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A curated weekday guide to major news and developments over the past 24 hours. Here’s today’s news
U.S. officials have confirmed that plans have been approved for a series of strikes over several days against targets inside Iraq and Syria, including Iranian personnel and facilities. The strikes come in response to drone and rocket attacks targeting U.S. forces in the region, including a drone attack on Sunday that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday, “We will continue to work to avoid a wider conflict in the region, but we will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our interests and our people, and we will respond when we choose, where we choose and how we choose.” Austin added that Washington is trying to “hold the right people accountable” without escalating the conflict in the region. Tucker Reals, Eleanor Watson, and Alex Sundby report for CBS News.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said today that Iran would not start a war but it would “respond strongly” to anyone who tried to “bully” it, a day after the United States said it was planning attacks on Iranian sites in Iraq and Syria. “Before, when they (the Americans) wanted to talk to us, they said the military option is on the table. Now they say they have no intention of a conflict with Iran,” Raisi said. Reuters reports.
U.S. intelligence officials have calculated that Iran does not have full control over its proxy groups in the Middle East, including the groups responsible for attacking and killing U.S. troops in recent weeks, according to two U.S. officials. While Tehran is supporting proxy groups financially and providing military equipment, intelligence officials do not believe it is commanding attacks. Erin Banco reports for POLITICO.
U.S. negotiators are pushing for a ceasefire that could stop the war long enough to stall Israel’s military momentum and potentially pave the way to a more lasting truce, according to U.S. and Arab officials familiar with the negotiations. Israel and Hamas are considering a three-part deal that would allow for hostage releases in Gaza beginning with a six-week ceasefire, according to a draft of the agreement ironed out in Paris this week. U.S. negotiators, led by CIA Director William Burns, argue it would be difficult for Israel to resume the war after a long pause, the officials said. Summer Said, Jared Malsin and Gordon Lubold report for the Wall Street Journal.
Israel’s war Cabinet is on standby for Hamas’s response to the principles of the hostage deal negotiated in Paris on Sunday by CIA Director William Burns, head of the Mossad David Barnea, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and an Egyptian senior intelligence official, according to a senior adviser to the war Cabinet. Anna Schecter reports for NBC News.
After completing its mission in Khan Younis, the Israeli military will move onto Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has warned it “most likely” will have to halt its work in the enclave and across the Middle East by the end of the month after donors suspended funding over allegations that some of its staff were involved with the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. Tim Lister, Ibrahim Dahman, and Amir Tal report for CNN.
ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR — REGIONAL RESPONSE
Saudi Arabia would be willing to accept a political commitment from Israel to create a Palestinian state, rather than anything more binding, in a bid to approve a defense pact with the United States before the next U.S. presidential election, two sources said. Months of U.S.-led diplomacy to get Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Israel and recognize the country were shelved over the war in Gaza. Samia Nakhoul, Dan Williams, and Matt Spetalnick report for Reuters.
Turkish authorities detained seven people suspected of selling information to Israel’s Mossad’s intelligence service in connection with monitoring local targets, a Turkish security official said today. Turkey has previously warned Israel of “serious consequences” if it tries to target members of Hamas living outside Palestinian territories, including in Turkey. State media also reported that Turkey’s intelligence agency has determined that Mossad was using private detectives to follow its targets. Reuters reports.
ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR — INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE
The Gaza offices of Belgium’s development agency, Enabel, were destroyed in what Belgian officials described as a bombing. Belgium will summon the Israeli ambassador to “clarify everything,” the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. Mitchell McCluskey reports for CNN.
ISRAEL-HAMAS WAR — U.S. RESPONSE
President Biden signed an executive order yesterday allowing the United States to impose new sanctions on Israeli settlers – and potentially Israeli officials and politicians – involved in violence against Palestinians. The order is the most significant step any U.S. administration has taken in response to violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank. The first round of sanctions under the new order includes four Israeli settlers who the U.S. said were involved in systematic attacks in the West Bank that led to the forced displacement of Palestinian communities. Two U.S. officials said the administration had considered including ultranationalist ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, but decided to leave them off for now and focus on those who directly perpetrated attacks. Barak Ravid reports for Axios.
National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said there are currently no plans to sanction Israeli government officials after the Biden administration announced a new executive order targeting four individuals accused of directly perpetrating violence or intimidation in the West Bank. “This was an initial set of designations. I’m not going to preview whether there will be more or not going forward, but it is a new tool that we’re going to take a look at using appropriately,” Kirby said.
A Pakistan independent candidate affiliated with former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was shot dead by gunmen while campaigning on Wednesday. The Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), a regional branch of the self-styled Islamic State militant group, later claimed responsibility for the attack. It marks the second killing of a candidate in recent weeks and the latest in a string of attacks in Pakistan targeting political candidates ahead of the Feb. 8 general election. Sophia Saifi, Azaz Syed, Asim Khan and Alex Stambaugh report for CNN.
Malaysia has halved former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s 12-year prison sentence for corruption, according to authorities in the country. Najib served as Prime Minister from 2009 to 2018 before being found guilty of money laundering, abuse of power, and other charges in 2020 in relation to a scandal that saw billions of dollars embezzled out of Malaysia. Najib’s fine has also been reduced to $10.6 million, but he faces a one year prison extension if this is not paid by his scheduled release date of Aug. 23, 2028. Heather Chen and Alex Stambaugh report for CNN.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned an attack against a mosque in the city of Mississauga in Ontario, which is being probed as a hate crime. Police said someone threw two rocks through the window on the eve of the anniversary of a mosque attack in Quebec city that killed six people in 2017. Kanishka Singh reports for Reuters.
The U.N. appealed for $2.7 billion to pay for humanitarian aid operations this year in Yemen. The acting U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Peter Hawkins, described the sum as more realistic than the $4.3 billion it asked for last year, of which only 40% was funded. Hawkins said a key issue in Yemen is tackling hunger, as the country imports nearly all of its food. Reuters reports.
Pressure is mounting on Hungary to ratify Sweden’s bid to join NATO after finally agreeing on new aid to Ukraine yesterday. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said today that he “went to the wall” for his country before agreeing to an E.U. deal worth $54 billion. Hungary was the only E.U. member state not to back the deal at a December summit, and remains the only NATO country that has not yet ratified Sweden’s membership application, a process that requires the approval of all members. Reuters reports.
Russia’s foreign ministry today condemned a decision by Ecuador to hand over Russian-made military hardware to the United States for use in Ukraine, calling it a “reckless” breach of contract made “under serious pressure from outside interested parties.” The Ecuadorian government said last month it would take up an offer from Washington to swap “Ukrainian and Russian scrap metal” for advanced U.S. equipment worth $200 million. Reuters reports.
China demanded yesterday that Ukraine immediately remove all 14 Chinese companies from a list of firms designated as “international sponsors of war.” “China firmly opposes the inclusion of Chinese enterprises in the relevant list and demands that Ukraine immediately correct its mistakes and eliminate negative impacts,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said. The blacklist has no legal implications for the firms and addresses what it describes as extensive cooperation between Chinese and Russian companies in sectors including oil and gas, Moscow’s main revenue source. Tom Balmforth, Pavel Polityuk, and Liz Lee report for Reuters.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said yesterday he did not handle his recent hospitalization correctly and that he takes full responsibility for the secrecy surrounding his hospital stay. Austin said his prostate cancer was a “gut punch” and added he kept it private but acknowledged “a wider circle should have been notified, especially the President.” Austin said he has no plans to resign, despite calls for his ouster from some Republicans, and did not say whether he would testify before Congress over the controversy. Jacob Knutston reports for Axios.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced yesterday that he is deploying the Florida National Guard and State Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, as the battle continues between Republican lawmakers and the federal government over securing the southern border. “States have every right to defend their sovereignty and we are pleased to increase our support to Texas as the Lone Star State works to stop the invasion across the border,” DeSantis said. “Our reinforcements will help Texas to add additional barriers, including razor wire along the border. We don’t have a country if we don’t have a border.” Sareen Habeshian reports for Axios.