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April 24, 2024

Hamas proposes three-stage truce in Gaza war as Blinken talks with Israeli leaders

Hamas proposes three-stage truce in Gaza war as Blinken talks with Israeli leaders

A drone strike in eastern Baghdad targeted the leadership of the Iranian-backed militia Kata’ib Hezbollah and reportedly killed Abo Baqir Al-Saadi, described by U.S. Central Command as being directly responsible for attacks on U.S. forces in the region.

White House officials to visit Michigan to meet with Muslim and Arab American community leaders

Monica Alba

Senior Biden administration aides will travel to Michigan tomorrow to hear directly from Muslim and Arab American community leaders on their top issues and concerns, including, most notably, the Israel-Hamas war and civilian casualties in Gaza.

The White House teased the upcoming visit to Michigan when President Joe Biden traveled to Detroit last week for a labor-focused event with the United Auto Workers union.

The meeting with Muslim and Arab American community leaders in Detroit is a White House-driven event. Biden campaign officials are not planning to participate at this time.

Read the full story here.

US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC, on Jan. 30, 2024.Ting Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Stabbing of Palestinian American man in Texas was motivated by bias, police say

Arleen Aguasvivas

A Palestinian American man was stabbed in the back in Austin, Texas, after he attended a protest in support of Gaza in what police are calling a “bias-motivated incident.”

Zacharia Doar, 23, was sitting in the passenger seat of his friend’s car Sunday when a man opened his door and dragged him to the ground, his father, Nizar Doar, said today.

Zacharia Doar, 23.via KXAN

In the scuffle, the victim saw the man charging his friend with a knife. When he went to protect his friend, he was stabbed in the upper left side of his back, a few inches from his heart, his father said, adding that the knife broke his son’s rib.

“He is really, really in a lot of agony and a lot of pain at this moment,” the elder Doar said. “It’s sad to be here. Seeing my son suffering is sad to see.”

The attack happened around 7 p.m., police said, hours after the protest had ended and after the victim had gotten food with his friends.

Nizar Doar said he believes his son was targeted because the car had a distinctly patterned Palestinian kaffiyeh, or scarf, tied to a door handle.

Read the full story here.

Blinken says Israel has ‘obligation’ to put civilians first as military expands into Rafah

The daily toll on Palestinians in Gaza as a result of Israel’s military campaign in the strip remains “too high” as the war continues into its fifth month, Blinken told reporters today after his meeting with Israeli government officials.

Blinken spoke as fighting bleeds into the southern city of Rafah, which has become highly populated since the war began. He said at his briefing that Israel has both the obligation and the responsibility “to do everything possible to ensure that civilians are protected.”

“And that’s especially true in the case of Rafah, where there are somewhere between 1.2 and 1.4 million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Gaza,” Blinken said.

Blinken says Hamas’ counterproposal has ‘absolute nonstarters’

Hamas’ response to a potential hostage deal had what Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as “absolute nonstarters,” but he still expressed some optimism about forward movement.

“But at the same time, we see in what was sent back space to continue to pursue an agreement,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv. “And these things are always negotiations — it’s not flipping a light switch. It’s not yes or no. There’s invariably back and forth.”

Blinken did not describe what the “nonstarters” were, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seemed to reject the idea of a total cease-fire that Hamas has repeatedly demanded. He also said that he has not committed to exchanging the high number of Palestinians in Israeli detention for the 136 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

An Arab source told NBC News earlier today that Hamas asked for the release of 1,500 prisoners, including 500 people serving life sentences. The counter also proposed a plan to rebuild Gaza, an influx of aid and freedom of movement within the Palestinian enclave.

Militant commander killed in U.S. drone strike in Baghdad

Mosheh Gains

A Kata’ib Hezbollah commander was killed in a U.S. drone strike today in Baghdad as part of the response to an attack on American forces in the region two weeks ago, a U.S. official confirmed to NBC News.

The U.S. first launched retaliatory strikes in both Iraq and Syria last week following an attack on a base in Jordan that killed three U.S. soldiers.

Kata’ib Hezbollah announced the death of Abo Baqir Al-Saadi on its Telegram channel today following Iraqi news report that a drone strike had hit a car in eastern Baghdad.

U.S. Central Command posted a statement on X announcing the strike, describing the man killed as someone directly responsible in planning and participating in attacks on American forces in the region.

“There are no indications of collateral damage or civilian casualties at this time,” the post said.

NBC News

Hamas says Israel never intended to halt Gaza incursion

Matt Bradley

TEL AVIV — A Hamas official has said he believes Israel never had any intention of halting its incursion into the Gaza Strip or of accepting the group’s counterproposal to a hostage release deal negotiated in Paris at the end of January.

“They want just to implement their program, their own agenda, not just to dismantle Hamas but to kick the Palestinians out of their homeland,” Osama Hamdan, a member of Hamas’ leading political office and a senior representative of the militant group in Beirut, said in an exclusive phone interview from Lebanon.

While some members of Netanyahu’s government have raised the possibility of “voluntary” resettlement of Palestinians out of Gaza and re-establishing Jewish settlements in the enclave, Netanyahu himself has rejected these proposals. Israel evacuated Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005.

Hamas’ ambitious counterproposal — which extended by at least a factor of three the length of the Paris proposal and called for the Israel Defense Forces’ complete withdrawal from Gaza, among other things — drastically upped the ante in negotiations to free more than 100 hostages, dampening hopes the two sides might soon arrive at a deal to free the hostages and end the war.

Netanyahu today rejected permanent cease-fire demands, adding that Israel will fight until “absolute victory.”

The prime minister insisted that Hamas’ military power must be dismantled before Israel can consider a withdrawal.

“I’m counting on the international community to have realized the real goals of the Israeli attack on Gaza and the real goals of this government and understand that those goals will not create stability in the region,” Hamdan said. “In fact, they will create more instability in the region and it may lead to wider instability and maybe a long-term struggle.”

When asked whether Hamas’ goals were in the interest of the suffering residents of Gaza, where more than 27,000 people are believed to have died since the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack killed 1,200 in Israel and resulted in the abduction of 240, Hamdan said Israel’s offer to only temporarily halt the fighting would only extend Palestinians’ pain.

“For sure they want an end to the fight,” he said. “But they want it to be a complete end to the fight. They don’t want it to be a pause and then the Israelis come back to kill them another time.”

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed and wounded in the war, and around 90% of Gaza’s population has been driven from their homes. While Israel has been criticized internationally for its conduct during the war, Hamas has continued to fight and launch rockets at civilian communities.

Hamas delegation will go to Egypt to keep up cease-fire talks, official says

The Associated Press

BEIRUT — A senior Hamas official says the Palestinian militant group will be sending a delegation to Cairo to continue talks on a cease-fire and hostage release deal.

Osama Hamdan made the remarks Wednesday after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a Hamas plan that would effectively leave the group in power, a scenario that contradicts Israel’s stated war aims.

Hamdan did not say when the delegation would leave to Cairo. But its departure signals that talks are still ongoing despite the posturing from both Hamas and Netanyahu.

Hamdan said the group’s terms would continue to evolve while insisting on a permanent cease-fire.

Speaking from the Lebanese capital Beirut, Hamdan called on the group’s militants to carry on its confrontations with the Israeli military.

Former hostages respond to Netanyahu: ‘Abandonment will be a death sentence’

Omer Bekin

A group of former hostages who were released from Gaza held a news conference following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s briefing today, urging the government to prioritize hostage releases over the war with Hamas.

Sharon Cunio, who was released with her 3-year-old twin daughters during the last deal, said that “abandonment will be a death sentence, a stain for generations.” Her husband, David, remains in captivity since their Oct. 7 abduction.

“We have reached the moment of truth,” Cunio said. “The most terrible moment of all when you are destined to decide who is for life and who is for death, who will return and who will become prey to human animals.”

Former hostage Adina Moshe, whose husband was killed by Hamas, said she was released but her friends still remain captive. She recalled the suffering prior to her release, her fears that her friends may not have survived, and then addressed the prime minister directly.

“I am turning to you, Mr. Netanyahu,” Moshe said. “Everything is in your hands. I am very afraid and fear that if you continue with this line of collapse Hamas, there will be no prisoners left to release.”

Palestine Red Crescent Society asks for intervention to protect Khan Younis hospitals

Palestine Red Crescent Society staff posted a video to the organization’s social media today asking for intervention to protect hospital staff and patients in Khan Younis.

There are roughly 220 staff and civilians remaining at the PRCS headquarters campus, which includes Al-Amal Hospital, according to the video. Earlier this week, the PRCS reported that 8,000 people sheltering at its Khan Younis facilities were evacuated as heavy fighting encapsulates the area.

“Every day we bid farewell to a martyr, and now the hospital yard has become more of a graveyard than health care to save lives,” one of the staff members said in the video.

Conditions were described as catastrophic as movements in and out of the hospital are limited by violence outside and medical teams lack supplies to help patients. The staff member speaking in the video said that a patient died due to the fact that the hospital had no oxygen for them.

“We call on the international community and demand the decision-makers and supporters of international law to intervene urgently and immediately to protect what remains of the steadfastness of this hospital, to strengthen the steadfastness of the health system in the Gaza Strip in light of the aggression,” he said.

Netanyahu says no cease-fire, not committed to release of Palestinian prisoners

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected demands from Hamas for a permanent cease-fire in response to a potential hostage deal, adding that Israel will fight until “absolute victory.”

The prime minister insisted that Hamas’ military power must be dismantled before Israel can consider a withdrawal.

Hamas responded yesterday to a proposed deal, which Qatari officials who helped mediate the conversations described as “positive.” But Netanyahu indicated the parties might still be far apart, noting today that he’s not committed to releasing Palestinian prisoners in the large-scale quantities that Hamas has asked for.

Netanyahu did not say outright whether he rejected Hamas’ counter.

There was also some insight into the prime minister’s conversations with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the briefing. Netanyahu told reporters he informed Blinken that UNRWA, the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency, must be replaced.

UNRWA is the main humanitarian organization for Palestinian civilians not just in Gaza, but also in the wider region including the occupied West Bank and more than 2 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Gaza government accuses IDF soldiers of burning down Palestinian homes

Israel Defense Forces soldiers were accused of burning down Palestinian residences amounting to the destruction of 3,000 housing units in a statement today from the Gaza government, which is run by Hamas.

According to the allegation, commanders order soldiers to “set fire to residential units and houses in a way that makes them completely uninhabitable, and without any significant reasons, but rather in order to inflict damage and losses on the citizens.”

The statement went on to say that the destroyed units further exacerbates the suffering of displaced civilians, who were forced to leave their homes by the war. NBC News has not independently verified the allegation, and the IDF did not immediately return a request for comment.

Haaretz reported last week that the burnings were done “without the necessary legal permission.” The IDF told Haaretz that structures are selected based on intelligence and done with approval.

U.N. fears Israeli assault on Rafah could lead to ‘war crimes’

Mithil Aggarwal

As Israel extends its military campaign in Rafah, the United Nations said yesterday it “could lead to war crimes,” as the population of displaced Gazans explodes in the southern region.

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported an “increase in strikes” on Monday and Sunday, as thousands of Gazans continue to flee intense fighting in Khan Younis.

“Intensified hostilities in Rafah in this situation could lead to large-scale loss of civilian lives,” OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva yesterday.

IDF reveals tunnels used to keep hostages and host Hamas leaders under Khan Younis

Mithil Aggarwal

The Israel Defense Forces today said it revealed a tunnel used by senior Hamas members to hold hostages in Khan Younis, with its forces locating and destroying a second tunnel.

“The tunnel was used to hide high-ranking members of the Hamas terrorist organization and to hold hostages,” it said, adding Israeli troops had fought against Hamas members in the tunnel.

During IDF’s search of the tunnel, it found several rooms, a barrel cell, a bathroom and a rest area, it said, with up to 12 hostages kept there.

NBC News has not independently verified the claims.

Civilians injured after strikes on Rafah

Max Butterworth

Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images

A man covered in blood with his head bandaged was pictured after a blast today in Rafah, southern Gaza.Children look out over cars covered in debris, left from an Israeli airstrike in the southern city.

Mohammed Abed / AFP – Getty Images

Israeli strikes in Syria killed civilians, state media reports

Mithil Aggarwal

A number of civilians were injured and killed early today from Israeli strikes in Syria, state media reported today.

The attacks targeted Homs city and the countryside, according to the SANA news agency.

SANA quoted a military source as saying the strikes were launched shortly after midnight. “The aggression led to the martyrdom and injury of a number of civilians, and some material losses to public and private property,” the source told the agency.

NBC News has not independently verified the report.

Huge tunnel used to house Hamas leaders and hold hostages found below Khan Younis, IDF says

Raf Sanchez

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Israeli forces have discovered what they said was a tunnel for Hamas leaders that was also used to hold hostages beneath the city of Khan Younis.

NBC News joined some of the country’s troops in southern Gaza on Sunday, following a senior general into the hot, damp air of the tunnel underneath the remains of a house.

After several minutes of walking through a narrow, dark shaft, the tunnel opened into a wider space. The walls were tiled and there was significantly more headroom.  

The presence of several plastic bed frames suggested senior figures had been there, said Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus, commander of the 98th Division of the Israeli military.

He told NBC News he believed Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, had used the tunnel at one point.

“We’ll kill him,” he said when asked why the Israel Defense Forces had so far failed to catch Sinwar after a four-month pursuit. “He’s putting the civilians, the population between him and us. He’s running. He’s on the go. We’ll reach him.” 

Off one tunnel shaft was a cage made with metal bars and a door that locked from the outside. Inside, the IDF said it found the DNA of three young hostages — Sahar Kalderon, Sapir Cohen and Or Ya’akov.

All three were kidnapped from kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7 and released in a late November prisoner exchange.  

There was an opening in the bars that appeared designed for food to be passed through.

Israel will be allowed to compete in Eurovision Song Contest, organizers say

Andrew Jones

Israel will be allowed to compete in the Eurovision Song Contest when it take place later this year in the Swedish city of Malmo, the competition’s organizer said today.

The European Broadcasting Union had faced calls to ban Israel from the global music contest because of the war in Gaza.

More than 1,000 Swedish musicians and artists including singer Robyn and former Eurovision contestant Malena Ernman, better known as the mother of climate activist Greta Thunberg, signed a recent letter calling for the country to be excluded from the competition.

But EBU Director General Noel Curran said in a statement that while he was “aware of the many voices calling to exclude Israel from this year’s competition,” the country would be allowed to take part as “public broadcaster KAN met all the competition rules for this year and can participate as it has for the past 50 years.”

After the invasion of Ukraine, Russia was kicked out of the contest, but Curran said that “comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a non-political media organization, not ours to make.”

He added that the relationship between the Russian government and the Russian broadcasters was different than in Israel, where Netanyahu’s government has had a tense relationship with the country’s public broadcaster.

U.N. says sharp increase in malnutrition among children in Gaza remains a ‘significant concern’ 

Mithil Aggarwal

The United Nations has warned of acute malnutrition in Gaza after a screening of 3,500 children found a sharp increase in malnutrition, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said yesterday in a report.

The malnutrition rate was found at 9.6%, compared with 0.8% before the war. In northern Gaza, 16.2% malnutrition rate was reported.

“This sharp rise in acute malnutrition suggests that, without adequate preventive and curative services, the situation will worsen,” it said.

Blinken meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

Abigail Williams

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Blinken is today meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank.

Earlier, he met with Netanyahu and discussed the latest efforts to secure the release of the remaining hostages, as well as the importance of increasing the amount of humanitarian assistance reaching civilians in Gaza, according to State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Blinken meets Israel’s president

Abigail Williams

Mithil Aggarwal

TEL AVIV — As part of his intense day of appointments, Blinken met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Herzog said the timing of Blinken’s visit came at a “critical moment in the conflict.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem today.Mark Schiefelbein / AFP – Getty Images

Blinken said both the U.S. and Israel are “intensely” looking at Hamas’ proposals for a hostage deal. He added that he hoped those who remain in captivity could be freed soon.

Hamas cease-fire proposal includes prisoner release, aid and plan to rebuild Gaza, source says

Hamas has proposed a cease-fire plan that would include the release of 1,500 prisoners, including 500 people serving life sentences, an Arab source told NBC News today.

The proposal also says that all displaced Gazans should be allowed to return to their homes and should be given complete freedom of movement inside the enclave, the source said.

The source added that 500 aid trucks should be allowed to enter Gaza and that 60,000 mobile home units and 200,000 tents should be transported into the strip for those who have been displaced from their homes.

Hamas has also proposed that a three-year plan should be developed, laying out a roadmap for the rebuilding of homes and other infrastructure destroyed in the war with Israel, the source said.

The source added that the militant group wants a return to the pre-2002 status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and a ban on extremist Jewish settlers from entering it.

Known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, the area is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest site in Islam.

Doctor treats gunshot victims at Khan Younis hospital

With discarded medical supplies strewn on the floor and bloodstains on the ground at a semi-functioning hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, Dr. Muhammed Harrara told an NBC News crew yesterday that he was treating gunshot victims.   

“These injured are displaced families living in hospital, living in the school, around the hospital,” he said, adding that they had been shot by a quadcopter, a type of helicopter that has four rotors. 

Dr. Muhammad Harrara at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, last month.NBC News

Among his patients at Nasser Hospital was a young boy with his chest bandaged up. A woman holding his hand said the bullet entered his body through his back. 

“Is he going to be fine?” the woman asked.

“Yes, he will be discharged. Yes, it will go back to the way it was,” Harrara replied.

Netanyahu to hold Jerusalem news conference on Hamas hostage deal

Mithil Aggarwal

Netanyahu is set to hold a news conference in Jerusalem later today, his office said in a statement after he met with Blinken.

A source in his office told NBC News earlier that Israel was pessimistic about reaching a deal with Hamas after reviewing the cease-fire proposal put forward by the militant group.

Blinken meets Netanyahu and IDF chief of staff in Tel Aviv

Abigail Williams

Mithil Aggarwal

TEL AVIV — Blinken met with Netanyahu today in Tel Aviv.

The meeting ended in just over an hour before Blinken then met with Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the Israeli military’s chief of staff.  

Blinken, who is on his fifth visit to the region since the war broke out, is trying to advance the cease-fire talks while pushing for a larger postwar settlement in Gaza.

Saudi Arabia says it will not engage in diplomatic relations with Israel until it recognizes Palestinian state

Aishwarya Thapa Chhetri

Saudi Arabia’s will not engage in diplomatic relations with Israel unless it recognizes an independent Palestinian state, the kingdom’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement today.

The statement posted to X said Saudi Arabia had communicated its firm position to the Biden administration that “there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized on the 1967 borders,” referring to lands seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.

It added that east Jerusalem should be the capital of this state.

French leaders join tribute to Hamas victims in Paris

Max Butterworth

Gonzalo Fuentes / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

French Republican Guards walk with portraits of the 42 French citizens killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks in southern Israel, in the courtyard of the Hotel des Invalides in Paris today.French President Emmanuel Macron attended the ceremony.

Gonzalo Guentes / Pool via AFP – Getty Images

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French opposition far-right party Rassemblement National, also joined the tribute.

Gonzalo Fuentes / Pool via Reuters

Israel ‘will never agree to’ Hamas’ cease-fire proposals, source tells NBC News

Matt Bradley

TEL AVIV — Israel’s government is pessimistic about the possibility of a deal with Hamas after receiving the militant group’s proposals for a cease-fire deal, a source connected to Netanyahu’s office told NBC News today.

The response to an offer sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators suggests a halt in fighting as the hostages are freed and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip before an agreement is reached on ending the war.

It comes in the biggest diplomatic push yet for an extended halt to the fighting, but the source said it was unlikely to be approved by the Israeli government.

“The fact that Hamas is asking for a cease-fire for Israelis to withdraw its forces, that’s something that Israel will never agree to,” the source in Netanyahu’s office said. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

Hamas’ demands and Israel’s apparent rejection injects new pessimism into hostage negotiations that had been hammered out by intelligence chiefs and leading politicians from four nations in Paris nearly two weeks ago, including CIA Director William Burns.

Israel’s government will discuss Hamas’ reaction to the proposal today and will hold further discussions in the war Cabinet and security Cabinet tomorrow, the source said. But given Hamas’ demands, even those further conversations might be canceled, the source added.

Israel has made clear that it will not pull its troops out of Gaza until Hamas is wiped out — an objective that renders Hamas’ demand for a full and final cease-fire an impossible starting point.

Blinken in Israel for high-stakes meetings as hostage talks go on

Mithil Aggarwal

Blinken is in Tel Aviv today where he is expected to kick off hostage talks with key Israeli officials, amid mounting pressure for a cease-fire and a permanent end to the war in Gaza.

Hamas’ proposal — a response to an offer sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators — comes in the biggest diplomatic push yet for an extended halt to the fighting, and was met with hope and relief in the Gaza Strip.

It arrived just before Blinken met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Blinken said yesterday. “But we continue to believe that an agreement is possible and indeed essential. And we will continue to work relentlessly to achieve it.”

Blaze and gunfire captured by NBC News crew in southern Gaza

A home is engulfed by flames, crackling gunshots whip through the air and used bullets lie discarded on a deserted street in footage shot by an NBC News crew in the Gazan city of Khan Younis yesterday.

As residents take cover near the corners of a wide street, a shootout can be heard nearby. As the gunfire subsides, a man picks up a bullet cartridge case from the ground.

Off-camera, someone says an Israeli sniper was shooting from rooftop of a nearby building.

NBC News has reached out to the Israel Defense Forces for comment.

They’ve returned home to the scene of a Hamas massacre. No one has joined them.

Matt Bradley

Alex Holmes

KFAR AZA, Israel — It looks like a grisly crime scene. But to Shahar Shnorman and his wife, Ayelet Cohen, kibbutz Kfar Aza looks like home.

The couple were the first to return to Kfar Aza — a sleepy, sun-drenched hamlet in southern Israel where Hamas killed 80 people and kidnapped another 19 on Oct. 7. 

Scorched homes in Kfar Aza last month.Noam Galai / Getty Images

“People thought we are crazy to come back,” Cohen, 55, said. “I didn’t want to be a refugee. I wanted to live in my own house and sleep in my own bed. And for me, it was very important.”

Shnorman and Cohen spoke as they walked past their slain neighbors’ homes, many of them burned down, pocked with bullet holes and still wrapped in police tape. 

Read the full story here.

‘Room to work’ with Hamas’ cease-fire counterproposal, senior U.S. official tells NBC News

Andrea Mitchell

A senior administration official told NBC News the Hamas response conveyed to Blinken by the Qataris appears to be a unified response from Hamas’ different factions and it is accurate to call it “generally positive.” The official added there were still a number of issues to be worked out once Blinken sees what the Israelis say today. 

The official said one immediate difference is the duration of the pause, with Hamas wanting an indefinite cease-fire; the framework agreed to in Paris was for a six-week pause in the fighting. Another issue still to be worked out is the number of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for Israeli hostages. The last hostage exchange was three Palestinians for every hostage released, but this time Hamas is believed to be demanding many more in the exchange, including those convicted of violent crimes.

The senior official, who has been briefed on the Hamas offer, told NBC News: ”We’ll see what the Israelis have to say. There are still some difficult issues to be worked out but there is some room to work with.” The official added, “We are all skeptical it will come together in the coming days but hopeful it could in the next couple of weeks.”

As he did on his last trip to Israel, Blinken plans to meet today not only with Netanyahu, but also with individual members of the war Cabinet and with opposition leaders to explore ways to wind down the war, get more aid into Gaza and free the hostages. A top priority for Israel and the U.S. is releasing the remaining women hostages who were supposed to get out in November but were not freed as Hamas had promised.

Many of them were victims of sexual assault and other abuses, according to eyewitness testimony and other evidence Israel has been able to collect over the last two months, according to a diplomatic source.

Houthis fired at 2 ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden

Mosheh Gains

Iran-backed Houthi militants fired six anti-ship ballistic missiles from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden yesterday, a U.S. defense official told NBC News.

Three of the missiles were aimed at the MV Star Nasia, a bulk carrier transiting the Gulf of Aden. Star Nasia sustained minor damage but no injuries were reported. It remains seaworthy and is continuing toward its destination. 

The remaining three missiles were most likely targeting MV Morning Tide, a cargo ship operating in the southern Red Sea. The three missiles hit the water near the ship without effect.

Morning Tide is continuing its journey and reported no injuries or damage.

Earlier yesterday, the Houthis released a statement threatening to “escalate more and more” unless the “aggression” on Gaza ended.

Qatar received Hamas counterproposal one hour before Blinken met with emir

Abigail Williams

DOHA, Qatar — Qatar received a response from Hamas to a potential hostage deal just an hour before Blinken was set to meet with the Qatari emir, a senior State Department official said.

The emir, or head of state, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, informed Blinken about the counterproposal when they first met shortly after he landed in Doha, according to the official, but Al Thani did not provide details.

When Blinken walked into the meeting with Al Thani, the emir passed around the counterproposal to go over the details with the U.S. delegation.

Soon afterward, department officials briefed White House officials on the counterproposal, the official said. The response was then announced to the public at a joint news conference between Blinken and Qatar’s prime minister.

Civilians caught in Rafah bombardments

Max Butterworth

An injured man with his head bandaged looks over the debris of a destroyed building in Rafah in southern Gaza today.

Said Khatib / AFP – Getty Images

A young girl peers out at rubble after buildings were damaged by recent Israeli bombardments.

Said Khatib / AFP via Getty Images

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