Teen says she feared Rafah strikes were start of Israeli ground offensive

TEL AVIV — As Israeli bombs rained down on Rafah early Monday, 17-year-old Rahaf Qudeh said she thought Israel had launched a ground operation on Gaza’s southernmost city where more than half and the enclave’s population have taken refuge.

Qudeh, a social media influencer with more than 2.8 million subscribers on YouTube, told NBC News in a phone interview yesterday that she was woken by the sound of nearby blasts.

Rahaf Qudeh pictured in Gaza in March 2023.
Rahaf Qudeh pictured in Gaza in March 2023.Supplied by Rahaf Qudeh

“I told my mom, ‘It’s the tanks. They started the ground operation.’ I was crying. We were screaming,” she said, adding that they “were saying prayers every second so that if we died, you know, we can go to God. To paradise, directly.”

Qudeh said it felt as if the strikes lasted for an hour. In a video she took in the dark of the night, the sound of a helicopter can be heard before a blast rings out.

A screenshot of video’s metadata appears to show it was taken at 1:58 a.m. local time (6:58 p.m. ET Sunday). That was around eight minutes after the time the Israel Defense Forces said aerial fire had been launched.

IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said yesterday that the strikes were carried out as part of the effort to rescue two men held hostage in Rafah, Fernando Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70.

Palestinian health authorities said at least 67 people were killed.

An NBC News crew on the ground witnessed some of the victims, including children, being brought to the Kuwait Hospital in Rafah.

Before the war, Qudeh said she enjoyed posting videos on YouTube about her everyday life. In one of her videos published in August, she took her viewers shopping for school supplies with her. In another, she showed fans her routine during the summer holidays, including working out, enjoying a meal and going shopping for new clothes and homeware.

After she fled her home in Gaza City in northern Gaza with her family, she has posted videos showing the reality of life on the ground the Strip.

Kremlin hopeful that Palestinian leader will visit Russia

The Kremlin is hopeful that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Russia, state news agency RIA Novosti reported today, quoting Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

“Abbas has an open invitation. We hope that the visit will take place at a time convenient for both sides,” Paskov was quoted as saying. 

RIA also reported Abbas had planned to come to Russia in November but the trip was postponed.

Gaza death toll rises to 28,473, Health Ministry says

The death toll in Gaza since Oct. 7 has risen to at least 28,473, Gaza’s Health Ministry said today in a statement. More than 130 people were killed in the last 24 hours, it added.

Another 68,146 people have been injured in the Israeli military campaign since Hamas launched multipronged attacks on Israel.

However, it is estimated that many more victims are buried under the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israel’s bombardment in cities across the enclave.

U.S. makes new push for Israel-Hamas hostage and cease-fire deal

JERUSALEM — There is growing fear in the southern Gaza city of Rafah that an Israeli military assault could come before a new cease-fire deal is reached with Hamas. But the IDF has told NBC News that it has not yet presented a plan to evacuate the overcrowded city, while the United States is pushing for an agreement that would lead to a weekslong pause in the fighting.

China urges Israel to stop military operations ‘as soon as possible’

HONG KONG — Israel should stop its military operations in the Gaza Strip “as soon as possible,” a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement today.

They added that Beijing was “closely watching the developments” in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah where Israel has ramped up its military operation in recent days and more than 1 million Palestinians have sought shelter, ahead of a proposed ground invasion.

Israel must “do everything possible to avoid casualties among innocent civilians,” the spokesperson said, adding that it should “prevent a more devastating humanitarian disaster in Rafah.”

Talks between Israel and Hamas are making progress, officials say

Israel and Hamas are making progress toward a deal that aims to bring about a cease-fire and free hostages held in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the talks, as key meetings continue today between the sides in the Egyptian capital.

Talks are moving forward even after Israel intensified its offensive in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled to seek shelter from fighting elsewhere. A brazen Israeli hostage rescue mission freed two captives held in the town along the Egyptian border, a raid that killed at least 74 people, according to local health officials, and left a trail of destruction.

A deal would give people in Gaza a desperately needed respite from the war, now in its fifth month, and offer freedom for at least some of the 100 people still held captive in Gaza. With the war grinding on, efforts mediated by Qatar, the U.S. and Egypt to bring about a deal have been hobbled by the starkly disparate positions of Hamas and Israel.

A senior Egyptian official said mediators had achieved what he described as “relatively significant” progress in the negotiations between Israel and Hamas ahead of today’s meeting in Cairo.

Displaced Gazan families find shelter in a destroyed school

Surrounded by rubble and the burned-out shells of cars, displaced families are sheltering in a school in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza.

Many of the walls are blown out in the building, which lacks essential services.

Senate passes aid package for Ukraine and Israel, but its future is uncertain in the House

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats and Republicans joined together this morning to pass a $95 billion national security package that includes critical aid for three key U.S. allies — Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The vote was 70-29.

It is a significant step forward after months of delays centered on whether tough border security measures would be part of the package. Although Republicans demanded that any bill to authorize aid to Ukraine also address the crisis at the border, they ultimately killed a bipartisan package that married those issues.

The emergency aid bill now faces an uncertain fate in the GOP-controlled House, where conservatives are pressuring Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to block funds for war-torn Ukraine until America’s southern border is secure. Hours before the vote, Johnson made it clear he would not bring the Senate security package to the House floor.

Read the full story here.

U.S. calls on Israel to investigate ‘heartbreaking’ killing of Hind Rajab

TEL AVIV — The Biden administration has urged Israel to investigate the killing of 6-year-old Hind Rajab, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said yesterday.

“We are devastated about the reports of the death of Hind Rajab,” he said during a news briefing after being asked to comment on Hind’s death. “I will tell you that I have a little girl that’s about to turn 6 myself, and so it is just a devastating account, a heartbreaking account for this child.”

Hind was found dead in Gaza City on Saturday, almost two weeks after she pleaded with an emergency dispatcher for help on an hourslong call that was later released by health officials in the enclave.

The bodies of her aunt, uncle and four cousins were discovered by first responders and members of her family Saturday after they were allowed to search the area where they were last heard from.

The bodies of two first responders, Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun, who were deployed to save Hind were found nearby.

Miller said the Biden administration had asked Israel to investigate the incident “on an urgent basis,” adding that the U.S. expects to “see those results on a timely fashion, and they should include accountability measures as appropriate.”

Australia to ban doxxing after pro-Palestinian activists publish information about hundreds of Jewish people

The Australian government said today that it will outlaw doxxing — the malicious release online of personal or identifying information without the subject’s permission — after pro-Palestinian activists published personal details of hundreds of Jewish people in Australia.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the proposed laws, which have yet to be drafted, would involve issuing takedown notices to social media platforms and imposing fines for the intimidation tactic.

The government was responding to Nine Entertainment news reports last week that pro-Palestinian activists had published the names, images, professions and social media accounts of Jewish people working in academia and the creative industries.

Pro-Palestinian activists distributed an almost-900 page transcript that leaked from a private WhatsApp formed last year by Jewish writers, artists, musicians and academics, Nine newspapers reported last week. The transcript was accompanied by a spreadsheet that contained the names and other personal details of almost 600 people, purportedly the group’s membership.

Biden welcomes Jordan’s king to Washington

President Joe Biden shakes hands with Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House last night.

Image: President Biden Welcomes Jordan's King Abdullah To The White House
Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

Ship hit by Houthis was headed to Iran, CENTCOM says

A Greek-owned ship that was hit early yesterday by Yemen’s Houthi rebels was headed to Iran, U.S. Central Command said last night in a statement.

The Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel was transiting through the Red Sea and was carrying corn from Brazil, the statement said.

It added that the Iran-backed militant group had fired two missiles from Yemen but the ship reported only minor damage and the crew was not hurt.

Israeli spy chief to attend Cairo hostage talks, source says

TEL AVIV — David Barnea, director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, will attend hostage negotiation talks in Cairo today along with CIA Director Bill Burns and other Middle Eastern officials, an Israeli official told NBC News.

It had previously been unclear whether Israel would send a high-level delegation to the talks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week rejected a Hamas counterproposal that called for an end to the war as “delusional.”

“We’re going to Cairo to see if there’s a chance to get a deal but I can’t tell you anyone on the Israeli side is optimistic,” the official said. 

The last high-level talks took place in late January in Paris. The CIA director and officials from Qatar, Israel and Egypt were present but no representatives from Hamas were at the table. That meeting led to a framework agreement that proposed a temporary pause in the fighting in return for the release of some hostages.

Hamas responded to that framework last week during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the Middle East. In its response, the militant group called for an end to the war and the withdrawal of all Israeli troops from Gaza. 

“We thought there was a formula, not a binding agreement, but a formula that was agreed in Paris,” the Israeli official said. “Then what Hamas sent back was just a revision of some hard-line positions and totally divorced from what was negotiated in Paris.”

ICC prosecutor ‘deeply concerned’ by situation in Gaza’s Rafah

THE HAGUE — International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan said he was deeply concerned about reports of bombardment and a potential ground incursion by Israeli forces in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Khan posted on X after airstrikes in the city that is the last refuge of about a million displaced civilians.

He said that the court was “actively investigating any crimes allegedly committed” in Gaza and that “those who are in breach of the law will be held accountable.”

He later told Reuters that half of the population of Gaza is concentrated around Rafah, “reportedly six times its normal concentration.”

“When you have a population that is 60% children and women by all accounts, the risks to civilians are profound,” he said.

“This situation is one that I give the utmost priority to. It’s an issue that we’re moving forward on.”

Israel is not a member of the Hague-based court and does not recognize its jurisdiction. But Khan said in October that his court had jurisdiction over any potential war crimes carried out by Hamas militants in Israel and by Israelis in the Gaza Strip.

IDF troops during operations in Gaza

An image released by the Israeli army today shows troops during ground operations at an undisclosed location in Gaza.

Israeli Army Gaza
Israeli Army / AFP – Getty Images

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