Netanyahu defends Biden from claims of failing memory

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he finds President Joe Biden “very clear” in conversations, adding that he has spoken to him “over a dozen” times by telephone in recent weeks.

“Sometimes we had disagreements, but they weren’t born of a lack of understanding on his or on my part,” Netanyahu told ABC News in an interview, adding that Biden was “focused.”

“I haven’t seen any of that,” he said about the accusations that Biden has lapses in cogency and memory following a special counsel report describing the president as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”

‘Environmental catastrophe’ in Gaza City as millions of gallons of wastewater leaked

Gaza City’s underground reserves of water have been threatened by the leak of hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater into the city’s streets and sea, the city municipality said on X today.

“So far, more than 700 million liters (185 million gallons) of wastewater has leaked into the streets of Gaza City,” the city government said, describing the leak event as a “health and environmental catastrophe.”

“Leakage of large quantities of sewage causes serious diseases and epidemics, especially skin diseases and intestinal infections,” it added in a separate post on the platform.

Thousands of Gazans have resorted to consuming seawater and other accessible reserves as each family is limited to only 2 liters on average per day for washing, drinking and cleaning, according to the U.N. Consuming wastewater can lead to diseases such as hepatitis and liver infections, as well as diarrhea and vomiting, which could turn lethal given rapidly depleting health resources.

IDF says it found Hamas operatives inside Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis

The Israel Defense Forces said it apprehended Hamas operatives who were hiding inside Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis.

The military said in a statement that the Hamas members were among 20 people who were found there and detained.

“The detainees were transferred for further investigation by security forces in Israel,” the IDF said.

NBC News could not independently verify the IDF’s claims.

The IDF said that it conducted the operation in coordination with the hospital and that it “meticulously and selectively scanned the hospital without opening fire and without harming the patients or medical staff.”

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said Friday that Israeli forces entered Al-Amal Hospital after having targeted it and the organization’s headquarters in Khan Younis for several days, killing at least 43 people.

The dead included three aid workers identified as Naeem Hasan Al-Jabali, Khalid Kulab and Hidaya Hamad, according to the aid organization.

Major progress on deal to free remaining hostages from Gaza within reach, U.S. official says

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials believe major progress on a deal to free the remaining hostages in Gaza could come as early as this week, according to a senior administration official, who briefed reporters following Biden’s call with Netanyahu.

“It’s pretty much there,” the official said, while stressing that existing gaps remain significant and every detail in the deal must be finalized.

“Most of it is actually finished,” the person added, without predicting that it would definitely happen.

The official said Biden and Netanyahu spent two-thirds of their 45-minute call today discussing the hostage negotiations.

Biden also expressed, as indicated in the formal readout of the call, his concerns over a military operation in Rafah, given the high number of civilians who were directed there earlier in the war.

The two leaders had a “pretty detailed back and forth on that,” the official said, specifically referencing the density of the population in southern Gaza.

Hamas says Israel aims to force Palestinians from Gaza

Hamas said in a statement that Israel aims to exterminate Palestinians and force them to migrate from Gaza.

“The discovery of nearly 100 martyrs after the criminal Zionist occupation forces withdrew from the neighborhoods of Al-Rimal and Tal Al-Hawa in Gaza City, most of whom were martyred by the bullets of the occupation’s murderous Nazi snipers, indicates the criminal approach followed by this entity with the aim of extermination and forcing our people to forcibly migrate from their land,” the group said.

Hamas called on the International Court of Justice to document Israel’s actions and hold the country accountable for them.

‘I don’t know what he meant by that,’ Netanyahu says of Biden’s ‘over the top’ remark

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” today, Netanyahu was asked to respond to Biden’s sharp criticism of Israel’s planned ground assault on Rafah, which he slammed as being “over the top.”

Netanyahu praised Biden’s “support for Israel since the beginning of the war” but said he was unsure about the president’s latest rebuke of Israel’s military response in Gaza.

“I don’t know exactly what he meant by that,” Netanyahu said, before going on to stress that Israel experienced an “unprovoked, murderous” attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas.

He then argued that Israel is working to provide “safe corridors and safe zones” for civilians in Rafah before the country’s planned ground assault.

“I think we’ve responded in a way that goes after the terrorists and tries to minimize the civilian population, in which the terrorists embed themselves and use them as human shields,” he said. “We drop thousands of flyers, we phone Palestinians in their homes, we ask them to leave, we give them safe corridors and safe zones. So I think we’re doing the right thing.”

Netanyahu also came to Biden’s defense when asked about a recent special counsel report that scrutinized Biden’s age and mental fitness.

“I have had more than a dozen phone conversations, extended phone conversations with President Biden. He also came on a visit to Israel during wartime, which is an historic first, and I found him very clear and very focused,” he said. “We managed to agree on the war aims and many things. Sometimes we have disagreements, but they weren’t born of a lack of understanding on his part or on my part.”

U.S. teen killed by Israeli forces in West Bank, organization says

An American teenager was killed yesterday by Israeli forces in the West Bank, according to Defense for Children International Palestine, a children’s rights organization.

Mohammad Khdour, a 17-year-old Palestinian American, was in a car with a relative in an area west of Biddu when Israeli forces opened fire, striking him in the head twice, the organization said on X.

“Mohammad was a U.S. citizen and a senior in high school. Israeli forces shot and killed him in a wooded park where Palestinians pick mushrooms, sage, and other plants,” the organization wrote.

Seventeen Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied West Bank so far this year, including two U.S. citizens, the organization said. A total of 98 Palestinian children have been killed in the West Bank since Oct. 7.

“Decades of systemic impunity has created a situation where Israeli forces shoot to kill without limit,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director at Defense for Children International Palestine. “As Palestinian children are increasingly targets in the West Bank, Israeli forces’ rules of engagement seemingly allow direct targeting of Palestinian children where no threat exists to justify the use of intentional lethal force.”

Egypt warns of ‘grave consequences’ if Israel conducts military operation in Rafah

Egypt strongly rejected Israel’s plan to execute a military operation in Rafah, according to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid.

The country warned of the “grave consequences” of such a military operation “especially in light of the risks of worsening the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza,” it said in a statement on X.

Egypt said targeting Rafah and obstructing humanitarian aid to the area amounts to a policy of “displacing the Palestinian people and dissolving their cause.”

The country reiterated its call for a cease-fire in Gaza and asked that global and regional interests unite to prevent the targeting of Rafah, which is home to about 1.4 million who were displaced there because it was “the last safe area in the strip.”

Over 12,000 children killed in Gaza since Oct. 7, Palestinian officials say

A Palestinian man holds a child's body in a body bag in his arms as he mourns at Nasser Hospital.
A Palestinian man holds a child’s body in his arms as he mourns at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza, on Nov. 18, 2023.Mustafa Hassona / Anadolu via Getty Images

More than 12,000 children have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, according to its government media office.

Around 7,000 people are missing in Gaza, 70% of whom are children and women, the media office said.

More than 28,000 people have been killed and 67,700 have been injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Activist groups stage protests at museums and galleries in London, New York

Protesters in London announced they had occupied the central plaza of the British Museum today, in protest of the museum’s sponsorship by oil companies with alleged links to Israel.

Energy Embargo for Palestine posted photos on its social media accounts of protesters staging a sit-in at the museum’s iconic glass-roofed Great Court in London, carrying signs that called on the museum to drop British Petroleum as a sponsor. The company was awarded a natural gas exploration contract in Israel’s economic waters off the coast of Gaza last year.

The targeting of one of Britain’s most famous cultural institutions comes as protesters in New York staged actions at the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum yesterday, demanding a cease-fire.

MoMA temporarily closed its public galleries as 500 protesters filled its central atriums, displaying banners from the upper floors reading “Long Live Gaza” and “From the River to the Sea.”

Israel launches Super Bowl ad campaign

Israel has launched a combined advertising campaign in the U.S. timed to coincide with the Super Bowl, raising awareness of the hostages still in Hamas captivity.

Videos of the commercials shared on the Israeli government’s official public diplomacy YouTube account focus on the 136 hostages, making the point that they are unable to attend or watch the Super Bowl due to being held captive in the Gaza Strip. “In a roaring stadium, their silence is deafening,” reads the tagline on one, while another says, “136 seats are still available for Sunday’s game,” referring to the number of hostages believed to still be in captivity in Gaza.

The ads were made and funded by Israel’s government advertising agency and its public diplomacy directory.

In a separate social media campaign, also timed for the Super Bowl, and released by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, actor and comedian Michael Rapaport urges viewers to contact local representatives demanding the release of hostages.

Impact of war ‘devastating’ Gaza and West Bank economies, says IMF

The impact of war has been “devastating” for the Gaza and West Bank economies, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told the Arab Fiscal Forum in Dubai, adding that the conflict could have wider financial implications for the region.

“The Palestinian economy’s dire outlook is worsening as the conflict persists,” she said, adding that the only economic solution was “durable peace.”

Other Middle East economies were lagging below growth projections due to oil production cuts and the Israel-Gaza conflict, Georgieva said, though she added the world economy was resilient.

Economies neighboring Israel and the Palestinian territories were also seeing declines in tourist revenue, she said.

Tel Aviv Stock Exchange shares dip after Moody’s downgrades credit rating

Israeli shares dipped in morning trading today, following a downgrade to Israel’s credit rating by Moody’s last week.

The TA-125, an index of the most highly capitalized companies on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, and the TA-35, an index of large companies on the stock exchange, were both down by more than 1% in morning trading, though they recovered to a 0.35% fall and a 0.31% fall by the afternoon.

TA-Banks5, an index of Israel’s five largest banks, also fell by more than 1%.

Moody’s became the first major credit agency to downgrade Israel’s credit rating last week, citing material, political and financial risks to the country over its prolonged war with Hamas.

Hamas claims two more hostages killed in Israeli bombing

Two more hostages have died in the Gaza Strip, according to a statement from Hamas’ armed wing, which blamed their deaths on “continuous” Israeli bombing.

The statement from the Al-Qassam Brigades, released on Telegram, said that the hostages had died within the last four days and that eight other hostages were also “seriously injured.”

“Their conditions are becoming more dangerous in light of the inability to provide them with appropriate treatment,” the statement added.

Hamas did not release the names of the hostages it says had been killed. The IDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

At least 31 of the hostages held in Gaza have died since Oct. 7, according to Israeli government data.

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, Yousef Zeino and Ahmed al Madhoun, 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.”

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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