A senior Hamas official on Thursday backed away from an earlier, groundbreaking comment that Hamas could recognize the state of Israel and that Israelis should have rights “but not at the expense” of Palestinians or other groups.
Mousa Abu Marzouk cited a “misunderstanding of media statements” a day after he told the Washington-based Al-Monitor that Hamas could switch its position on Israel as part of an effort to join the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The PLO, a coalition of Palestinian factions, recognized the state of Israel more than 30 year ago.
Hamas, since its inception in 1987, has called for armed resistance and the elimination of Israel.
“I confirm that the Hamas movement does not recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and does not accept giving up any of the rights of our Palestinian people,” Abu Marzouk said on Twitter. “We affirm that the resistance will continue until liberation.”
In the interview with Al-Monitor, Abu Marzouk had defended the value of the militant incursion into Israel on Oct. 7, in which more than 1,200 people were killed, saying “everyone is talking about a Palestinian state.” But when asked about the more than 240 people taken hostage, he said taking women and children as captives was a mistake.
∎ All communication services across Gaza are down for at least the fourth time since the war started because of ongoing fighting, Palestinian telecoms provider Paltel said Thursday.
∎ Israel should provide more access to Gaza and security for those delivering humanitarian aid to Palestinians, who are increasingly starving, said Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. The fighting has prevented U.N. agencies from delivering food, water and other essentials, making the situation in Gaza “increasingly desperate and chaotic,” Skau said.
∎ Israeli forces shot and killed an unarmed teenage boy inside the Khalil Suleiman Hospital compound in the West Bank, Doctors Without Borders said. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for information on the incident.
∎ Two residential buildings were destroyed in Israeli air raids on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, killing at least 26 and injuring many others, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said.
∎ Nearly two years of war in Ukraine have resulted in less devastation than what Gaza has seen in two months of war, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.
‘No better friend’: Families of American hostages taken by Hamas meet with President Biden
Biden urges Israel to ‘save civilian lives’
President Joe Biden renewed his call Thursday for Israel to protect civilian lives in its war with Hamas.
At an event on lowering the cost of prescription drugs, reporters asked Biden whether he wants Israel to scale back its attacks on Gaza.
“I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives. Not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful,” he said.
It was the second time this week Biden chided Israel’s handling of the war, after criticizing its “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza on Tuesday.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, traveled to Israel and met Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials. U.S. officials said Sullivan asked “hard questions” about the next phase of Israel’s military campaign.
− Michael Collins
War will last ‘more than several months,’ Israel official says
Israel’s defense minister acknowledged Thursday defeating Hamas will take considerable time, a scarce commodity when international pressure to halt the war continues to build.
Yoav Gallant pointed out Hamas has been assembling a military infrastructure in Gaza for more than a decade, “and it is not easy to destroy them. It will require a period of time. … It will last more than several months, but we will win, and we will destroy them.”
The U.N. General Assembly called for a cease-fire in an overwhelming, though non-binding, vote this week, and even Israel’s most steadfast ally, the U.S., is strongly signaling the need for less carnage in Gaza. The Health Ministry says more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s response to Hamas’ brutal assault of Oct. 7, which left about 1,200 dead.
On Thursday, Sullivan discussed with Netanyahu and his cabinet scaling back the military campaign and shifting from “high-intensity clearance operations” to a “lower-intensity focus on high-value targets,” according to a senior Biden administration official who requested anonymity.
Hamas members arrested in terror plot, European officials say
Four members of Hamas were among seven people detained under suspicion of plotting terrorist activities, European authorities said Thursday.
German prosecutors said three suspects with ties to Hamas were arrested in Berlin and a fourth in the Netherlands. The other three persons were detained in Denmark. It’s not clear if there’s a connection between the arrests, but German officials said the suspected Hamas members were planning to attack Jewish sites, spurred by the Israel-Hamas war.
Three of the men “have been longstanding members of Hamas and have participated in Hamas operations abroad,” German officials said, adding that they are “closely linked to the military branch’s leadership.’’
Danish officials did not disclose the nature of the terror threats represented by the three people they detained, but Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at a European Union summit in Brussels: “It is of course completely unacceptable in relation to Israel and Gaza that there is someone who takes a conflict somewhere else in the world into Danish society.”
The four suspects with Hamas ties – two born in Lebanon, one Egyptian and one Dutch – were identified only by their first name and the first initial of their last name, in keeping with German privacy rules. A Hamas spokesman denied they belong to the militant group.
Earlier this month, European Union Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson warned that because of polarization from the war, the continent faces a “huge risk of terrorist attacks.’’
Israel arrests dozens of armed Palestinians at Gaza hospital
The Israeli military released video Thursday from a northern Gaza hospital compound showing the arrest of dozens of Palestinians as Israel continued to say that destruction of vast swaths of Gaza is necessary to crush the Hamas militant network. The military said over 70 men described as terrorists were taken into custody and dozens of weapons seized at Kamal Adwan Hospital, under siege from shelling for days before Israeli ground troops swept in earlier this week. The video shows a line of shirtless men walking out of rubble, arms in the air, and a pile of weapons.
The army, working with the Israeli security agency Shin Bet, said it “located a building used by Hamas operatives and an army officer … in the area of the hospital” and also killed several militants in a series of clashes. Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been under intense global pressure to halt the devastating assault on Gaza that has included attacks on multiple hospitals and other civilian buildings.
Israel has defended its military campaign, saying militants are using the buildings as bases and civilians as human shields. The campaign began within hours of a brutal, Hamas-led militant attack on Israeli border communities Oct. 7. Since then, the Gaza Health Ministry says more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli bombings and its ground invasion.
Israeli soldiers sang Hanukkah songs in West Bank mosque
Widely circulated videos appear to show Israeli soldiers using a microphone to sing Hanukkah songs and prayers inside and outside a West Bank mosque in the Jenin refugee camp.
The Israeli military said a preliminary investigation indicated the incident “stands in complete opposition to the values” of the military. The soldiers were removed from duty and will be disciplined, a military spokesman told Israeli media. Leftist Israeli parliament member Ofer Cassif expressed outrage on social media, saying the military is “controlled by crazy fanatics” trying to give the war a religious spin “and burn us all in fundamentalist hellfire.”
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who shared video of the incident on social media, lauded the soldiers.
“The inferno in Jenin, and their whole sin is saying (prayers) in a place that has become one of the main centers of terrorism against Israel,” Ben-Gvir said. “We need to give our wonderful fighters full support and not get involved in disciplinary proceedings.”
Israeli parliament approves controversial war budget
Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid blasted Israeli’s parliament for approving a contentious budget that provides funding for the war but also allows money to flow to controversial Israeli settlements in Palestinian enclaves and other right-wing projects the opposition does not support. Lapid and his supporters said millions of dollars in the new budget have political and regional motivations instead of being funneled directly to support soldiers, evacuees and businesses affected by the war.
“The budget that is laid here today is the budget of those who learned nothing and understood nothing,” Lapid said. “Those who do not understand that after October 7th will not be forgiven.”
Families of US hostages have ‘terrific’ meeting with Biden
Families members of American hostages still in Gaza met Wednesday with President Joe Biden for about two hours at the White House as they desperately seek his help to secure the release of their loved ones. Seven American men are believed to be among the more than 100 hostages held in Gaza. Jonathan Dekel-Chen, the father of 35-year-old Sagui Dekel-Chen, among the American hostages still in Hamas captivity, described a “terrific” meeting between Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and hostage families.
“We could have no better friend in Washington or the White House than President Biden himself,” Dekel-Chen said. Read more here.
− Joey Garrison
Contributing: Joey Garrison, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Israel Hamas live war updates: Israel arrests dozens at Gaza hospital