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Middle East crisis live: Israel arrests 100 ‘terror suspects’ in Nasser hospital | Israel-Gaza war

Israeli troops searching Nasser hospital arrest more than 100 ‘terror suspects’ – report

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said that its special forces soldiers had arrested more than 100 “terror suspects” and are continuing to carry out searches inside the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, according to The Times of Israel.

In its report, the publication said Israeli troops had raided several compounds, finding weapons including explosive devices, grenades and Kalashnikov rifles.

Key events

A ‘concerted campaign by Israel’ is ‘aimed at destroying UNRWA’, says commissioner general

Israel is waging a concerted campaign aimed at destroying UNRWA, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said in an interview published on Saturday.

Commissioner general of UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini said calls for his resignation were part of the Israeli government’s ‘expanded, concerted campaign … aimed at destroying UNRWA’. Photograph: Reuters

According to AFP, Philippe Lazzarini said calls for his resignation were part of the Israeli government’s push. “Right now we are dealing with an expanded, concerted campaign by Israel aimed at destroying UNRWA,” he told the Swiss newspaper group Tamedia.

He said:

It is a long-term political goal because it is believed that if the aid agency is abolished, the status of the Palestinian refugees will be resolved once and for all – and with it, the right of return. There is a much larger political goal behind this. Just look at the number of actions Israel is taking against UNRWA.”

He cited measures in the Israeli parliament, such as moves to remove the agency’s VAT exemption and orders for contractors at Israel’s port of Ashdod to “stop handling certain food deliveries for UNRWA”. “And all these demands come from the government,” he added.

Lazzarini says more than 150 UNRWA installations have been hit since the Gaza war began.

Israel has called for Lazzarini to step down following claims that a Hamas tunnel had been discovered under its evacuated Gaza City headquarters. Lazzarini said the tunnel was 20 metres below ground and UNRWA as a humanitarian organisation did not have the capabilities to be examining what was underground in Gaza.

He also said Israel was alone in calling for him to quit and there was “no reason” to comply with a single UN member state’s demand for him to go, “especially since my resignation would not improve the situation at UNRWA”.

“The criticisms are not concerned with me personally, but with the organisation as a whole. The calls for resignation are part of the campaign to destroy UNRWA”, he said.

US plans to send weapons to Israel amid Biden push for ceasefire deal – The Wall Street Journal report

The US is preparing to send bombs and other weapons to Israel even as the US pushes for a ceasefire in the war on Gaza, reports The Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Citing current and former US officials, the US news publication said “the proposed arms delivery includes roughly a thousand each of MK-82 bombs, KMU-572 Joint Direct Attack Munitions that add precision guidance to bombs, and FMU-139 bomb fuses”. It is estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars, which would be paid from US military aid to Israel.

A US official told the WSJ that a “proposed delivery is still being reviewed internally by the administration” and “the details of the proposal could change before the Biden administration notifies congressional committee leaders who would need to approve the transfer”.

Here are some of the latest images on the newswires:

A picture taken from a position in southern Israel on Friday shows smoke billowing after an Israeli bombardment on the Gaza Strip. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, as international aid agencies say Gaza is suffering from shortages of food, medicine and other basic supplies as a result of the war between Israel and Hamas. Photograph: Fatima Shbair/AP
An Israeli security officer inspects the scene of a shooting at the Re’em Masmiya Junction near Bnei Re’em in southern Israel on Friday where two Israelis were killed and at least four others were injured. Photograph: Ilan Assayag/EPA
People take part in the ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ protest for an end to the aggression against Palestine and for Israel to be held accountable, in front of the Israeli embassy, in Lisbon, Portugal on Friday. Photograph: Manuel de Almeida/EPA
Ishay Benezra, 12, poses with handcuffs wearing a sweater depicting his uncle Tsachi Idan, who was kidnapped on the 7 October Hamas attack, and his cousin Maayan, who was killed in her home during the attack, as families of the hostages gathered in Tel Aviv on Friday to call for their release. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

At least 28,858 Palestinians have been killed since 7 October, says Gaza health ministry

At least 28,858 Palestinians have been killed and 68,667 injured in Gaza since the 7 October, says the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

The death toll is expected to be far higher though as more bodies are believed buried underneath rubble.

Israeli troops searching Nasser hospital arrest more than 100 ‘terror suspects’ – report

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said that its special forces soldiers had arrested more than 100 “terror suspects” and are continuing to carry out searches inside the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, according to The Times of Israel.

In its report, the publication said Israeli troops had raided several compounds, finding weapons including explosive devices, grenades and Kalashnikov rifles.

Hamas leader blames Israel for lack of progress towards Gaza truce

Head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh blamed Israel for a lack of progress in achieving a ceasefire deal in Gaza in a statement issued on Saturday.

Haniyeh added that Hamas “will not accept anything less than a complete cessation of the aggression, withdrawal of the occupation army from Gaza, and lifting of the unjust siege”, reports Reuters. He also insisted that Israel must free Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences in any upcoming swap deal.

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The Munich Security Conference is in its second day and the focus in the evening is set to turn towards the Middle East and the IsraelHamas conflict, with speeches by King Abdullah II of Jordan and Israel’s president Isaac Herzog as well as panels with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

More than 500 high-level international decision-makers are meeting at the 60th Munich Security Conference in Munich from 16 to 18 February 2024 to discuss global security issues. Photograph: Anna Szilágyi/EPA

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, US state secretary Antony Blinken and Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg are among the officials set to speak on panels on Saturday. The Guardian’s Europe live blog has all the updates as they come in today.

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Fear pervades West Bank hospital after deadly Israeli raid last month

A climate of fear pervades a hospital in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, where patients and doctors are reeling from last month’s deadly raid by Israeli agents disguised as medics, reports news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP).

AFP say that at the rehabilitation ward at Jenin’s Ibn Sina hospital, two patients recalled hearing the screams of a nurse as Israeli forces reached the third floor.

“I opened the door and saw a man. I didn’t know they were special forces,” said a patient, a grey hoodie pulled up over his head to conceal his face. “The man was choking the nurse with his hand and hit her with the butt of his gun.”

His account matched that of an elderly patient, speaking to AFP while exercising along the corridor clutching a walking frame, who recalled hearing shouting while he stayed put in his room.

Neither knew that through a door just metres away, the Israeli unit shot dead three Palestinians, all militants, including a paraplegic patient hospitalised for months.

The Israeli military justified the killing inside a medical facility, which are granted special protection under international law, by saying the trio were “terrorists” who were “hiding” in the hospital.

A climate of fear pervades a hospital in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, where patients and doctors are reeling from last month’s deadly raid by Israeli agents disguised as medics. Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s toughest at night,” said the patient, who had been shouted at by the undercover agents to shut his door during the assault. All but one person in the hospital spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, as they were worried about their safety.

AFP said bullet holes were visible in the abandoned hospital bed and an adjacent chair where the young men had been shot. One of the staffers showed AFP photos on his phone of a bullet, another of flesh left on the bed in the 30 January raid.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was “appalled”. Such an attack “creates fear and is dangerous for health workers and patients”, said Rik Peeperkorn, the agency’s envoy for the Palestinian territories.

“It reduces the trust in health workers and hospitals, putting them in danger, and also diminishing confidence in the health system, therefore decreasing people’s access to care,” he said in a statement earlier this month.

As well as being afraid of a repeat of the special forces raid – the first such operation in eight years – the killings have also created suspicion among patients and medics, report AFP.

Not knowing how Israeli agents plotted their assault, some have been speculating that a hospital insider could have collaborated with special forces. “For more than a week this informant has been in the imagination, and on my mind,” said the patient, still in his hospital room. “I’m terrified.”

Doctors have warned that patients with chronic illnesses in Gaza are failing to get treatment. The lack of medicine, food and water means thousands of people with asthma, kidney disease or diabetes are unable to treat or control their conditions. Weronika Strzyżyńska and Kaamil Ahmed have written about it here:

Four months of conflict in Gaza is jeopardising the health of thousands of people with chronic illnesses such as kidney disease, diabetes and asthma, doctors have warned.

The chronically ill are the hidden casualties of the war, as access to water, food and medicine is severely restricted, said Guillemette Thomas, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical coordinator for Palestine.

“Hospitals that are still functioning are overwhelmed with injured people, they are not able to deal with chronic illness at all,” she said. “Before the war there were 3,500 hospital beds in Gaza, now there are fewer than 1,000, and hundreds and hundreds of injured. We don’t know how many people are dying because they can’t access healthcare.”

Currently, only 14 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are able to provide any medical services.

When medication is allowed into the territory there are no safe ways of distributing it, Thomas said. “We have some insulin coming in aid trucks, but patients can’t get to the places where it is stocked because of the airstrikes. People are bombed on their way to the hospital.”

In Thursday’s edition of the Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast, journalist Ruth Michaelson told Michael Safi how Israel had been justifying a potential ground assault on Rafah, what an invasion on the city would mean for the civilians there, and how Israel’s western allies have responded. You can listen to it here:

Germany is asking asking Israel to abide by international law in the conflict in Gaza, says chancellor

German chancellor Olaf Scholz, said Germany was asking Israel to abide by international law in the conflict in Gaza and not to open a second front on its northern border with Lebanon, reports Reuters.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Scholz also said it should be made impossible for Iran to exploit the conflict to expand its influence and urged the need for humanitarian aid to get to Gaza.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers his speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

Humanitarian agencies and human rights organisations issue urgent joint statement on Rafah

An urgent joint statement warning of the “catastrophic” consequences of an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah has been issued by CEOs of humanitarian agencies and human rights organisations. It includes signatories from Oxfam, Amnesty International, ActionAid, War Child, the Danish Refugee Council and Handicap International.

The statement reads:

We are appalled by the harrowing developments in Rafah, Gaza’s most populated area where 1.5 million people are sheltering as their last resort – over half a million of them children. If Israel launches its proposed ground offensive, thousands more civilians will be killed and the current trickle of humanitarian aid risks coming to a complete halt. If this military plan is not stopped immediately, the consequences will be catastrophic.”

It also highlights that “many areas in Gaza have been reduced to rubble and are uninhabitable”, as well as the lack of functional hospitals, food, clean water, shelter and sanitation.

People are living in the most inhumane conditions, many of them out in the open. It defies belief that the Israeli military have forcibly displaced the majority of the population from their homes into Rafah – with six times as many people than before now squeezed into the area – and then announced plans to attack it.”

The humanitarian agencies and human rights organisations that issued the joint statement said “collectively punishing civilians” by denying “adequate shelter, food, clean water and other essentials”, plus obstructing humanitarian aid “may amount to grave breaches of the obligations of an occupying power under international humanitarian law, constituting war crimes”.

Referring to last month’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling, which ordered Israel to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and to allow humanitarian aid into the territory, the joint statement said “not only has this not happened, the situation on the ground has deteriorated further”. “All of the Israeli supposed safe spaces have been compromised, without exception, further proof that there was never truly anywhere safe in Gaza,” it added.

The urgent joint statement issued by humanitarian agencies and human rights organisations calls for “full, unhindered access for humanitarian aid and workers”. Photograph: Fatima Shbair/AP

The joint statement, signed by Oxfam’s executive director Amitabh Behar, ActionAid’s acting secretary general Ana Alcalde, Amnesty International’s secretary general Dr Agnès Callamard, the Danish Refugee Council’s secretary general Charlotte Slente, War Child CEO Rob Williams and Handicap International’s CEO Manuel Patrouillard, calls for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire”. They state this is “more urgent than ever”. The statement also calls for the “release of hostages and unlawfully detained Palestinians, and full, unhindered access for humanitarian aid and workers”.

The Israeli military offensive has made it “virtually impossible for our collective agencies to meaningfully and effectively deliver humanitarian work”, say the humanitarian agencies and human rights organisations. They also criticised the “silence” and “material support for Israel’s military operations by powerful nations”, which it says “signals distressing complicity in Gaza’s deepening crisis”.

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Egypt building walled enclosure in Sinai for Rafah refugees, photos suggest

Ruth Michaelson

Egypt has begun building an enclosed area ringed with high concrete walls along its border with Gaza that appears intended to house Palestinians fleeing a threatened Israeli assault on the southern city of Rafah.

Photos and videos released by the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights (SFHR), a monitoring group, show workers using heavy machinery erecting concrete barriers and security towers around a strip of land on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing.

The videos, dated 15 February, gave little indication of authorities installing water or other infrastructure. Satellite imagery released by Planet Labs on the same day shows cleared strips of land adjacent to the Gaza border.

SFHR said on social media that the videos showed efforts to “establish an isolated area surrounded by walls on the border with the Gaza Strip, with the aim of receiving refugees in the event of a mass exodus”.

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said on Saturday that they had fired missiles at oil tanker Pollux, which US officials said the previous day had been hit by a missile, reports news agency Reuters.

The US state department said on Friday that the Pollux, a Panamanian-flagged tanker carrying crude oil bound for India, was hit by a missile on its port side.

“The naval forces of the Yemeni Armed Forces carried out a targeting operation against a British oil ship (Pollux) in the Red Sea with a large number of appropriate naval missiles, and the strikes were accurate and direct”, the Houthis’ military spokesperson, Yahya Sarea, said in a statement.

The Houthis have launched repeated drone and missile attacks against international commercial shipping in the Red Sea and the Bab elMandab strait since mid-November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians as Israel wages war on Hamas.

Joe Biden says Rafah offensive not expected – video

The US president said he doesn’t expect an offensive on the densely populated Rafah region of Gaza, the last refuge of Palestinians fleeing Israeli assaults on the besieged territory.

Speaking at a press conference held after the announcement by Moscow of the death of dissident Alexei Navalny, Joe Biden said a ‘temporary ceasefire’ was necessary to evacuate hostages held in Gaza.

Joe Biden says Rafah offensive not expected – video

Fears grow for besieged Nasser hospital as patients die after Israeli raid

Gaza’s largest functioning hospital was under siege on Friday in Israel’s war with Hamas, leaving patients and doctors helpless in the chaos as warplanes struck Rafah, the last refuge for Palestinians in the enclave, officials said.

Reuters reports that Israeli forces remained in Nasser hospital in the town of Khan Younis after raiding it early on Thursday. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said five intensive-care patients died on Friday due to power outages and lack of oxygen supply caused by the attack.

Israel said it moved into the hospital because Hamas militants were hiding there. The Israeli military said on Friday its troops detained more than 20 militants in the hospital who participated in the 7 October attack on Israel and dozens of others for questioning.

Hamas denies there were militants in the hospital, describing the claim as “lies aimed to cover up for destroying hospitals”.

The Gaza health ministry said the hospital lost power and remained without electricity on Friday, jeopardising patient care. But the Israeli military said it repaired one generator and provided another, ensuring “all vital systems continued to operate”.

Two pregnant women gave birth on Friday with “no water, no food and no way of warming them up” in cold weather, said ministry spokesperson, Ashraf Al-Qidra.

According to the ministry, Israeli soldiers stopped an aid convoy outside the hospital, which was unable to deliver supplies. The military said it provided aid including baby food and water.

The incursion at the hospital raised alarm about patients, medical workers and displaced Palestinians sheltering there.

“There are still critically injured and sick patients that are inside the hospital,” said Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), which said its staff were trying to reach the hospital after the Israeli raid.

“There is an urgent need to deliver fuel to ensure the continuation of the provision of life-saving services.”

Israel said its soldiers found ammunition and weapons in the hospital, as well as medication bearing names of some hostages.

Opening summary

It has gone 10am in Gaza and Tel Aviv and this is our latest Guardian blog on the Middle East crisis.

Gaza’s largest functioning hospital is under siege from Israeli forces, leaving trapping patients and doctors as warplanes strike Rafah in the south, officials said.

Israeli troops remained in Nasser hospital in Khan Younis after raiding it early Thursday, with Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry saying five intensive-care patients died on Friday due to power outages and a lack of oxygen supply caused by the attack.

The Israeli army said its troops found medications with the names of Israeli hostages at the hospital during the operation and it detained more than 20 militants involved in the 7 October attacks on Israel. Hamas denies militants were in the hospital.

The Gaza health ministry said the hospital lost power and remained without electricity on Friday, jeopardising patient care. But the Israeli military said “all vital systems continued to operate”.

A witness at Nasser hospital told Agence France-Presse the army had shot “at anyone who moved inside the hospital”.

More on that story shortly. In other key developments:

  • Egypt is preparing an area at the Gaza border which could accommodate Palestinians in case an Israeli offensive into Rafah prompts an exodus across the frontier, four sources told Reuters, in what they described as a contingency move by Cairo. Egypt, which denied making any such preparations, has repeatedly raised the alarm over the possibility that Israel’s Gaza offensive could displace Palestinians into Sinai – something Cairo says would be completely unacceptable – echoing warnings from Arab states such as Jordan. The Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, an Egyptian non-governmental organisation, released images showing workers using heavy machinery erecting concrete barriers and security towers around a strip of land on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing.

  • An exodus of Palestinians into Egypt must be “avoided at all costs” and could be the “nail in the coffin” of a future peace process, the UN high commissioner for refugees said. “The position of Egypt has been very clear: people should not go across the border. I think Egypt has very valid reasons,” Filippo Grandi told the BBC from the Munich Security Conference on Friday.

Palestinian children in Rafah fill up bottles with water distributed by charitable organisations as accessing clean water becomes harder due to the Israeli blockade. Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images
  • Israel will coordinate with Egypt on Palestinian refugees and find a way not to harm Egypt’s interests, Israel’s foreign minister said on Friday. When asked where Rafah refugees would go, Israel Katz suggested Khan Younis, Gaza’s second city.

  • Western leaders are hoping a round of meetings at the Munich Security Conference will put overwhelming pressure on Israel not to press ahead with a ground offensive in Rafah. Almost all the key figures, save the Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, were present in Munich on Friday, including foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan.

  • Negotiations over a ceasefire in Gaza appear to have stalled, with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pushing back hard on Friday against the US vision for after the war, particularly its calls for the creation of a Palestinian state. After speaking overnight with President Joe Biden, Netanyahu wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that Israel would not accept “international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians”, saying that if other countries unilaterally recognised a Palestinian state, it would give a “reward to terrorism”.

  • In their call, Biden again cautioned Netanyahu against moving forward with a military operation in Rafah before coming up with a “credible and executable plan” to ensure the safety of Palestinian civilians, the White House said.

  • Two people were killed and four wounded in what Israeli police said was a shooting attack near a junction in southern Israel on Friday. Authorities in the district said the suspected shooter was killed by an armed civilian.

  • The Palestinian ambassador to the UK said eight of his relatives who were sheltering in Rafah were killed in an Israeli strike. Husam Zomlot also identified a girl in a distressing photo that has been widely shared online as his wife’s seven-year-old cousin Sidra Hassouna.

  • Israeli strikes on targets in south Lebanon killed five fighters from Hezbollah and the allied Amal movement, the groups said on Friday. A strike on one house in al-Qantara village killed three members of the Amal movement, the group said. Hezbollah separately announced the death of two of its fighters, bringing to 12 the number killed since Wednesday.

  • The hunger crisis in Gaza has reached “unprecedented levels, as people run out of even animal feed to eat”, development charity ActionAid said. ‘Things will get substantially worse” if Israel proceeds with an operation in Rafah, it said.

  • Russia has invited Hamas and other Palestinian factions including Fatah to Moscow for talks on the Israel-Gaza war and other issues in the Middle East from 29 February, the state-run Tass news agency reported, citing deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov.

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