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Israel-Hamas war: Netanyahu approves plans for Rafah military operation

Hamas' latest cease-fire proposals were described as "unrealistic" by the Israeli prime minister's office.

What we know

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved plans for a ground offensive in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, his office said in a statement today. The Israeli military is "preparing for the operational side and for the evacuation of the population," it said. More than 1 million people are sheltering in the city, many of them displaced after escaping Israeli military offensives in other parts of the enclave.
  • The statement also discussed the latest cease-fire proposal put forward by Hamas, which it described as "unrealistic." An Israeli delegation will travel to Qatar to discuss their position. Hamas presented the proposal to mediators and the U.S., according to Reuters, which reported that it includes the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, including 100 who are serving life sentences.
  • A private aid ship that has been chugging slowly across the Mediterranean Sea arrived in Gaza today. The Open Arms vessel is towing a barge containing flour, rice and protein to the enclave, where five months of war have left around a quarter of its 2.3 million residents “one step away” from famine, according to the United Nations.
  • A suspected attack by Yemen's Houthi rebels struck a ship in the Red Sea, causing damage to the vessel, according to the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center. It said the ship reported being "struck by a missile" off the port city of Hodeida. The Iran-backed rebel group did not immediately acknowledge the attack, although it typically takes hours to acknowledge its assaults.
  • The Biden administration imposed sanctions on two Israeli outposts and three settlers it accused of undermining stability in the occupied West Bank yesterday, as it appealed to Israel to do more to prevent settler violence. Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel's ultranationalist national security minister, said it was "proof that the U.S. administration does not understand who is an enemy and who it loves."
  • The death toll in Gaza since Oct. 7 has surpassed 31,000, according to the enclave's Health Ministry, which says more than 73,000 have been injured. The Israeli military said at least 247 soldiers have been killed since the ground invasion of Gaza began.

Israel weighing the use of private security contractors to protect aid shipments to Gaza, officials say

Carol E. LeeCarol E. Lee is the Washington managing editor.

Israel is exploring using international private security contractors to protect humanitarian aid deliveries in Gaza, according to one former and two current U.S. officials. 

Israeli officials have broached the idea in recent weeks with senior officials from the Biden administration, which is shipping the components of a floating dock to Gaza so it can deliver aid by sea. Some U.S. officials are reluctant, however, to have American troops or security contractors on the ground in Gaza, the officials said, and are especially wary of having Americans provide armed security. 

The officials said the Israeli government has approached several security companies already, but declined to specify which ones. The Israelis also brought up having other countries pay the hefty costs of the contractors, the officials said. 

Read the full story here.

Palestinians walk through the destruction from the Israeli offensive
Palestinians walk through the destruction from the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024.Mahmoud Essa / AP

Palestinian President Abbas appoints new prime minister of Palestinian Authority

Reuters

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas named Mohammad Mustafa, an ally and leading business figure as prime minister with a mandate to help reform the Palestinian Authority (PA), the state-run WAFA news agency said Thursday.

Mustafa’s appointment comes after mounting pressure to overhaul and revitalize the governing body of the occupied Palestinian territories and improve its governance in the occupied West Bank where it is based.

As president, Abbas remains by far the most powerful figure in the Palestinian Authority, but the appointment of a new government was a demonstration of his willingness to meet international demands for change in the administration.

Mustafa, who helped organize the reconstruction of Gaza following a previous conflict, was assigned to lead the relief and rebuilding of the area, which has been shattered by more than five months of war, and reform Palestinian Authority institutions, WAFA added.

Mustafa replaces former Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh who, along with his government, resigned in February.

23 million tons of debris created by destruction in Gaza, UNRWA says

The destruction in Gaza has created 23 million tons of debris, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

It will take years to clear the rubble, which includes homes, schools and other infrastructure that has been damaged or destroyed, the organization said.

Tens of thousands gather for evening prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

JERUSALEM — Tens of thousands of worshippers gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound Friday night for evening and Taraweeh prayers.

At least 90,000 people made their way to the compound, according to the Jerusalem Governorate.

The plaza steps outside Damascus Gate were filled with people after evening and Taraweeh prayers Friday night.
The plaza steps outside Damascus Gate were filled with people after evening and Taraweeh prayers Friday night.Chantal Da Silva

Later in the evening, hundreds of people filled the plaza steps outside the Damascus Gate — something Palestinians have not been able to do throughout much of the war.

Despite the heaviness that has hung in the air this Ramadan, there was also a sense of jubilance here in East Jerusalem, as children ran through the streets and friends and families gathered to enjoy sweets and snacks just outside the Old City.

People buy snacks just outside the Damascus Gate on Friday night.
People buy snacks just outside the Damascus Gate on Friday night.Chantal Da Silva

Gaza hospital overwhelmed after another attack on aid truck crowds

NBC News

An NBC News camera crew was at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City as staff struggled to deal with the number of casualties from a deadly shooting attack on crowds waiting for an overnight aid delivery. Hamas and the Israeli military are blaming each other for the incident.

U.S. CENTCOM conducts 11th humanitarian airdrop into Gaza

Mosheh Gains

U.S. Central Command conducted its eleventh humanitarian airdrop into Gaza on Friday.

Over 35,000 meals and 31,800 bottles of water were dropped into northern Gaza in a U.S. Air Force and Army joint operation. The aid was delivered by a C-17 and C-130s, according to U.S. CENTCOM.

National security adviser stands by Biden’s praise for Schumer’s unprecedented criticism of Netanyahu

President Biden’s praise for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s controversial speech about the Israeli prime minister was deliberate, as his National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, told NBC News' Andrea Mitchell that he stands by them. Kirby also said the U.S. has not seen Israel’s plans for an invasion of Rafah.

Hamas presents cease-fire proposal detailing exchange of hostages, prisoners

Reuters

Hamas has presented a Gaza cease-fire proposal to mediators and the U.S. that includes the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners, 100 of whom are serving life sentences, according to a proposal seen by Reuters.

Hamas said the initial release of Israelis would include women, children, elderly and ill hostages in return for the release of 700-1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, according to the proposal. The release of Israeli “female recruits” is included.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Thursday a new Gaza truce proposal presented by Hamas to mediators was still based on “unrealistic demands."

His office said an update on the issue would be handed to the war cabinet and extended security cabinet on Friday.

Egypt and Qatar have been trying to narrow differences between Israel and Hamas over what a ceasefire should look like as a deepening humanitarian crisis has one quarter of the population in the battered Gaza Strip facing famine.

Acute malnutrition doubled in one month in northern Gaza, UNICEF says

Ian Sherwood

Mirna Alsharif and Ian Sherwood

Acute malnutrition has doubled in one month in northern Gaza, according to UNICEF.

Around 31% of children under 2 years old are now suffering from acute malnourishment in the north of the enclave, as opposed to 15.6% in January, the organization said. At least 23 children in the north have died of malnutrition as the impacts of war and restrictions on aid continue in Gaza.

UNICEF conducted nutrition screenings in February that determined 4.5% of children in shelters and health centers are suffering from "severe wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition," which can lead to death unless they receive treatment, which isn't readily available.

Nutrition screenings in Khan Younis in central Gaza determined that 28% of children under 2 years old are acutely malnourished, more than 10% of them having severe wasting, according to UNICEF. In Rafah, the amount of children under 2 suffering from acute malnutrition doubled from 5% in January to 10% at the end of February.

“The speed at which this catastrophic child malnutrition crisis in Gaza has unfolded is shocking, especially when desperately needed assistance has been at the ready just a few miles away,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF's executive director. “We have repeatedly attempted to deliver additional aid and we have repeatedly called for the access challenges we have faced for months to be addressed. Instead, the situation for children is getting worse by each passing day. Our efforts in providing life-saving aid are being hampered by unnecessary restrictions, and those are costing children their lives.”

U.N. organizations have warned of imminent famine in Gaza for months. In January, emergency thresholds for children with acute malnutrition were exceeded, per UNICEF. The organization has treated some children who have the condition and say more supplies to aid in their treatment will arrive this week, but it's still not enough.

“We are doing everything we can to avert a worsening of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but it is not enough,” Russell said. “An immediate humanitarian ceasefire continues to provide the only chance to save children’s lives and end their suffering. We also need multiple land border crossings that allow aid to be reliably delivered at scale, including to northern Gaza, along with the security assurances and unimpeded passage needed to distribute that aid, without delays or access impediments.”

VIDEO: José Andrés charity begins delivering aid to Gaza

Jay Marques

Jay Marques and Mirna Alsharif

World Central Kitchen has begun delivering 37 million meals to Gaza from the ship Open Arms, according to chef José Andrés, who founded the charity.

The aid is being delivered as work continues on a jetty along the coast.

So far, two crates of aid have been delivered to northern Gaza, according to Andrés.

The Israel Defense Forces said that Open Arms contains 115 tons of food and water, which have been transferred to 12 World Central Kitchen trucks and will be distributed around northern Gaza. The aid "underwent comprehensive security inspection," according to the IDF.

Almost 150 killed in past 24 hours, Gaza Health Ministry says

Almost 150 people have been killed in Gaza in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 31,490 since Oct. 7, the enclave's Health Ministry said in a Telegram post today.

The ministry said more than 73,000 people had been injured.

NBC News cannot independently verify those numbers. The United Nations and other aid agencies have estimated that many more are dead and remain buried under the rubble of the enclave's destroyed buildings.

White House has not seen Netanyahu's military plan for Rafah, Blinken and NSC spokesperson say

Abigail Williams

Monica Alba and Abigail Williams

The White House has not seen the plan for a military action in Rafah announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office today, Biden administration officials said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at a news conference in Vienna with the foreign minister of Austria, said today, "The answer is no, we have not seen it."

A National Security Council spokesperson told NBC News the council also has not seen the plan, and reiterated White House conditions that any military action in the city focuses on civilian safety.

"We have been clear about the need to prioritize civilian protection," the spokesperson said. "We have not seen a plan from Israel related to Rafah."

1 staffer killed, 22 injured after Israel hits food distribution center in Rafah, UNRWA says

At least one staff member was killed and 22 were injured after Israel hit a food distribution center in Rafah belonging to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the aid organization said.

The distribution center in eastern Rafah was hit despite its coordinates having been shared with Israel’s military, according to Director-General Philippe Lazzarini, who is calling for an independent investigation into the attack.

“Today’s attack on one of the very few remaining UNRWA distribution centres in the Gaza Strip comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine," Lazzarini said in a statement. "Every day, we share the coordinates of all our facilities across the Gaza Strip with parties to the conflict. The Israeli Army received the coordinates including of this facility yesterday."

Video of the distribution center shows blood on the floors and on aid items, which include diapers for babies.

"Look, what is this?" a UNRWA employee told NBC News as he pointed to the damage and blood. "We take this all to the elderly and children. What is this?"

"This is wrong."

The IDF did not immediately respond to an NBC News request for comment on the incident.

Aid ship is welcome, but maritime route ultimately a 'distraction,' International Rescue Committee says

JERUSALEM — The International Rescue Committee has welcomed the arrival of a ship hauling some 200 tons of much-needed aid off Gaza's coast, but it said the establishment of a maritime aid route is ultimately a "distraction."

"Any aid that can be provided is helpful and good given the overwhelming levels of need on the ground," Ciaran Donelly, IRC vice president of crisis response, said in a phone interview with NBC News today. "At the same time, the reality is that, you know, the most direct distance between two points is a straight line and there are cheaper and more effective and easier ways to get aid to Gaza than relying on planes and boats from airdrops and maritime routes."

Donelly noted that there are "roads and access routes that can bring in significantly more volumes of aid significantly cheaper and lend themselves to significantly more efficient and safer and more dignified distributions than relying on the maritime route."

"While I welcome any small amounts of aid that are able to be delivered via maritime routes and via airdrops," he said, "these shouldn't be a distraction and ... the U.S. and the U.K. and other governments that have leverage over Israel should be using every possible ounce of diplomatic and political leverage to bring about conditions under which aid can be scaled up at a much more significant material and cost-effective and dignified way."

‘Zone of Interest’ producer refutes Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars speech: ‘Fundamentally disagree’

Variety

“The Zone of Interest” executive producer Danny Cohen has become the first member of the film’s production team to publicly address director Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars speech, saying “I just fundamentally disagree with Jonathan.”

While accepting the Academy Award on Sunday evening for best international film, Glazer delivered a set of pre-written remarks in which he compared his Holocaust film to the current conflict in Gaza. He was accompanied on stage by producer James Wilson and executive producer Len Blavatnik.

Speaking on the Unholy podcast, Cohen, president of Access Entertainment and former director of BBC television, said: “It’s really important to recognize it’s upset a lot of people and a lot of people feel upset and angry about it. And I understand that anger frankly.”

Read the full story here.

James Wilson,Leonard Blavatnik,Jonathan Glazer
James Wilson, Leonard Blavatnik and Jonathan Glazer accept the award for "The Zone of Interest" for best international feature film during the Oscars on March 10 in Los Angeles.Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP

Hamas cease-fire plans 'unrealistic,' Netanyahu's office says

Hamas' latest proposals for a cease-fire deal "are still unrealistic," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement today.

But it said an Israeli delegation would leave for Qatar after the country's security Cabinet had discussed the country's position.

Netanyahu's office says he has approved plans for military operation in Rafah

Netanyahu has approved plans for a military operation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, his office said in a statement today.

The Israel Defense Forces are "preparing for the operational side and for the evacuation of the population," the statement said.

More than 1 million people are estimated to be sheltering in the city, most of them displaced after escaping IDF hostilities in other parts of the enclave.

American recovering after missile strike on her Gaza apartment

NBC News

American Deborah (Huda) Droll has been living in the Gaza Strip for more than a decade. Her home was destroyed in an airstrike.

As she spoke with an NBC News crew from her hospital bed, she wondered why Israel had targeted a building that housed an American.

Worshippers make their way through Jerusalem's Old City

Raf Sanchez

Shira Pinson

Raf Sanchez and Shira Pinson

JERUSALEM — Noon prayers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque have now ended on this first Friday of Ramadan.

Worshippers are streaming out of the mosque through the winding streets of the Old City.

Al Aqsa Jerusalem
Palestinian males ages 10 to 55 were barred by Israel’s government from attending Al-Aqsa.Shira Pinson / NBC News

Palestinian males ages 10 to 55 were barred by Israel’s government from traveling to the site, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam and the spot, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is also the holiest site in Judaism.

Al Aqsa Jerusalem
An Israeli soldier watches as Muslim worshippers gather outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque.Shira Pinson / NBC News

There is a heavy Israeli security presence in the Old City but, so far at least, few signs of serious incidents.

Australia resumes UNRWA funding

Andee Capellan

Australia will lift its suspension on funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the country's foreign minister said in a statement today.

“Only UNRWA has the infrastructure to receive and distribute aid on the scale needed right now in Gaza,” Penny Wong said. The 6 million Australian dollars ($3.9 million) of pause funding will be disbursed immediately, she added.

The decision comes two months after Australia and several other nations including the U.S. paused funding for the agency after Israel alleged that that some of its employees took part in Hamas Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

Australia has worked with a group of donors and UNRWA to ensure the integrity of its operations and has added new safeguards to guarantee the protection of the money, Wong said.

Charity says it's 'loading another boat' with food for Gaza

The World Central Kitchen charity, which arranged for the first nautical delivery of aid to Gaza, is "loading another boat with hundreds of tons of food," for the enclave, it said today on X.

In a separate statement shared with NBC News, the charity said the vessel was being loaded with 300 tons of canned goods and bulk product, including beans, carrots, canned tuna, canned corn, chickpeas, parboiled rice, flour, oil and salt.

It said a crane was also loaded to assist with future maritime deliveries to Gaza.

First Friday prayer of Ramadan

JERUSALEM — Thousands of worshippers arrived at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the first Friday prayer of Ramadan today.

Ramadan Prayers Jerusalem
A woman prays in front of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem today.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images

Worshippers could be seen entering through the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City into the compound as Israeli authorities watched.

The Israeli police said officers were deployed “throughout Jerusalem” for the first Friday of Ramadan to “continue maintaining public order and security for everyone.”

Wounded children treated in hospital after deadly Israeli strike in Rafah

Amid the concrete rubble and bent steel reinforcements of buildings in Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, an NBC News crew filmed the desperate hunt for survivors after an Israeli strike.

Later, the crew followed bloodied children who were injured in what officials in the enclave said was a strike on a family home.

Egypt is striving to secure a cease-fire in Gaza, president says

Reuters

Egypt is seeking to reach a deal for a cease-fire in Gaza, increase entry of aid and to allow displaced people in the south of the enclave to move to the north, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said today.

El-Sissi also warned against the danger of an Israeli incursion into Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, where an estimated 1.5 million people have sought shelter next to the enclave's border with Egypt.

“We are talking about reaching a cease-fire in Gaza, meaning a truce, providing the biggest quantity of aid,” he said in a message recorded during a visit to the police academy.

This would include “curbing the impact of this famine on people, and also allowing for the people in the center and the south to move towards the north, with a very strong warning against incursion into Rafah,” he said.

Aid ship arrives off the coast of Gaza, organizers say

Gabe Joselow

Gabe Joselow and Chantal Da Silva

JERUSALEM — The Open Arms, a private aid ship, arrived off the coast of Gaza today carrying the first nautical aid delivery for starving Palestinians.

World Central Kitchen, the charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, that played a central role in organizing the delivery, said efforts were underway to move toward a jetty that has been specially constructed to bring the food to land.

The ship set sail Tuesday from Cyprus to inaugurate a sea route to get desperately needed aid into the war-wracked enclave, which is suffering a humanitarian crisis five months into the Israel-Hamas war.
The Open Arms ship off the coast of Gaza today. Abdel Kareem Hana / AP

The Open Arms, named after the Spanish charity transporting the supplies, departed the Larnaca port in Cyprus on Tuesday, towing a barge containing flour, rice and protein.

The United Nations has warned that at least a quarter of Gaza’s population is “one step away” from famine and the enclave's health ministry has reported more than two dozen deaths caused by malnutrition and dehydration.

Airstrikes leave a scarred landscape in Khan Younis

Max Butterworth

Buildings leveled by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza's southern city of Khan Younis, yesterday.

Aftermath of Israeli Airstrike In Gaza
Majdi Fathi / Reuters

Catch up with our latest coverage of the war

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