Netanyahu vows ‘safe passage’ for Rafah civilians; CIA chief to join new hostage talks in Egypt

February 11, 2024

U.S. military conducts more ‘self-defense’ strikes in Yemen

U.S. forces conducted strikes against two unmanned surface vessels and three mobile anti-ship cruise missiles north of Al Hudaydah, a principle port city in Yemen, Central Command said in a statement today.

The vessels and missiles “presented an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region” and the strikes on Houthi-controlled areas yesterday were conducted in “self-defense,” the statement said.

The U.S. has conducted several strikes on Yemeni territory over the last two months, as well as leading an international naval coalition in a bid to counter the threat posed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

Hamas says Rafah ground assault would ‘blow up’ hostage talks; Qatar condemns potential attack

Qatar, a Gulf state that has been key in facilitating hostage and cease-fire negotiations with Hamas, has condemned Israeli threats to escalate military action in Rafah, joining leaders across the globe in warning of a potential humanitarian catastrophe.

In a statement on X, the Qatari foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest terms” threats to “storm” the city of Rafah, calling on the U.N. Security Council to “take urgent action” to prevent Israel “committing genocide in the city, and to provide full protection of civilians under international law.”

Qatar, which has no formal relationship with Israel, has hosted both Israeli and Hamas officials for talks in Doha, acting as a crucial mediator between the two sides.

Hamas leadership this morning told Al-Aqsa TV, its official media channel, that any Israeli escalation in Rafah would amount to “blowing up the prisoner exchange negotiations,” warning of tens of thousands of civilian casualties.

Fear spreads in Rafah after Israel readies ground invasion

TEL AVIV — A refuge waits for war.

Israel has said it is preparing to turn its guns on Rafah, a city in the southern Gaza Strip where many had been told to flee for safety.

“You said this would be a safe place. How many times are you going to lie to us saying this place is safe and then turning back and bombing us,” one resident of the overcrowded city told NBC News.

Iran marks Islamic Revolution with calls to expel Israel from the U.N.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi marked the 45th anniversary of the country’s Islamic Revolution at a rally in Tehran today, telling crowds in the capital’s central Azadi Square that the issue of Palestinian liberation was “humanity’s top priority.”

Images released by state news agency Tasnim showed demonstrators carrying signs reading “down with USA” as Raisi accused Iran’s “enemies” of waging “military, economic, media, and psychological wars” and accusing Israel and the U.S. of committing “dire war crimes” and “infanticide” in Gaza, according to state media.

“Our proposal is the expulsion of the Zionist regime from the United Nations,” he said, adding that Israel had breached over 400 U.N. resolutions and measures.

A soldier landing with a parachute deploys an Iranian national flag as people gather in Tehran this morning. AFP – Getty Images

WHO denied humanitarian access to Nasser Hospital, chief says

The World Health Organization was denied a request to conduct a “humanitarian mission” at Gaza’s Nasser Hospital, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today.

“We’re deeply concerned about the safety of patients and health personnel due to the intensifying hostilities in the vicinity of the hospital,” Tedros said on X, adding that the facility was now “minimally functional.”

Tedros did not specify who had denied the WHO’s request.

Nasser Medical Complex is the main hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. In January, health care workers warned that fighting had come within yards of the hospital, and that it would soon shut down due to shelling, sniper attacks, evacuation orders and rapidly depleting resources.

Israel says it found Hamas tunnels under UNRWA’s Gaza HQ; aid agency denies any knowledge

The Israeli military has unveiled what it said was a 765-yard tunnel used by Hamas militants beneath the main headquarters of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza City.

A tunnel shaft near a UNRWA school “led to an underground terror tunnel that served as a significant asset of Hamas’ military intelligence,” which “passed under the building that serves as UNRWA’s main headquarters in the Gaza Strip” and used electrical infrastructure that connected it with UNRWA’s offices, according to a joint announcement by the IDF and Shin Bet yesterday.

NBC News was not able to independently verify these claims.

This picture taken during a media tour organized by the Israeli military shows Israeli soldiers inside a tunnel that the army claimed is a “Hamas command tunnel” under a compound of the UNRWA in Gaza City.JACK GUEZ / AFP – Getty Images

Responding to the accusations, UNRWA Secretary-General Philippe Lazzarini said on X that the agency “did not know what is under its headquarters in Gaza,” and that the organization does not have “the military and security expertise nor the capacity to undertake military inspections of what is or might be under its premises.” A UNRWA-led inspection of its own headquarters last took place in September, he added.

The Israeli military has not informed UNRWA officially about “the alleged tunnel” he said, adding that UNRWA was only made aware of the findings through media reports.

World leaders warn about ‘catastrophe’ in Rafah if ground invasion proceeds

Several world leaders have this weekend expressed doubt over Israeli promises to evacuate Rafah ahead of a potential ground invasion and voiced concern over the consequences of such an action.

More than 1.4 million people have been displaced to Rafah, according to the U.N., and are living in makeshift refugee camps, inside schools and hospitals, and out in the open.

Amid refusals by the Israeli military to let those displaced to the south return to their homes in the north, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on X that “people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air” and that an Israeli offensive was a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making.”

An invasion of the city would have “untold regional consequences,” added U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said a ground assault would create an “unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe,” while the U.K.’s Foreign Minister David Cameron added that he was “deeply concerned.”

Rafah assault central to growing U.S.-Israel disagreement, Biden admin official tells NBC News

There is a growing divide between the U.S. and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the most immediate disagreement over Israel’s plans for a ground invasion of Rafah, a senior Biden administration official has told NBC News.

Netanyahu has said his forces will launch a ground assault on Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, where more than a million displaced Palestinians have been sheltering in makeshift tents. But in recent days he has suggested he will allow civilians to flee first, though it is unclear how they will do so or where they would go.

The U.S. believes Israel is not yet ready for a ground offensive that would spare the civilian population.

‘They killed her twice,’ grieving mother of Hind Rajab tells NBC News in Gaza

TEL AVIV — The mother of Hind Rajab, the little girl who was found killed in Gaza City yesterday nearly two weeks after she was last heard pleading with emergency dispatchers to rescue her from a car trapped by Israeli fire, has described her devastation in an interview with NBC News.

“This is the most difficult feeling, to lose your daughter,” Wissam Hamadah told NBC News’ crew on the ground in Gaza yesterday. “I feel bad for not being able to save Hind. This occupation did not have mercy on her.”

Hamadah said she had held onto hope that her daughter would be found alive — but after Hind’s remains were recovered yesterday it felt like “they killed her twice,” she said. “And killed the paramedics that were trying to save her.”

Holding up some of Hind’s belongings, Hamadah said her daughter’s only weapons were “a notebook and a pencil,” along with a paper crown she wore the day before the bombing. “They killed her because she writes, because she is smart. A notebook, pencil and crown.”

Hamas condemned the incident as a “horrific crime.” The IDF has not responded to a request from NBC News for comment.

Hind was fleeing heavy fighting in Gaza City in a vehicle with her aunt, uncle and four cousins, when a bombing was believed to have killed some of her family members. Her 15-year-old cousin, Layan, called first responders for help, telling an operator that an Israeli tank appeared to be closing in before a burst of gunfire rang out and the line went dead.

When dispatchers called back, it was Hind who answered, saying Layan had been killed, along with the rest of her relatives, as she pleaded for help.

Palestinian girl Hind who remains trapped amid desperate efforts to recover her safely in Gaza
“Come take me. Please, will you come?” Hind had said on an emergency call with a dispatcher at the Palestine Red Crescent Society.via PRCS

Two first responders were dispatched to the scene, but their remains were also found yesterday in a heavily damaged ambulance just meters away from the car where Hind’s body was found. The vehicle was also badly damaged, with its exterior riddled with bullet holes.

Netanyahu: Telling Israel not to assault Rafah is ‘basically saying lose the war’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the Israeli military will proceed with a ground invasion of Rafah, despite drastic warnings from allies and international aid organizations.

“We’re going to do it, we’re going to get the remaining Hamas terrorist battalions in Rafah, which is the last bastion, but we’re going to do it,” he told ABC News in an interview set to air later this morning.

Responding to the mounting global alarm for the more than 1 million Palestinians sheltering in the southern Gaza city, Netanyahu dismissed the idea that Israel would not launch a ground assault. “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war. Keep Hamas there,” he said.

Asked about U.S. warnings that entering without a plan to avoid civilian harm risked “disaster,” Netanyahu said that on this “I agree with the Americans.”

“We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” he said, though he did not explain how this might be achieved beyond saying that his military was “working out a detailed plan.”

Children wait for food in Rafah

Food aid to families displaced to Southern Gaza amid Israeli attacks
Belal Khaled / Anadolu via Getty Images
Food aid to families displaced to Southern Gaza amid Israeli attacks
Belal Khaled / Anadolu via Getty Images

Children, holding empty pots, wait in line to receive food prepared by volunteers for Palestinian families in Rafah yesterday.

CIA chief to travel to Egypt for hostage talks

CIA Director Bill Burns is going to Egypt on Tuesday to continue hostage negotiations, a senior administration official confirmed to NBC News.

The trip was first reported by Axios.

Burns has been negotiating with officials from Egypt and Qatar, who are representing Hamas, as well as with Israeli intelligence officials from Mossad, Shin Bet and the IDF on behalf of Israel’s government.

The U.S. official said Burns will be working on the next steps for achieving the release of the estimated 136 hostages still being held in Gaza.

Separately, other Arab leaders have told the U.S. and Israel time is running out to reach an agreement if they want to free the remaining hostages while they are still alive.

Last week, Hamas delivered a counteroffer to the original proposal that Burns and other negotiators had agreed upon in Paris last month.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a news conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday that while some of the elements of the Hamas counteroffer were “nonstarters,” the Hamas response also contained elements that the U.S. could work with.

Other U.S. officials, and Qatari diplomats, described the Hamas response as “positive.” But shortly after Blinken spoke to reporters, Netanyahu held his own news conference and denounced the Hamas proposal as “delusional.”

The Israeli leader also repeated his pledge to keep fighting until Hamas is defeated, a goal U.S. officials do not believe is achievable without risking the lives of the hostages and killing a high number of Palestinian civilians. 

On Thursday night, President Joe Biden publicly criticized Israel’s rejection of the proposal as “over the top.”

Crowds and destruction in Rafah

People gather around the carcass of a Palestinian police vehicle that was destroyed yesterday as Israel steps up its bombardment of Rafah.

SAID KHATIB / AFP – Getty Images
SAID KHATIB / AFP – Getty Images

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