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Israel-Hamas war: Cease-fire could happen by next week, Biden says

Israeli officials told NBC News that civilians sheltering in Rafah would be allowed to flee to other areas of southern Gaza ahead of an IDF offensive.

What we know

  • President Joe Biden said yesterday that he hopes there will be a cease-fire by next week, saying talks are "close but not done yet," as negotiations between Israel and Hamas continue in Qatar. However, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel would continue to fight in Gaza until all hostages are released.
  • As Israel prepares for an assault on Gaza's southernmost city, Rafah, two Israeli officials told NBC News that civilians will be allowed to evacuate to other parts of the enclave but that they will not be able to return to their homes in the north. The city is home to 1.4 million Palestinians.
  • Strikes on Houthi rebel sites in Yemen targeted two underwater drones, an aerial drone and anti-ship missiles, U.S. Central Command said yesterday. It added that the Iran-backed rebel group was preparing to launch the weapons in the Red Sea, where it has been conducting strikes against commercial ships.
  • More than 29,780 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 70,000 have been injured, and thousands more are missing and presumed dead.
  • Israeli military officials said at least 237 soldiers have been killed since the ground invasion of Gaza began.

U.S. sanctions Iranian deputy commander, Houthi member and ships that transport Iranian oil

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. sanctioned a deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a Houthi militant member and firms registered in Hong Kong and the Marshall Islands, along with two ships, one of which transported $100 million in Iranian commodities to China.

Iranian official Mohammad Reza Falahzadeh and Houthi group member Ibrahim al-Nashiri were hit with sanctions.

Hong Kong-registered Kohana Co. Ltd. and Marshall Islands-registered Iridescent Co. Ltd. — which own the Panama-flagged Kohana — were also designated for sanctions. The U.S. says the Kohana has shipped more than $100 million in Iranian commodities to businesses in China on behalf of Iran’s Defense Ministry.

In addition, the U.S.-sanctioned Hong Kong-based Cap Tees Shipping Co. Ltd., which owns the Artura, which is accused of transporting Iranian commodities for the network of previously sanctioned Houthi and Iranian financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal. The Treasury Department says the Artura obfuscated its identity by using the name of a different vessel, Sanan II, to complete some of its shipments.

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

Biden and Harris meet with congressional leaders on national security funding

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urged congressional leaders to pass supplemental national security funding to supply both Ukraine and Israel, according to a White House readout.

Biden met with leaders from the Senate and the House to discuss the need to fund the government and avoid a shutdown. But he also addressed supplementing funding for wars in both the Middle East and Ukraine.

In addition to helping to bolster Israel's air defenses, Biden said, the national security budget "contains a significant portion having to do with humanitarian assistance into the Palestinian area, which I think is important."

Israeli forces stalled evacuation convoy and forced paramedics to strip, U.N. says


Yarden Segev

Reuters and Yarden Segev

Israel's military is being accused of stalling a medical evacuation convoy in Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis, detaining a paramedic and forcing others to remove their clothes.

The United Nations Humanitarian Office, or OCHA, said the incident occurred Sunday during the evacuation of 24 patients from Al-Amal Hospital, which aid agencies and Palestinian officials say has been under siege.

“Despite prior coordination for all staff members and vehicles with the Israeli side, the Israeli forces blocked the WHO-led [World Health Organization] convoy for many hours the moment it left the hospital,” Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for OCHA, told reporters in Geneva.

“The Israeli military forced patients and staff out of ambulances and stripped all paramedics of their clothes,” Laerke said. “Three Palestinian Red Crescent Society paramedics were subsequently detained, although their personal details had been shared with the Israeli forces in advance.”

Laerke added that one paramedic was later released, and he appealed for the release of the two others and all other detained health personnel.

In response, the IDF said it stopped three Red Crescent staff members as part of the convoy’s inspection because it had received information that Red Crescent staff members were involved in "terrorist activity."

"After a field questioning investigation, two of the people were arrested for further investigation," the IDF said. "The third staff member was released at that location."

The IDF statement also accused Hamas of "systematically" using ambulances to transport terrorists.

IDF chief says Hezbollah will pay 'big price' for joining the war

IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi said in a statement today that Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia in Lebanon, will pay a "very big price" for choosing to fire at Israel during its war with Hamas.

Halevi said that many residents who were displaced from Israeli border communities have returned due, in part, to the efforts of IDF troops. He also said it is “completely clear to us that we need to take the enemy.”

The IDF also released a statement saying it is "currently striking Hezbollah terror targets in Lebanon."

Tensions between Israel's military and Hezbollah appear to be escalating amid an exchange of fire across the Israel-Lebanon border. Yesterday, Israel hit the northern Lebanese city of Baalbek, the furthest target it has struck within Lebanon since Oct. 7.

Hezbollah launched a barrage of 35 rockets in retaliation today, claiming to have hit the headquarters of the IDF's 146th Battalion. Halevi conducted a tour with the battalion's commander today but did not mention a strike against the base.

84 UNRWA schools hit since the start of the war, agency says

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees said that at least 84 schools it operates have been hit or damaged since the war began.

As of Saturday, more than 1.7 million displaced people in Gaza were sheltering inside or in the vicinity of UNRWA facilities, according to the agency. At least 400 people have been killed while in or around a UNRWA facility and more than 1,300 have been injured, it said.

"No place is safe, including these @UN shelters," the agency wrote in a post on X. "A ceasefire is the only way forward."

2 infants died of malnutrition, Gaza's Health Ministry says

Gaza's Ministry of Health said that two infants in northern Gaza died due to malnutrition and dehydration.

The deaths were reported from Kamal Adwan Hospital, but no additional details were provided by the ministry.

NBC News has reached out to Israeli officials for a response but did not immediately hear back.

Northern areas of the Gaza Strip have not had consistent access to aid, and even in southern parts of the enclave, reports have indicated that civilians are struggling to find basic supplies.

Israel holds local elections under cloud of war


Israel held local elections under the shadow of war today, with tens of thousands of voters who have been evacuated from areas near Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon forced to wait until later in the year to cast a ballot.

While 242 municipalities will be voting, the decision to postpone the vote in 11 districts in exposed areas was a concrete example of the impact on Israel of one of the biggest security disasters in its 75-year history.

Life in big cities like Tel Aviv has returned to near-normal since the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, but the almost five-month-long war in Gaza and the near daily exchanges of rocket fire in the north have left many border areas almost deserted.

“Maybe it’s a smart decision to postpone the election for later, when people will be less scared to go back home,” said 24 year-old Yaara Maimon in Sderot, a southern town on the edge of Gaza where dozens of people were killed in the attack and where the local elections have been postponed until November.

“If you walk around the town you still see places that are broken and missile hits and stuff like that, so maybe people are scared to come back.”

In the north, where towns and kibbutzim along the border are also largely empty, the Israeli army said it hit Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon today, after around 35 rockets were launched from Lebanon towards the Mount Meron area.

Already the vote had been delayed past its originally scheduled date of Oct. 31 and then further delayed in January because of the fighting. But with the war set to enter its sixth month next week, the government decided to go ahead.

Strikes across Israel-Lebanon border have intensified, U.N. peacekeeping force says

There has been a "concerning shift" in strikes across the Israel-Lebanon border, the United Nations' Interim Force in Lebanon said in a statement today.

UNIFIL was put in place by the U.N. Security Council in 1978 to monitor the Blue Line, or the demarcation of Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. It has also been tasked with managing hostilities between the two countries since the 2006 war.

Now, UNIFIL said, months of strikes between Israel’s military and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia, have caused significant damage to infrastructure and displaced both Lebanese and Israeli civilians.

"It has jeopardized the livelihoods and changed the life of tens of thousands of civilians on both sides of the Blue Line," the statement said. "Yet we now see an expansion and intensification of strikes."

Recent exchanges of fire have caused civilian casualties and jeopardized the possibility of a "political solution," UNIFIL said. The peacekeeping force urged Hezbollah and Israel to de-escalate and work toward a diplomatic solution in order to restore stability to the region.

Palestinian Authority president accepts prime minister's resignation

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accepted the resignation of his prime minister and the members of his Cabinet yesterday, the Palestinian news agency, Wafaa, reported.

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh's government will serve as a caretaker administration until a new government can be formed. Abbas posted a photo of him with Shtayyeh on his Facebook page.

The move appears to be a step toward reforming the body, which many Palestinians have criticized for years as being inefficient and corrupt.

Israeli officials had been calling for changes in the Palestinian Authority's leadership. The U.S. has taken the position that the authority should step in as the sole Palestinian government in Gaza after the war.

Qatari officials 'pushing hard' for a cease-fire before Ramadan

Negotiators are still aiming to implement a cease-fire deal in the next two weeks, before the start of Ramadan, Majed Mohammed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for Qatar's Foreign Ministry, said today.

"Obviously I will have to start with the usual disclaimer that I cannot disclose any information about the ongoing negotiations going on right now," al-Ansari told reporters in a briefing. "What I can say is we are pushing hard for the proposals put forward and the agreement that took place in Paris to take place."

He added that details of any potential deal, including the numbers of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners who would be released, are still subject to discussion.

Pregnant woman and newborn among 24 evacuated from Gaza hospital, WHO chief says

World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 24 patients were transferred out of Al-Amal Hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis over the weekend.  

A "pregnant woman, one mother and a newborn,” were among the group, he wrote on X.

“Palestine Red Crescent paramedics were mistreated and humiliated while leaving Al Amal trying to reach the receiving hospital on their way back, despite the fact that missions only proceed with full coordination approval and safety assurances,” he said.

“Three paramedics were detained. One has since been released. We appeal for the immediate release of the other two and all other detained health workers,” he added.

Food insecurity and lack of clean water put Gazan moms and children at risk, World Food Program warns

The lives of children, pregnant women and young mothers are risk in Gaza because of food insecurity and a lack of clean water, the World Food Program warned today.

Palestinian singer hopes to represent Iceland at Eurovision

Andrew Jones

Among the acts vying to represent Iceland at the Eurovision Song Contest in May is an unlikely choice: a Palestinian singer who lives in Jerusalem.

Bashar Murad will be among five singers taking part in Saturday’s final of Söngvakeppnin, Iceland’s national selection show for the competition.

There have been calls for Israel to be disqualified from the contest amid its invasion of the Gaza Strip, but the European Broadcasting Union, which runs the contest, has said the country will not be kicked out.

The Icelandic Society of Authors and Composers has called for Iceland to boycott the contest if Israel is allowed to take part.

Meanwhile, Icelandic broadcaster RÚV has said it will hold off on deciding whether to take part in Eurovision until after a winner is announced and that it will listen to the views of the person or act that triumphs.

There is no requirement for performers at Eurovision to be from the country they compete for — Canadian Celine Dion won for Switzerland in 1988 and American rapper Flo Rida performed as part of the entry for San Marino in 2021. However, Söngvakeppnin entries must be sung in Icelandic in their initial semi-final performance.

France and Qatar donate ambulances to Gaza

Max Butterworth

Photos show ambulances being unloaded yesterday from an aircraft at Egypt’s El-Arish Airport, near the border with the Palestinian territory, as part of a joint French Qatari humanitarian aid package to Gaza.

Gaza Aid Ambulances
Karim Jaafar / AFP - Getty Images
Gaza Aid Ambulances
Karim Jaafar / AFP - Getty Images

Israel to resume tax revenue transfers to Palestinian Authority, Yellen says


Israel has agreed to resume transferring tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority to fund basic services and bolster the West Bank economy, and money has begun to flow, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said today.

“This must continue,” Yellen said in remarks prepared for a news conference, noting that Washington had been urging the Israeli government to release the so-called “clearance revenue” to the Palestinian Authority. She gave no further details.

Palestinian leaders say their ability to govern has been effectively blocked by Israeli restrictions, including withholding of tax revenues due under the Oslo Accords signed 30 years ago.

For months, the authority has been unable to pay full public sector salaries because of a row over the refusal by the Israeli Finance Ministry to release part of the funds.

Israel and Hezbollah trade fire across Lebanon's border

Peter Guo

The Israeli military said in a statement that it struck multiple targets in Lebanon today, including a military site.

Since October 8, following the Hamas attack on southern Israel and the start of Israel's relentles bombardment of the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah and its arch-foe neighbour have exchanged near-daily fire, but strikes have been largely contained to the border between the two countries -- although Israel has on occasion launched strikes elsewhere in Lebanon, including in Beirut
A house lies in ruins after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese village of Jibshit today.Mahmoud Zayyat / AFP - Getty Images

The attacks were a response to around 35 launches against a base in northern Israel, the statement said, adding that there were no injuries or damage.

Hezbollah said in a statement that it had launched “a large barrage of rockets” against the Israeli base.

Progress in negotiations over prisoner release demands, source tells NBC News

There has been progress, in the cease-fire negotiations in Qatar, but "there are still obstacles to be resolved,” a person familiar with the talks told NBC News today.

Crucial details, including the length of the cease-fire, still have to be agreed upon, the person said, adding that negotiators were racing to find an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins March 10.

U.S. officials have told NBC News that they hope even a temporary cease-fire would delay an Israeli offensive in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah. More than 1 million people are seeking shelter there, many of whom were displaced from other parts of the enclave.

Netanyahu said earlier this month that four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah and a ground offensive is necessary to remove them.

Hamas pours cold water on Biden cease-fire comments

Peter Guo

Larissa Gao and Peter Guo

A senior Hamas official this morning dismissed Biden’s suggestion that cease-fire talks may be close to a resolution.

Ahmed Abdel Hadi accused the U.S. of leaking proposals for a pause in the fighting with the aim of pressuring Hamas’ leadership to agree to a deal that does not permanently end the fighting or lead to the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

“So far, everything that is being proposed here and there does not meet these conditions,” he told Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen TV channel.

“Therefore, we are not concerned with dealing with everything that is presented because it does not meet what I mentioned,” he added.

Biden said last night that he thought a truce could be reached soon, along with a deal that could see some Israeli hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Risk of 'genocide' is increasing in northern Gaza, Oxfam says

The risk of genocide in northern Gaza is increasing amid fears of famine in the region, Oxfam warned in a statement yesterday.

Israel “is ignoring one of the key provisions of the International Court of Justice,” which is to provide “urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance,” said Sally Abi Khalil, Oxfam’s Middle East and North Africa director.

The two-month-long golden time of agriculture in the enclave has been “destroyed” under Israeli military operations, the statement said, and lifesaving aid has been restricted from entering the north.

Oxfam added that some 300,000 people in northern Gaza could see the worst outcomes.

Numerous humanitarian agencies, including the U.N., have warned of starvation in northern Gaza, urging Israel to stop blocking aid from entering the area. Israel has instead blamed the organizations for not distributing sufficient aid to civilians.

Scenes from war-torn Beit Lahia in northern Gaza

Max Butterworth

Images show Palestinian children waiting to receive food yesterday from an aid distribution team in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza. Nearby, civilians walked through the shattered streets in the border town, where months of Israeli bombardments have destroyed buildings.

Gaza Food Distribution
AFP via Getty Images
Israeli Strikes in Beit Lahia Gaza
AFP - Getty Images

State Department in touch with Americans detained by Israel, spokesperson says

Abigail Williams

Abigail Williams and Mirna Alsharif

The State Department is in touch with three Americans who were detained by Israel last month, spokesman Matthew Miller said yesterday.

Last week, embassy officials met with Samaher Esmail, a U.S. citizen being held in the occupied West Bank, over allegations of “incitement on social media.”

Officials also met today with Borak Alagha, 18, and Hashem Alagha, 20, two brothers born in the Chicago area, who were detained by Israeli forces.

Miller said he couldn’t provide any details about the individual cases. He added that the State Department was in the early stages of gathering information to determine whether they were wrongfully detained.

“I don’t have any assessment to offer about their case other than that is true for all Americans in Israel or anywhere around the world: Their safety and security is our first priority,” he said.

Catch up on NBC News’ latest coverage of the conflict

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