American leadership wants to speak to policymakers and not Biden's election staff, Dearborn, Michigan, Mayor Abdullah Hammoud told MSNBC.

The Associated Press reported last week that Biden's campaign manager was turned away by many activists and leaders in the Detroit suburb. Over half of the community is of Middle Eastern or North African descent, an electorate that NBC News has reported is furious with Biden over his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

"For us, Palestinian lives should not be measured in poll numbers," Hammoud said.

Netanayhu's office says there is 'no room' for Biden order on extremist settlers

Netanyahu's office said that Israel acts against all lawbreakers" following news that Biden signed an executive order to sanction violent settlers.

The prime minister's office added in a statement on X that "there is no room for unusual measures in this regard." Biden's order today comes weeks after an American teenager was shot and killed during a visit to the occupied West Bank, where, his family says, a settler attacked him during a picnic with friends.

"The absolute majority of the settlers in Judea and Samaria are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are currently fighting regularly and in the reserves for the defense of Israel," the statement said.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported there were 494 settler attacks against Palestinians from Oct. 7 to Jan. 31, including at least 388 incidents that resulted in damage to Palestinian property.

The executive order, which includes visa bans for foreign nationals, would sanction violent Israeli settlers "responsible for or complicit in" attacks on Palestinians or Palestinian property.

Chicago passes resolution calling for permanent cease-fire

The Chicago City Council narrowly passed a resolution calling for a permanent cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, becoming the largest city in the country in favor of the proposal.

After hours of debate, Mayor Brandon Johnson voted in favor, breaking a 23-23 deadlock.

Although the resolution does not have any legal effect, it is an indication of the community’s divergent views on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

So far, at least 48 U.S. cities have passed resolutions urging cease-fires in the enclave. According to Reuters, nine were approved in Michigan, where growing criticism has been voiced by Arab communities against Biden’s policies in the region.

Netanyahu cease-fire comments not viewed as a rejection, senior administration official says

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration does not view Netanyahu’s public comments about a cease-fire deal as a rejection, a senior administration official told NBC News today. 

Netanyahu has said he will not accept any cease-fire deal that requires Israeli troops to leave Gaza or involves releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. 

The official said the administration sees the situation as evolving, because Israel is not making as much headway against Hamas in Gaza as hoped and Netanyahu faces increasing public pressure to secure the release of the hostages who remain in Hamas captivity. 

However, his public comments still reflect the influence of right-wing members in his coalition, who have threatened to quit and bring the government down if he softens his stance.

Biden to sanction Israeli settlers in the West Bank after shooting of American teenager

Biden issued an executive order today targeting Israeli settlers in the West Bank after the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old American citizen last month.

Biden’s order will target settlers who “directly perpetrated violence and those who have engaged in repeated acts of intimidation property destruction, leading to the forced displacement of Palestinian communities,” a senior administration official said. The sanctions are focused on visa restrictions for foreign nationals, some of whom have already been prosecuted in the Israeli justice system. Sanctions do not address American citizens who may also perpetrate settler violence.

The decision was made after an American teenager, Tawfic Hafeth Abdel Jabbar, was shot and killed last month during a visit to the West Bank to learn more about his Palestinian heritage. His family says he was the victim of settler violence.

Abdel Jabbar’s father said his son, 17, was out for a picnic with friends when, witnesses told him, he was shot by an Israeli settler. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that at the time he was unaware of the full context but that the White House was “seriously concerned” over the teen’s death.

Read the full story here.

Parents of hostage who turns 20 tomorrow call on leaders to secure release of remaining captives

After more than 100 days in captivity, American hostage Itay Chen will turn 20 tomorrow, his parents said in statement.

“Itay is an extraordinary individual. He dedicated years to the Boy Scouts and passionately mentored children in our community,” Ruby and Hagit Chen said. “Wherever you are, Itay, we are proud of you, we know you are New York tough, we are fighting for you, and we will not stop until you are reunited with us.”

They also asked Biden and Netanyahu to do everything they can to secure a deal that will free the hostages. And they called on the leaders in the U.S., Israel, Qatar and Egypt to help.

UNRWA head says it may have to shut down operations if funding remains suspended

The head of the U.N. aid agency for Palestinian refugees has warned that it will have to shut down its operations in Gaza if its funding remains suspended.

Calling on countries to resume donations, Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said in a statement that operations across the region could be affected.

His comments came after at least a dozen countries, including the U.S., Germany and the U.K., said they would pause their funding for the agency, following allegations from Israel that some UNRWA staff members had taken part in the Oct. 7 attacks.

Biden to visit Michigan amid criticism over Israel policy

President Joe Biden will visit the battleground state of Michigan today where he has faced sharp criticism from some members of the Arab and Muslim communities for his support of Israel.

White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said yesterday that White House officials regularly met with Arab and Muslim leaders in the state.

Asked about the message Biden wanted to send to those communities, she said Biden “continues to believe that Israel has a right to defend itself,” but at the same time he was “heartbroken by the suffering of innocent Palestinians.”

She added that Biden always pressed for more humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza.

Biden expected to sign executive order on 'extremist settlers'

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is expected to issue an executive order today targeting Israeli settlers in the West Bank, a U.S. official confirmed to NBC News today. 

The move comes after administration officials issued public statements expressing concerns over settler violence in the West Bank.

Last month, the administration imposed visa bans on Israeli settlers who committed acts of violence against Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank.

Heat and Houthis raise fears for livestock stuck on a ship after Red Sea turnaround

Thousands of sheep and cattle are stranded off the coast of Australia after their ship was turned back by violence in the Red Sea, raising concerns among animal welfare groups about the conditions the livestock are staying in as the government decides what to do with them.

The ship, MV Bahijah, left for Israel on Jan. 5 from Fremantle, a port city in Western Australia, with 15,000 sheep and 2,500 cattle on board, according to Mark Harvey-Sutton, chief executive of the Australian Livestock Exporters’ Council.

On Jan. 20, the Australian agriculture and fisheries department said the ship had been ordered to return to Australia “due to the worsening security situation” in the Red Sea, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels based in Yemen have launched drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in what they say is retaliation for Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip.

The attacks have greatly disrupted maritime traffic in the Red Sea, a key shipping route, leading the U.S., U.K. and others to launch strikes against Houthi targets as the Israel-Hamas war continues to expand throughout the region.

Read the full story here.

Biden administration looks into recognizing a Palestinian state, senior administration official says

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has tasked policy staff to look into the idea of the U.S. recognizing a Palestinian state before it reaches a final, comprehensive deal with Israel to end the war in Gaza, a senior administration official told NBC News today.

Stressing that this was not something that would happen anytime soon, the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said such a state would need to include new Palestinian leadership and security capabilities in the enclave.

The National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, did not discount such a proposal at a briefing yesterday, and while the official admitted that it is not a formulated concept yet, it does form part of a "Biden Doctrine" mentioned in Tom Friedman's column in The New York Times yesterday, which he defined as the convergence of strategic thinking and planning on the region.

The official's comments came after Ron Dermer, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. who now serves as a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington yesterday.

Displacement and overcrowding are 'fueling' disease in Gaza, WHO warns

Displacement, overcrowding and a lack of safe water are fueling the spread of disease in Gaza, the World Health Organization in the occupied Palestinian territory said on X today.

“As the war rages on, the struggling health system is increasingly unable to effectively detect or control outbreaks,” it added.

Palestinians bury dozens in a Gaza mass grave after Israel hands back their bodies

Near a newly dug mass grave in the southern tip of Gaza, Palestinians on Tuesday went through several dozen body bags that had been hastily delivered by an Israeli container truck, hoping to find missing loved ones. 

An NBC News team in Gaza filmed people unfolding the rolled-up blue sheets of tarp containing bodies and body parts in various states of decomposition. The bodies had arrived at the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom border crossing — Karem Abu Salem in Arabic.

The video captured a container truck filled with bodies backing up in the southern border town of Rafah. Several men in hazmat suits then passed the bodies to a small crowd of men wearing masks.

“Be gentle, be gentle!” a man said as people handled the bodies one by one.

The bodies of Palestinians killed during the war are buried in a mass grave on January 30, 2024 in Rafah, Gaza.
Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images

Read the full story here.

China calls on major UNRWA donors to reconsider funding suspensions

HONG KONG — Countries that have suspended their donations to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, particularly major donors, should reconsider their decisions, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said today.

“The population of Gaza must not be allowed to suffer additional collective punishment, and the humanitarian situation in Gaza must not be allowed to deteriorate,” Wang Wenbin told a news conference today.

His comments came after the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and several other major donors suspended funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency after Israel alleged that some of its workers had taken part in Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks on the country.

China has donated regularly to UNRWA but is not a major donor to the organization. In 2023, it donated $1 million to the aid agency in support of children’s education in Gaza, UNRWA said. The estimated annual budget for the agency is $1.1 billion.

Israeli demonstrators attempt to block aid from entering Gaza

Activists block the exit of the port of Ashdod in southern Israel today, to stop trucks they claim are carrying humanitarian aid destined for the Gaza Strip.

The activists say no aid should enter the territory until Israeli hostages held captive by the Hamas militant group are released.
Leo Correa / AP

Death toll in Gaza tops 27,000

Around 118 people have been killed in Gaza in the past day, Gaza's Health Ministry said today on Telegram, bringing the total number of dead since Oct. 7 to 27,019.

A total of 66,139 people have been wounded since then, the ministry said, adding that many missing people were missing under the rubble.

Mourners collect the bodies of friends and relatives in Rafah, Gaza, on Feb. 1, 2024.
Mourners collect the bodies today of friends and relatives in Rafah, Gaza.Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images

Iranian militia evacuate in anticipation of U.S. strikes, senior Iraqi official says

ERBIL, Iraq — As the U.S. prepares retaliatory strikes for the drone attack on a base in northeast Jordan which killed three service members, Iran appears to be readying too. 

A senior Iraqi official told NBC News yesterday that armed factions linked to Tehran have been evacuating their headquarters in both Iraq and Syria in anticipation of a heavy American response.

The official also confirmed that Brig. Esmail Ghaani, the head of Iran’s secretive Quds Force which is part of the Revolutionary Guard, traveled to Iraq’s capital this week and met with Iranian backed groups. 

News of the evacuations comes after Reuters, quoting five sources familiar with the matter, reported that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has scaled back deployment of its senior officers in Syria because of a spate of deadly Israeli strikes.

Myles B. Caggins III, a former U.S. Army colonel who is now CEO of Words Warriors, a coaching and consultancy business based in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, sounded a note of caution. 

He said that Iranian-backed militia in the region were “still maneuvering,” in the region. “They’re still collecting intelligence and they’re still planning additional strikes on U.S. targets,” he said.

Red Sea disruption causing delays and higher costs, Adidas CEO says

Adidas deliveries are experiencing delays because of disruptions to shipping in the Red Sea, the sport's company's CEO told Reuters today, adding that soaring” shipping rates are affecting its gross margins.

“The irony is we actually have products right now where the sell-through is so good with certain retailers that we can’t deliver (them),” Bjorn Gulden told analysts today, adding that the shipments are currently delayed for approximately three weeks.

Major shipping companies have been avoiding the Suez Canal, a vital route linking Europe and Asia, amid attacks on vessels in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The militant group says it is carrying them out in retaliation for Israel's war on Gaza.

“When we suddenly have product lines that are high in demand and higher than the supply and you get a three weeks delay, that is a hiccup,” Gulden said. “That is, in my opinion, worse than the higher (freight) rates right now.”

Netanyahu says hostage deal will not come ‘at any cost’

A hostage deal outline is in the works, but Netanyahu clarified his “red lines” on X yesterday after reports said the potential framework would include the release of three detained Palestinians per released hostage.

“We are working to obtain another outline for the release of our abductees, but I emphasize not at any cost,” he said, according to an NBC News translation. “I have red lines between them: We will not end the war, we will not remove the IDF from the Gaza Strip and we will not release thousands of terrorists.”

Netanyahu added that the war will continue as Israel fights for three goals: the return of all hostages, the end of Hamas and assurance that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel.

‘Mercy’ flights provide critically wounded and sick Palestinians a chance to survive

EL-ARISH, Egypt — For 56 critically ill and wounded Gazans, the road to crucial medical care started Tuesday on a military airfield in Egypt’s northern Sinai. This is where a plane was parked, awaiting patients driven in on ambulances from area hospitals or from inside Gaza. 

Such “mercy” flights are made possible by countries such as the United Arab Emirates, where commercial planes are retrofitted with stretchers and beds to ferry patients on a four-hour trip from Egypt to Abu Dhabi to receive medical care. Tuesday’s flight was the UAE’s 11th humanitarian airlift since the Israel-Hamas war began with the Oct. 7 attacks.

The patients on Tuesday’s flight were mainly children with complex fractures and head injuries. A few have chronic illnesses that have been left untreated since the supply of medicine into Gaza slowed to a trickle after the start of the war. The patients are tended to by a team of doctors and nurses who are on the flight with them. 

“I remember the first girl that we evacuated in the first plane,” said Dr. Maha Barakat, the UAE’s assistant minister of foreign affairs for health. “She had complex fractures and many broken bones. And her mother told us that for the first time in two months, she smiled when we were able to give her painkillers that relieved her of her pain.”

Read the full story here.

Catch up on NBC News’ latest coverage of the war

‘Mercy’ flights provide critically wounded and sick Palestinians a chance to survive

Bloody floors, no pain meds, surrounded by the IDF: Inside Gaza’s last major hospital

Victims of Hamas attack in Israel and their families blame Iran in new federal lawsuit

Federal judge dismisses case seeking to force U.S. to pressure Israel to stop bombing Gaza

The U.S. and Iran say they don’t want a war, but the risks are mounting as Biden readies retaliation