Advertisement

Middle East crisis: Rafah offensive will bring ‘severe consequences’, warns Iran

An offensive on Rafah will result in “severe consequences” for Israel, the Iranian foreign minister has warned.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said: “Extending the scope of war crimes and genocide of the occupying Israeli regime to the Palestinian refugees in Rafah will have severe consequences for Tel Aviv”.

His comments come amid reports of a looming Israeli ground invasion in the highly populated southern Gaza city.

Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, cautioned that Israel should “stop and think”  before taking any further action in Rafah.

He told reporters: “We think it is impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people. There’s nowhere for them to go.”

On Sunday, Joe Biden told Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should not start a military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly one million people sheltering there, the White House said.

Follow the latest updates


03:57 PM GMT

Today's liveblog is now closed

Thanks for following today’s liveblog.

We will be back tomorrow with all the latest updates.


03:53 PM GMT

Prospect of full-on Israeli incursion into Rafah ‘terrifying’, warns UN

The UN human rights chief has said the prospect of a full Israeli incursion into Rafah in southern Gaza was “terrifying”, saying it was “wholly imaginable what would lie ahead”.

Volker Türk said in a statement: “A potential full-fledged military incursion into Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians are packed against the Egyptian border with nowhere further to flee, is terrifying, given the prospect that an extremely high number of civilians, again mostly children and women, will likely be killed and injured.”

His comments come as a top EU diplomat has urged allies of Israel – primarily the United States – to stop sending weapons as “too many people” are being killed in Gaza.


03:45 PM GMT

Biden hosts Jordanian king for talks

King Abdullah II will meet Joe Biden, the US president,  at the White House for talks on resolving the Israel-Hamas conflict, as fears grow of an offensive in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters on Sunday: “They will discuss efforts to produce an enduring end to the crisis.”

A deal “requires as a precondition the return of hostages held by Hamas, and then of course, looking ahead at durable long-term peace requires a formula for two states with Israel’s security guaranteed.”

The US president and Jill Biden, the first lady, will welcome the Jordanian king and Queen Rania to the White House at 2:30pm (7.30pm GMT), before the two heads of state deliver remarks at 4:00 pm.


03:43 PM GMT

Mapped: Rafah


03:29 PM GMT

Stop sending arms to Israel, top EU diplomat urges US

A top EU diplomat has urged allies of Israel – primarily the United States – to stop sending weapons as “too many people” are being killed in Gaza.

Pointing to Joe Biden’s comment last week that Israel’s military action was “over the top”, Josep Borrell said: “Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people have been killed.

“Is [it] not logical?” he asked, in a Brussels news conference. “How many times have you heard the most prominent leaders and foreign ministers around the world saying too many people are being killed?”

The chief EU diplomat also slammed an order by Benjamin Netanyahu that the more than one million Palestinians sheltering in the Gaza city of Rafah need to be “evacuated” ahead of a planned Israeli military operation there.

“They are going to evacuate, where? To the moon? Where are they going to evacuate these people?” Mr Borrell asked.


02:51 PM GMT

‘Unprecedented’ levels of ‘near famine-like conditions’ in Gaza

The population of the Gaza Strip is suffering “unprecedented” levels of “near famine-like conditions” as the war drags on, the UN’s agriculture agency has said.

Some 550,000 people are now likely facing catastrophic food insecurity levels, while the whole population is in crisis mode, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

Beth Bechdol, the FAO deputy director general, said: “There are unprecedented levels of acute food insecurity, hunger, and near famine-like conditions in Gaza.

“We are seeing more and more people essentially on the brink of and moving into famine-like conditions every day,” she said.

All 2.2 million people in Gaza are in the top three hunger categories, from level three, which is considered an emergency, to level five, or catastrophe, she said.


02:38 PM GMT

Dutch court orders halt to export of F-35 jet parts to Israel

A Dutch appeals court has ordered the government to block all exports of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel over concerns they were being used in violations of international law during Israel’s Gaza offensive.

It said the state had to comply with the order within seven days and dismissed a request by government lawyers to suspend the order pending an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said.

The government said it would file an appeal at the Supreme Court, as it said the order had crossed the state’s responsibility to formulate its own foreign policy.

Geoffrey van Leeuwen, the trade minister, said: “The delivery of US F-35 parts to Israel in our view is not unjustified.”


02:20 PM GMT

Cameron: We will hold to account those who undermine prospects for peace


01:54 PM GMT

Pictured: Aftermath of Israeli attacks on Rafah

An injured woman covered in blood holds a child's hand, also injured, at Kuwait Hospital
An injured woman covered in blood holds a child's hand, also injured, at Kuwait Hospital - Anadolu/Anadolu
A Palestinian child carries a cat in the rubble of damaged buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah
A Palestinian child carries a cat in the rubble of damaged buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah - SAID KHATIB/AFP
A member of the Palestinian Civil Defence works at the site of Israeli strikes
A member of the Palestinian Civil Defence works at the site of Israeli strikes - PALESTINIAN CIVIL DEFENCE/via REUTERS

01:40 PM GMT

Britain announces sanctions on four ‘extremist settlers’ in West Bank

Britain has announced sanctions on four “extremist Israeli settlers” accused of committing human rights abuses against Palestinians in the West Bank, following a similar move by the United States earlier this month.

The curbs follow what Britain called “unprecedented levels of violence by extremist settlers in the West Bank” over the past year by some residents of illegal Israeli settlements and outposts there.

The sanctions represent a rare move by London and Washington against Israelis, as war rages with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The transatlantic allies’ steadfast support for Israel’s military action in the territory has drawn heavy criticism both internationally and among sections of their domestic populations.

Announcing the new curbs, which comprise UK asset freezes alongside travel and visa bans, Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, said that “Israel must also take stronger action and put a stop to settler violence”.

He added: “Too often, we see commitments made and undertakings given, but not followed through.”


01:30 PM GMT

Downing Street declines to say whether ‘total victory’ over Hamas is realistic

Downing Street declined to say whether the Prime Minister believes “total victory” over Hamas was realistic.

Asked about Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that total victory was within reach, Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said: “That’s the Prime Minister of Israel’s language.

“From the PM’s perspective, what we want to see is a pause in this fighting so we can get aid in and hostages out, and obviously what we all want to see is a sustainable ceasefire.

“Clearly in order to reach that, as we’ve said before, we need to see measures taken including Hamas no longer in charge of Gaza and an arrangement that ensures the sustainable security of Israel, as well as aid in to support the people living in Gaza.”


01:27 PM GMT

Pictured: Freed hostages reunite with families

Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har reunite with their loved ones
Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har reunite with their loved ones - ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES/via REUTERS

01:11 PM GMT

How Israeli commandos blasted their way into Rafah apartment to rescue hostages

At 1.49 am on Tuesday, Israeli commandos climbed to the roof of a two-storey building in the middle of the southern city of Rafah.

Acting on intelligence that two hostages were being held inside, the elite counter-terrorism soldiers blasted their way into an apartment on the second floor, setting off explosives attached to the front door to force their way in.

Three Hamas terrorists standing in the corridor were killed instantly. Those men were guarding Fernando Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, who were kidnapped from their kibbutz of Nir Yitzhak just across from Gaza 129 days earlier.

Read more from The Telegraph’s Middle East Correspondent Nataliya Vasilyeva here


12:56 PM GMT

Sunak ‘deeply concerned’ about prospect of military offensive in Rafah

Downing Street has echoed Lord Cameron’s calls for Israel to “stop and think seriously” before carrying out military action against Hamas in Rafah, southern Gaza.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are obviously deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

“Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there and that crossing is vital to ensuring aid can reach the people who desperately need it

“The priority in Gaza must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out, such that we can then make progress towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire.”


12:45 PM GMT

‘Thin and pale’ hostages reunited with family

Two “thin and pale” Israeli hostages were reunited with their families on Monday after they were rescued during an overnight raid by special forces in Gaza’s southern Rafah neighbourhood.

Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, both dual Israeli-Argentine citizens, were taken to Sheba hospital in central Israel, according to a statement.

Mr Har’s son-in-law, Idan Begerano, who saw the released captives at the hospital, said they were “a bit frail, a bit thin, a bit pale” but communicating well and aware of their surroundings.

Mr Begerano told Channel 12: “They’re both in bed at the hospital. It’s difficult to know, but they look whole. Whether they’re healthy in spirit, in body, is still hard to know. But they look whole.

“It seems they had strength of spirit for these 128 days, to remain strong and to come back to us.”

Rear-Adml Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said the two hostages were rescued from a second-floor Rafah apartment by special forces, who broke into the apartment at 1.49am under cover of airstrikes on surrounding areas.

The soldiers had to physically shield the hostages with their bodies after a heavy battle erupted with Hamas gunmen.

They are just the second and third hostage to be rescued safely; a female soldier was rescued in November.


12:11 PM GMT

Israel should think seriously before further action in Rafah, warns Cameron

Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking any further action in Rafah, Lord Cameron warned on Monday, after air strikes in the southern Gaza city that is the last refuge of about a million displaced civilians.

The Foreign Secretary said Britain was “very concerned” amid reports of a looming ground invasion and reiterated calls for a “sustainable ceasefire”.

He told reporters: “We think it is impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people. There’s nowhere for them to go.”

He added: “So we are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think seriously before it takes any further action.”

Local health officials said 67 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded in the air strikes, under the cover of which Israel freed two hostages.


11:47 AM GMT

Hostages ‘came back very weak’

A relative of the hostages freed overnight has said the captives were hungry “for days”.

An unnamed family member told the Ynet news site that both men had lost a lot of weight and returned “very weak”.

They said “for days they were hungry,” adding that they had mainly been fed on a diet of pita bread and cheese.


11:35 AM GMT

Pictured: Freed hostage Louis Har reunited with his family

Louis Har reunited with his family after 128 days in Hamas captivity
Louis Har reunited with his family after 128 days in Hamas captivity

11:23 AM GMT

UNRWA needs to be able to continue work amid investigations, EU says

The UN agency for Palestinians UNRWA needs to be able to continue its work while allegations that some its 13,000 staff in Gaza were involved in the Oct 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel are investigated, a top EU diplomat has said.

Ahead of a meeting of the EU development ministers in Brussels, Josep Borrell said: “Nobody else can do what UNRWA is doing, allegations need to be verified ... let’s wait for the investigations to take place.

“In the meantime, people have to continue to eat, have to continue going to the doctors.”


11:14 AM GMT

‘The situation was hell’

Israeli forces bombed multiple homes in Rafah, southern Gaza, while rescuing two hostages.

The uncle of a newborn who died in the strikes said Majed al-Afifi “was born exactly 40 days ago and was killed”.

In a Rafah refugee camp, Said al-Hams, 26, said: “We heard the bombing without warning.”

Abu Suhaib, who was sleeping dozens of metres from where Israeli forces struck, told AFP: “The situation was hell. We heard the sound of explosions, like hell falling down on civilians.”

The 28-year-old said he heard warplanes firing, shooting and a helicopter landing.


10:50 AM GMT

Comment: For Israel’s sake, Netanyahu must go now

On January 29, the Palestinian emergency services received a call from a six-year old girl called Hind Rajab, who said she was trapped in a car with her family and a tank was rolling towards them. “Will you come and get me?” she asked. “I’m so scared.”

It took nearly two weeks for officials to reach the area, sealed off as an active combat zone, to find Hind dead along with several members of her family. Their car was riddled with bullets. Nearby were the burnt-out remains of an ambulance sent to help.

When Israel was attacked on October 7, all people of sanity and compassion condemned it as a modern-day pogrom. Israel had to restore its security and get its hostages back.

But the conflict is now in its fifth month; the outcome is desperately uncertain.

Read the full piece from Tim Stanley here


10:43 AM GMT

‘We will not stop until all hostages are free,’ says niece of freed captive

The niece of a hostage freed overnight has said she is still “shaking” from the news of her uncle’s rescue.

Gefen Sigal Ilan said: “When I saw him I couldn’t believe he was real.”

She said the families of hostages will keep fighting for the release of other captives.

“I want to say we will not stop until all hostages are free... We will fight for their freedom,” the 36-year-old added.


10:31 AM GMT

Pictured: Palestinian man looks at a heavily damaged building after Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza

A Palestinian man looks at the heavily damaged building, part of which collapsed, after Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza
A Palestinian man looks at the heavily damaged building, part of which collapsed, after Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza - Anadolu/Anadolu

10:21 AM GMT

‘The job is not done’, say relative of hostage

The son-in-law of a hostage rescued overnight has said “the job is not done,” as he called for the rest of those held captive to be freed.

Idan Bejerano, whose father-in law Louis Har was freed, told journalists at Sheba hospital near Tel Aviv: “Luckily for us, as a family, they were saved tonight. But I must say that the job is not done.

“We are happy today, but we didn’t win. It’s just another step towards bringing all the other hostages home.”


09:47 AM GMT

Court orders Netherlands to stop F-35 parts delivery to Israel

The Netherlands must stop delivering parts for F-35 fighter jets used by Israel in the Gaza Strip, after a Dutch court on Monday upheld an appeal by human rights organisations.

The groups had argued that supplying the parts contributed to alleged violations of international law by Israel in its war with Hamas.

“It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said.


09:30 AM GMT

Israel ‘notified Biden administration after rescue operation was successful’

Israel told the Biden administration the hostages had been rescued after the operation had successfully taken place, according to a report.

A source with direct knowledge of events told the Axios news website that Israel only notified the US following the recovery of the hostages.

On Sunday, Joe Biden told Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should not start a military operation in Rafah without a credible plan to ensure the safety of the roughly one million people sheltering there, the White House said.


09:08 AM GMT

Milei thanks Israel for rescuing hostages

Javier Milei has thanked the Israeli military for rescuing the two hostages who have Argentine citizenship.

The rescued hostages, Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, are dual Israeli-Argentine citizens.

Mr Milei’s office thanked the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli security agency, and the Israeli police for having “successfully completed the rescue” of the pair who were kidnapped by Hamas.

His office said the Argentine president had repeated his request for the hostages to be freed to Benjamin Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog during a recent visit to Israel.


08:53 AM GMT

Netanyahu welcomes home freed hostages

Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed home the two Israeli hostages freed overnight in an operation by the military.

The Israeli prime minister wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Fernando and Louis – welcome home.

“I salute our brave warriors for the bold action that led to their liberation. Only the continuation of military pressure, until complete victory, will result in the release of all our hostages.

“We will not miss any opportunity to bring them home.”


08:51 AM GMT

Pictured: Freed hostages reunited with their family at Sheba Medical Centre

From L-R: Gabriela Leimberg kisses her brother Fernando Marman, Clara Marman next to her partner Louis Har, at the Sheba Medical Centre
From L-R: Gabriela Leimberg kisses her brother Fernando Marman, Clara Marman next to her partner Louis Har, at the Sheba Medical Centre

08:36 AM GMT

Freed hostages ‘held in family home’ in Rafah

The two Israeli hostages freed overnight were held captive in a family home in Rafah, according to reports.

The rescued hostages, Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, told Sheba Medical centre that they were held in a Gaza home, according to the Ynet news site.

The pair were kidnapped from a home in southern Israel along with three other relatives who were freed in the late-November deal. No other family members of theirs remain in Gaza, Israeli media reported.

Mr Har’s son-in-law, Idan Begerano, who saw the released captives at the hospital, said the two men were thin and pale, but communicating well and aware of their surroundings. Mr Begerano said his father-in-law told him immediately upon seeing him: “You have a birthday today, mazal tov.”


08:27 AM GMT

‘Only continued military pressure’ will free hostages, says Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to press on with the military offensive in Gaza after two hostages were freed.

The Israeli prime minister said: “Only continued military pressure, until complete victory, will result in the release of all our hostages”.

His statement was issued after Israeli special forces freed two hostages in a rescue operation in Rafah.


07:58 AM GMT

Japan ‘deeply concerned’ by Rafah air strikes

Japan has said it is “deeply concerned” about Israeli air strikes in Rafah overnight.

Kobayashi Maki, a spokesperson for the country’s foreign affairs ministry, said in a statement the city, where more than one million people are sheltering, is a “particularly important location for the delivery of humanitarian supplies”.

She said: “As the humanitarian situation on the ground deteriorates and the number of civilian casualties, including a large number of children, women, and elderly people, continues to rise, it is crucial to improve the humanitarian situation as soon as possible.”

While stressing condemnation for Hamas’s deadly Oct 7 attacks on Israel, Japan “once again reiterates the importance of the protection of civilians”, Ms Maki added.


07:49 AM GMT

Israel strikes killed 48 Palestinians

Israel strikes on Rafah have killed 48 Palestinians and wounded dozens, a spokesman for the Health Ministry in Gaza told Reuters.

This follows previous reports putting local dead from the strikes at 37 or 52.

See post at 6.10am for more details.


07:00 AM GMT

Rescue team ‘shielded hostages with their bodies’

Rear-Adml Daniel Hagari, an Israeli Defense Forces spokesman, said the two hostages recovered overnight had been held in a second-floor apartment in Rafah, under guard from Hamas gunmen, both in the apartment and nearby buildings.

Rear-Adml Hagari said special forces broke into the apartment under fire at 1.49am local time on Monday, accompanied a minute later by a series of air strikes on surrounding areas. He said members of the rescue team shielded the hostages with their bodies as a heavy battle erupted in several places at once with many Hamas gunmen.

The hostages were taken to a nearby “safe area” and given a quick medical check before being flown to a hospital in central Israel.

An Israeli Air Force helicopter carrying two released hostages arrives at Sheba Medical Centre in Ramat Gan, Israel
An Israeli Air Force helicopter carrying two released hostages arrives at Sheba Medical Centre in Ramat Gan, Israel - Israel Defence Forces via AP

Women and children were among those killed in the Israeli strikes, according to Dr Marwan al-Hams, the director of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, and dozens were wounded.

The rescued hostages, Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70, are just the second and third hostages to be rescued safely, the Associated Press reported. A female soldier was rescued in November.

Rear-Admiral Hagari said the operation was based on precise intelligence and had been planned for some time, but that rescuers were waiting for the right moment to act. Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s prime minister, joined Israel’s military chief and other top officials as the raid unfolded.


06:10 AM GMT

Hostage retrieval a ‘complex operation’

Israeli authorities have given more details of the rescue of two hostages, Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Hare, in Rafah by the Israel Defence Forces, Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security service and the Special Police Unit overnight.

The two men were kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on Oct 7, the military said.

Lt Col Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman said, “It was a very complex operation. We’ve been working a long time on this operation. We were waiting for the right conditions.”

The hostages were being held on the second floor of a building that was breached with an explosive charge during the raid, which saw heavy exchanges of gunfire with surrounding buildings, Lt Col Hecht said.

The men’s receiving hospital also gave details.

Prof Arnon Afek, the director of Sheba general hospital, said: “I’m very happy to announce that this night two released hostages landed here at Sheba medical centre, Israel’s largest hospital.

“They were received in our ER and initial examinations were conducted by our ER staff and they are in a stable condition and being tended to.”

Members of the Palestinian Civil Defence  at the site of Israeli strikes in Rafah on Monday
Members of the Palestinian Civil Defence at the site of Israeli strikes in Rafah on Monday - Palestinian Civil Defence via Reuters

Israeli military said air strikes on Rafah coincided with the overnight raid to allow its forces to be extracted.

The air strikes caused widespread panic in Rafah as many people were asleep when the strikes started, residents told Reuters using a chat app. Some feared Israel had begun its ground offensive into Rafah.

Israeli planes, tanks and ships took part in the strikes, with two mosques and several houses hit, according to residents.

Various reports attributed to Hamas authorities put the local dead from the strikes at 37 or 52 with dozens wounded, and in a later statement at about 100 dead.  Hospital sources quoted by the Associated Press said at least 50 had been killed.

The  IDF said it used intense firepower against gunmen in and around the building where the two hostages were held. It said “many terrorists were killed”.


06:04 AM GMT

Another ship reports missile attack off Yemen’s coast

A vessel hsa reported coming under a missile attack off Yemen’s southern coast on Monday while transiting the strategic Bab al-Mandeb strait, security agencies said.

The incident occurred before 4am local time (1am GMT) in an area where Houthi rebels have repeatedly targeted Red Sea shipping in recent months, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said in a report.

“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to next port of call,” UKMTO said.

Another security firm, Ambrey, said the Marshall Islands-flagged, Greece-owned bulk carrier “was targeted by missiles in two separate incidents” within 20 minutes and “was reportedly hit and sustained physical damage on the starboard side”.

The vessel had a private armed security team on board, Ambrey said, according to AFP.

The Houthis, part of the anti-Western, anti-Israel “axis of resistance” of Iran-backed groups, have been targeting Red Sea shipping vessels for months, triggering US and British reprisal attacks. The rebels say the attacks are intended to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war since October.

The group owner and operator of the bulk carrier targeted on Monday regularly trades cargo with Iran, “so this was assessed to be the likely destination”, Ambrey said.

“The group owner of the bulker was also listed on the US stock market index NASDAQ, which was identified as the likely reason for the attack,” it said.

The Houthis’ attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, a vital route that normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.


05:13 AM GMT

Who are the freed hostages?

Fernando Simon Marman, 60, was described by campaigners from the Bring Them Home group as ‘‘a warm family man who helps everyone and finds a solution for every problem’’.

Luis Har is a 70-year-old grandfather who immigrated to Israel from Argentina.

Both men were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak by Hamas on Oct 7 last year.

Louis Har (left) Fernando Simon Marman (right)
Louis Har (left) Fernando Simon Marman (right)

04:46 AM GMT

Biden calls Israel’s military response ‘over the top’

Before the late-night strikes, the White House said that Joe Biden, the US President, had told Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, that his military needed a credible plan to protect the roughly 1 million people sheltering in Rafah.

It came days after the US leader said Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip had been “over the top” and expressed grave concern over the rising civilian death toll in the Palestinian enclave.

Israel has said that it had ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions it says are deployed there.

Mr Netanyahu said in an interview aired on Sunday that “enough” of the 132 remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza were alive to justify Israel’s war in the region.


03:45 AM GMT

Lloyd Austin transfers duties as he returns to hospital

Lloyd Austin, the US Defence Secretary, who is fighting prostate cancer, has transferred his duties to his deputy Kathleen Hicks, hours after he was taken to hospital for an “emergent bladder issue”.

Pat Ryder, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said in a statement: “At approximately 4:55pm today [US time], Secretary Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office ... to Deputy Secretary of Defence Kathleen Hicks. The Deputy Secretary of Defence has assumed the functions and duties.” He added that Mr Austin was still receiving treatment and that the White House and Congress had been informed.


03:42 AM GMT

New strikes on Rafah killed ‘at least 52’

At least 52 people were killed in heavy air strikes on densely crowded Rafah in southern Gaza before dawn on Monday, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

AFP journalists and witnesses heard an intense series of strikes and saw smoke billowing above the city, which now hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population after they fled bombardment elsewhere on the Strip.

The strikes hit 14 houses and three mosques in different parts of Rafah, according to the Hamas government.

An injured Palestinians arrives at Kuwait Hospital in Rafah after air strikes on Monday
An injured Palestinians arrives at Kuwait Hospital in Rafah after air strikes on Monday - Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images Europe

The Israeli military said in a statement on Monday that it had “conducted a series of strikes on terror targets in the area of Shaboura in the southern Gaza Strip”, adding that the strikes had concluded.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has ordered his army to prepare a ground offensive on Rafah, Gaza’s last major population centre that troops have yet to enter after Hamas’s Oct 7 attacks sparked the war.

A damaged mosque in Rafah on Monday after the bombardment
A damaged mosque in Rafah on Monday after the bombardment - Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

03:31 AM GMT

Rescued hostages aged 60 and 70 ‘in good condition’

The Israeli military announced early Monday that two more hostages taken by Hamas were rescued in an overnight operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The military said in a statement that “during a joint IDF, ISA [Shin Bet security agency], and Israel Police operation in Rafah, overnight, two Israeli hostages were rescued, Fernando Simon Marman, aged 60, and Louis Har, aged 70, who were kidnapped by the Hamas terrorist organisation on Oct 7 from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak”.

“They are both in good medical condition, and were transferred for medical examination at the Sheba Tel Hashomer hospital,” the statement said.

Helicopters take Israeli hostages to safety
The men were flown to an Israeli hospital after being rescued

During the Oct 7 attacks, Palestinian militants seized about 250 hostages, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Israel says around 130 are still in Gaza, but 29 are thought to be dead.


03:27 AM GMT

Good morning and welcome to The Telegraph’s live blog

We are bringing you the latest updates on the war.