The latest updates from the Israel-Hamas war and wider Middle East conflict.
Israel’s evacuation orders in the Gaza Strip now cover two-thirds of the territory, or 246 square kilometres, United Nations monitors said on Tuesday.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people is now crammed into the town of Rafah on the border with Egypt and surrounding areas.
The Health Ministry in Gaza said the confirmed Palestinian death toll stands at 27,478 people after nearly four months of war.
A quarter of Gaza’s residents are now starving, and 85% of the population has been driven from their homes, with hundreds of thousands crammed in makeshift tent camps.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition government relies on the support of far-right extremists who support violent settlers in the West Bank, has vowed to continue the war until Israel crushes Hamas and secures the return of the 100-plus hostages still held by the militant group.
Meeting with troops on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel had defeated 18 of Hamas’ 24 battalions, without providing evidence. “We are on the way to absolute victory, and I want to tell you that we are committed to it and we will not give it up.”
Blinken pursues ceasefire deal in meetings with Egyptian mediators
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Cairo on Tuesday for a meeting with Egyptian leaders that US officials said would concentrate on negotiating a ceasefire 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.
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.
Blinken, who was meeting Tuesday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, has said repeatedly that Palestinians must not be forced out of Gaza.
During his latest trip, Blinken is seeking progress on a ceasefire deal, on potential normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and on preventing an escalation of regional fighting.
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 calls for a path to Palestinian statehood, and Iran’s militant allies in the region have shown little sign of being deterred by US strikes.
Suspected Houthi drone attack hits another Red Sea ship
A ship traveling through the southern Red Sea was attacked by a suspected Yemen Houthi rebel drone early on Tuesday, authorities said, the latest assault in their campaign targeting vessels over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The attack happened west of the Yemeni port of Hodeida, and the projectile caused “slight damage” to the vessel’s windows on the bridge, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said. A small vessel had been nearby the ship before the attack, it added.
The private security firm Ambrey identified the vessel as a Barbados-flagged, United Kingdom-owned cargo ship. No one was hurt onboard the vessel, which suffered “minor damage,” the firm said.
Later, a military spokesman for the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, Brigadier General Yahya Saree, claimed in a statement that the rebel forces had attacked two separate vessels in the Red Sea, one American and one British. He provided no evidence to support the claim.
One of the ships the Houthis claimed attacking, the Morning Tide, matched details provided by Ambrey. Tracking data showed it to be in the Red Sea near the reported attack.
The Morning Tide’s owner, British firm Furadino Shipping, told The Associated Press no one was hurt in the attack and the ship was continuing onward to Singapore.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea over Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas. But they have frequently targeted vessels with tenuous or no clear links to Israel, endangering shipping in a key route for trade and aid between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
In recent weeks, the US and UK, backed by other allies, have launched airstrikes targeting Houthi missile arsenals and launch sites for its attacks.