Middle East latest: Netanyahu 'not a trustworthy leader' and 'should go', says Clinton; US brothers 'detained by Israeli … – Sky News

There has been a “furious response” to the latest US strike in Iraq, after Washington claimed to have killed three members of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia. Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down.
Thursday 8 February 2024 17:27, UK
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That’s it for today – we’ll be back tomorrow with more coverage of the Israel-Hamas war and Middle East crisis. 
Here are the key developments from today:
These images show the crowded city of Rafah – located to the south of Gaza.
Thousands flock to the city each week fleeing fighting further north, with Israel yet to expand its ground operations beyond the city of Khan Younis. 
Thirteen people are said to have died in overnight airstrikes in the city, however, and reports suggest the IDF will soon turn its ground attention to the city.  
The actions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are facing increasing scrutiny, with growing claims that he is deliberately blocking peace talks in the conflict.
Adding to pressure on the leader is former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who has now said he “should go” over his handling of the war.
The former presidential candidate and first lady told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner Tonight that Mr Netanyahu was to blame for the oversights that led to the Hamas attack on 7 October.
“Netanyahu should go,” she said.
“He is not a trustworthy leader. It was on his watch that the attack happened.
“He needs to go, and if he’s an obstacle to a ceasefire, if he’s an obstacle to exploring what’s to be done the day after, he absolutely needs to go.”
More than 27,708 Palestinians have been killed and over 67,000 injured by Israeli strikes, official figures from the enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry say, since Hamas killed around 1,140 people on 7 October.
Israeli forces have detained two young adult American brothers in Gaza and their Canadian father in an overnight raid on their home in the besieged Palestinian territory, relatives of the men say.
A US embassy official in Jerusalem said American officials were aware of the situation and following up with Israeli authorities.
The Israeli foreign ministry and military have yet to comment.
Borak Alagha, 18, and Hashem Alagha, 20, two brothers born in the Chicago area, are among fewer than 50 US citizens known to still be trying to leave sealed-off Gaza amid Israel’s military offensive.
Numerous other US green-card holders, close relatives of the citizens and permanent residents also are still struggling and unable to leave, despite US requests, according to their American families and advocates.
Cousin Yasmeen Elagha, a law student at Northwestern University, said Israeli forces entered the family home in the town of al-Masawi, near Khan Younis, around 5am Gaza time today.
The soldiers tied up and blindfolded the women and children in the family, and placed them outside the home, the cousin said.
The two American brothers, their Canadian citizen father, a mentally disabled uncle and two other adult male relatives were taken away by the Israelis, and remain missing, Ms Elagha said.
Men of a neighbouring household were also taken away. So were other adult male relatives of another Alagha household, for a total of about 20 detained, the US cousin said.
A family social media account from Gaza also described the detentions.
State Department spokespeople in Washington had no immediate comment on the reported detention of the American brothers.
The brothers would be among three American citizens taken into custody by Israeli forces this week, during the same time secretary of state Antony Blinken visits the region in an effort to mediate with ally Israel and regional Arab leaders.
A 46-year-old Palestinian American woman, Samaher Esmail, was taken from her home in the occupied West Bank on Monday and detained. The Israeli military said she had been arrested for “incitement on social media” and held for questioning.

The US embassy in Israel said today it had no updates on her case.
By Sean Bell, Sky News military analyst 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have dismissed the latest proposals to secure some form of operational pause in the war with Hamas. His stated priority is the destruction of Hamas, and the IDF military ground offensive has been systematically working its way through Gaza.
But does this mark the end for any negotiated break in the conflict?
For any negotiation to be successful, both sides need to see merit or benefit in engaging. Hamas is no match militarily for the IDF, so they will be motivated to find a way to pause or stop the war. It is less clear what motive Israel has to negotiate.
However, the US is clearly concerned about the prospects of further regional escalation, with US secretary of state Antony Blinken on his fifth visit to the region since the 7 October attacks.
The US-brokered deal to pause the fighting appears to have been focused on a two-month pause in fighting, 100 hostages released, and a surge in humanitarian aid into Gaza. That proposal was developed by the Qatari and Egyptian negotiators, before being passed to the Israeli government and on to Hamas.
It appears that in response, Hamas has forwarded a counter-proposal which involves three phases of hostage release: the first would involve the release of women and children; the second the release of the rest of the prisoners; and the third the return of all Israeli bodies. In return, the IDF would release a number of Palestinian prisoners, and also agree to withdraw completely from Gaza.
As with any negotiation, it is very likely that elements of the Hamas proposal would not be acceptable to the Israelis. However, it is not clear whether Mr Netanyahu has dismissed the prospect of a negotiated solution, or whether he would be prepared to consider some form of compromise.
Meanwhile, negotiations appear to be continuing, with reports that Israel would be willing to let Hamas military leader Yahya Sinwar go into exile in exchange for the release of all hostages and an end to the Hamas government in Gaza.
But where does this leave the fate of the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas?
On 7 October, Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis and seized 240 hostages. Since then, a pause in the fighting in November last year saw over 100 hostages released, and three were killed accidentally by the IDF in December. Israel claims 32 of the remaining 136 hostages have died in Gaza, and they also believe up to 20 more might also have died. That leaves around 84 hostages potentially still alive in Gaza.
But, Israel seems poised to start phase three of its ground offensive. Phase one was focused on the north of Gaza, phase two on Khan Younis, and phase three looks to be focused on Rafah.
Throughout the ground offensive, over one million Palestinians have been pushed south, and now find themselves squeezed against the Egyptian border. The next phase of the IDF operation will be hugely challenging, with such a high population density making it extremely difficult to differentiate between Hamas fighters, civilians and hostages.
Despite growing calls from Israeli protesters in Tel Aviv that more needs to be done to secure the release of hostages, unless a deal to release the remaining hostages is agreed soon, phase three of the Israeli ground offensive will be under way. The prospects for the hostages in such circumstances would look very bleak. 

By Cordelia Lynch, Asia correspondent
The caretaker prime minister of Pakistan has told Sky News there is no attempt to “target a specific party or group” amid claims of pre-poll rigging and candidate harassment.
Speaking on the eve of the election, Anwaar ul Haq Kakar did acknowledge they couldn’t totally guarantee free and fair elections.
“Absolute is a very relative term and it’s a very subjective term,” he said.
“What I can assure you is that despite all our shortcomings and flaws which there are in the system, there is no systematic pattern or institutional pattern where we are targeting a specific party or group.”
It comes as people have begun casting their ballots in the country’s highly-charged election – the build-up to which has been marred by violence and claims of fraud.
On the eve of Thursday’s election, bombs struck two political offices in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 30 people.
Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary forces have been deployed at polling stations to ensure security.
Mobile phone services cut
Mr Kakar had said late last night that he had “no intention” of shutting down internet services.
But this morning his government did exactly that, cutting mobile phone services across the country, citing “recent incidents of terrorism in the country”.
Pakistan’s chief election commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja told Sky News that “whenever they feel like there is no problem as far as security is concerned, it will be on”.
Some analysts suggest the suspended mobile phone services will have an impact on turnout.
Many in the country have said the military is pulling the strings in this election – with Nawaz Sharif being their favoured candidate.
Around one million Gazans displaced from their homes have been seeking refuge in Rafah – although the border town has now also become the target of Israeli airstrikes.
Among those attempting to shelter are five families who have moved into a chicken farm, living in its long concrete sheds, the battery coops transformed into bunk beds.
Following the Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people – Israel’s military assault on Gaza has killed more than 27,800 Palestinians, according to the enclave’s Hamas-run health authority.
More than 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants have fled their homes, with about one million flocking into Rafah, which borders Egypt. Many of them live in tents crammed into empty lots or patches of beach.
For the Hanoon family, one of five in an extended clan that have moved in there, the chicken farm feels close to rock bottom.
“We’re living in a place meant for animals,” said Umm Mahdi Hanoon, standing among the cages.
“Imagine a child sleeping in a chicken crate.
“The place is very bad. Water leaks down on us. The cold is really harsh for the children, for the old people, for those who are ill… sometimes we wish the morning won’t come,” she said.
Her son, Mahdi, said they had lived in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood of Gaza City, an area that came under the path of Israel’s military offensive early in the war.
“We moved to al-Zawayda. Due to the shelling we looked for another place but couldn’t find one because there are a lot of us. Then an acquaintance, a friend of my cousin’s, told me there’s a chicken farm in Rafah with cages,” he said.
“We struggled at first. There were insects. We have children,” he said, initially thinking they would only be there for a couple of days.
But as the time went by they had to accept that the chicken sheds would be their home for much longer. They used the metal frames of the cages as beds and cook bread, when they manage to find flour, on a metal stove on the floor.
“It is hard to live in a place like this, a place which was designed for chickens and birds. You find yourself in a cage,” Mahdi said.
Let’s bring you the latest battlefield reports from Gaza now. 
Southern Gaza
Khan Younis is once again the main focus of IDF activity.
Israel claimed this morning it had apprehended “dozens” of Hamas and aligned fighters, including two it says took part in the 7 October attacks. 
It added it had killed at least 20. 
The IDF also detailed “close-quarters” battles on the streets as well as targeted raids on Hamas targets. 
“During a targeted raid on terror infrastructure located in the residence of a terrorist, IDF troops located an RPG launcher, scuba suit and ammunition,” an update read. 

There are also reports that the IDF is weighing up action in Rafah (see 11.56am post).
The southern city has not seen any ground activity yet but has not been spared the spates of intense airstrikes directed at it since the war broke out. 
At least 13 civilians were killed in the latest round of strikes in the city overnight, according to the Kuwaiti Hospital. 
Hamas has not issued any battlefield updates regarding the south so far today. 
Northern Gaza
“In the northern Gaza Strip, IDF troops killed 10 terrorists in various encounters during the day,” the IDF said. 

It said troops on an intelligence mission had stopped “a terrorist cell” from transferring unspecified “technological systems” to Hamas by targeting it with a drone. 
Hamas has not issued any battlefield updates regarding the north so far today. 
Central Gaza
Hamas claims to have struck an Israeli tank with a high-calibre shell earlier today, before leaving dead and wounded after an engagement with the IDF in Gaza City. 
The IDF has not addressed that claim, issuing this report before it emerged: “Troops killed 10 terrorists in various encounters during the day.”
Sirens have also been sounding in central Israeli regions, with rockets fired by Hamas and other groups often fired from central and northern positions within Gaza – although it is not confirmed that any rockets have been fired today. 
A US military outpost hit by a deadly drone strike in Jordan at the end of last month is just one of many bases the US has in the Middle East.

Here is what we know about America’s military presence in the region.

Where are US soldiers based?
There are approximately 30,000 US troops scattered across the region, including in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Qatar hosts the largest US base, al Udeid air base, which was built in 1996. 
There are 2,500 personnel in Iraq, spread around facilities like Union III and Ain al Asad air base.
Another 900 troops are in small northeastern Syrian bases like al Omar oil field (struck earlier – see 8.22am post) and al Shaddadi, as well as an outpost near the border with Iraq and Jordan, al Tanf garrison.
On the other side of the Jordanian border is Tower 22, where the drone attack that killed three American servicemembers occurred.
Jordan, a key US ally in the region, hosts hundreds of US trainers.
Why are they there?
US troops are stationed with the permission of each country’s government, except in Syria.
In countries like Iraq and Syria, the US says troops are there to fight against Islamic State militants and advise local forces. 
Al Tanf had been key in the fight against IS and assumed a role as part of a US strategy to contain Iran’s military build-up in eastern Syria.
US trainers hold extensive exercises for Jordanian forces throughout the year, as well as training in Qatar and the UAE.
Those US troops in Qatar and the UAE are also used as needed in operations in the region.
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