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Killing of Hamas leader in Lebanon stokes escalation fears

The Israeli military said it was "prepared for any scenario" after a blast in a Beirut suburb killed Saleh al-Arouri. The United Nations led calls for restraint.

What we know

  • The killing of a senior Hamas leader in a strike in Lebanon has stoked fears of escalation between Israel and the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah. Saleh al-Arouri was killed along with six other people in a suburb of Beirut, sparking global calls for restraint.
  • Israel has not confirmed whether it was behind the blast, but the country's military said it is "prepared for any scenario" as the focus turns toward an expected response.
  • Two right-wing Israeli government ministers have hit back at criticism from the U.S. and others after their comments calling for the displacement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip. The State Department rejected the comments yesterday as "inflammatory and irresponsible."
  • More than 22,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 55,000 have been injured, and thousands more are missing and presumed dead.
  • Israeli military officials say at least 170 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’ Matt Bradley, Keir Simmons, Ali Arouzi and Josh Lederman are reporting from the region.

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

U.S. ‘not seeing acts of genocide’ in Gaza, State Department says

WASHINGTON— The U.S. has not observed acts in Gaza that constitute genocide, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Wednesday, after South Africa launched genocide proceedings at the International Court of Justice over Israel’s military operation in the Palestinian enclave.

“Those are allegations that should not be made lightly ... we are not seeing any acts that constitute genocide,” Miller said at a regular news briefing. “That is a determination by the State Department,” he added.

He had been asked about South Africa’s request on Tuesday that the World Court issue an urgent order declaring that Israel was in breach of its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The court has scheduled public hearings for Jan. 11 and 12 on South Africa’s request. Israel said it would defend itself from the charges. Israel’s crackdown has killed more than 22,000 Palestinians, laid waste to much of the enclave and engulfed its 2.3 million residents in a humanitarian disaster.

Israel’s Mossad chief vows to hunt down Hamas members a day after senior figure is killed in strike

JERUSALEM — The chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service vowed today that the agency would hunt down every Hamas member involved in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, no matter where they are. His pledge came a day after the deputy head of the Palestinian militant group was killed in a suspected Israeli strike in Beirut.

Israel has refused to comment on reports it carried out the killing, but the remarks by David Barnea appeared to be the strongest indication yet it was behind the blast. He made a comparison to the aftermath of the slayings at the Munich Olympics in 1972, when Mossad agents tracked down and killed Palestinian militants involved in killing Israeli athletes.

“It’ll take time, as it took time after the Munich massacre, but we will put our hands on them wherever they are,” he said at the funeral of former Mossad head Zvi Zamir, who died at age 98 a day earlier.

Barnea said the Mossad is “committed to settling accounts with the murderers who raided the Gaza envelope,” referring to the area of southern Israel that Hamas attacked. He vowed to pursue everyone involved, “directly or indirectly,” including “planners and envoys.”

IDF says it hit Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon in one of the deadliest days for the group

Hezbollah announced that nine of its fighters were killed today, making it one of the deadliest days for the group since Oct. 8, according to the group's statements.

Previously, Hezbollah was hardest-hit on Oct. 24, when it also lost nine fighters, it said.

The group did not provide details about how the fighters died. The IDF said it targeted a group in Yaroun, Lebanon, after the military said it had identified several launches from Lebanon toward northern Israel.

Hezbollah released 11 statements today about missiles it launched, six of which it claims resulted in casualties.

Hezbollah leader says group would respond 'without constraint' if tensions with Israel escalate to war

Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, warned in a speech today that if Israel escalates tensions into war with the group, its fighters will react without "limits, rules and controls."

Nasrallah referred to the fatal drone strike in Beirut targeting the home of a Hamas leader yesterday as a crime, blaming Israel for the attack, although the country has not publicly taken responsibility. He threatened Israel by saying that if the country wants war, Hezbollah is ready to take action.

"In the axis of resistance, no one dictates anything to anyone else, and everyone makes decisions in a manner consistent with the strategic vision and the interest of his country," Nasrallah said.

Hezbollah first launched an attack upon northern Israel on Oct. 8 and has been exchanging fire with Israel along the shared border with Lebanon out of what it described as solidarity with Palestinians. Lebanese officials have said they are in dialogue with Hezbollah, asking that the group not escalate the conflict after the Beirut strike to avoid the country's being dragged into a regional war.

Father of Palestinian American boy killed in Chicago knife attack worried about justice for son

JOLIET, Ill. — The father of a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who was stabbed to death in a Chicago suburb said today through a translator that he “has mixed feelings, knowing the same country that supports Israel unconditionally is the country that is supposed to serve him and his son justice.”

Odai Al Fayoumi spoke to reporters and about 40 friends and family members who held a candlelight vigil before a court appearance for the man accused of the killing last fall. Wadee Al Fayoumi was stabbed 26 times, and his mother was also severely injured. Al Fayoumi said his wife was recovering and doing "fine."

Odai Alfayoumi.
Odai Al Fayoumi at a vigil for Wadee Al Fayoumi outside the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, Ill.NBC News

Prosecutors have said Joseph Czuba targeted the two because of their Muslim faith. Czuba has pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder and hate crime charges.

Al Fayoumi said his heart is weighed down with immense grief for his child. “Let his life inspire us to reject bigotry and to embrace the diversity that makes our nation so beautiful,” he said through a translator.

Before he spoke, a local imam led a prayer in Arabic. Maggie Slavin, the operations manager of CAIR-Chicago, said the pursuit of justice for Wadee is intertwined with combatting Islamophobia and advocating for the rights of Muslim Americans.

“A just and lasting cease-fire in Palestine is essential for regional stability and for global peace,” she said.

People gather for a vigil as a man prays at a set of microphones.
Hafiz Ansari says a prayer at a vigil for Wadee Al Fayoumi outside the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, Ill.Selina Guevara / NBC News

18 shipping companies re-routing to avoid the Red Sea

Ongoing attacks from Yemen’s Houthi rebels on vessels moving through the Red Sea have pushed companies to make costly changes, Arsenio Dominguez, secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization, said in an address to the United Nations' Security Council.

"A significant number of companies, around 18 shipping companies have already decided to re-route their vessels around south Africa in order to reduce the attacks on vessels and of course the impact this has on seafarers in particular," Dominguez said.

According to Dominguez, the decision to change routes adds more than a week to the journeys and will increase freight rates. The Red Sea is a vital commercial route that accounts for an estimated 15% of international shipping trade.

The United Nations convened an emergency session of the Security Council today to discuss the increasing attacks by the Houthi rebels and the threat on maritime safety.

IDF is focused on Hamas but in 'high state of readiness' at northern border, military chief says

Israel's military is in a "very high state of readiness" in the north, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi told soldiers today during an assessment of the country's border with Lebanon.

"I visit here often. I think our readiness is at its peak," Halevi said. "There is a lot of expertise, great capabilities and high morale. We are in very high readiness in all sectors and we are currently focusing on fighting Hamas."

Halevi's visit comes amid increased fear that the conflict with Hamas will spill into Lebanon and trigger a larger regional war. Yesterday, a drone strike targeting a Hamas leader's apartment in a Beirut suburb killed seven people.

Lebanese officials, Hamas and Hezbollah placed blame on Israel for the drone strike, but Israel has not taken responsibility for the strike.

Lebanese foreign minister says he has 'reasons to believe' Hezbollah will not escalate war

Although the Lebanese government is not in control of Hezbollah, officials believe that the militant group will work to avoid dragging the country into a regional war with Israel, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abadallah Bou Habib told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

“We hope they don’t commit themselves to a larger war, but we are working with them on this,” Habib said. “And we have a lot of reasons to think that this will not happen.”

Habib's interview comes after a drone strike targeted the apartment of a Hamas leader in a suburb of Beirut yesterday, which according to Hamas killed seven of its members. Israel has not confirmed or denied whether it was responsible, though Hamas, Hezbollah and Lebanese officials have placed blame on the country's military.

The strike has drawn fears that the current conflict between Hamas and Israel will spill out of Gaza and expand into a regional war.

The scene in Beirut a day after Hamas leader's killing

Civil defense workers clean up the scene and inspect a vehicle that was damaged near the building hit by a strike that yesterday killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon's capital.

Image: TOPSHOT-LEBANON-ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-CONFLICT
ANWAR AMRO / AFP - Getty Images
Image: LEBANON-ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-CONFLICT
ANWAR AMRO / AFP - Getty Images

Far-right Israeli politician doubles down on Gaza migration comments after U.S. rebuke

Israeli finance minister and far-right politician Bezalel Smotrich said a majority of the Israeli population supports a solution that involves the migration of Gazans to other countries.

The comments were made in a post on X today after the U.S. called his suggestion "irresponsible."

Smotrich said Israel cannot live in a reality where 2 million people who long for Israel's destruction are minutes away.

Yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller called the rhetoric "inflammatory and irresponsible."

"We have been clear, consistent and unequivocal that Gaza is Palestinian land and will remain Palestinian land, with Hamas no longer in control of its future and with no terror groups able to threaten Israel," Miller said.

Israel not suspected in deadly Iran blasts, U.S. officials tell NBC News

The U.S. does not believe Israel was behind the explosions in Iran today that killed over 100 people, according to four current and former U.S. officials.

The U.S. was also not responsible, two of the officials said. While the U.S. is not yet certain what caused the blasts, officials are pointing to similarities to other mass casualty terror attacks from the likes of ISIS, saying a terror group is the most likely culprit.

More than 100 people are believed to have been killed when two blasts hit near the tomb of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in the Kerman Martyrs Cemetery, according to Iranian state news. Crowds were gathered for a memorial event in honor of Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2020.

U.S. and 11 other countries issue joint statement condemning Houthi Red Sea attacks

The White House issued a joint statement with 11 other countries demanding an "immediate end" to attacks on vessels and crews in the Red Sea following weeks of strikes by Yemen's Houthi rebels.

The Houthi rebels have said they will continue to attack any vessels they believe support Israel and have publicly pledged solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. The U.S. is joined by Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom in calling the attacks illegal.

The statement warns that the Houthis "will bear the responsibility of the consequences."

“Ongoing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing," the statement said. "There is no lawful justification for intentionally targeting civilian shipping and naval vessels.”

Hamas unlikely to cut off hostage negotiations despite leader's assassination, expert says

JERUSALEM — Hamas is unlikely to permanently cut off hostage negotiations despite the assassination of Saleh al-Arouri, because it would foreclose the possibility of Israel releasing more Palestinian prisoners in exchange, a leading Israeli expert on Hamas and Palestinian society told NBC News today.

“You have to remember Hamas is talking about prisoners not just since the beginning of this war,” said Ronni Shaked of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute. “They are talking about prisoners since 1989, when they killed the first Israeli soldier.”

Shaked, who has studied Hamas for more than three decades, said that Saleh al-Arouri, who was the deputy chair of the group’s political bureau, had likely been among the top four Hamas targets for Israel’s military.

“Saleh al-Arouri was the man that connected the people who came from Gaza to Syria and sent them to Iran for training,” Shaked said in an interview. “And when those people were trained in Iran, for example, to use the drones or the sophisticated rockets, that was the most important thing for Hamas.”

A Hezbollah Civil defense worker searches a burned car Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, near an apartment building where an apparent Israeli strike killed top Hamas political leader Saleh Arouri in Beirut.
A Hezbollah civil defense worker searches a burned car Wednesday near an apartment building in Beirut where an apparent Israeli strike killed top Hamas political leader Saleh al-Arouri.Hussein Malla / AP

IDF says hostage was killed during rescue attempt in early December

Hostage Sahar Baruch was killed last month while the IDF was attempting to rescue him from Hamas on the night of Dec. 8, the military said in a statement today.

"At this point, it is not possible to determine the circumstances of Sahar’s death, and it is not known whether he was murdered by Hamas or killed by the fire of our forces," the statement said.

Baruch's family has been informed of his death, the IDF said.

Family of hostage killed by IDF offer details on days leading up to his death

Alon Shamriz had been beaten along with fellow Jewish hostages in the days before he was able to escape, only to to be killed by an IDF sniper, his cousin, Oded Eshel, told NBC News South Florida.

Eshel said that his family has been provided more details by the Israeli military about his cousin's final days, as well as the moment he was killed. The family was told that Shamriz and two other hostages had been hidden with Thai hostages, who were released during November's truce deal.

"Not every story has a happy ending, this has the saddest ending I could have ever imagined,” said Eshel, who recently returned from a visit to Israel.

Alon Shamriz.
Alon Shamriz.Shamriz family via AP

After the Thai hostages left, the family was told by the IDF, Shamriz and other Jewish hostages were beaten regularly. But an IDF attack helicopter killed the guards and Shamriz and two other hostages were able to escape.

The three men spent five days hoping for rescue, marking SOS on white sheets and yelling in Hebrew. But the soldiers feared that the yelling in Hebrew may have been a trick, and it's possible the sniper who shot Shamriz didn't have a full view to the white flags.

"What I take away from this trip is the courage and bravery and strength of my cousin, Alon, in the last 70 days of his life, where he went through something horrific, came out starved, beaten, tortured, and still thought, 'How do I survive and get back home to my family?' and that has inspired me," Eshel said.

U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon calls for restraint after killing of Hamas deputy chief

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon called for restraint today as the killing of Hamas' deputy chief in Beirut stokes escalation fears.

"We are deeply concerned at any potential for escalation that could have devastating consequences for people on both sides of the Blue Line," a United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon spokesperson told NBC News in an emailed statement.

"We continue to implore all parties cease their fire, and any interlocutors with influence to urge restraint," the spokesperson added.

Destruction in central Gaza

Buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment in the central Gaza Strip from a position across the border in southern Israel on Jan. 3, 2024.
Jack Guez / AFP - Getty Images

Buildings destroyed by Israeli bombardment in the central Gaza Strip seen from a position across the border in southern Israel today.

U.N. Security Council to hold emergency meeting on Red Sea attacks

The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting today to talk about the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

“The Security Council will hold a meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security, in particular on the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea,” read a post on X by the French Mission to the United Nations. France is the current president of the council.

Commercial ships in Red Sea have come under increasing attack from the Yemeni militia, threatening global trade.

Strike at hospital sheltering 14,000 kills baby and 4 others, U.N. agency says

A strike on Al Amal Hospital in Gaza killed five people yesterday, including a baby, according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

There were an estimated 14,000 people who were sheltering in the hospital at the time of the attack, according to the report.

“Today’s bombardments are unconscionable. Gaza’s health system is already on its knees, with health and aid workers continuously stymied in their efforts to save lives due to the hostilities,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The Palestine Red Crescent said today it was trying to save the life of one person who was seriously injured in the strike.

Israel to face genocide charge at the International Court of Justice next week

Israeli officials will appear before the International Court of Justice next week after South Africa accused the country of committing genocide in its war with Hamas in Gaza. 

An Israeli spokesperson has called the accusation “South Africa’s absurd blood libel.”

In a post on X, Clayson Monyela, a spokesperson from South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, stated that Malaysia has endorsed its application to the court against Israel. He expects other countries to do the same.

The hearing is scheduled to take place Jan. 11 and 12 at the ICJ in The Hague, Netherlands.

 

Israel did not notify U.S. before strike that killed Hamas official in Lebanon

Israel did not notify the United States in advance of the strike that killed a senior Hamas leader in Beirut yesterday, but did inform Washington as it was underway, according to two U.S. officials, a U.S. defense official and a person briefed on the operation.

Israel has a history of hunting down its enemies, including Hamas commanders, and Netanyahu earlier this year suggested that Saleh al-Arouri was a potential target.

Al-Arouri, the commander of Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank and deputy chairman of the group’s political bureau, was a key figure who had helped repair Hamas’ relations with Iran.

Lebanese civil defense members spray water on the street on Jan. 3, 2024, at the building that was hit the day before by a strike that killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Aruri in Beirut.
Lebanese civil defense members spray water today at the site of the strike.Anwar Amro / AFP - Getty Images

Iran says at least 70 killed in 'terrorist attacks' at Soleimani memorial

At least 70 people were killed today in what officials called "terrorist attacks" at an event marking the death of Iran's top general Qassem Soleimani, according to state media.

Two explosions struck in the southeastern city of Kerman near a cemetery where Soleimani is buried and as an event was being held to mark his killing in a U.S. drone strike on this day in 2020.

At least 73 people were killed in the blasts and 171 injured, according to the state TV channel IRIB. “The blasts were caused by terrorist attacks,” state media quoted the deputy governor of Kerman province as saying.

There were conflicting reports on what might have caused the explosions and whether they had any relation to the Israel-Hamas war, but they could heighten tensions in the region with Israel and others facing off against Iran-backed groups.

Sanders calls for an end to U.S. military aid for Israel

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has called for an end to U.S. funding to what he calls “Netanyahu’s illegal, immoral, brutal, and grossly disproportionate war against the Palestinian people.”

In his X post, Sanders also urged Congress to reject any effort that is made to pass $10 billion worth of emergency U.S. aid to Israel.

Deadly blasts reported in Iran at event marking top general's killing

Blasts near the cemetery where a high-profile Iranian commander is buried have killed at least 20 people on the anniversary of his death, Iranian state media has reported.

The incidents took place in the southern city of Kerman during events marking the death of Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike on this day in 2020, according to the state-run TV station IRIB.

It was unclear what might have caused the explosions and whether they had any relation to the Israel-Hamas war, but they could heighten tensions in the region with Israel and others facing off against Iran-backed groups.

Ambulances navigate through a crowd
Ambulances leaving the site of two explosions during a memorial for Guards general Qasem Soleimani in Kerman, Iran on Wednesday.Iran Press / AFP via Getty Images

Palestinians in Ramallah protest killing of Hamas official

Protests erupted in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank shortly after a drone strike killed a senior Hamas leader along with six other members. Israel has been accused of conducting the strike, but the IDF has not made a public comment on the matter.

Gaza workers held incommunicado for weeks, Human Rights Watch says

Israel held thousands of workers from Gaza in detention without contact with the outside world, with at least some kept in inhumane conditions, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

“The search for perpetrators and abettors of the October 7 attacks does not justify abusing workers who had been granted permits to work in Israel,” said Michelle Randhawa, senior refugee and migrant rights officer at Human Rights Watch.

An estimated 18,500 workers from Gaza had permits to work in Israel on Oct. 7. It is unclear, however, how many of them were in Israel on the day.

NBC News has reached out to the IDF for comment.

Israeli troops inside Gaza

This handout picture released by the Israeli army this morning shows soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip amid continuing battles with Hamas.

Image: PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT
AFP - Getty Images

Iran condemns the killing of Hamas leader

The Iranian foreign minister has condemned the killing of Saleh al-Arouri, the Hamas deputy chief who was killed in a strike in Lebanon yesterday.

In a post on X this morning, Hossein Amirabdollahian called the killing a “terrorist act that proves that Israel has not achieved its goals in Gaza despite America’s support."

Israel has not taken responsibility for the blast.

No damage reported after ballistic missiles fired in Red Sea, U.S. says

Two anti-ship ballistic missiles were fired from areas controlled by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen into the southern Red Sea last night, U.S. Central Command said earlier today in a post on X.

The ships in the vicinity reported no damage, it said.

"These illegal actions endangered the lives of dozens of innocent mariners and continue to disrupt the free flow of international commerce," Central Command said.

New U.S. intel assessment suggests Hamas used Al-Shifa Hospital to house command infrastructure, official says

A new U.S. assessment based on newly downgraded intelligence supports the conclusion that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group used the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza to house command infrastructure, a U.S. official told NBC News.

The information also supports the conclusion that the groups exercised some command and control activities, stored some weapons, and held at least a few hostages at the site, the official said. Hamas members at the hospital evacuated days before the Israeli military raided the hospital and "destroyed documents and electronics at the complex," the official added.

"The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident in its judgment on this topic and has independently corroborated information on HAMAS and PIJ’s use of the hospital complex for a variety of purposes related to its campaign against Israel," the official said.

NBC News has not viewed the intelligence in question. The assessment described by the U.S. official supports the case put forward by Israel, which drew widespread criticism for its assault on the hospital complex.

Making bread and a bed in southern Gaza

Displaced Palestinians living in makeshift shelters in southern Gaza are combating dwindling supplies and deteriorating weather amid Israel's bombardment.

Image: TOPSHOT-PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
AFP - Getty Images
Image: TOPSHOT-PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
AFP - Getty Images

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