Israel, Hamas 'willing to give concessions' in new cease-fire talks: Updates

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Stalled negotiations for a cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages picked up steam late Thursday when the Israeli War Cabinet agreed to send a delegation to Paris for weekend talks, Israeli media reported.

White House Special Envoy Brett McGurk met Thursday in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said the Israeli government “will expand the authority given to our hostage negotiators.”

There were signs of more flexibility on both sides after Netanyahu called back his team from talks in Cairo last week, citing “delusional” demands from Hamas.

“The initial indications we’re getting from Brett are these discussions are going well,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

Negotiations will restart Friday and include Mossad spy agency chief David Barnea for Israel, CIA Director William Burns for the U.S.; Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani; and Abbas Kamel, head of Egyptian intelligence, the New York Times reported.

Senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouk told Egypt’s Al-Ghad channel that a breakthrough might soon be possible. And Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz said he had seen initial signs of progress, but that barring a hostage deal, Israel will press its offensive into the crowded southern city of Rafah during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins around March 10.

A Western diplomat involved in the efforts said both sides want a pause. “What we have heard from our partners is that they are willing to give concessions,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door diplomacy. “Time is pressing them.”

Newly recruited Houthi fighters attend a protest march against the U.S.-led strikes on Yemen and the Israeli war in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 21, 2024, in Sanaa, Yemen.
Newly recruited Houthi fighters attend a protest march against the U.S.-led strikes on Yemen and the Israeli war in the Gaza Strip on Feb. 21, 2024, in Sanaa, Yemen.


∎ Infectious diseases in devastated Gaza could end up killing more than the nearly 30,000 who have already perished in the war, said Richard Brennan, the World Health Organization’s regional emergency director. “Infectious disease is a major concern for us in Gaza,” he said in Cairo.

∎ The Israeli military announced that residents of communities 2.5 miles or farther from the Gaza border can return to their homes. A swath of the border area had been evacuated after the Hamas-led attack Oct. 7 in which more than 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 more taken hostage.

∎ Protesters blocking the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Egypt clashed with Israeli security forces, Hebrew media reported. Right-wing activists at Kerem Shalom oppose supplying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip until all hostages are released.

Four charged in incident that killed two Navy SEALs

Four foreign nationals were charged Thursday with transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons after U.S. naval forces intercepted a boat in the Arabian Sea last month in a mission that cost the lives of two Navy SEALs.

U.S. officials said Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers was boarding the vessel Jan. 11 and slipped into the gap created by high waves between the boat and the SEALs’ combatant craft. As Chambers fell, Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram jumped in to try to save him, U.S. officials familiar with what happened told The Associated Press.

Both men were declared lost at sea after an extensive search.

The criminal complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia, alleges the four defendants were transporting suspected Iranian-made missile components for the type of weapons used by Houthi rebels in their frequent attacks in the Red Sea. One defendant was charged with unlawfully transporting explosives and the other three with lying to federal agents, court documents show.

“The flow of missiles and other advanced weaponry from Iran to Houthi rebel forces in Yemen threatens the people and interests of America and our partners in the region,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement.

The Houthis have disrupted commercial shipping in the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade corridors, with more than 40 assaults since November. They have persisted despite repeated warnings and a Feb. 4 attack by U.S. and U.K. forces, which combining to strike their locations 36 times.

New York City Jewish group protests against pro-Israeli lobbyists

Hundreds of protesters marched to the offices of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in New York on Thursday to demonstrate against Israel’s continued airstrikes in Gaza.

The demonstrations against the pro-Israel lobbying organization, led by the group Jewish Voice for Peace, came after the U.S. vetoed another cease-fire resolution Tuesday at the U.N., just blocks away in Midtown Manhattan.

“It is our moral imperative to act like the neighbors we wish our grandparents had had when they were being killed for who they are,” said Elena Stein, the Jewish Voice for Peace director of organizing strategy, who told USA TODAY she's the descendant of a Holocaust survivor.

Maia Ettinger, 62, of Connecticut, said her mother lived in Poland's Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust and years later was traumatized during a visit to Israel by the sight of a Palestinian grandfather being beaten by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. Ettinger said she couldn’t live with herself seeing innocent Palestinians killed.

“That to me is the essence of my Jewish values,” she said, “to stand with all people who are under the threat of violence.”

The protest blocked rush-hour traffic on the way to the AIPAC offices. About four blocks from them, police arrested members of Jewish Voice for Peace for a sit-in at the Manhattan offices of Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrats of New York.

− Eduardo Cuevas

Amid growing death toll in Gaza, EU ministers call for truce

At least 27 people were killed late Thursday in airstrikes in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, health officials said, after Israeli bombardment had killed 48 overnight − half of them women and children − in the territory's central and southern areas.

The assaults brought even more urgency to the increased warnings about a likely humanitarian disaster if Israel invades the crowded border city of Rafah.

One of the strikes leveled the al-Farouq Mosque in Rafah, shown on video with its concrete domes tumbled around it and nearby buildings shattered. Another strike on a residential home in the city killed at least four people, including a mother and her child.

The worst carnage from the series of attacks took place in central Gaza, where the death toll rose past 70.

The foreign ministers of 26 European nations on Thursday joined the chorus of voices calling for a temporary truce that may lead to a longer halt in fighting, and they urged Israel not to bring into Rafah an offensive “that would worsen an already catastrophic humanitarian situation.”

US shoots down 6 drones as Houthis attempt to ban ships from Red Sea

The battle for control of the Red Sea heated up Thursday as U.S. aircraft and a coalition warship shot down six Houthi drones and a British-owned cargo ship was damaged by a missile fired by the Yemen-based militant group.

U.S. Central Command said in a statement posted on social media that the drones were an “imminent threat” to U.S. and coalition warships. Hours later, the Houthis fired two anti-ship ballistic missiles from southern Yemen into the Gulf of Aden, hitting the cargo ship MV Islander. One person aboard the Palau-flagged, U.K.-owned ship suffered a minor injury, the statement said. The ship was damaged but continued its voyage.

Earlier Thursday, the Iran-backed militant group announced a “ban” on ships owned or flagged by Israel, the U.S. and Britain transiting through the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea. The Houthis, claiming support for the Palestinians in Gaza, have been attacking ships flagged by those and other countries since November.

The State Department issued a statement Wednesday condemning the “reckless and indiscriminate attacks” on civilian cargo ships, saying they are driving up prices and causing delivery delays in critical humanitarian items, such as food and medicine.

“Contrary to what the Houthis may attempt to claim, their attacks do nothing to help the Palestinians,” the statement said. “Their actions are not bringing a single morsel of assistance or food to the Palestinian people.”

West Bank terror attack prompts call for crackdown

An Israeli man was killed and at least 10 people were wounded when three Palestinian gunmen opened fire at a checkpoint between the West Bank settlement city of Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem, Israeli police said. The gunmen were killed.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said the shooting was further proof that Israelis must be armed and that movement must be limited for Palestinians in the West Bank. He called for more barriers and closing of roads. His calls for a crackdown came as the world community overwhelmingly urges Israel to end its occupation.

“If it weren't for those weapons, the terrorists would have continued their murderous spree unhindered," Ben-Gvir said on social media. "The freedom of life of the citizens of Israel prevails over the freedom of movement of (Palestinians)!"

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel Hamas war updates: New cease-fire talks begin Friday