U.S. shoots down 2 missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas

Houthis show no sign of ending ‘reckless’ Red Sea attacks, U.S. commander says

CHRISTIANSTED, U.S. Virgin Islands — Yemen’s Houthi rebels show no signs of ending their “reckless” attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, the top commander of U.S. naval forces in the Middle East said Saturday, even as more nations join the international maritime mission to protect vessels in the vital waterway and trade traffic begins to pick up.

Since Operation Prosperity Guardian was announced just over 10 days ago, 1,200 merchant ships have traveled through the Red Sea region, and none has been hit by drone or missile strikes, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said in an Associated Press interview.

He said additional countries are expected to sign on. Denmark was the latest, announcing Friday it plans to send a frigate to the mission that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced during a visit to Bahrain, where the Navy’s 5th Fleet is based, saying that “this is an international challenge that demands collective action.”

The Iran-backed Houthis say their attacks are aimed at Israel-linked ships in an effort to stop the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

The narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait connects the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea and then the Suez Canal. The crucial trade route links markets in Asia and Europe. The seriousness of the attacks, several of which have damaged vessels, led multiple shipping companies to order their vessels to hold in place and not enter the strait until the security situation improved. Some major shippers were sending their ships around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, adding time and costs to the journeys.

Currently there are five warships from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom patrolling the waters of the southern Red Sea and the western Gulf of Aden, said Cooper, who heads the 5th Fleet. Since the operation started, the ships have shot down a total of 17 drones and four anti-ship ballistic missiles, he said.

Two days ago, the USS Mason, a Navy destroyer, downed a drone and anti-ship ballistic missile that were fired by the Houthis, according to U.S. Central Command. The U.S. said the 22nd attack on international shipping by the Houthis since Oct. 19 caused no damage to any of the 18 ships in the area or any reported injuries.

“I expect in the coming weeks we’re going to get additional countries,” Cooper said, noting Denmark’s recent announcement.

The U.S. has said that more than 20 nations are participating, but a number of those nations have not acknowledged it publicly.

Cooper said the coalition is in direct communication with commercial ships to provide guidance on “maneuvering and the best practices to avoid being attacked,” and working closely with the shipping industry to coordinate security.

An international task force had been set up in April 2022 to improve maritime security in the region. But Cooper said Operation Prosperity Guardian has more ships and a persistent presence to assist vessels.

Since the operation started, the Houthis have stepped up their use of anti-ship ballistic missiles, Cooper said. “We are cleareyed that the Houthi reckless attacks will likely continue,” he said.

The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014, launching a grinding war against a Saudi-led coalition that sought to restore the government. The militants have sporadically targeted ships in the region, but the attacks increased since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

The Houthi threatened to attack any vessel they believe is either going to or coming from Israel. That has escalated to apparently any vessel, with container ships and oil tankers flagged to countries such as Norway and Liberia being attacked or drawing missile fire.

The shipping company Maersk had announced earlier that it had decided to re-route its ships that have been paused for days outside the strait and Red Sea, and send them around Africa instead. Maersk announced Dec. 25 that it was going to resume sending ships through the strait, citing the operation. Cooper said another shipping company had also resumed using the route.

“Commerce is definitely flowing,” Cooper said.

A Palestinian mother who, along with thousands of others, is seeking shelter in a makeshift tent camp in Rafah, said she has been unable to provide for her children since her husband was arrested 55 days ago.

“I want to feed the girls and their father is not here,” said Amina Shamlakh Al-Rafi. “He used to provide everything for them.”

U.S. destroyer downs 2 missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas after container ship struck

A U.S. destroyer that came to the aid of a container ship in the Southern Red Sea shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen, U.S. Central Command said.

The USS Gravely, a guided-missile destroyer, responded to the area tonight after container ship Maersk Hangzhou reported a missile struck the vessel but did not cause injuries or affect its seaworthiness, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

USS Laboon, a U.S. Navy destroyer, joined the response, it said, and two missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled areas, Central Command said.

Central Command said the incident comprised the 23rd “illegal attack” by Houthis on international shipping in the region since Nov. 19.

Houthis stepped up attacks on shipping traffic in the Red Sea in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

The Shiite rebels, which have links to Iran, are amid a civil war in Yemen. The Biden administration has been under pressure to re-designate the Houthis as a “terrorist organization,” as the U.S. has moved to squeeze their funds through sanctions.

Netanyahu says he does not want to raise ‘exaggerated expectations’ about new hostage deal progress

Families of hostages and their supporters have demanded that the government prioritize hostage releases over other war objectives, and have staged large protests every weekend, including today.

Egypt, one of the mediators between Israel and Hamas, has proposed a multistage plan that would kick off with a swap of hostages for prisoners, accompanied by a temporary cease-fire — along the lines of an exchange during a weeklong truce in November.

Hamas insists the war must end before it will discuss hostage releases. Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, reiterated that position today, but also told The Associated Press that “we have not given any final answer so far” to the Egyptian proposal.

Asked about reports of possible progress toward a deal, Netanyahu said today that “we see a possibility, maybe, for movement” but that he did not want to raise “exaggerated expectations.”

Soldier who was held hostage prays friends still in captivity have hope

Ori Megidish, a soldier who was kidnapped on Oct. 7 and rescued weeks later by Israeli forces, says she hopes her friends who are still being held hostage continue to hold out hope for their safe return.

Megidish served as an observer and monitor at kibbutz Nahal Oz, where she said many were taken captive while still wearing their pajamas. According to a video statement published by the IDF, Megidish recalled that many of her friends were killed in the Oct. 7 attack.

“Despite the pain, loneliness and fear I felt when I was there, I had the hope that they would rescue me,” Megidish said. “I pray that my friends who are still in captivity have the same hope.”

Hezbollah and Iran will suffer blows if war escalates, Netanyahu warns

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning to Hezbollah, and its benefactors in Iran, if the group’s attacks on northern Israel continue as the IDF keep up with fights on multiple fronts.

“If Hezbollah expands the war — it will receive blows it never dreamed of, and so will Iran,” Netanyahu said during a news conference today. “We will act in any way until we restore security to the residents of the north.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Ronen Zvulun / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

The prime minister addressed Israelis directly during his speech, saying that “more time is needed” in order to accomplish the country’s goals of war as its military fights on complex battlegrounds. Fighting in Gaza is expected to go on for “many more months.”

“In addition to the ongoing activity in the north of the Gaza Strip, and at the same time as the battles in Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip, our forces are attacking the terrorists in the center of the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said.

“They fight with power and new methods, above ground and below ground.”

40% of Gaza at risk of famine, U.N. director says

Tom White, UNRWA’s director in Gaza, said that at least 40% of the population in Gaza Strip are at risk of famine.

In a post on X, White shared a clip where a large swath of people were desperately surrounding an aid convoy and jumping onto trucks in Gaza City. UNICEF released a statement earlier this month noting that almost 1.2 million people “are experiencing emergency levels of acute food insecurity” and risk dying of starvation.

“More regular supplies needed — require safe and sustainable #humanitarian access everywhere including to the North of Gaza,” White said.

Israel’s foreign minister describes South Africa ICJ application as ‘blood libel’

South Africa’s filing of a genocide case against Israel at the International Criminal Court is “blood libel,” Israel’s foreign ministry said, adding that Israel is committed to international law in how it conducts war.

Israel’s foreign ministry also accused South Africa of cooperating with Hamas, an organization that “is calling for the destruction of the State of Israel” in the same statement.

“South Africa’s claim lacks both a factual and a legal basis, and constitutes a despicable and contemptuous exploitation of the Court,” the statement said.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, blood libel is a term used for the “false and maliciously perpetuated accusation that Jews have murdered non-Jews…in order to use their blood in rituals.”

The office for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa released a statement saying it was concerned over Israel’s “indiscriminate use of force and forcible removal of inhabitants.” The request made to the Hague by South Africa was that the court issue an order to Israel to “refrain from any acts that may constitute genocide or related crimes” under international law.

Faith leaders discuss finding common ground amid Gaza war

As the war in Gaza rages on, the U.S. has seen a rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents.

A panel of faith leaders, including Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Rabbi Dr. Barat Ellman and Dr. Hussein Rashid, join MSNBC’s Michael Steele to discuss how Americans can find common ground and ease tensions.

Hezbollah and IDF exchange fire across border

The IDF confirmed it hit a target in Bint Jbeil today, releasing a short satellite clip of the strike identifying its location.

The Israeli military described the strikes in Lebanon today as targeting “squads” of Hezbollah militants and operational infrastructure. Lebanese state news reported that the strike hit a home and caused damage to surrounding residences and vehicles.

One person was injured and transferred to a local hospital, according to the state news agency.

Hezbollah also reported that it attacked Israeli sites today, claiming to have caused casualties after targeting a “gathering” of Israeli soldiers. The IDF confirmed there were launches identified out of Lebanon, including at least one intercepted by the IDF Aerial Defense Array. No deaths or injuries were reported by the Israeli military.

IDF pauses action in Rafah for 4 hours

The IDF temporarily paused military activity in Rafah for four hours earlier today for “humanitarian purposes” and the purpose of “resupply.”

Arabic language spokesperson Avichay Adraee said in a post on X that the tactical suspension was at Rafah camp, a permanent urban refugee camp near Gaza’s border with Egypt.

Over 100,000 Palestinians have been internally displaced to Rafah in recent days alone, the United Nations said Friday, as Israel intensifies its strikes on other southern areas in the strip Gazans were previously told to evacuate to.

Dramatic rescue of 10-month-old who survived Israeli airstrikes in Rafah that killed at least 20


TEL AVIV — In the Gaza darkness, an airstrike rips through Rafah, where Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip are seeking refuge.

The chaotic aftermath plays out like so many devastating scenes from the Israel-Hamas war so far: Buildings are leveled into piles of smoldering rubble. Neighbors dig with their bare hands searching for survivors. The dead and wounded are frantically ferried away.

But this time, covered by a mattress and trapped by debris, a child is found. She’s just 10 months old, and her name is Tala Rouqah.

NBC News’ team in Gaza witnessed her dramatic rescue on Thursday night, when the Hamas-run Palestinian Health Ministry said more than 20 were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in southern Gaza, now a major focus of Israel’s military campaign.

Read the full story here.

IDF had ‘no battle plan’ for Hamas incursion, NYT investigation finds

Israel’s military was so poorly organized that soldiers communicated with each other via spontaneous WhatsApp groups and relied on social media posts for their information, a new investigation from the New York Times has found.

The IDF did not have any plan to respond to a “large-scale Hamas attack” according to the investigation. Current and former soldiers and officers told reporters that they “made it up as they went along.” Soldiers rushing into battle were only armed for brief combat, and helicopter pilots were told to follow the news to pick their targets, the investigation said.

The report comes amid heightened focus in Israel on intelligence failures leading up to Oct. 7. News channels in Israel have documented extensive warnings in leaked emails about Hamas plans for attacks on border kibbutzes that were ignored or considered unrealistic by intelligence and military officials.

To date 1,200 people are believed to have been killed in Israel on October 7, with 240 more taken to Gaza and held as hostages. Over 120 hostages are believed to remain in the besieged enclave in rapidly deteriorating conditions as the war rages on.

People stand on top of the rubble of a destroyed structure.
Palestinians inspect the damage following Israeli strikes in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday.AFP via Getty Images

Palestinian Red Crescent conducts children’s workshops on hygiene without water

The Palestine Red Crescent Society, a medical emergency charity, is conducting workshops with displaced children in shelter centers on maintaining hygiene despite water scarcity.

The organization led children through awareness activities teaching them how to prevent contagion and spot infectious diseases, it said in a post on X.

According to the World Health Organization, there is on average only one shower for every 4500 people in Gaza and one toilet for every 220. Numerous cases of chickenpox, meningitis and hepatitis have also been reported due to the collapse in living conditions and the absence of health infrastructure.

IDF says 80% of Hezbollah rockets land inside Lebanon

The Israeli military says 80% of the rockets fired by Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah yesterday landed inside Lebanon before reaching Israel. NBC News was unable to independently verify this claim.

Hezbollah said yesterday that they had launched multiple rockets at military posts in northern Israel, achieving “direct hits.”

In a post on X, Arabic language spokesperson Achivay Adraee also warned that Hezbollah would not be “what it was” before October 7. Israel has engaged in multiple exchanges of fire with the militant group, which increased its attacks on areas of northern Israel in support of Hamas.

Adraee’s statement comes amid growing fears that the war in Gaza will spill over into a wider regional conflict, potentially drawing in Iran and other militant organizations in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

More than 72,400 people have been displaced from southern Lebanon due to the ongoing hostilities along the border, according to the United Nations’ Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. 60,000 people have also been evacuated from Israel’s northern border communities, according to Israeli media reports.

Biden administration sidesteps Congress again for emergency arms sale to Israel

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has bypassed Congress for the second time this month to provide an emergency arms sale to Israel amid its war with Hamas.

The sale of $147.5 million in equipment such as fuzes, chargers and primers is intended to help the functionality of the U.S. ally’s previous purchase of nearly 14,000 rounds of 155mm shells in early December.

“Given the urgency of Israel’s defensive needs, the secretary notified Congress that he had exercised his delegated authority to determine an emergency existed necessitating the immediate approval of the transfer,” a State Department spokesperson said.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to ensure Israel is able to defend itself against the threats it faces. This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives,” the spokesperson added.

Read the full story here.

Palestinian leaders welcome South Africa’s decision to refer Israel to ICJ

Both Hamas and rival Palestinian Authority today welcomed South Africa’s decision to refer Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The Friday filing by South Africa described Israel’s actions in Gaza as “genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”

In a statement posted to X, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “welcomes” South Africa’s moves. Hamas, meanwhile, called on “all countries to submit similar files and requests.”

Israel rejected South Africa’s filing, saying it “has made it clear that the residents of the Gaza Strip are not the enemy, and is making every effort to limit harm to the non-involved,” a foreign ministry statement said.

Israel continues hitting refugee camps in north and central Gaza

Israel continued its incursions into Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza’s north, and Nuseirat and Bureij in the center of the enclave, the Palestinian Ministry of Information has said.

Residents of Nuseirat reported injuries following airstrikes, while the “intense bombardment” of Bureij continued into its fourth day, the ministry said, displacing residents to the nearby central city of Deir al-Balah.

The bombardment has killed 100 Palestinians and injured 150 in the central Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours, a senior health official in central Gaza said.

In Jabaliya, which has seen some of the most intense attacks throughout the war in Gaza, including on its United Nations schools, “tanks also fired several shells” into the center of the camp, the Ministry of Information said. It did not report any deaths or injuries.

NBC News was unable to independently verify these reports. Over 21,500 people have died in Gaza since October 7, according to the Ministry of Health.

As Gazans pushed further south, some fear they will be forced out of the enclave

TEL AVIV — Despite the catastrophic war that has killed thousands of his fellow residents, Nawaf Muttar says he would never leave the Gaza Strip even if he had the chance.

“I cannot go to Sinai,” he told NBC News’ crew on the ground, referring to the arid Egyptian peninsula bordering Gaza to the south. “Neither I nor my family nor anyone I know wants to go there.”

The war, precipitated by the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks that killed some 1,200 people and resulted in the kidnapping of some 240 people in Israel, according to Israeli officials has also killed more than 21,000 people in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 100 of those kidnapped are believed to remain in captivity. 

A Palestinian woman and children look out from a damaged building Rafah, southern Gaza, on Dec. 15, 2023.
A Palestinian woman and children look out from a damaged building Rafah, southern Gaza.Mohammed Abed / AFP – Getty Images

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes and ground operations have leveled entire neighborhoods, displaced an estimated 90% of the enclave’s residents and plunged an estimated 1 million into hunger and starvation, according to the World Health Organization. Residents have been ordered to leave crowded, urban refugee camps as Israel announced it was expanding its ground offensive into what it called “a new battle zone.”

The mass displacement has pushed thousands of Palestinians like Muttar and his family into Rafah and other areas bordering Egypt. It has also fueled worries that civilians will be forcibly displaced into Egypt, imperiling the Palestinian cause, which for many is the long-cherished vision of an internationally recognized independent Palestinian state, partly in Gaza.

Read full story here.

McDonald’s Malaysia sues boycott group for $1.3m in damages

Gerbang Alaf Restaurants Sdn Bhd (GAR), which is the licencee of McDonald’s in Malaysia, is suing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Malaysia for a series of social media posts allegedly linking the fast-food franchise, among other companies, to Israel’s “genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza.”

The suit is for “false and defamatory statements” that the company says hurt its business, seeking damages amounting to 6 million Malaysian ringgit ($1.31 million.)

McDonald’s has come under fire in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, and across the world after McDonald’s franchises in Israel announced they were donating free food to IDF troops in October.

BDS Malaysia said it “categorically denies” defaming the fast-food company and would leave the matter to the court.

More than 300 people have been killed by strikes on UNRWA shelters while seeking refuge

A United Nations organization tasked with relief for Palestinian refugees said today that at least 308 people sheltering at its shelters have been killed since the war began.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East said on X that another 1,095 have been injured.

“Nowhere in Gaza is safe,” it said.

Israel says it takes measures to avoid civilian casualties in its war against Hamas in Gaza, but that Hamas positions itself in civilian areas. Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields.

Also today, UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini called on Israel and others to allow unimpeded access of aid to Gaza, where he said the total 2.2 million residents of Gaza are now almost totally dependent on humanitarian food aid.

“International humanitarian law is very clear: The State of Israel as the occupying power must ensure that the population has access to and is provided with basic services. Likewise, all parties to the conflict must facilitate humanitarian access to all those in need,” he said.


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