Mother and uncle of U.S. soldier rescued from Gaza on New Year's Eve

Three people previously believed missing are declared kidnapped, IDF says

Three Israeli citizens who authorities previously believed to be missing have been “officially recognized as kidnapped,” the IDF said in a statement today.

The military did not offer identification or additional details in its statement. Their families have been informed and officials vowed to keep them notified with additional details “as the situation unfolds.”

“This decision comes after exhaustive scanning and investigation operations in the country, considering various scenarios and available information,” the IDF said.

IDF changes humanitarian corridor path in Gaza

The established humanitarian corridor in Gaza, which ran along Salah al-Din Street, is closed until further notice, the IDF said today.

According to the IDF, a new humanitarian corridor has been established along Al-Rashid Street, which connects Gaza City to the coast. The corridor will be for movement north to the south of the strip only and open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time.

“There will also be a local and temporary tactical suspension of military activities for humanitarian purposes in the Al-Bruk and Jaffa neighborhoods in Deir Al-Balah from 10:00 in the morning until 14:00 in the afternoon, for the purpose of supply,” the IDF said.

Mike Pence pledges support while in Israel

SDEROT, Israel — Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited war-battered southern Israel on Thursday to express support for the country in its war against Hamas.

Standing next to the ruins of a police station in the city of Sderot, home to a fierce battle between Hamas militants and police officers on Oct. 7, Pence said the United States stood with Israel, which is under international pressure to end its ground and air campaign in Gaza. Next week, the U.N.’s top court is expected to begin examining a South African case accusing Israel of genocide.

“The world community always seems to find its way eventually to criticizing Israel, particularly in places like the United Nations,” Pence said. “And in this dark hour, I wanted to do my part to make sure the people of Israel know that the people of the United States are with you and that we will stand with you.”

Pence, who served under former President Donald Trump, is a longtime supporter of Israel. He dropped out of the 2024 presidential race in October after struggling to raise money and gain traction in the polls.

Iranian state-run news agency says first explosion was a suicide bombing during memorial event

At least one of the two explosions that killed at least 84 people during yesterday’s memorial event in southern Iran, raising tensions in the region, was a suicide bomber, according to a state-run Iranian news agency.

The Islamic Republic News Agency — IRNA — cited sources in a preliminary investigation into the explosions.

The memorial event took place in Kerman, a city in southern Iran, for a senior Iranian general killed in a 2020 U.S. drone strike.

The first of two blasts hit around 2,300 feet from the tomb of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in the Kerman Martyrs Cemetery, the semiofficial news agency ISNA reported. It added that the second explosion was around 2,000 feet away.

The U.S. does not believe Israel was behind the attack, according to four current and former U.S. officials. The U.S. was also not responsible, two of the officials said.

UNIFIL commander meets with Lebanese government to express concerns over hostilities

Aroldo Lázaro, head of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, announced that he had met with Lebanese officials to discuss the situation in southern Lebanon.

In a post on X, Lázaro wrote that he met with Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Lebanese Armed Forces Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun. Part of the conversation, he said, involved the long-standing U.N. resolution ordering a cessation in hostilities between Israel and Lebanon.

“I expressed my concern about the situation and breaches in the cessation of hostilities, including potential miscalculation, which could have devastating consequences,” he said. “Our priorities are to prevent escalation, protect civilian lives, and ensure peacekeepers safety and security.”

Harvard’s new interim president had ‘regrets’ over school’s statement following Oct. 7 attack

Harvard named its former provost, Alan Garber, as interim president following the resignation of Claudine Gay, who was embroiled in allegations of plagiarism and criticism over remarks about antisemitism on campus.

Gay began to face scrutiny after providing testimony last month at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism. Though Gay condemned both antisemitism and Islamophobia, critics said she failed to come down hard enough during a line of questioning on whether students who call for the genocide of Jews are in violation of the school’s code of conduct.

In a November interview with the student-run Harvard Crimson, Garber addressed the deep divisions within the university community in regard to the war. He said he regretted that the school’s initial statement but defended Gay’s follow-up condemning Hamas less than a day later.

“I certainly have regrets about the first statement,” Garber said. “Our goal is to ensure that our community is safe, secure and feels well supported — and that first statement did not succeed in that regard.”

He also addressed the phrase often used at pro-Palestinian demonstrations “from the river to the sea,” which some have criticized as a call for erasing the state of Israel and, therefore, for Jewish genocide. Garber told the Crimson he condemns the phrase but also added that Harvard “will remain concerned about free speech and freedom of expression on campus.”

U.S. envoy travels to Lebanon to try and defuse tensions after Israel killed Hamas official

TEL AVIV — While Blinken heads to the Middle East tonight, another senior U.S. official is already on the ground trying to head off potential conflict between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Amos Hochstein’s official title is deputy assistant to the president for energy and investment. But that fails to capture his broad diplomatic role, especially in the Middle East.

In 2022, he brokered a deal to establish a maritime border between Israel and Lebanon — a no mean feat given the history of war between the neighboring states. Hochstein successfully argued that an agreement would let both sides reap the benefits of gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Now, the Biden administration is once again looking to him to help ease tensions after Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, vowed to retaliate for Israel’s assassination of a senior Hamas leader in Beirut on Tuesday. Nine Hezbollah fighters were killed in clashes with Israeli forces yesterday, the militant group said, and fighting continued today.

Hochstein met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv and is expected to meet with Netanyahu. 

Around 80,000 Israelis have been displaced from their homes in northern Israel as a result of Iran-backed Hezbollah’s attacks in support of Hamas since Oct. 7. 

Gallant warned that if a diplomatic solution was not found to end the shooting attacks — and allow Israeli civilians to return home — then Israel would use force to push Hezbollah away from the border. 

“There is a short window of time for diplomatic understandings,” he told Hochstein, according to a statement from his office. “We will not tolerate the threats posed by the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, and we will ensure the security of our citizens.”

Iran-backed Houthis use sea drone packed with explosives

In a new tactic, Yemen’s Houthis used an unmanned surface vessel loaded with explosives during an attempted attack in the Red Sea today, according to a senior American military official.

After the Iran-backed militants launched the drone — known as a USV — it sailed about 15 miles before detonating, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper told the Pentagon press corps. It’s not clear how it was detonated but the USV came within a couple miles of U.S. Navy and commercial ships. The U.S. “watched as it detonated,” he added. 

He said it is unclear what the target vessel was. There were no casualties or damage to any ships, but he said the new tactic “is of concern.” 

Cooper praised the new maritime coalition defending against attacks by the Houthis, saying it is already having an impact. Since Operation Prosperity Guardian began Dec. 18, the U.S. has shot down 19 drones and missiles. No Houthi missiles or UAVs have hit any ships since the operation began, and 1,500 merchant ships have transited into or out of the Red Sea since that date, he added. 

The Houthis, meanwhile, have conducted 25 attacks against merchant ships since Nov. 19, including today’s attempted strike.

Since Oct. 7, the U.S. military has shot down 61 drones and missiles in total. 

In the southern city of Rafah a father of four asks, ‘How can we handle this?’

There “are no words” to describe the situation in the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, a father of four told NBC News by voicenote today.

“Everyone is crammed here,” said Sameh Adel, 44, who fled Gaza City along with tens of thousands of others, as Israel bombed the north of the enclave and moved its forces in.

Adel, who worked as a teacher before he moved to Rafah, said people had to line up for hours for basic necessities such as drinking water and packaged food.

“When we go to charge our phones, we have to wait in lines too because there is no electricity in Gaza,” he said, adding that this was the only way they could stay in touch with family members scattered across the enclave.

The United Nations said in a statement yesterday that Rafah has become “the main refuge for those displaced, with over 1 million people, squeezed into an extremely overcrowded space.” Before Israel invaded the enclave, the population was around 280,000.

“How can a city handle this?” Adel said. “The number alone shows you how difficult life is here to cope with food and water.”

He added that he was worried about the effects of the war on his children, ages between 8 and 13, who he said were terrified of the sounds of “missiles and warplanes.” He added that they missed going to school.

But he said, he’d received pictures showing that their home in Gaza City has been destroyed. “There is nothing left, it’s all destroyed. Even if I get to go back to Gaza City, I have no home to return to.” 

Asked if he would cross into Egypt to escape the violence and dire humanitarian crisis, he responded: “Of course. Any place where we can build a normal life.”

U.N. rights chief condemns Israeli talk of resettling Gazans

The United Nations’ top human rights official says he is “very disturbed by high-level Israeli officials’ statements” calling for Palestinians in Gaza to be moved to neighboring Arab countries.

Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner on human rights, cautioned in a post on X that international law “prohibits forcible transfer of protected persons within or deportation from occupied territory.”

His comments come after members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition continue to call for the “voluntary” resettlement of Palestinians out of Gaza and into neighboring Arab states.

This has been condemned by human rights watchers and other U.N. officials as tantamount to supporting war crimes. Netanyahu himself says this is not official Israeli policy.

One dead and six injured in strikes near Gaza’s Al-Amal Hospital, Palestinian Red Crescent says

At least one person was killed and six others injured after intense shelling around Al-Amal Hospital, near the Palestine Red Crescent Society’s headquarters in Khan Younis, the charity said in a post on X today.

The shelling is “hindering the movement of ambulance crews and limiting the ability to reach injuries in the targeted,” it said.

Israeli army chief says his forces are in ‘a very high state of readiness’ on Lebanese border

The Israeli army released video of what it said was the chief of general staff, Herzi Halevi, visiting a military base in the country’s northern border area.

Mother and uncle of U.S. service member rescued in Gaza  

Abedalla Sckak, left, with his wife Zahra Sckak and children.
Abedalla Sckak, left, with his wife Zahra Sckak and children.Fadi Sckak via AP

The mother of a U.S. service member and his U.S. citizen uncle made it safely out of the Gaza Strip on New Year’s Eve after a successful rescue operation, according to one U.S. official with direct knowledge of the operation and two U.S. officials familiar with the operation.

The service member, Ragi A. Sckak, 24, is serving as an infantryman in the U.S. military.

The U.S., along with Israel and Egypt, helped to coordinate the departure of Zahra Sckak, 44, and her brother-in-law Farid Sukaik, according to the U.S. officials. The U.S. military was not involved outside of helping the Israeli military to locate the two people in need of rescue, two U.S. defense officials told NBC News.

The story was first reported by The Associated Press.

Toronto police investigate ‘hate-motivated arson’ targeting Jewish-owned business

Canadian authorities are investigating a “suspected hate-motivated arson and graffiti” that targeted a business in Toronto, local police said in a news release yesterday evening.

CBC, the Canadian broadcaster, reported the business was a Jewish-owned grocery story that was spray-painted with the words “Free Palestine.”

Officers attended reports of a fire inside a store yesterday morning, the police said, locating the graffiti outside the building.

“This isn’t lawful protest protected by Constitutional rights. It’s criminal. It’s violent, targeted and organized,” said Staff Supt. Pauline Gray, Detective Operations at Toronto Police.

Analysis: Anger palpable as Iran and Lebanon mourn the dead

BEIRUT — Across the Middle East, the anger is unabated ahead of a funeral for a senior Hamas leader in Lebanon today and as Iran mourns 84 people killed in twin explosions at a memorial event for a senior general. 

In Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah militant group, vowed that his powerful Iran-backed Shia militia “cannot be silent” after Hamas deputy Saleh al-Arouri was killed in a drone strike in the country’s capital Tuesday. 

Meanwhile in Iran, crowds took to the streets of the capital, Tehran, the day after 84 people were killed by two explosions at a memorial event for Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the former leader of the country’s secretive Quds Force, who was killed in 2020 by a U.S. drone strike.  

Many shouted: “Death to America. Death to Israel.”

American officials have denied the U.S. was involved in either event and State Department spokesperson Matt Miller told a news conference yesterday that the U.S. had no reason to believe Israel was involved with the blasts in Iran.   

But amid fears of a wider war in the Middle East, it may take some time for the anger to subside.

Drone strike targets Iran-backed militia in Baghdad and kills top commander

Mushtaq Talib Al-Saidi, a commander of the Iran-backed Popular Militarization Forces (PMF), was killed today after a drone targeted his vehicle inside the militia group’s headquarters in Baghdad, a senior Iraqi security official who was briefed on the incident told NBC News.

A commander of PMF intelligence was also injured in the strike, the official added.

A statement from the militia later put the total death toll at three with six people injured.

Iraqi officials called the attack a “violation of the sovereignty and security” of the country and blamed the U.S.-led coalition of global forces. “We consider this targeting a dangerous escalation and assault on Iraq,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said.

It was unclear who was responsible for the attack, which comes amid growing escalation between Iran-backed forces, Israel and its allies across the region.

Jewish protesters calling for cease-fire in Gaza disrupt first day of California legislative session

Hundreds of protesters calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war interrupted the first day of California’s legislative session yesterday, forcing the state Assembly to adjourn just moments after convening.

Lawmakers had just listened to the opening prayer and said the Pledge of Allegiance when protesters wearing matching black T-shirts stood from their seats and started singing “cease-fire now” and “let Gaza live.”

A few people unfurled banners from the chamber’s gallery that read: “Jews say never again for anyone.”

At first, Jim Wood, a Democratic Assembly member from Healdsburg, who was presiding over the session, tried to continue the session despite the singing. Eventually though, he called for a recess and adjourned a few minutes later.

IDF strikes Hamas anti-tank squads as fighting intensifies in southern and central Gaza

The Israel Defense Forces said today that its aircraft struck three militants attempting to plant explosives near its troops in Khan Younis, as fighting intensifies in southern and central Gaza.

“The troops eliminated two additional terrorists who were hiding in a nearby building and a fighter jet struck a Hamas weapons storage facility,” it said.

The IDF also said it destroyed a military structure housing anti-tank operatives and weaponry, with its ground troops assisted by the air force.

Humanitarian aid delivery blocked in northern Gaza, U.N. says

Humanitarian groups have been unable to deliver urgently needed humanitarian aid to northern parts of Gaza for the past three days, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said.

In its latest situation update, OCHA said the aid had been blocked “due to access delays and denials, as well as active conflict.”

According to the U.N. agency, the aid included medicines that would have provided vital support to more than 100,000 people for 30 days, as well as eight trucks of food for people currently facing catastrophic and life-threatening food insecurity.

“Humanitarian organizations are calling for urgent, safe, sustained and unhindered humanitarian access to areas north of Wadi Gaza, which has been severed from the south for more than a month,” OCHA said.

Senior education official cites Biden’s ‘blind eye to the atrocities’ in Gaza as reason for resignation

A senior Biden education official announced his resignation yesterday, citing the administration’s failure to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza from Israel’s offensive in its deadly war with Hamas.

In a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Tariq Habash, a policy adviser in the department’s Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, wrote, “I cannot stay silent as this administration turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against innocent Palestinian lives, in what leading human rights experts have called a genocidal campaign by the Israeli government.”

Habash, a Palestinian American, is a political appointee and a student loan and college affordability specialist.

Read the full story here.

Seminary students in Israel drafted into IDF units amid war

TEL AVIV — At one yeshiva in Israel’s Negev Desert, 95% of the students are drafted into combat units. Eight students have been killed since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Blinken heads to Middle East as fears of escalation grow

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to the Middle East, a senior administration official told reporters, including a stop in Israel.

This is his fourth visit to the region since Oct. 7, and comes just days after Israel’s strike on a senior Hamas leader in Beirut raised concerns of a wider war with Iran-backed militant groups.

His trip will include a number of stops in Middle Eastern capitals, the official said, not elaborating on his exact destinations.

NBC News previously reported that Blinken would visit Israel in early January.

After Israeli strikes in southern Gaza

People inspect damage to their homes caused by Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, southern Gaza.

Image: *** BESTPIX *** Expanded Ground War In Gaza Sparks New Wave Of Displacement And Alarm Over Food Insecurity
Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images

Catch up with NBC news’ latest coverage of the war


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