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Iran-backed Houthis target Greek and British cargo ships in Red Sea

Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen fired six ballistic missiles at two ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, with one ship reporting minor damage.

A Greek-owned bulked carrier was struck by three of the projectiles fired by the Houthis on Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, the militants struck a British-owned cargo ship in the Red Sea.

The USS Laboon operating near the Greek ship “intercepted and shot down a third anti-ship ballistic missile fired” by the Houthis, the US Central Command said.

The Greek-owned Star Nasia was damaged by an explosion at 11.15am GMT, a Greek shipping ministry official said.

The fresh attacks come just two days after the US and the UK conducted joint airstrikes targeting Houthi bases in Yemen.

Meanwhile, the US has walked back its previous claims that it informed the Iraqi government it would be conducting airstrikes, saying that information was relayed incorrectly.

Vedant Patel, the state department spokesperson, clarified there “was not a pre-notification” but that they notified the Iraqi government “immediately after the strikes occurred”.

The US conducted retaliatory strikes on more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria on Friday, resulting in at least 39 casualties.

Following the strikes, the White House refused to rule out US action inside Iran.

On Sunday, president Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told US news networks that further military action was likely, and would not rule out the possibility of strikes inside Iran’s borders.

“I’m not going to get into what’s on the table and off the table when it comes to the American response,” he told CBS.

Mr Sullivan called the airstrikes “the beginning, not the end of our response”. However, the US has insisted that it does not want a wider conflict across the Middle East.

Key Points

  • Houthis strike British and Greek cargo ships

  • Saudi Arabia says no relations with Israel without Palestinian state

  • Israeli strikes killed civilians in Syria, says military

Video: US vessels join strikes on Iran-backed Houthis

Tuesday 6 February 2024 06:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Blinken returns to Mideast in push for hostage deal and postwar plan for Gaza

Tuesday 6 February 2024 07:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

US secretary of state Antony Blinken arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday on his fifth visit to the region since the outbreak of the war in Gaza, hoping to press ahead with a potential cease-fire deal and postwar planning while tamping down regional tensions.

But on all three fronts he faces major challenges: Hamas and Israel are publicly at odds over key elements of a potential truce.

Israel has dismissed US calls for a path to a Palestinian state, and Iran’s militant allies in the region have shown little sign of being deterred by US strikes.

In Gaza, meanwhile, Hamas has begun to re-emerge in some of the most devastated areas after Israeli forces pulled back, an indication that Israel’s central goal of crushing the group remains elusive.

Video footage from the same areas shows vast destruction, with nearly every building damaged or destroyed.

More here.

Blinken returns to Mideast in push for hostage deal and postwar plan for Gaza, but obstacles loom

In Pics: Houthis hold military exercise

Tuesday 6 February 2024 08:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Houthis hold military exercise amid escalating attacks on Red Sea shipping (EPA)
Houthis hold military exercise amid escalating attacks on Red Sea shipping (EPA)
Houthis hold military exercise amid escalating attacks on Red Sea shipping (EPA)
Houthis hold military exercise amid escalating attacks on Red Sea shipping (EPA)
Houthis hold military exercise amid escalating attacks on Red Sea shipping (EPA)
Houthis hold military exercise amid escalating attacks on Red Sea shipping (EPA)

Antony Blinken heads to Egypt

Tuesday 6 February 2024 09:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

US secretary of state Antony Blinken on Tuesday will meet president Abel Fattah El-Sisi in Egypt to hold talks seeking an “enduring end” to the crisis in Gaza.

This is Mr Blinken’s fifth visit to the Middle East since the onset of Israel’s war in Gaza, which began in October last year.

On Monday, Mr Blinken met Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and discussed “regional coordination to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza”, said state department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Mr Miller said they spoke about the “urgent need to reduce regional tensions”.

Yemen’s presidential council sacks prime minister

Tuesday 6 February 2024 09:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Yemen’s internationally recognised presidential council sacked the prime minister in an unexpected move that comes at a time when a US-led coalition has been striking targets of the government’s rivals, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.A decree from the council appointed foreign minister Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak the new prime minister.

Mr Bin Mubarak, who is close to Saudi Arabia, replaced Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, who was Yemen’s premier since 2018.The council didn’t give a reason behind the reshuffle.Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north.

British and American vessels targeted by Houthis in Red Sea

Tuesday 6 February 2024 10:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

The Iran-backed Houthis said they fired missiles at two vessels in the Red Sea overnight, causing minor damage to one cargo ship that was sailing off the coast of Yemen’s Hodeidah.

The group’s military spokesman said it fired naval missiles at the British-owed and Brabados-flagged Morning Tide along with the American Marshall Islands-flagged Star Nasia.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said just after midnight on Tuesday that it had received a report of a projectile fired at the port side of a ship located 57 nautical miles west of Hodeidah and that a small craft was seen nearby.

The projectile passed over the deck and caused slight damage to the bridge windows, but the vessel and crew were safe and proceeded on the planned passage, UKMTO added.

The owner of the Morning Tide, British firm Furadino Shipping, told Reuters the ship was currently sailing without problems, but gave no further information.

Video: Moment RAF jets take off to conduct strikes against Houthis

Tuesday 6 February 2024 10:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Moment RAF jets take off to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen

Pentagon says not aware of any Iranian being killed in Middle East strikes

Tuesday 6 February 2024 11:59 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

The Pentagon said it was not aware of any Iranian deaths in the recent US strikes against Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria.

The US launched airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Friday against more than 85 targets linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and militias it backs in retaliation for a deadly attack on American troops.

Air Force Major General Patrick Ryder told reporters initial indications were that the strikes did not kill any Iranians. But he said other casualties other were likely, without giving details.

“It’s fair to conclude that there likely were casualties associated with these strikes,” he said, adding that the assessment was ongoing.

Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a state security force including Iran-backed groups, said 16 of its members were killed including fighters and medics.

In Syria, the strikes killed 23 people who had been guarding the targeted locations, said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Pics: Houthis flaunt heavy weapons during Gaza solidarity rally

Tuesday 6 February 2024 12:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

An elderly Houthi fighter mans a cannon mounted on a vehicle at a rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (Getty Images)
An elderly Houthi fighter mans a cannon mounted on a vehicle at a rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip (Getty Images)
A Houthi fighter carries a machine gun in front of scout team members carrying Yemeni and Palestinian flags (Getty Images)
A Houthi fighter carries a machine gun in front of scout team members carrying Yemeni and Palestinian flags (Getty Images)
Houthi fighters man heavy machine guns mounted on vehicles at a rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza (Getty Images)
Houthi fighters man heavy machine guns mounted on vehicles at a rally in support of Palestinians in the Gaza (Getty Images)

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Tuesday 6 February 2024 12:45 , Chris Stevenson

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Meetings in Egypt

Tuesday 6 February 2024 13:12 , Chris Stevenson

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is pressing ahead with a diplomatic tour of the Middle East, meeting Egyptian leaders as part of his efforts to secure a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, in exchange for the release of hostages.

Mr Blinken's visit also comes amid growing concerns in Egypt about Israel's stated intentions to expand the combat in Gaza to areas on the Egyptian border where many displaced Palestinians now live.

Israel's defense minister has said Israel's offensive will eventually reach the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people have sought refuge and are now living in increasingly miserable conditions.Egypt has warned that an Israeli deployment along the border would threaten the peace treaty the two countries signed over four decades ago. Egypt fears an expansion of combat to the Rafah area could push terrified Palestinian civilians across the border, a scenario Egypt has said it is determined to prevent.

UK ship still heading to Singapore

Tuesday 6 February 2024 13:40 , Chris Stevenson

A military spokesman of the Iranian-backed Houthis, Brigadier General. Yahya Saree, claimed in a statement that the group attacked two separate vessels, one American and one British, in the Red Sea on Tuesday. He provided no evidence to support the claim.

One of the ships the Houthis claimed attacking, the Morning Tide, is said to be continuing on its journey. The Morning Tide's owner, British firm Furadino Shipping, said no one was hurt in the attack and the ship will keep travelling towards Singapore.

US walks back claim it gave Iraq a heads up

Tuesday 6 February 2024 14:10 , Ariana Baio

On Monday, US officials walked back their previous claim that they gave Iraqi government a heads up before airstrikes were conducted on Friday.

“As for this specific response on Friday, there was not a pre-notification. We informed the Iraqis immediately after the strikes occurred,” Vedant Patel, the State Department deputy spokesperson, said.

“Iraq, like every country in the region, understood that there would be a response after the deaths of our soldiers,” Mr Patel added.

Iraq had disputed National Security Council communications coordinator John Kirby’s claims that the US “did inform the Iraqi government prior to the strikes.”

Mr Kirby said on Monday he relayed the information that was given to him at the time of the strikes.

“It was not as specific as it could have been, and I regret any confusion caused,” Mr Kirby said

Most targets hit in Iraq and Syria

Tuesday 6 February 2024 14:45 , Ariana Baio

Most of the damage or destruction caused by the US’s airstrikes this past weekend were in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon press secretary said on Monday.

On Friday and Saturday, the US conducted retaliatory strikes on targets in Iraq and Syria in response to the death of three American soldiers in Jordan. The US said it conducted “more than 85” targeted strikes, though officials did not disclose the exact number.

But on Monday, Major General Patrick Ryder said that “more than 80” of those strikes destroyed or severely damaged targets like command hubs, intelligence centres, ammunition bunkers and more for Iranian-backed militias.

Watch: Houthi site damage before and after US-led airstrikes captured by satellite

Tuesday 6 February 2024 15:20 , Ariana Baio

Import prices affected by Red Sea disruption

Tuesday 6 February 2024 16:00 , Ariana Baio, PA

Overall input costs rose last month for the first time since September, the latest S&P Global / CIPS construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI) said on Monday.

Some firms flagged higher costs for imported building materials, mainly from Asia, due to attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have attacked commercial and military ships in what they say is an act of solidarity with the people of Palestine since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

Now retailers are warning consumers of stock delays and higher costs as ships are forced to re-route away from the Red Sea.

PA contributed to this report

Pentagon cools fears over long term airstrike campaign in Iraq and Syria

Tuesday 6 February 2024 16:30 , Ariana Baio

After emphasizing the US would continue conducting retaliatory responses in Iraq and Syria over the death of three American soldiers, the Pentagon clarified the response would just be mission-based.

“Our goal is not to ‘OK game on, let’s just do this and go full-scale war against Iranian proxy groups in Iraq and Syria,’” Major General Patrick Ryder said on Monday.

“That’s not what we’re there for. We’re there to conduct the mission,” Mr Ryder said.

However, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the US would be carrying out further responses.

Blinken seeks progress on Gaza cease-fire-for-hostages deal in meetings with Egyptian mediators

Tuesday 6 February 2024 17:00 , AP

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Cairo on Tuesday for a meeting with Egyptian leaders that U.S. officials said would concentrate mainly on the task of negotiating a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in exchange for the release of hostages held by the militants.

Blinken’s visit also comes amid growing concerns in Egypt about Israel‘s stated intentions to expand the combat in Gaza to areas on the Egyptian border that are crammed with displaced Palestinians.

Israel’s defense minister has said Israel’s offensive will eventually reach the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge and live in increasingly miserable conditions.

U.N. humanitarian monitors said Tuesday that Israeli evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of Gaza’s territory, driving thousands more people every day toward the border areas.

Egypt has warned that an Israeli deployment along the border would threaten the peace treaty the two countries signed over four decades ago. Egypt fears an expansion of combat to the Rafah area could push terrified Palestinian civilians across the border, a scenario Egypt has said it is determined to prevent.

Pressure on Blinken to get Gaza truce breakthrough as Israeli forces close on last refuge for Palestinians

Tuesday 6 February 2024 17:30 , Ariana Baio

The US secretary of state is set to travel to the Gulf, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the occupied West Bank, in his fifth attempt at furious shuttle diplomacy in the region since October. The 7 October attack by Hamas that killed around 1,200 people in Israel and saw another 250 taken hostage, and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in response, has sparked clashes across the region. Gaza’s authorities say Israel’s air and ground assault has killed more than 27,400 Palestinians.

US officials have warned the situation in the Middle East is the most dangerous it has been in decades, as Iran-backed militias in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen have entered the fray, attacking US positions and global shipping routes, in retaliation for support of Israel’s offensive.

Bel Trew reports:

Pressure on Blinken to get Gaza truce breakthrough as Rafah fears grow

A timeline of the strikes in the Middle East

Tuesday 6 February 2024 18:00 , Ariana Baio

January 28: Three US soldiers are killed and 25 others are injured in a drone attack in Jordan. President Joe Biden vows to “respond” to the incident but does not specify what that means.

January 29: The identity of the three fallen soldiers is revealed.

February 2: US military strikes more than 85 targets in Syria and Iraq in a retaliatory move. The military targeted facilities connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force and militias backed by Iran. An estimated 40 people are killed in the attacks.

February 3: The US and UK, with support from six other allied countries, launch attacks at dozens of sites in Yemen controlled by Houthi militants. The attack is related to an ongoing conflict in the Red Sea where Houthis have been attacking commercial and military ships.

February 4: Houthis vow to respond to the US’s attacks and Iran warns the US that carrying out more strikes will lead to more instability in the region. US strikes a Houthi land attack cruise missile.

February 5: US conducts a strike against two Houthi explosive uncrewed surface vehicles (USV).

February 6: Houthis attack a British-owned cargo.

Blinken discussing potential hostage release and humanitarian aid

Tuesday 6 February 2024 18:30 , Ariana Baio

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Qatar today to discuss a potential pause in the fighting in Gaza to release hostages held by Hamas with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“Secretary Blinken and the Amir agreed to continue close coordination to increase humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and to urge the protection of civilians consistent with humanitarian law,” State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said.

“The Secretary reiterated the US rejection of any forced displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and underscored the US commitment to establishing durable peace in the Middle East, including the establishment of a Palestinian state that ensures security for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Watch: US launches missiles towards Houthi targets in Yemen from warship

Tuesday 6 February 2024 19:00 , Ariana Baio

US vows more strikes against Iran-backed rebels in Middle East

Tuesday 6 February 2024 20:00 , Ariana Baio

The US has vowed to take more retaliatory action targeting Iran-backed militants in the Middle East following the death of three US troops in Jordan.

The US military launched its offensive in Iraq and Syria over the weekend in retaliation against the attacks on its bases. It separately targeted the Houthis in Yemen amid the ongoing crisis in the Red Sea.

“Part of the purpose of these strikes is to take away capabilities from the Iranian-backed militants in Iraq and Syria that are attacking our forces,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC News.

The strikes had a “good effect” in degrading the capabilities of the militias and the Houthis, he said.

“There will be more steps. Some of those actions will be seen, some may not be seen.

“There will be more action taken to respond to the tragic death of the three brave US service members.”

Watch: Children’s clothing stretching 5km laid out on beach in Gaza war protest

Tuesday 6 February 2024 21:00 , Ariana Baio

US struck Houthi explosive uncrewed surface vehicles

Tuesday 6 February 2024 21:45 , Ariana Baio

The US Central Command said they struck a Houthi explosive uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) that “presented an imminent threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region” on Monday.

Iran continuing to back proxies, report says

Tuesday 6 February 2024 22:20 , Ariana Baio

Iran is continuing to provide weapons and intelligence to its proxies, a Middle Eastern official, US official and congressional aide with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

According to the new report, Iran is continuing to back militants and rebels across the Middle East, even as the US conducts airstrikes in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

This assistance allegedly includes providing intelligence to Houthi forces in Yemen to continue attacking military and commercial ships in the Red Sea. It also includes sending weapons to other proxy forces.

The US launched strikes against Houthi militants in parts of Yemen for the continued attack of vessels in the Red Sea.

Additionally, the US conducted airstrikes in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for the killing of three American soldiers in Jordan.

31 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza are dead, Israeli military says

Tuesday 6 February 2024 22:50 , Ariana Baio

Israel’s military says 31 of the hostages in Gaza are dead – a fifth of the 136 people still being held captive by Hamas.

It comes after a document compiled by Israeli intelligence officers reported by the New York Times, suggested 32 have died since the Hamas attack inside Israel on 7 October and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in response.

Four military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israel was also assessing unconfirmed intelligence indicating that at least 20 other hostages may have also been killed, the paper reported.

Matt Mathers reports:

31 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza are dead, Israeli military says

Watch: Patrick Ryder says ‘We are not there to seek confrontation or war with Iran'

Tuesday 6 February 2024 23:35 , Ariana Baio

ICYMI: Import prices affected by Red Sea disruption

00:50 , Ariana Baio, PA

Overall input costs rose last month for the first time since September, the latest S&P Global / CIPS construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI) said on Monday.

Some firms flagged higher costs for imported building materials, mainly from Asia, due to attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have attacked commercial and military ships in what they say is an act of solidarity with the people of Palestine since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

Now retailers are warning consumers of stock delays and higher costs as ships are forced to re-route away from the Red Sea.

PA contributed to this report

White House refuses to rule out US strikes inside Iran after retaliatory attacks across Middle East

01:20 , John Bowden

The White House has refused to rule out US action inside Iran following a wave of retaliatory airstrikes across the Middle East.

This weekend saw the US hit dozens of Iran-backed militia sites in Iraq, Syria and Yemen in response to a deadly attack at a military base in Jordan which left three US service members dead last month.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan told US news networks that further military action was likely, and would not rule out the possibility of strikes inside Iran’s borders.

“I’m not going to get into what’s on the table and off the table when it comes to the American response,” he told CBS.

Mr Sullivan called the airstrikes “the beginning, not the end of our response”. However, the US has insisted that it does not want a wider conflict across the Middle East.

Voices: A humanitarian disaster waits if Israeli troops push into Gaza’s Rafah: ‘Ceasefire is our only hope’

02:00 , Ariana Baio

“Families and medics in Rafah – the last refuge for Palestinians within Gaza – have warned of catastrophe if Israel fulfils its promise to advance into the border town.

Rafah, which lies along the border Egypt, is now sheltering more than a million people, most of them those who fled other parts of Gaza after Israel unleashed its heaviest ever bombardment of the strip in retaliation for the bloody 7 October attack by Hamas.

Many are sleeping in makeshift tents in schools, hospital courtyards, on the streets, and abandoned buildings, as families described cooking on campfires and washing in the sea.”

Bel Trew writes:

A humanitarian disaster waits if Israeli troops push into Gaza’s Rafah

Israeli military says 31 hostages in Gaza are dead

02:45 , Matt Mathers

Israel’s military says 31 of the hostages in Gaza are dead – a fifth of the 136 people still being held captive by Hamas.

It comes after a document compiled by Israeli intelligence officers reported by the New York Times, suggested 32 have died since the Hamas attack inside Israel on 7 October and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in response.

Four military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israel was also assessing unconfirmed intelligence indicating that at least 20 other hostages may have also been killed, the paper reported.

The circumstances of the hostage deaths remain unclear with the Israeli authorities suggesting that many of those deaths had occurred during Hamas’s deadly attack, in which 1,200 people were killed and at least another 240 taken hostage.

The Israeli military told the New York Times that it was “deploying all available resources to locate and retrieve as much information as possible regarding the hostages currently held by Hamas.”

Blinken seeks progress on Gaza cease-fire-for-hostages deal

03:00 , Associated Press

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Cairo on Tuesday for a meeting with Egyptian leaders that U.S. officials said would concentrate mainly on the task of negotiating a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war in exchange for the release of hostages held by the militants.

Blinken’s visit also comes amid growing concerns in Egypt about Israel‘s stated intentions to expand the combat in Gaza to areas on the Egyptian border that are crammed with displaced Palestinians.

Israel’s defense minister has said Israel’s offensive will eventually reach the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge and live in increasingly miserable conditions.

UN humanitarian monitors said Tuesday that Israeli evacuation orders now cover two-thirds of Gaza’s territory, driving thousands more people every day toward the border areas.

Houthis strike Greek cargo ship

03:16 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen fired six ballistic missiles at two ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, with one ship reporting minor damage.

A Greek-owned bulked carrier was struck by three of the projectiles fired by the Houthis on Tuesday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, the militants struck a British-owned cargo ship in the Red Sea.

The USS Laboon operating near the Greek ship “intercepted and shot down a third anti-ship ballistic missile fired” by the Houthis, the US Central Command said.

Saudi Arabia says no relations with Israel without independent Palestinian state

03:32 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Saudi Arabia has told the US that that nation will hold no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognised on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem.

The Saudi foreign ministry in a statement on Wednesday said the Israeli “aggression” on the Gaza Strip needed to stop and all Israeli occupation forces should withdraw from the Gaza Strip.T

he statement comes a day after US secretary of state Antony Blinken held talks with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh on Monday.

It was Mr Blinken’s fifth visit to the Middle East since the onset of Israel’s war in Gaza in October 2023.

ICYMI: Yemen’s presidential council sacks prime minister

04:00 , Ariana Baio

Yemen’s internationally recognised presidential council sacked the prime minister in an unexpected move that comes at a time when a US-led coalition has been striking targets of the government’s rivals, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. A decree from the council appointed foreign minister Ahmed Awad Bin Mubarak the new prime minister.

Mr Bin Mubarak, who is close to Saudi Arabia, replaced Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, who was Yemen’s premier since 2018. The council didn’t give a reason behind the reshuffle. Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2014, when the Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, and much of the north.

Houthis’ ability to attack in Red Sea not fully degraded, says Shapps

04:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

The Houthis’ ability to carry out attacks in the Red Sea has been reduced – but not “fully degraded”, Grant Shapps has said.

The defence secretary told the Commons the UK will, if necessary, not hesitate to respond again “in self-defence”.

He was updating MPs after the UK and the US took part in joint airstrikes against Houthi rebel sites in Yemen on Saturday.

Mr Shapps said the attacks were in line with international law and in self-defence, and had targeted “three military facilities” hitting “11 separate targets”, identified following “very careful analysis”.

He said: “We do not believe that there were any civilian casualties on Saturday night.”

More here.

Shapps: Houthis’ ability to attack in Red Sea reduced but not fully degraded

Iran issues a warning about suspected spy ships in the Middle East

05:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Iran issued a warning to the US over potentially targeting two cargo ships in the Mideast long suspected of serving as forwarding operating base for Iranian commandos, just after America and the United Kingdom launched a massive airstrike campaign against Yemen‘s Houthi rebels.

The statement from Iran on the Behshad and Saviz ships appeared to signal Tehran’s growing unease over the U.S. strikes in recent days in Iraq, Syria and Yemen targeting militias backed by the Islamic Republic.

Those attacks, themselves a retaliatory campaign for the killing of three US soldiers and wounding of dozens of others in Jordan, all stem back to Israel‘s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which has escalated tensions across the wider Middle East and raised fears about a regional conflict breaking out.

More here.

After new US strikes hitting Yemen, Iran issues a warning about suspected spy ships in the Mideast

Hamas responds to new hostage deal in ‘positive spirit’

05:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Hamas in Gaza on Tuesday said it replied to a framework drawn up more than a week ago by US and Israeli spy chiefs at a meeting in Paris with the Egyptians and Qataris.

Hamas said it responded “in a positive spirit, ensuring a comprehensive and complete ceasefire, ending the aggression against our people, ensuring relief, shelter, and reconstruction, lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip, and achieving a prisoner swap”.

American, Qatari and Egyptian mediators prepared a diplomatic push to bridge differences between Israel and Hamas on a ceasefire plan for Gaza after the Palestinian group responded to a proposal for an extended pause in fighting and hostage releases.

Qatar described the Hamas response as “positive” overall while Egyptian security sources told Reuters that Hamas showed flexibility.

“We will discuss all the details of the proposed framework with the concerned parties to reach an agreement on the final formula as soon as possible,” Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s state information service, was quoted as saying.

The truce would last at least 40 days, during which the militants would free civilians among the remaining hostages they hold, Reuters reported, citing sources.

In Pics: Houthis mark 20th anniversary of Hussein al-Houthi’s assassination

06:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Houthis mark 20th anniversary of Hussein al-Houthi’s assassination in Yemen (Anadolu via Getty Images)
Houthis mark 20th anniversary of Hussein al-Houthi’s assassination in Yemen (Anadolu via Getty Images)
Houthis mark 20th anniversary of Hussein al-Houthi’s assassination in Yemen (Anadolu via Getty Images)
Houthis mark 20th anniversary of Hussein al-Houthi’s assassination in Yemen (Anadolu via Getty Images)
Houthis mark 20th anniversary of Hussein al-Houthi’s assassination in Yemen (Anadolu via Getty Images)
Houthis mark 20th anniversary of Hussein al-Houthi’s assassination in Yemen (Anadolu via Getty Images)

Pressure on Blinken to get Gaza truce breakthrough

06:30 , Bel Trew

Antony Blinken has visited Saudi Arabia at the start of a four-day trip to the Middle East, as pressure mounts on Washington to deliver a truce – and bring the region back from the brink – before Israel’s threatened assault on the last refuge for civilians in Gaza.

The US secretary of state is set to travel to the Gulf, Egypt, Qatar, Israel and the occupied West Bank, in his fifth attempt at furious shuttle diplomacy in the region since October. The 7 October attack by Hamas that killed around 1,200 people in Israel and saw another 250 taken hostage, and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in response, has sparked clashes across the region. Gaza’s authorities say Israel’s air and ground assault has killed more than 27,400 Palestinians.

US officials have warned the situation in the Middle East is the most dangerous it has been in decades, as Iran-backed militias in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen have entered the fray, attacking US positions and global shipping routes, in retaliation for support of Israel’s offensive.

Read more here

UN envoy warns more attacks on Iraq threaten its hard-won stability

06:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Iraq’s government is focused on avoiding a domestic or regional spillover of the Israel-Hamas war but continuing attacks on the country threaten its hard-won stability, the UN envoy for Iraq has warned.

With the war raging in Gaza, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the UN Security Council that “the Middle East is at a critical juncture” and “the same is true for Iraq”.

Attacks originating from inside and outside Iraq will not only undo the country’s stability but “other achievements made in the past 18 months,” she said, adding that “messaging by strikes only serves to recklessly heighten tensions, to kill or injure people and to destroy property”.

More here.

UN envoy warns more attacks on Iraq threaten its hard-won stability

31 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza are dead, Israeli military says

07:00 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Israel’s military says 31 of the hostages in Gaza are dead – a fifth of the 136 people still being held captive by Hamas.

It comes after a document compiled by Israeli intelligence officers reported by the New York Times, suggested 32 have died since the Hamas attack inside Israel on 7 October and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in response.

Four military sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israel was also assessing unconfirmed intelligence indicating that at least 20 other hostages may have also been killed, the paper reported.

Matt Mathers has more.

31 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza are dead, Israeli military says

Israeli strikes killed civilians in Syria, says military

07:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

The Syrian military on Wednesday said Israeli airstrikes over the central city of Homs and its countryside have killed and wounded civilians.

Syrian state news agency SANA quoted an unnamed military official saying Tuesday’s strikes damaged both private and public property.

The Israeli jets reportedly struck the Syrian city and countryside from near the Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli. State television showed ambulances rushing to the scene of a strike, where wreckage and debris lay from a building that was hit.

The strikes come just days after the US launched retaliatory airstrikes in Syria targeting Iran-backed militants amid flaring tensions across the Middle East flare with the Israeli-Hamas war.

Diapers and baby formula are hard to find in Gaza, leaving parents desperate

08:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

The war between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has sparked a humanitarian catastrophe that has brought shortages of the most basic necessities.

Some of the hardest-hit are babies, young children and their parents, with diapers and formula either hard to find or spiking to unaffordable prices, leading parents to look to inadequate or even unsafe alternatives.

Their plight is further complicated due to sporadic aid deliveries that have been hobbled by Israeli restrictions and the relentless fighting.

More here.

Diapers and baby formula are hard to find in Gaza, leaving parents desperate

Hundreds of thousands of lives at risk in Gaza after Biden pauses UNRWA funding

09:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza are starving as a result of Israel’s war against Hamas, according to aid agencies on the ground. But an even greater number of Palestinian lives may soon be at risk due to a decision by the US and its allies to freeze funding to the primary aid agency operating in the territory, following reports that a small number of employees were involved in the October 7 attacks.

Now, the agency has warned it may run out of money as early as this month, a worst-case scenario that aid groups have warned could cause widespread famine and death.

“They will die of hunger, they will die because they don’t have the insulin that UNRWA brings in, or they will die because a woman had a complicated childbirth and there was no UNRWA midwife to help her,” said Juliette Touma, director of communications at the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA.

Richard Hall and Andrew Feinberg report.

Hundreds of thousands of lives hang in balance in Gaza after Biden pauses UN funding

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10:00 , Ariana Baio

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Blinken to meet Israeli leaders

10:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

US secretary of state Antony Blinken is set to meet Israeli leaders as Hamas suggested it was open to a new ceasefire and hostage release deal.

But both sides remain dug in on thus far elusive goals as the war enters its fifth month.

The deadliest round of fighting in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, levelled entire neighbourhoods, driven the vast majority of Gaza’s population from their homes, and pushed a quarter of the population to starvation.

Iran-backed militant groups across the region have conducted attacks, mostly on US and Israeli targets, in solidarity with the Palestinians, drawing reprisals as the risk of a wider conflict grows.

Israel remains deeply shaken by Hamas’s 7 October attack, in which militants burst through the country’s vaunted defences and rampaged across southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 250, around half of whom remain in captivity in Gaza.

The US, Israel, Qatar and Egypt have proposed a ceasefire of several weeks in return for a phased release of the hostages.

Hamas responded to the offer late on Tuesday in what it said was a “positive spirit” while reiterating its core demands for an end to the Israeli offensive and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, which president Joe Biden said were “a little over the top”.

Houthi soldiers patrol streets of sana’a in Yemen

11:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Armed Houthi soldiers jump off a pick-up vehicle while on patrol in a street in Sana’a, Yemen (EPA)
Armed Houthi soldiers jump off a pick-up vehicle while on patrol in a street in Sana’a, Yemen (EPA)
Shipping attacks rise tensions between Houthis and US-led coalition (EPA)
Shipping attacks rise tensions between Houthis and US-led coalition (EPA)

Building costs jump as Red Sea disruption pushes up shipping prices

12:30 , Alisha Rahaman Sarkar

Construction firms have seen the first jump in building costs since last autumn as Red Sea disruption sent shipping prices higher, according to a report.

The latest S&P Global/CIPS construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI) revealed that overall input costs rose last month for the first time since September and at the fastest pace since May last year.

Some firms flagged higher costs for imported building materials due to the Red Sea attacks on ships, according to S&P Global.

More here.

Building costs jump as Red Sea disruption pushes up shipping prices

France pays tribute to victims of Hamas attack

12:51 , Chris Stevenson

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has paid tribute to the 42 French and French-Israeli victims of the 7 October attack on Israel during a sombre ceremony in the heart of Paris.

Four months to the day after militants from Hamas-ruled Gaza killed 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages in southern Israel, the Paris ceremony opened with 42 French republican guards walking through the centuries-old Invalides building carrying large portraits of the French and Franco-Israeli victims.

To the sound of drums and violins, guards stood at the centre of the wide courtyard as families of the victims, ministers and officials looked on in silence, some also carrying pictures of loved ones they lost in the attack.

"They were not all born in France, they did not die in France, but they were part of France," Mr Macron said.

"It was 6am, and Hamas launched a massive and heinous attack by surprise, the largest antisemitic massacre of our century," he said, vowing to fight antisemitism in all its forms, in France and abroad.

Antisemitic violence has increased in many countries, including in France, in the wake of the attack and Israel's devastating invasion of Gaza in response.

Gaza's Health Ministry said on Wednesday at least 27,708 Palestinians have been confirmed killed in Israel's bombardment of Gaza, with thousands more feared buried under rubble.

Saudi Arabia and Gaza

13:18 , Chris Stevenson

Saudi Arabia has told the United States it will not open diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognised on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, its foreign ministry has said.

Riyadh reiterated its call for permanent members of the UN Security Council that have not recognised a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital to do so, a ministry statement said.

It was referring to a state the Palestinians have long sought to establish alongside Israel in territories Israel occupied in a 1967 war: the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

Airstrikes on Syria

13:42 , Chris Stevenson

Israeli airstrikes over Syria's central city of Homs and nearby areas killed and wounded civilians, the Syrian military has said, without giving details.

There was no immediate comment from Israel. The strikes come as tensions across the Middle East grow with the Israel-Hamas war and a drone attack last month that killed three US troops in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border.

Syrian state news agency Sana quoted an unidentified military official as saying the strikes late Tuesday damaged private and public property. The pro-government Sham FM radio station said the areas struck included the affluent al-Malaab neighborhood and Hamra Street.

At least six civilians were killed including a woman and a child, along with two militants from the Lebanese Hezbollah group and two people who could not immediately be identified, according to the Britain-based pro-opposition war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Humanitarian Rights.