What we know
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Istanbul, Turkey — the first stop of a trip on which he will grapple with growing pressure for Israel to ease the assault in the Gaza Strip.
- The Israeli military estimates it has killed or captured 8,000 to 9,000 Hamas fighters since Oct. 7, its chief spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, told NBC News today. That figure — which has not previously been reported — would represent just under a third of Hamas’ estimated prewar strength of 30,000.
- More than 22,500 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 57,000 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 of 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’ Keir Simmons, Matt Bradley, Raf Sanchez, Ali Arouzi and Josh Lederman are reporting from the region.
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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin hospitalized amid Middle East missions
Amid tensions in the Middle East, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was hospitalized and has not been able to perform his duties since New Year’s Day, a senior defense official said Friday.
Details about what ailed him were unavailable. He remained hospitalized Friday evening, and it was unclear when he would be released, the source said.
Austin was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday night for “complications following a recent elective medical procedure,” Pentagon Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said in a statement Friday evening.
Austin was expected to resume his duties Friday, Ryder said.
Gaza has become 'uninhabitable,' U.N. humanitarian chief says
The Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations humanitarian chief says Gaza has become “uninhabitable” three months after Hamas’ horrific attacks against Israel and “a public health disaster is unfolding.”
Martin Griffiths said in a statement Friday that “people are facing the highest levels of food insecurity ever recorded (and) famine is around the corner.”
And Gazans are “witnessing daily threats to their very existence — while the world watches on,” he said.
The U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs said tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children, have been killed or injured, families are sleeping in the open as temperatures plummet, and areas where Palestinians were told to relocate have been bombed.
The few partially functioning hospitals are overwhelmed and critically short of supplies, infectious diseases are spreading, and amidst the chaos some 180 Palestinian women are giving birth every day, he said.
Griffiths reiterated U.N. demands for an immediate end to the war and the release of all hostages, declaring, “It is time for the international community to use all its influence to make this happen.”
He said the humanitarian community is facing an “impossible mission” of supporting more than 2 million people in Gaza while aid workers are killed, communications blackouts continue, roads are damaged, truck convoys are shot at, and vital commercial supplies “are almost non-existent.”
Gaza has shown “the worst of humanity,” Griffiths said, and it’s long past time for the war to end.
France and Jordan airdrop medical aid into Gaza
The Associated Press
PARIS — France announced that a French and a Jordanian military transport aircraft airdropped 7.7 tons of medical aid to a Gaza Strip field hospital during a joint operation.
“The humanitarian situation remains critical in Gaza,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday on X, formerly Twitter. “In a difficult context, France and Jordan delivered aid to the population and to those who are helping them.”
The operation overnight Thursday to Friday was meant to deliver medical aid to the Jordanian field hospital of the southern city of Khan Younis.
The airdrop, a first from a Western country in the Gaza strip, had been agreed during Macron’s recent visit to Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah II last month, the French presidency said.
Both C-130 planes had French and Jordanian troops onboard as the operation was closely coordinated, the French presidency said.
In November, Jordan already airdropped some medical aid to another field hospital the country is operating in the city of Gaza.
The airdrop comes in addition to over 1,100 tons of humanitarian aid sent by France to the Gaza civilian population since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas in October, including emergency medical kits and medical supplies, highly nutritious food, shelters and family kits.
The French foreign ministry said this week that a ship carrying 385 tons of food is expected to arrive in Port Said, in Egypt, on Monday as part of the U.N. World Food Program’s efforts to provide aid to Gaza civilians. Another ship with a similar shipment left the French port of Le Havre this week.
Video from Reuters showed people scrambling through the rubble of a home in Rafah to look for anyone who may have been trapped after an airstrike hit the residence yesterday.
At least two people were killed and dozens injured in the strike, Reuters reported, citing health officials.
Former VP Mike Pence visits IDF Northern Command
Former Vice President Mike Pence visited the Israeli Defense Forces' Northern Command today, according to an IDF statement. During his visit, he received an operational update and met with reserve soldiers. Pence was briefly a candidate for president, challenging his onetime running mate Donald Trump.
Director-general of WHO says delayed care for injured in Gaza is causing more amputations
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said many people in Gaza are only able to receive care days after being injured, increasing the likelihood of their limbs needing amputation.
"The lack of treatment and experts means people are having all or parts of their arms and legs removed, sometimes with insufficient and anesthesia and pain relief," Tedros wrote in a statement on X.
WHO is working with local partners in Gaza to deliver supplies and assess needs, but Tedros said much more is required to bring back the essential services that have not been able to remain operational during the conflict.
Blinken looks to strike difficult balance during critical Middle East trip
ISTANBUL - As tensions in the Red Sea continue to mount, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be forced to strike a difficult balance in his travels around the Middle East this week, making clear to allies and partners that, while the U.S. will take action to protect their interests, they do not want to see this conflict escalate.
The target of this message is in large part Iran, a senior administration official who has relationships with many of the countries in Blinken's itinerary told NBC News. This is Blinken's fourth trip to the region in three months.
The Houthis, an Iran-backed rebel group from Yemen, have attacked shipping lanes in the Red Sea at least 25 times since November. Earlier this week, a U.S.-led coalition of 12 countries made clear that the group will bear the consequences for continued attacks on commercial interests.
Still, the U.S. does not believe Tehran has been directing the Houthis’ attacks in the Red Sea despite being their long-time arms supplier, another senior administration official said.
While the Islamic republic has been giving their proxy group latitude, the official told NBC News that the Biden administration does not see the Houthis’ actions as an escalation by Iran. The U.S. wants to make clear that any response by the U.S.-led coalition would not be seen as a retaliation against them, the official said.
Head of Hamas says he hopes Blinken's visit will focus on ending aggression
The head of the Hamas militant group said he hopes Secretary of State Antony Blinken's latest visit to the Middle East, which began yesterday, will focus on ending aggression in the region.
"We hope that the permanent brothers in the Arab and Islamic countries that will meet with the US Secretary will convey to the American administration that the future of our region and its stability are partly linked to our Palestinian cause," Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas, said in a statement on Telegram.
Haniyeh also expressed his hope that Blinken would help "end the occupation of all Palestinian land."
UNICEF says nutrition needs of children and pregnant women are unmet in Gaza
The Associated Press
JERUSALEM — The U.N. children’s agency says most young children and pregnant women in the Gaza Strip are not able to meet their basic nutrition needs.
Only a trickle of humanitarian aid has entered the Palestinian territory Oct. 7, when Hamas’ deadly attack into southern Israel ignited the war. Fewer than 200 aid trucks enter each day, less than half the prewar level, and aid groups say the fighting hinders distribution.
A survey by UNICEF released Friday found that 90% of children under age 2 are eating two or fewer food groups each day, mainly bread or milk. A quarter of pregnant women said they only eat from one food group per day.
U.N. officials previously said that one in four Gazans were enduring famine-like levels of starvation.
UNICEF says cases of diarrhea among children under 5 have risen from 48,000 to 71,000, an indication of poor nutrition. Normally, only 2,000 cases of diarrhea are reported each month in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli authorities say there is enough food in the territory, and that they have taken the necessary steps to allow aid in, blaming any shortages on U.N. bodies.
U.N. officials say aid operations are hindered by the Israeli inspections, as well as fighting and road closures within the territory, and have long been calling for a humanitarian cease-fire.
International Red Cross condemns bombing of Al-Amal Hospital where volunteer was injured
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it is "appalled" by the shelling of Al-Amal Hospital and the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) headquarters nearby in Khan Younis, Gaza.
IFRC's Secretary General Jagan Chapagain said in a statement that a volunteer from the PRCS emergency medical services was injured in the strike, adding to the list of 26 volunteers who have been injured since the beginning of the conflict.
"The continuous bombardments have disrupted PRCS ambulances and paramedics, hindering vital medical aid and basic lifesaving emergency care. Access to medical care is a basic right, and blocking these services is unacceptable," said Chapagain.
The charity said in a post on X yesterday that at least one person had bee killed and six others injured during the shelling on Al-Amal Hospital.
Hezbollah will not 'be silent' after al-Arouri's killing, group leader vows
BEIRUT — The leader of the powerful Hezbollah militant group said today that Lebanon will be “exposed” to more Israeli military operations if it does not respond to the killing of a senior Hamas leader in Beirut.
In his second televised address in less than a week, Hassan Nasrallah said Hezbollah could not “be silent about a violation of this level.” He added that “all of Lebanon will become exposed, all cities, villages, and figures will become exposed.”
His comments came after Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri was killed in a reported drone strike in Beirut earlier this week.
Nasrallah said Hezbollah had carried out some 670 operations on the Lebanese-Israeli border since Oct. 8, the day after Hamas launched its multipronged attacks on Israel, which claimed the lives of 1,200 people. He added that a “large number” of military tanks had been destroyed.
'Not even the best triage system can withstand this,' medical experts say on Gaza hospital visit
The collapse in health care provision at a hospital in central Gaza is like nothing they've ever seen, medical experts said during an international mission to the Palestinian enclave, where they have been assisting with surgeries for the last couple of weeks.
"Every single square foot of ground is occupied by patients or their relatives," Professor Nick Maynard, a senior surgeon from Oxford University Hospital, said yesterday in an audio message from Gaza obtained by NBC News. "You walk into the hospital and see people outside with chest drains and with surgical drains and with nasty infected wounds."
A group of medical experts are in Gaza as part of a humanitarian mission organized by the British-based charity Medical Aid for Palestinians and the International Rescue Committee. The group spent days assisting the wounded at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir El Balah.
"You can’t really appreciate the huge overcrowding and the permanent security risks unless you’re actually witnessing it all," he added, referring to Israeli shelling in the "so called safe area" where the team is staying.
Maynard estimated the hospital was up to five times its intended capacity, noting local surgical staff numbers are depleting. The hospital is relying on unpaid local volunteers, he said, amid an influx of injuries that are "predominantly blast injuries with shrapnel wounds" and "facial burns."
"Most are to the limbs, and multiple adults and children and babies coming in with traumatic amputations of arms and legs," he added.
Dr. James Smith, an emergency medicine specialist who is also part of the group, said the system has "fallen apart" in a message from Gaza.
"Not even the best triage system can withstand this. It’s constant. OR is full, can’t move patients to theaters," Smith said. "We ran out of morphine today. No space to allow for dignity in dying."
State Department offers up to $10 million rewards for information on Hamas' financial facilitators
The State Department is offering rewards of up to $10 million for information on five Hamas "financial facilitators," in a bid to disrupt the terrorist group's financial mechanisms.
Three Hamas operatives based in Türkiye — Amer Kamal Sharif Alshawa, Ahmed Sadu Jahleb and Walid Mohammed Mustafa Jadallah — are included on the list, who according to the State Department are part of Hamas' investment network in the country.
The other two individuals are Sudan-based Abdelbasit Hamza Elhassan Khair and Muhammad Ahmad ‘Abd Al-Dayim Nasrallah, who the department says helped transfer funds to Hamas and manage its investment portfolios.
All five individuals have been named "specially designated global terrorists" by the State Department.
IDF arrests 12 Palestinians in occupied West Bank, prisoners' advocacy groups say
Israeli forces arrested at least 12 civilians from the occupied West Bank since yesterday evening, the Commission for the Affairs of Prisoners and Ex-Prisoners and the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club said today.
Arrest locations include Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus and Jenin, the groups said. Israeli forces "continue to carry out widespread raids and abuse, attacks against detainees and their families, and direct shooting to kill," they say.
Israeli arrests in the West Bank have soared since Oct. 7, with the groups' tally surpassing 5,660.
Airstrikes in southern Gaza kills family members
Airstrikes near Rafah, in southern Gaza, killed a number of family members, including women and children, who were sheltering in tents and a home, surviving relatives told NBC News.
"They targeted the tent that my brother built on agricultural land in Al Mawasi, resulting in his martyrdom with his nine family members," Baha Abou Aballah told NBC News yesterday after visiting the wreckage where his relatives were killed and to help with their burial.
Al Mawasi is a bedouin beach town near Rafah, where thousands of displaced Palestinian families have sought refuge amid the hostilities, heeding Israel's evacuation calls.
His brother's children were between the ages of 13 and 2.
"We came to look for the remaining of his collectibles, His clothes. Because we only have two survivors from his children, the only two that survived."
Kamal Mohamed Salah, who fled Khan Younis, also said his his family's home was attacked that night.
"They say there are safe places by the sea. We came to safety on the sea, but we didn’t find safety," he told NBC News.
"We hadn’t been here for a week, and they hit us," he added. "Israel is attempting to displace us from our homes and cram us into Rafah to kill each other due to overcrowding."
Palestinian officials said in a statement yesterday that at least 14 civilians, including children and women, were killed, and others were injured, in the bombing. They added that another six displaced people were killed when an agricultural site nearby was bombed.
Dr. Mohammed Harrara, who works in the emergency department of Rafah’s Al Nasser Hospital, told NBC News there was an influx of dead bodies and injuries at around midnight.
"At 12 a.m., Nasser hospital received about 18 martyrs and a number of injuries. Most of the injuries arrived in critical conditions," he said from the hospital.
"We don't know how to sleep because many injuries come and there are many martyrs."
The IDF did not respond to NBC News' request for comment.
Destruction and mourning in Rafah
A woman stands in her damaged house today in Rafah, southern Gaza.
Members of the Abu Sinjar family mourn their relatives today in Rafah.
Northern water wells largely nonfunctional, Gaza City municipality says
Gaza City's municipality office has been sounding the alarm on the lack of fuel entering the strip, which it says has plunged residents into a dire water shortage as water wells are left nonfunctional without power for their pumps to function.
"The water problem is the most disastrous problem at the present time, because most of the water wells have stopped pumping water to citizens" in northern Gaza, Assem Al-Nabih, Gaza municipality spokesperson and an engineer, told NBC News in an audio message from Gaza City.
“Based on the statistics that we have, the quantities that reach citizens are very small, approximately one liter,” he said.
The municipality is headed by the city’s mayor and assists with public services, such as water distribution and sanitation issues.
In a social media post yesterday, the office wrote: "People in Gaza are getting less than 1L of water daily for all uses (drinking, cooking, personal needs, etc..) while the international standards are at least 120L per person daily."
Al Nabih said the municipality hasn't received "a liter of fuel" since late October despite promises from international institutions for fuel to reach northern Gaza during the truce period. He said the situation is far worse in the north, where aid groups say little humanitarian assistance is getting through.
"When we posted the tweet on our account there was only one well out of a hundred wells belonging to the Gaza Municipality. This means there was only one well operating and for only two hours out of 90-100 wells belonging to the Gaza Municipality, in the northern region."
He added that residents donated some fuel to help revive the pump of the well for a couple of hours, "so that they could supply themselves with some water."
Gaza's children caught in 'deadly cycle' of malnutrition, disease and conflict, UNICEF says
Intensifying fighting, malnutrition and disease create a deadly cycle that threatens the health and lives of more than 1 million children in Gaza, the United Nations children's agency said today.
Thousands of children have already died from the violence, UNICEF said in a statement, while living conditions for the survivors rapidly deteriorate. They are "caught in a nightmare that worsens with every passing day," the agency's chief said.
Cases of diarrhea in children under 5 years of age rose from 48,000 to 71,000 in just one week starting Dec. 17, equivalent to 3,200 new cases of diarrhea per day, the agency said. "The significant increase in cases in such a short timeframe is a strong indication that child health in the Gaza Strip is fast deteriorating," the UNICEF statement said.
Malnutrition also remains a dire problem.
About 90% of children under 2 years of age are consuming two or fewer food groups, according to a UNICEF survey conducted Dec. 26. This is up from 80% of children, compared to the same survey conducted two weeks earlier, the agency said. Most families said their children are only getting grains, including bread, or milk, meeting the definition of "severe food poverty," it added.
Maersk warns of 'significant disruption' as it diverts ships away from Red Sea
Container shipping giant Maersk is diverting all vessels from Red Sea routes around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope for the foreseeable future, it said this morning. The company warned its customers to prepare for a "significant disruption" to the global shipping network.
Shippers across the world are switching away from the Red Sea — the shortest route from Asia to Europe via the Suez Canal — after Iranian-backed Houthi militants in Yemen stepped up attacks on vessels in the region. The trip round Africa can add about 10 days to journey times and requires more fuel and crew-time, jacking up shipping costs.
“The situation is constantly evolving and remains highly volatile, and all available intelligence at hand confirms that the security risk continues to be at a significantly elevated level,” Maersk said in a statement.
As a result, it said, it will divert all of its vessels due to transit through the Red Sea around the Cape of Good Hope “for the foreseeable future."
Israeli man believed taken hostage was killed Oct. 7 and body is held in Gaza, group says
An Israeli man believed taken hostage from kibbutz Nir Oz, one of the southern Israeli communities devastated in the Hamas attack Oct. 7, has died, the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum said today.
A spokesperson for the group, which has been tracking the fate of people taken hostage by Hamas or missing since the attack, told NBC News that Tamir Adar, 38, was in the community's security force and was killed defending his home on the day of the attack.
The spokesperson said his body is being held in Gaza.
'We are coming to have some sun': Parents worry for their newborn in Rafah
Warda Sebata cradles her 4-month-old, Anas, as she walks up a hill perched on top of a tent camp in Rafah to catch some sunlight for her son who has iron deficiency. She worries for his poor health and lack of hospital care amid the war.
"We are coming to have some sun," she told an NBC News crew yesterday. "We go out to bask because the boy still needs to take his vaccination," she added.
The couple were displaced from Khan Younis and have resorted to building a tent in Rafah along the beach to sleep in with their eight children, after tight quarters in her uncle's place that had "no windows or doors" stoked fears of the spread of disease among the youngsters.
"There were many people, many children, and the children breathe. I worried about them; they may be infected with germs. So we built a tent," she said.
But the "freezing" temperatures at night, coupled with the daytime heat in the campsite worry her husband about the well-being of their young son.
"In daylight, a hell, hot you are sitting in a desert, and at night, cold, very cold," he said. "Things are tough."
The couple said that despite their searches at nearby pharmacies and the streets, they have not found a can of milk or drinking water for days. Even sea water is hard to come by, according to Warda's husband.
"We are trying to compensate him little by little. I hope to find the appropriate milk for him," Warda said, referring to taking care of her son amid the dire conditions. "God willing, I will give him the rest of the vaccination, finish everything, and return home."
Israeli opposition leader calls for government to be replaced after contentious meeting
Opposition leader Yair Lapid has called for the Israeli government to be replaced in a post on X today, following reports in the Israeli media of a contentious meeting of the security Cabinet.
"The State of Israel must replace the government and its leader," he said.
Yesterday, in comments aired on Channel 12, he said, "We cannot allow ourselves to conduct a prolonged campaign with a prime minister in whom we do not trust," referring to Benjamin Netanyahu.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman urges more empathy for Muslims and Arabs in tech community
Sam Altman, CEO of Open AI, the company behind ChatGPT, has called for more empathy for Muslims and Arabs, especially Palestinians, in the tech community.
Colleagues he's spoken with "feel uncomfortable speaking about their recent experiences, often out of fear of retaliation and damaged career prospects," he said in a post on X yesterday.
Altman added: "Our industry should be united in our support of these colleagues; it is an atrocious time." He said he hopes for lasting peace, "and that in the meantime we can treat each other with empathy."
IDF says troops hit more than 100 Hamas targets from the ground, air and sea over last day
Israeli forces struck more than 100 targets in the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said today in a statement, as its operation in central and southern Gaza deepens.
It said its troops struck a number of rocket launch sites in Khan Younis and killed a number of operatives in the area.
In Bureij, Israeli ground troops were assisted by an IDF drone as it pursued an enemy squad, it said, adding, "the troops directed an IDF fighter jet that struck the compound where the terrorist cell fled to and killed them."
Iraq to form a bilateral committee to end U.S.-led coalition in the country
The Iraqi government is forming a bilateral committee to prepare for ending the mission of the U.S.-led international coalition in Iraq, a statement from Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s office said citing him today.
He made the comments one day after a U.S. strike killed a local militia leader in Baghdad, the latest escalation between the West and Iran-backed militant groups in the region.
Blinken to arrive in the Mideast amid tensions with Iran-backed groups
Secretary of State Blinken is set to begin his weeklong Middle East diplomacy tour today, beginning in Turkey, a day after a U.S. airstrike killed the leader of an Iran-backed militia in Baghdad.
Blinken is set to visit Israel and the occupied West Bank, as well as Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement yesterday.
As fears grow over the Israel-Hamas war triggering a wider regional conflict with the killing of a senior Hamas leader in Beirut earlier this week, Miller told reporters that Blinken aims to push Israeli officials on a plan for post-war Gaza.
"You will see us pushing additional steps on what Gaza should look like at the end of the conflict," Miller said. "Those are going to be some of the toughest conversations, of course, but we’re ready to go pursue them."
He also stressed the importance of deterring Houthi attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
The tour marks Blinken's fourth trip to the region since Oct 7.
‘Empathetic distress’: Exploring empathy’s limits in times of crisis
Adam Grant, a Wharton School professor, joined "Morning Joe" to discuss his new op-ed on the emotional impact of ongoing conflicts, like Israel’s war with Hamas.
“Empathy is in some ways a renewable resource, but it can be drained very quickly,” he said, explaining how continuous exposure to global crises can lead to “empathetic distress,” causing people to feel overwhelmed and helpless.
Grant differentiates between empathy and compassion, suggesting compassion as a healthier, more sustainable response.
Israeli defense minister outlines plans for war's next phase
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s office released a brief document detailing some of the framework envisioned for “phase 3” of the war, as well as what would happen in post-war Gaza.
According to the document, the third phase of war will focus on “the erosion of remaining terror hotspots in the area.” In north Gaza, that will include raids and special operations, while in the south the military will focus on eliminating Hamas’ leadership.
Gallant’s document reiterates comments from officials that Hamas “will not” be in control of the Palestinian enclave after the war and that Israel will “reserve its operational freedom of action.” It said that Israeli civilians will not be in Gaza and that Palestinian “bodies” will be in charge.
“The entity controlling the territory will build on the capabilities of the existing administrative mechanism (civil committees) in Gaza — local non-hostile actors,” the document said.
Restoration of the strip, the document said, would be led by the U.S. in a multinational task force. Israel sees Egypt as a “major actor” in the post-war plan.
Israeli army movements in Gaza
Israeli army humvees and vehicles move along a dirt road in the Gaza Strip near a position along the border with southern Israel.