U.S., Britain take aim at Houthis in Yemen

Lawmakers respond to strikes in Yemen, some raising authorization concerns

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers offered mixed reviews over the United States’ military action in Yemen. Republicans, particularly those in leadership positions, are largely supportive, calling the strikes overdue.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., welcomed the operations, saying in a statement, “President Biden’s decision to use military force against these Iranian proxies is overdue.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Ala., also called action from U.S. and British forces “long overdue” in a post on X, adding that the U.S. “must always project strength, especially in these dangerous times.”

Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Jack Reed also backed the military action, which he said in a statement tonight was “necessary and proportional.”

Some progressive Democrats, meanwhile, criticized Biden because he did not seek congressional authorization, a view shared by some Republicans.

“The United States cannot risk getting entangled into another decades-long conflict without Congressional authorization,” Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., wrote on X.

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, wrote on X that he was “potentially fine” with striking, but questioned why Congress was not making those calls, asking, “Under what authority was this carried out?”

Strikes were against 60 Houthi targets, Air Force says

U.S. strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen involved over 60 targets at 16 locations, and over 100 “precision-guided munitions of various types” were used, the Air Force said late Thursday ET.

The strikes were against “command and control nodes, munitions depots, launching systems, production facilities, and air defense radar systems,” U.S. Air Forces Central said in a statement.

The Houthis, Iranian-backed militants, have been launching attacks against commercial and military ships in the Red Sea after having declared their support for Hamas, officials have said.

The strikes involved aircraft, as well as Tomahawk missiles “launched from surface and sub-surface platforms,” it said.

“We remain committed to our critical partners throughout the Middle East to defend against Iranian-backed Militia Groups, including Houthi militants, and the threat they pose to regional security and stability,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the U.S. Air Forces Central and Combined Forces Air Component commander, said in the statement.

U.S. military says Houthi attacks ‘will not be tolerated’

The U.S. military late Thursday ET announced the U.S. and U.K. strikes that targeted Houthi rebels in parts of Yemen that the militant group controls.

Army Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said in a statement that attacks on shipping by the Houthis “will not be tolerated, and they will be held accountable.”

“We hold the Houthi militants and their destabilizing Iranian sponsors responsible for the illegal, indiscriminate, and reckless attacks on international shipping that have impacted 55 nations so far, including endangering the lives of hundreds of mariners, including the United States,” Kurilla said in the statement on X, which included video of military aircraft.

Saudi Arabia calls for restraint after U.S., U.K. strikes in Yemen

Saudi Arabia “is closely monitoring with great concern” the situation after the U.S. and the United Kingdom carried out strikes in Houthi rebel-controlled areas of Yemen, the kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Friday local time.

“While the Kingdom emphasizes the importance of maintaining the security and stability of the Red Sea region, as the freedom of navigation in it is an international demand due to its impact on the interests of the entire world, it calls for restraint and avoiding escalation in light of the events the region is witnessing,” the ministry said in a statement on X, which was published in English by the Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia started a war against the Houthi rebels after the group took control of parts of Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia, including Yemen’s capital.

The Houthi rebels are backed by Iran. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman scaled back his military operation and entered peace talks with the Houthis last year. 

Strikes against Houthis focused on drones, missiles, radar, defense secretary says

The fighter jet and missile strikes launched against rebel Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen focused on drones, missiles, radar and surveillance, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

“This action is intended to disrupt and degrade the Houthis’ capabilities to endanger mariners and threaten global trade in one of the world’s most critical waterways,” Austin said in a statement. “Today’s coalition action sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will bear further costs if they do not end their illegal attacks.”

Today’s strikes targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ unmanned aerial vehicle, ballistic and cruise missile, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities,” he said. “The United States maintains its right to self-defense and, if necessary, we will take follow-on actions to protect U.S. forces.”

The U.K. also launched strikes along with the U.S. The U.K.’s Defense Ministry said four Royal Air Force Typhoons took part.

British Prime Minister Sunak: Houthi attacks ‘cannot stand’

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urged Houthi rebels to cease their aggression.

The U.S. and the U.K. launched the strikes following 27 attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen against ships in the Red Sea, a vital waterway, after the Houthis said they were supporting Hamas against Israel.

“Despite the repeated warnings from the international community, the Houthis have continued to carry out attacks in the Red Sea, including against UK and US warships just this week,” Sunak said in a statement tonight confirming the strikes.

“This cannot stand. The United Kingdom will always stand up for freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade,” he said.

Sunak said the strikes were “limited, necessary and proportionate action in self-defence.”

“The Royal Navy continues to patrol the Red Sea as part of the multinational Operation Prosperity Guardian to deter further Houthi aggression, and we urge them to cease their attacks and take steps to de-escalate,” Sunak said.

Top Houthi negotiator blames Israel for wider conflicts in Middle East

JERUSALEM — The Houthis are a powerful force inside Yemen, but they recently emerged on the world stage when they began to blockade the Red Sea in retaliation for Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

A top Houthi negotiator blames Israel for the wider conflicts in the Middle East. 

Biden says strikes were ‘direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks’

Biden said today that he ordered strikes against “a number of targets in Yemen used by Houthi rebels” following attacks by the rebels on ships in the Red Sea.

Biden said that the military action was “together with the United Kingdom and with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands” and that the rebels were endangering navigation in a vital waterway.

“These strikes are in direct response to unprecedented Houthi attacks against international maritime vessels in the Red Sea — including the use of anti-ship ballistic missiles for the first time in history,” Biden said in a statement.

“These attacks have endangered U.S. personnel, civilian mariners, and our partners, jeopardized trade, and threatened freedom of navigation. More than 50 nations have been affected in 27 attacks on international commercial shipping. Crews from more than 20 countries have been threatened or taken hostage in acts of piracy. More than 2,000 ships have been forced to divert thousands of miles to avoid the Red Sea—which can cause weeks of delays in product shipping times. And on January 9, Houthis launched their largest attack to date—directly targeting American ships.

“The response of the international community to these reckless attacks has been united and resolute. Last month, the United States launched Operation Prosperity Guardian—a coalition of more than 20 nations committed to defending international shipping and deterring Houthi attacks in the Red Sea. We also joined more than 40 nations in condemning Houthi threats. Last week, together with 13 allies and partners, we issued an unequivocal warning that Houthi rebels would bear the consequences if their attacks did not cease. And yesterday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding the Houthis end attacks on merchant and commercial vessels.

“Today’s defensive action follows this extensive diplomatic campaign and Houthi rebels’ escalating attacks against commercial vessels. These targeted strikes are a clear message that the United States and our partners will not tolerate attacks on our personnel or allow hostile actors to imperil freedom of navigation in one of the world’s most critical commercial routes. I will not hesitate to direct further measures to protect our people and the free flow of international commerce as necessary.”

Houthi official calls strikes an ‘aggression’

The vice president of the Houthi media authority in the rebel-controlled area of Yemen said airstrikes by the U.S. and the U.K. were “a brutal aggression.”

The U.S. and the U.K. used fighter jets and Tomahawk missiles to target areas in rebel-controlled Yemen, U.S. officials said.

Nasr Aldeen Amer, the vice president of the Houthi Media Authority in Sanaa, confirmed that attacks occurred.

“A brutal aggression against our country, for which they will pay absolutely and without hesitation, and we will not back down from our position in supporting the Palestinian people, whatever the cost,” Amer said.

U.S. had warned action was possible

Today’s strikes did not come as a surprise, as officials had publicly threatened they were possible if attacks in the Red Sea continued.

The U.S. and Britain are sending a message: “No more warnings,” foreign policy expert David Rothkopf says.

The British participation in the strikes signals that there is an international community, not simply one country, seeking to end attacks on shipping vessels, Rothkopf says.

Houthis launched 27th attack on international shipping today

The British and U.S. launched airstrikes after U.S. Central Command said the Iranian-backed Houthis had fired anti-ship ballistic missiles from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen into international shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden.

No injuries or damage were reported, and a commercial vessel reported seeing the missile strike the water, the statement said.

The attack was the group’s 27th on international shipping since Nov. 19, Central Command said.

U.S., British military launch strikes against targets in Houthi-controlled Yemen

The U.S. and British militaries have launched strikes against targets in Houthi-controlled Yemen, two U.S. officials said.

The strikes targeted multiple locations with fighter jets and Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from Navy ships, the officials said.

Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, have been carrying out attacks in the Red Sea since mid-November after they declared support for Hamas, which attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

The U.S. has struck Houthi vessels in waters near Yemen and shot down attack drones, officials have said.

The U.K. has had military assets in the Red Sea, as well. Its defense secretary, Grant Shapps, said yesterday that one of those vessels, the destroyer HMS Diamond, destroyed multiple attack drones in the largest Houthi attack on sea to date.

State Department: Palestinians must be able to return to Gaza homes

Palestinian civilians who fled the Israeli invasion should be able to return to their homes in northern Gaza whether or not Hamas releases the remaining hostages, a State Department spokesman said.

Deputy spokesman Vedant Patel made that clear following reports that Israel was insisting that Hamas free all the people who were kidnapped on Oct. 7 before they allow displaced Palestinian civilians to return home.

“So I’m not going to speak to the specifics of internal diplomatic deliberations, but Palestinian civilians must be able to return to their homes when they choose to return, full stop,” Patel said. “And we’ve been clear that all hostages must be released immediately, and that the issue of their release should not be linked to any other issues. We’ve been quite clear about that.”

Patel also parried questions about whether the Palestinian Health Ministry was inflating the number of civilian deaths.

“When when it comes to civilian casualties, any number above zero is one that is heartbreaking for us,” he said. “And that is why at every trip at every engagement with Israeli officials, at every engagement with regional partners, we have stressed the importance of steps being taken to minimize the impact on civilian casualties.”

The Palestinian Health Ministry maintains that, as of Thursday, more than 23,400 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began.

Patel was also asked why the U.S. is defending Israel against charges brought by South Africa before the United Nations’ top court that the Jewish state was committing genocide against the Palestinians.

“Every conflict is different, and every circumstance is different, and these kinds of determinations need to be made with a close look at the law and the facts,” Patel said. “And these allegations that Israel is committing genocide are unfounded. That being said, we have been clear to Israel that they not only must comply with international humanitarian law in its operations against Hamas, but it needs to take all feasible steps to prevent civilian harm.”

The Rafah hospital doctor who brings healing to Gaza’s sick and injured

Dr. Noor Alwhidi works at Rafah’s Al-Kuwaiti Hospital in southern Gaza. NBC News followed her as she tended to patients and found time for a rare cup of coffee.

Hostage families gather on Gaza border to send messages to loved ones

Using microphones and speakers, the families of hostages still being held captive in Gaza gathered at Israel’s border with the enclave in the hope that their loved ones would hear their messages of support.

Video shared by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum showed dozens of relatives relaying their messages in Hebrew and English on the stretch of the border close to the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

Many held posters of their family members.

Israeli Hostage Families At Gaza Border
Efrat Machikawa, whose uncle Gadi Moses has been in Hamas captivity since Oct. 7, joins other hostage families at the Gaza border in Kibbutz Nirim, southern Israel, today.Maya Alleruzzo / AP

“We are waiting for all the members of Kibbutz Nir Oz,” one relative said in the video. The woman, who was holding a poster with a photo of 83-year-old Oded Lifshitz, spoke in English but was not named by the forum. She added that 26 people from the kibbutz remained in captivity.

Gazan university students praise South Africa for its ‘courage’

TEL AVIV — University students in Gaza praised South Africa tonight for its “courage” after the country brought allegations of genocide against Israel in the United Nations’ top court. 

“I felt proud about this country for their courage to lead the case,” Mohammad Nasser, a 24-year-old university student, told NBC News’ crew on the ground. Nasser said he was able to watch some of today’s proceedings online and was glad to see South Africa “defend … our case — and in front of the world.”

Mustafa Khaled, a 20-year-old studying business, said he felt the proceedings marked an important “humanitarian step in this moment” — and he said he was not surprised to see South Africa take the lead in filing the complaint. “A country like South Africa has previous experience in such aggressive and violent circumstances, so it’s not a surprising move,” he said, adding: “We really thank them and hope that this will make a difference in the situation.”

“All the world must move for us to end this genocide,” he said. “Every moment there is a bombardment, martyrs and injured, so we wish it will end soon.”

State Department says ship seized by Iran was not American, condemns actions

In a briefing today, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel confirmed that the oil tanker seized by Iranians this morning was “a Marshall Islands-flagged and Greek-owned oil tanker.” He condemned the seizure and called on the Iranian government to “release the ship and its crew.”

Nelson Mandela group backs South Africa against Israel

The Nelson Mandela Foundation, which bears the name of the man who led the fight against racist apartheid, said it backs South Africa’s bid to try Israel for genocide against the Palestinian people.

“The Nelson Mandela Foundation extends support to the South African legal team as they appear before the International Court of Justice today,” the group posted on social media. “Wishing them strength and success in their pursuit of truth, justice and peace.”

Mandela, who died in 2013, was a longtime supporter of the Palestinian bid for statehood.

The word ‘genocide’ was coined by a Holocaust survivor

Israel stands accused of committing genocide against the Palestinian people — a crime that did not have a name until 1944 when it was coined by a Polish-Jewish lawyer who had lost most of his family to the Nazi Holocaust.

Raphael Lemkin, who fled to the U.S. after the Germans in 1939 invaded Poland, combined the Greek word “genos,” which means race or tribe, with “cide,” which is Latin for killing, to create a word which means the intentional destruction of a people, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia.

It first appeared in Lemkin’s 1944 book “Axis Rule in Occupied Europe,” in which he documented German attempts to exterminate Jews, Poles and others.

Later, as part of the U.S. team preparing for the Nuremberg trials, Lemkin was able to get the word included in the indictment against the Hitler’s accomplices.

Lemkin also successfully pushed the United Nations to made genocide an international crime. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the General Assembly in December 1948.

Who supports and opposes the genocide claims against Israel?

Conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories is one of the most divisive issues in geopolitics. And, as such, South Africa’s case at the ICJ accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians has divided world governments.

Supporting South Africa

The Arab world has, rhetorically at least, staunchly supported people in Gaza since Israel launched its war in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks. So it follows that among those backing South Africa is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The 56 members of the OIC cover a population of almost 2 billion people, spanning North and West Africa to the Middle East and Central Asia; from Morocco and Nigeria to Pakistan and Kazakhstan.

Several members of this group — including NATO member Turkey — have independently supported the case, as have Bolivia and Venezuela.

Supporting Israel

Of those rejecting the case and supporting Israel, the United States has been the loudest voice, maintaining its stance as Israel’s biggest ally and main financial backer. It says the allegation of genocide is “unfounded.”

Germany, which has what it calls a “special” relationship with Israel, has also said it believes the allegations are “false,” and Austria has issued similar dismissals.

Somewhere in between

Other Western countries and bodies have declined to pick sides.

The United Kingdom has remained silent on its views. And there has been a latent tension within the European Union, of which Germany is the biggest economy, with its officials saying they will not comment. However other governments, such as Belgium and Spain, have been far more critical of Israel’s actions, some of them individually supporting the ICJ case.

Right-wing ministers’ comments ‘damaging’ Israel as it faces ICJ hearing, legal expert says

TEL AVIV — Comments made by right-wing ministers in Israel’s government have been “damaging” to the country, a prominent international law expert said as Israel faced accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice.

Professor Amichai Cohen said he thought it was possible that the ICJ would “accept the position of South Africa” in the initial stages of proceedings because “the only thing that South Africa has to prove is the plausibility of the claim.”

South Africa, in an 84-page legal filing submitted to the court, accused Israel of killing, injuring and displacing Palestinian civilians, and denying them food, water and other essentials after Oct. 7, when Hamas launched mutlipronged attacks on the country.

The filing says Israel, which has vowed to fight back at the hearings, has done this in a way that’s “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group.”  

Cohen, an international law expert with the Israel Democracy Institute and the Ono Academic College, said he did not believe his country’s actions meet “what the court has said is the threshold for genocide, even if the claims are correct.”

But he said he thought recent comments from right-wing Israeli ministers could constitute an “incitement to genocide,” and the country’s leaders should be doing more to “suppress these statements.”

“If the claim is, Israel is not doing enough to suppress incitement, then I agree, but this doesn’t go to show a plan of the state,” he said. “It only goes to show there are very extreme right-wingers in Israel that should be held accountable.”

Biden adviser hopeful for ‘diplomatic solution’ to Lebanon crisis

White House senior adviser Amos Hochstein met Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister and other government officials today and said he firmly believes “that the people of Lebanon do not want to see an escalation of the current crisis to a further conflict.”

Hochstein met Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, as Israel traded cross-border fire with the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Thousands of people on both sides of the border have been forced to flee their homes.

“We need to find a diplomatic solution that will allow for the Lebanese people to return to their homes in south Lebanon and to go back to their normal lives, as the people of Israel need to be able to return to their homes in their north, to be able to live with security,” Hochstein told reporters.

“I have had good discussions here with the government, and I am hopeful that we can continue to work this effort to arrive together, all of us on both sides of the border, with a solution that will allow for all people in Lebanon and Israel to live with guaranteed security and focus on a better future,” he added.

Delegates watch ICJ case at the Palestinian mission in Pretoria

Ambassadors from Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Palestinian territories gathered to watch the South African government’s genocide case at the International Court of Justice in The Hague today.

They followed the proceedings today at the headquarters of the Palestinian mission in Pretoria, South Africa.

Pro-Palestinian supporters gather to watch the South African Government's genocide case at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, which accuses Israel of genocide in the Gaza war, at the headquarters of the Palestinian mission in Pretoria
Alet Pretorius / Reuters

U.S. claims cautious success as Blinken wraps Middle East tour

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has wrapped up his seven-day tour of the Middle East, with a senior administration official claiming modest but potentially significant progress on getting regional support for a plan for Gaza’s postwar future.

Speaking to journalists at an airport in Cairo ahead of his flight back to Washington, Blinken said the countries he had visited were increasingly willing to offer some form of rehabilitation for Gaza in exchange for an independent Palestinian state.

“None of this will happen overnight. But there is a greater willingness now of countries to make the hard decisions and do what’s necessary to advance on that track,” he said. “That path is clearly there. It’s possible and we can see it.”

In seven days, Blinken visited nine countries, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel itself, plus the occupied West Bank.

The U.S. wanted to walk into the Israeli meeting with a unique offer in its back pocket: something approaching agreement among these neighboring states to offer rehabilitation and maybe security for Gaza — in return for a concrete path to a two-state solution, a senior administration official told reporters, requesting anonymity to discuss details of the tour candidly.

Cousin of hostage says he believes genocide case could help Israel on global stage

TEL AVIV — Israel is facing accusations of genocide at the U.N.’s top court, but the cousin of a woman held hostage by Hamas said he hopes the proceedings will ultimately help “show the world” the “nightmare” faced by those with relatives still in captivity.

“The whole world should understand that this is a crime against humanity that Hamas has committed,” said Gil Dickmann, whose cousin, Carmel Gat, 39, was taken hostage during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks. And he said he hoped Israel would demonstrate that during the case, which it has chosen to fight.

“In a way it’s great to see that the Israeli government chooses this way of showing the world the war and the reality that we’re facing,” he said.

Dickmann, 31, said he wanted the fighting and bloodshed in Gaza to end. But he said he would not welcome a cease-fire until all of the 136 people believed to remain captive are returned.

“I don’t think any of us wanted to see this happening in Gaza,” Dickmann said. “I don’t want more blood or revenge.” But he said he believed the mounting death toll and devastation in Gaza are “consequences of a terror organization that commits war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Iran confirms seizure of oil tanker involved in U.S. dispute

Iran seized a tanker with Iraqi crude oil destined for Turkey today in what appeared to be a retaliation for the seizure last year of the same vessel by the United States, Iranian media reported.

The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker St Nikolas, which last year was confiscated by the U.S. for carrying Iranian oil, was boarded by armed intruders as it sailed close to the Omani city of Sohar, according to British maritime security firm Ambrey, and its AIS tracking system was turned off as it headed in the direction of the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.

Following the seizure of the vessel last year, Iran warned the U.S. that “it will not go unanswered.”

“The Navy of Iran’s Army has announced the seizure of an American oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman with a judicial order,” Iranian state media cited a statement by the Army as saying.

It was unclear why Iranian media described the ship as an American vessel.

In 2023 the St Nikolas was seized in a sanctions enforcement operation when it sailed under a different name, Suez Rajan.

Palestinian rights group applauds South Africa for getting ‘wheels of justice’ turning

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A Palestinian rights group is applauding South Africa for opening its genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, saying the whole world will suffer if the court fails to act because “the credibility of the system is at stake.”

“This triggers the system of international justice, the wheels of justice to turn,” said Wesam Ahmad, director of the Center for Applied International Law at Al-Haq, an organization based in the occupied West Bank. “We can’t expect these wheels of justice to turn on their own. There needs to be political action to move them forward.”

In an interview this morning ahead of the first day of proceedings, Ahmad told NBC News that calls by some Israeli ministers to permanently relocate Palestinians out of Gaza were an important component of the case. Referencing the Fourth Geneva Convention, he said international law makes it illegal “to transfer civilian population in occupied territory out of occupied territory.”

Israel and the United States say South Africa’s accusations of genocide are baseless.

ISIS-affiliated ‘terrorists’ arrested in Jerusalem after planning attacks, Israel says

Jerusalem police and Israel’s domestic security agency Shin Bet said today they had “foiled terrorist attacks” in East Jerusalem planned by “two terrorists” who supported ISIS.

The agencies said the “terrorists” planned to prepare explosive charges and explosive devices aimed at the security forces, but they were arrested before their plans could be realized.

NBC News could not verify the claim or the identities of the arrested people.

Israel denies striking ambulance as Palestinian aid group mourns crew killed in central Gaza

The Palestine Red Crescent Society is mourning four of its members killed in what it said was a strike by Israel on one of its ambulances, but Israel denied carrying out any strikes in the area at the time of the incident.

Funeral of medical personnel killed in Israeli attack on ambulance in Gaza
Colleagues of Palestine Red Crescent personnel who were killed after an attack on an ambulance attend their funeral in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, today.Ashraf Amra / Anadolu via Getty Images

The PRCS said yesterday that four members of its ambulance team died as a result of a strike in the Deir al-Balah area in central Gaza after they were “intentionally targeted” by Israel inside an ambulance marked with the Red Crescent emblem. The organization said two other individuals who were in the ambulance at the time sustained injuries and later died.

NBC News could not independently verify the details of the incident.

The PRCS has been sharing names and photos of the crew members killed, talking about their service and family members left behind, as pictures emerged of their funerals being held in Gaza today.

In response to the incident, the Israeli military told NBC News that a review was conducted based on the details provided to the IDF and it showed that no strike was carried out in the described area.

The head of the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have issued statements on social media denouncing the strike.

Republican candidates offer support for Israel at GOP debate

They tore strips off each other, but the two Republicans vying to knock Donald Trump off his perch as the 2024 primary front-runner expressed unequivocal support for Israel at a one-on-one debate in Iowa yesterday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley both suggested that Israel should be allowed to continue its campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

DeSantis said the U.S. should “support Israel, in word and in deed, in public and in private.” He added: “I think to be a good ally, you back them in the decisions that they’re making with respect to Gaza.”

Haley, meanwhile, said that Israel should be given “whatever it wants,” and that Hamas should be eliminated “once and for all.”

Check out our roundup of the debate here.

South Africa wraps up opening arguments in Israel genocide case

The International Court of Justice has finished hearing South Africa’s arguments in its case accusing Israel of genocide in its war in Gaza.

South Africa says Israel has breached the 1948 Genocide Convention by killing Palestinians while displaying genocidal intent in its public statements. Its team of lawyers laid out these arguments in front of 17 judges, livestreamed around the world over the course of three hours.

The case may take years, but South Africa is calling on the court to impose an order in the meantime to stop the violence while the case plays out.

“South Africa now respectfully and humbly calls on this honorable court to do what is in its power to do … to prevent further irreparable harm to the Palestinian people in Gaza,” said Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, a lawyer on the South African legal team. “The very reputation of international law,” she added, “hangs in the balance.”

Tomorrow, Israel will present its defense, likely resting on its contention that it is targeting only Hamas and doing everything it can to protect civilians. It has rejected South Africa’s case as “an absurd blood libel.”

South Africa lawyer explains why Hamas can’t face ICJ genocide suits

Many international law experts agree that Hamas is an inherently genocidal organization, but Vaughan Lowe, a British lawyer representing South Africa at the ICJ, has pointed out that because Hamas is not a state, it is not party to the Genocide Convention of 1948 and could therefore not be accused of this war crime at the ICJ.

Israel is one of the convention’s signatories.

The International Criminal Court, or ICC, does deal with individuals, rather than states. And ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said last month that Hamas’ attack Oct. 7 contained “some of the most serious international crimes that shock the conscience of humanity,” and said his court was ready to assist Israel in investigating.

Palestinians’ hopes for survival ‘are now vested in this court,’ South Africa says

A lawyer for South Africa has asked the ICJ to call for a temporary cease-fire in Gaza while the legal proceedings play out, saying that Palestinians’ “hopes, including for their very survival, are now vested in this court.”

As well as accusing Israel of genocide, which could take years for the court to rule on, South Africa is asking the court to impose “provisional measures” in the meantime to stop the violence.

South Africa hopes that a landmark "genocide" case against Israel at the UN's top court on Januray 11, will seek to compel Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza, where more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside The Hague today.Robin Utrecht / AFP – Getty Images

“South Africa now respectfully and humbly calls on this honorable court to do what is in its power to do … to prevent further irreparable harm to the Palestinian people in Gaza,” said Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, a lawyer on the South African legal team. “The very reputation of international law,” she added, “hangs in the balance.”

She told the court that “it is becoming ever clearer that huge swaths of Gaza — entire towns, villages, refugee camps — are being wiped from the map.”

Global trade drops by 1.3% as attacks on Red Sea shipping ramp up, report says

MAINZ, Germany — Global trade fell by 1.3% from November to December as Houthi rebels ramped up attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea, according to a new report.

The volume of cargo transported through the waterway plummeted by “more than half and is currently almost 70 percent below the volume that would usually be expected,” the Germany-based IfW Kiel institute said today.

“As a result, freight costs and transportation time in goods traffic between East Asia and Europe have risen,” the report added.

As a result of the attacks, shipping giants such as Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd have been sending their vessels on longer, more expensive journeys around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. “The time it takes to transport goods between Asian production centers and European consumers is significantly extended by up to 20 days,” said Julian Hinz, director of the IfW Kiel’s trade policy research center.

South Africa likens Gaza to a concentration camp as case resumes

After a short break, South Africa’s genocide case against Israel in The Hague has resumed.

Max Du Plessis, a lawyer on South Africa’s team, is telling the court: “Palestinians in Gaza — as a very substantial and important part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group — simply but profoundly have a right to exist.”

Lawyer John Dugard, a former U.N. special rapporteur and ad hoc judge on the court, quoted his country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who said in November that “Israel turned Gaza into a concentration camp where a genocide is taking place.”

Such comparisons of Israel’s war in Gaza to Nazi concentration camps on a world stage are likely to stir strong feeling in Israel. The country’s government has accused South Africa of “blood libel” over the case.

Who are the judges hearing Israel’s genocide case?

The case at the ICJ is being heard by 15 judges, led by its American president, Joan E. Donoghue, and Russian vice-president, Kirill Gevorgian. The other nationalities are: Chinese, Indian, French, German, Japanese, Australian, Brazilian, Moroccan, Lebanese, Slovakian, Somalian, Ugandan and Jamaican.

South Africa hopes that a landmark "genocide" case against Israel at the UN's top court on Januray 11, will seek to compel Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza, where more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.
President Joan Donoghue, center, and other judges in the International Court of Justice take their seats at the Hague court today.Remko De Waal / AFP – Getty Images

In ICJ cases where parties to the case do not have judges on the bench, they may appoint what’s known as “ad hoc” justices.

For this, Israel has picked Aharon Barak, former president of its supreme court, and South Africa chose Dikgang Moseneke, its former deputy chief justice, both of whom were sworn in at the start of the hearing this morning.

Tanker in Gulf of Oman boarded by men in military uniforms

An oil tanker once at the center of a crisis between Iran and the United States was boarded in the Gulf of Oman by “unauthorized” men in military uniforms early this morning, an advisory group run by the British military and a private security firm warned.

Details remained unclear in what was apparently the latest seizure of a vessel in the tense Middle East waterways. However, suspicion immediately fell on Iran as the ship was once known as the Suez Rajan and had been involved in a yearlong dispute that ultimately saw the U.S. Justice Department seize 1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil on it.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, said today’s apparent seizure began early in the morning, in the waters between Oman and Iran in an area transited by ships coming in and out of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil traded passes.

The private security firm Ambrey said that “four to five armed persons” boarded the ship, which it identified as the oil tanker St. Nikolas. It said that the men had covered the surveillance cameras as they boarded.

The tanker had been off the city of Basra, Iraq, loading crude oil bound for Aliaga, Turkey, for the Turkish refinery firm Tupras. Satellite-tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press last showed the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker had turned and headed toward the port of Bandar-e Jask in Iran.

Israel calls South Africa’s ICJ genocide case ‘disgraceful’

While South Africa has been making its case at the International Court of Justice, the Israeli government has continued outlining its pushback on social media ahead of its courtroom defense tomorrow.

“Instead of holding Hamas, a genocidal terror organization, responsible for its horrific actions, Hamas’ allies are engaging in victim blaming at the International Court of Justice,” Israel’s official X account wrote, calling it “disgraceful.”

It also documented on social media a march toward the court, in the Dutch city of The Hague, by family members of those kidnapped during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

South Africa has denied being an “ally” of Hamas, and “unequivocally” condemned its October attack during its legal filing and oral arguments.

Genocide allegations against Israel are ‘unfounded,’ U.S. says

The State Department has said accusations that Israel is committing genocide are “unfounded.”

The United States, Israel’s closest ally and biggest financial backer, recognizes that the International Court of Justice, where Israel will defend itself against such allegations, “plays a vital role in the peaceful settlement of disputes,” a State Department statement said. But it warned South Africa, which is bringing the case against Israel, that “such allegations should only be made with the greatest of care.”

Israel “has the right to defend itself against Hamas’ terrorist acts” and is “operating in an exceptionally challenging environment in Gaza,” it said, accusing Hamas and other militant groups of continuing “to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.”

“We have also made clear Israel must not only comply with international humanitarian law in its operations against Hamas, but also look for more ways to prevent civilian harm and to investigate credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law when they arise,” it said. “Finally, we continue to condemn dehumanizing rhetoric on all sides.

Iran says it arrested 35 people in relation to deadly Kerman attacks

Iranian authorities have arrested 35 people in relation to the Jan. 3 attacks in the southeastern city of Kerman, the intelligence ministry said this morning, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

The ministry said it had identified one of the two suicide bombers as a national of Tajikistan, who entered Iran illegally on Dec. 19.

More information will be released at a later date about the second suicide bomber, the ministry said, adding that the arrests had been carried out in several Iranian provinces.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack that killed nearly 100 people and wounded 284, at a memorial for top commander Qassem Soleimani.

South Africa outlines case that Israel has ‘genocidal intent’

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, another lawyer in South Africa’s legal team, is now trying to show that Israel has acted with genocidal intent — something international law experts say is the hardest part to prove in such cases.

Ngcukaitobi is using public statements by Netanyahu and ministers in his coalition government, as well as videos shared by Israeli soldiers from the battlefield, which he says show this intent.

South Africa hopes that a landmark "genocide" case against Israel at the UN's top court on Januray 11, will seek to compel Israel to halt its military operations in Gaza.
South Africa Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola, left, and Ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela at the Hague court today.Remko De Waal / AFP – Getty Images

“Members of the Knesset have repeatedly called for Gaza to be wiped out, flatted, erased and crushed,” the South African lawyer said, referring to the Israeli parliament. “They have deplored anyone feeling sorry for the uninvolved Gazans,” saying that “the children of Gaza have brought this upon themselves, and that there should be one sentence for everyone there: death.”

The lawyer said attempts by Netanyahu and his ministers to downplay or explain these remarks have not lessened their impact or significance in the case. “Any suggestion that Israeli officials did not mean what they said … should be rejected by this court,” Ngcukaitobi said. “The reiteration and repetition of genocidal intent throughout every sphere of state in Israel” is not “out in the fringes” he added, it is “embodied in state policy.”

Only U.N. court can ‘stop the suffering,’ South Africa says

The South African legal team is now detailing its case alleging genocide against Israel, with senior counsel Adila Hassim imploring the judges to intervene to stop “suffering that has become unbearable to watch.”

She told the ICJ: “Genocides are never declared in advance, but this court has the benefit of the last 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts” by Israel.

“Every day there is mounting irreparable loss of life, property, dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people,” she said. “Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court.”

Israel will present its case tomorrow, and a ruling on whether the court will order Israel to halt its military operation is expected to take weeks. ICJ rulings are binding but the court has no powers to enforce them.

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters gather outside ICJ

Demonstrators waving Palestinian and Israeli flags have braved freezing temperatures to gather outside the International Court of Justice, in the Dutch city of The Hague, where South Africa’s genocide case against Israel has begun.

Hague Netherlands ICJ Protest
Robin Utrecht / AFP – Getty Images
Pro Israel Protests HAgue ICJ Protests
Robin Utrecht / AFP – Getty Images

South African minister quotes Mandela in defense of Palestinians

South Africa is bringing its genocide case against Israel as a way of “extending our hands across the miles to the people of Palestine,” South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said in his opening remarks to the ICJ.

He also quoted Nelson Mandela: “We are part of a humanity,” underscoring a perceived shared history between the Palestinian territories and South Africa, which was under apartheid and white minority rule until 1994.

Lamola said its case was a “commitment to the people of Palestine and Israelis alike” and said that this “did not begin on Oct 7” but that “Palestinians have experienced systematic violence for the past 76 years” — referring to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.

As South Africa did in its 84-page legal filing ahead of the case, Lamola repeated that he “unequivocally condemns Hamas” for its Oct. 7 attack on Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and some 240 hostages seized.

Blinken arrives in Egypt as he wraps up his Middle East visit

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Cairo on the last day of his fourth trip to the region since the Oct. 7 attacks.

Blinken will meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi before returning to Washington. Egypt has played a key role as a mediator in the conflict.

Blinken Arrievs in Egypt
Evelyn Hockstein / AFP – Getty Images

Blinken met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa yesterday as part of his latest diplomatic offensive in the region.

He told NBC News in an exclusive interview earlier this week that the U.S. has been pressing the Israelis to do “everything possible” to avoid civilian casualties amid a growing humanitarian crisis.

Court sets out South Africa’s case against Israel

The judges of the ICJ are laying out the central arguments of South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. South Africa is alleging that Israel has breached the Genocide Convention of 1948 by:

  • Killing Palestinians in Gaza “in large numbers”
  • Trying to “bring about their destruction as a group”
  • Carrying out their mass displacement
  • Depriving them of food, water, medical care, shelter and sanitation
  • Destroying “the life of the Palestinian people in Gaza”
  • And imposing measures “intended to prevent Palestinian births”

Israel has vehemently denied all of these allegations, and will outline its defense tomorrow.

Israeli military reports ongoing fighting in central, southern Gaza

The Israeli military said this morning it was carrying out operations in central and southern Gaza, and has killed a number of what it said were “terrorist operatives” in those areas.

In the central Al-Maghazi area, the IDF said it identified what it called “an armed terrorist cell,” which included three “terrorists” armed with assault rifles. It said an aircraft “thwarted” them as they were exiting a tunnel shaft.

Eight “terrorist operatives” were killed by sniper fire in the area, it added.

In the southern city of Khan Younis, the IDF said it killed seven “terrorists” and struck “terrorist infrastructure” from which it said anti-tank missiles were fired at its troops.

NBC News could not verify the details of the report or who the targets described by the IDF were.

Genocide case against Israel begins at the ICJ

South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice alleging genocide against Israel has begun. The court’s judges filed into the ICJ’s wood-paneled Great Hall of Justice and declared the proceedings open. 

South Africa will have three hours this to present its case, while Israel will defend itself for three hours Friday. It has denied the accusations and insists it works hard to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza.

Netanyahu insists he has no plans to occupy Gaza

In a rebuke against right-wing members of his own coalition government, Israel’s prime minister has said his country has no plans to occupy Gaza and replace its Palestinian population.

The comments come after the U.S. and others criticized suggestions by some of Netanyahu’s ministers that Gazans should be “voluntarily” resettled in other countries to make way for Israelis. International law experts say that this would not be voluntary if Gaza is made unlivable, warning it could constitute a war crime.

IDF soldiers in Khan Younis
Israeli soldiers take up positions during a ground operation in Khan Younis, Gaza yesterday.Ohad Zwigenberg / AP

Netanyahu spoke on the eve of Israel defending itself against accusations of genocide at the United Nations’ top court, the International Court of Justice.

“I want to make a few points absolutely clear: Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population,” Netanyahu said in an English-language video message released last night. “Our goal is to rid Gaza of Hamas terrorists and free our hostages,” he said. “Once this is achieved Gaza can be demilitarized and deradicalized, thereby creating a possibility for a better future for Israel and Palestinians alike.” 

Florida welcomes students fleeing campus antisemitism, with little evidence that there’s demand

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week directed the state’s universities to make it easier for out-of-state students facing antisemitism and other religious harassment in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war to transfer to Florida campuses.

DeSantis’ directive on Tuesday piggybacks on blowback some Ivy League leaders have faced in response to how they’re handling antisemitism and anti-Israel protests on their campuses. The governor’s office said there has been an increase in inquiries about transferring, without providing any numbers to back that up.

“With leaders of so-called elite universities enabling antisemitic activities, rather than protecting their students from threats and harassment, it is understandable that many Jewish students are looking for alternatives and looking to Florida,” DeSantis, who is campaigning for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, said in a statement.

The order referred to all students facing religious harassment, and when asked if it included Muslims, Christians and others, a spokeswoman for the board governing Florida’s university systems said Wednesday it covers any student fearful of religious persecution following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. However, neither she nor the governor’s office said how many students had made inquiries about transferring.

Democratic state Sen. Lori Berman said she knows of Florida students at Harvard who are concerned about antisemitism on campus, but has also heard from a student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, adding that antisemitism is a problem in many places and DeSantis’ directive is doing little to prevent it.

“It’s kind of interesting that we’re offering our Florida schools when I’m not sure that our Florida schools are any different than what’s going on elsewhere in the nation,” said Berman, who is Jewish.

The lawmaker from South Florida also noted there have been Nazi and antisemitic demonstrations and activities in Florida that DeSantis has said little about.

Israel showing few signs of winding down war in Gaza

Israel is showing few signs of winding down the war against Hamas, whose leader in Gaza is still at large. NBC News traveled to Beirut, Lebanon, where a senior Hamas leader was killed in an Israeli drone strike. We spoke to a local store owner who was working next to the apartment that was targeted, saying he never saw anyone living there.

Catch up with NBC News’ latest coverage of the war