Israel-Hamas war: Merchant ship linked to Israel struck by drone off coast of India

Israel-Hamas war: Merchant ship linked to Israel struck by drone off coast of India

This handout picture released by the Israeli army on December 22, 2023 shows soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

This handout picture released by the Israeli army on December 22, 2023 shows soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Credit: AFP PHOTO/Handout /Israeli Army

A merchant vessel that has been described as “Israel-affiliated” has been hit by a drone in the Arabian Sea, amid a spate of attacks on global shipping since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

British maritime security firm Ambrey said on Saturday morning that a Liberian-flagged chemical products tanker was struck 120 miles southwest of Veraval, India. The fire was extinguished by the crew without any casualties.

“Some structural damage was also reported and some water was taken onboard. The vessel was Israel-affiliated. She had last called Saudi Arabia and was destined for India at the time,” Ambrey said on its website.

While no group has yet to take responsibility for the attack, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been carrying out a series of attacks targeted at Israel-affiliated ships in the Red and Arabian Seas in solidarity with Gaza that has caused serious disruptions to major global shipping routes. 

Today’s live blog is now closed

That’s all for today. Here is a roundup of the most significant news from today.

  • An Israeli airstrike on Friday killed 76 members of the same extended family, a spokesperson for the Gaza civil defence said, in one of the biggest civilian casualty incidents of the war so far.
  • Hamas claims that it has lost contact with the group responsible for five Israeli hostages due to the intense bombardment. The statement said that it believes the hostages were killed in the Israeli raid, but did not offer confirmation.
  •  The UN chief says the Israeli military offensive creating ‘massive obstacles’ to aid distribution in Gaza after the UN Security Council passed a resolution to boost aid delivery into the blockaded strip. For weeks the UN has said it is mostly unable to distribute the aid brought in due to the lack of fuel and safe passage. 
  • Israel claimed to have assassinated Hamas operative, Hassan Al Atrush, who they said was in charge of smuggling and manufacture of weapons.
  • Iran dismissed US claims that it is closely involved in the Houthis attacks on global shipping in revenge for Israel’s war on Gaza, as another vessel faced a drone strike. Iran did, though, threaten to close the Mediterranean, without clarifying how. 

Muted Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land shows the nativity amid rubble

A priest lights a candle at a Christmas installation of a grotto with figures standing amid rubble surrounded by a razor wire, outside the Church of the Nativity, in support of Gaza, on Manger Square in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, December 23, 2023.

Credit: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Iran dismisses US claims it is involved in Houthi ship attacks

Iran’s deputy foreign minister on Saturday dismissed US accusations that Tehran was involved in attacks by Yemeni rebels on commercial ships, saying the group was acting on its own.

On Friday, the White House publicly released US intelligence that Iran provided drones, missiles, and tactical intelligence to the Houthis, who control vast parts of Yemen including the capital, Sanaa.

“The resistance (Houthis) has its own tools… and acts in accordance with its own decisions and capabilities,” Iran’s deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri told Mehr news agency.

“The fact that certain powers, such as the Americans and the Israelis, suffer strikes from the resistance movement… should in no way call into question the reality of the strength of the resistance in the region.,” he added.

Pictured: Palestinians resort to mass graves as death toll from Israeli attacks continues to soar

Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks are buried in a mass grave as some cemeteries run out of space due to the rising death toll as Israeli attacks continue in Gaza City, Gaza on December 23, 2023.

Credit: Fadi Alwhidi/Anadolu via Getty Images

Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks are buried in a mass grave as some cemeteries run out of space due to the rising death toll as Israeli attacks continue in Gaza City, Gaza on December 23, 2023.

Credit: Fadi Alwhidi/Anadolu via Getty Images

Gaza death toll reaches 20,258

The Palestinian health ministry in Hamas controlled Gaza issued a statement today saying at least 201 Palestinians have been killed and 368 others injured over the past 24 hours.

Since Oct. 7, the total death toll of Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza has reached 20,258 people, with 53,688 more injured, the statement added.

Thousands more are believed to be trapped beneath the rubble. 

Watch: IDF publishes footage of strike it claims killed Hamas official responsible for weapons production and supply

The IDF announces it killed a Hamas official in charge of supply for the terror group’s military wing during an airstrike in southern Gaza’s Rafah yesterday.

In a statement, the IDF says Hassan al-Atrash was responsible for the supply and production of weapons for Hamas, as well…

— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) December 23, 2023

Hamas says its lost contact with group holding five hostages due to Israeli bombardment

Hamas has issued a statement saying that it has lost contact with the group responsible for holding five Israeli hostages due to Israeli bombardment. 

The statement said that they believe the five hostages were killed in the raid. 

Israeli has not yet commented on the claims from Hamas but has previously described it as “psychological warfare”. Some of the hostages that Hamas and Islamic Jihad said were killed were later released alive, while others have been confirmed as dead by Israel. 

Pictured: Israeli military Apache helicopter fires a missile

An Israeli military Apache helicopter fires a missile near Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 23, 2023.

Credit: REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

Hamas says dozens killed, publicly ‘executed’

The Hamas health ministry on Saturday said dozens of Palestinians were killed this week and publicly “executed” during an Israeli military operation in the north of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli “massacre resulted in the death of dozens” of people in the Jabalia camp and Jabalia town, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said in a statement.

“They also executed dozens of citizens in the streets,” he added.

The Israeli army did not directly comment on the allegations but said told AFP news agency that it ensures its “strikes against military targets comply with the provisions of international law”.

According to videos broadcast by local media, which have not been verified, decomposing bodies were seen strewn on the streets of Jabalia.

In Beit Lahia, a city in the north of the Gaza Strip, the civil defence authority said it had found on Saturday “dozens of decomposing bodies”.

“Most of the bodies recovered in Beit Lahia were executed in the streets and mauled by dogs,” it said.

Israeli advisor slams UN reports that unarmed Palestinians are being summarily killed

Mark Regev, senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has responded to UN reports that the IDF may have killed 11 unarmed Palestinian men in front of their families in Gaza City on 19 December. 

Speaking on Sky News earlier today Regev slammed it as “Hamas propaganda”.

The UN had earlier said it has “received disturbing information alleging Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) summarily killed” the men in the Al Remal neighbourhood between 8pm and 11pm.

“According to witness accounts circulated by media sources and Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, while in control of the building and the civilians sheltering there, the IDF allegedly separated the men from the women and children, and then shot and killed at least 11 of the men, mostly aged in their late 20s and early 30s, in front of their family members,” the UN statement read.

“The IDF then allegedly ordered the women and children into a room, and either shot at them or threw a grenade into the room, reportedly seriously injuring some of them, including an infant and a child.”

The Israeli advisor also told Sky News that Israel is ready for another “humanitarian pause” to allow for the release of more hostages and said that there could be a ceasefire tomorrow if Hamas released the over 100 hostages it is still holding.

Speaking on CNN however, Regev said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “offering a lifeline to Hamas” by calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.

Regev also repeated Israeli claims that there is enough aid in Gaza and that it is on the shoulders of Israel that it cannot be distributed. For weeks the UN has said that the intensity of hostilities has caused almost all aid deliveries to dry up for lack of guarantees of safe passage.

UN pays respects to 136 killed colleagues in Gaza

136 of our colleagues in Gaza have been killed in 75 days – something we have never seen in @UN history.

Most of our staff have been forced from their homes.

I pay tribute to them & the thousands of aid workers risking their lives as they support civilians in Gaza.

— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) December 23, 2023

18 killed in Israeli strikes in Central Gaza, reports and hospital officials say

Palestinian Wafa news agency reported that Israeli warplanes had bombed a house on Al-Eshrin street, east of the Al Nusairat camp, killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens of others today. 

Dr. Khalil Al Daqran, a spokesperson for Al Aqsa hospital confirmed to CNN that 18 bodies were brought in.

Daqran said that the victims had been killed by Israeli shelling in the areas of Deir al-Balah and Al Nusairat camp.  

Israeli authorities have issued evacuation orders for people in middle area of Gaza to move to Deir al-Balah, according to the UN, as Israel plans to expand its military operation in central Gaza.

Palestine protesters bring Oxford Street to standstill in Christmas shopping rush

Hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters brought traffic to a standstill along Oxford Street on one of the busiest shopping days of Christmas.

Holding placards declaring “no shopping while bombs are dropping” and “ceasefire now”, the protest made its way from Soho Square towards Oxford Circus, holding up dozens of buses and taxis.

Organisers of the march, called by the feminist group Sisters Uncut, kept one lane of the street open, but the weight of numbers meant traffic had to be diverted.

Read more here.

Sisters stand with Palestine. Protesters from sisters uncut march for Palestine from Soho square.

Credit: Thomas Bowles Photography

Pictured: Destruction, injuries, desperation across Gaza today

An injured Palestinian child is taken to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital for a treatment as Israeli attacks continue in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on December 23, 2023.

Credit: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

Palestinians wait to collect food at a donation point in a refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 23, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images

People mourn as they collect the bodies of Palestinians killed in an airstrike on December 23, 2023 in Khan Yunis, Gaza.

Credit: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

A view of Israeli troops along Israel’s southern border with Gaza on December 22, 2023 in Southern Israel.

Credit: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Plumes of smoke seen over Jabalia refugee camp today

Pictures broadcast on Al Jazeera showed thick black plumes of smoke rising over Jabalia refugee camp this morning as residents reported persistent aerial bombardment and shelling from Israeli tanks.

Hamas’ armed wing Al Qassam Brigades said it was engaged in combat with Israeli forces in the area. It said it had destroyed five Israeli tanks, killing and injuring their crews, after reusing two undetonated missiles launched earlier by Israel.

The Telegraph cannot immediately verify battlefield reports from either side. 

Egyptian, Iranian presidents discuss Gaza developments, restoring ties

The presidents of Egypt and Iran discussed recent developments in Gaza and the prospect of restoring diplomatic ties between their two countries in what Iranian state television said on Saturday was their first phone call.

The television said Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had called his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The two men met in November for the first time on the sidelines of the Joint Arab Islamic Extraordinary Summit in Riyadh.

“Raisi said Iran was ready to provide all its capacities to stop the genocide by the Zionist regime and send aid to the Palestinians,” Iranian state TV reported, adding that it was the first time the two presidents had spoken by phone.

Relations between Egypt and Iran have generally been fraught in recent decades, although the two countries have maintained some diplomatic contacts. Their call follows other moves by countries in the region to ease tension in recent months.

Pictured: Palestinians in Khan Younis this morning grieve the killed

People mourn as they collect the bodies of Palestinians killed in an airstrike on December 23, 2023 in Khan Yunis, Gaza.

Credit: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

Listen to Telegraph podcast Battle Lines: ‘The children ask me, Santa, are you coming, despite the war?’

In this episode of Battle Lines, Middle East Correspondent Nataliya Vasilyeva joins us from Israel to give us this week’s update on the fighting, the diplomacy, and the unprecedented events in the Red Sea as Houthi rebels target international shipping.

Then we stay with Nataliya for a special dispatch from Jerusalem, as she interviews the only licensed Santa in the city, ahead of a Christmas full of worry for the region’s Christian population.

Listen here. AyRo63OSI5M

Rights and aid organisations slam the UN resolution as falling short

Aid groups and rights organisations working in Gaza have criticised the new United Nations Security Council resolution, which passed last night after several delays, to boost the aid entering Gaza. 

The text was a watered down version of the past few draft texts, all blocked by the US, which called for a ceasefire in Gaza.

“Today’s Security Council resolution falls painfully short of what is required to address the crisis in Gaza: an immediate and sustained ceasefire,” said Avril Benoît, executive director of Doctors Without Borders. “This resolution has been watered down to the point that its impact on the lives of civilians in Gaza will be nearly meaningless.”

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnès Callamard, said in a statement that it was “disgraceful” that the US had weakened the resolution’s language. While the resolution was needed, she said, it is “woefully insufficient in the face of the ongoing carnage and extensive destruction.”

Rocket fire from Gaza after 48 hour lull, reports say

Watch: Israeli military dog sent through Hamas tunnels TEqqmffbP1Y

Iran threatens Mediterranean closure over Gaza

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said the Mediterranean Sea could be closed if the United States and its allies continued to commit “crimes” in Gaza, Iranian media reported on Saturday, without explaining how that would happen.

“They shall soon await the closure of the Mediterranean Sea, (the Strait of) Gibraltar and other waterways,” Tasnim quoted Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Naqdi, coordinating commander of the Guards, as saying.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah and militias in Syria are the only Iranian proxy forces with access to the Mediterranean, but Naqdi singled out the Strait of Gibraltar on the other side of the the sea. Naqdi also talked of “the birth of new powers of resistance and the closure of other waterways”.

76 members of one extended family killed in Israeli airstrike yesterday, Gaza civil defence says

An Israeli attack on a building in Gaza City killed 76 members of the same extended family, a spokesperson for Gaza’s Civil Defence Department has said.

The strike on Friday is believed to be among the deadliest of the war so far, according to spokesperson Mahmoud Basel.

He said 16 heads of households from the al Mughrabi family were killed, as well as women and children.

Among them was Issam al Mughrabi, a longstanding employee for the UN Development Programme, his wife, and their five children.

“The loss of Issam and his family has deeply affected us all. The UN and civilians in Gaza are not a target,” said Achim Steiner, the head of the agency. “This war must end.”

Pictured: More Gazans squeeze into Deir Al Balah after Israel issued evacuation orders in the centre of the strip

Residents of the refugee camp of Bureij arrive in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip following an evacuation order, on December 22, 2023, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Credit: AFP via Getty Images

Israel affiliated merchant vessel under attack off the coast of India, reports say

An Israel-affiliated merchant vessel off India’s west coast was struck by a drone, causing a fire, British maritime security firm Ambrey said this morning. 

The fire on the Liberian-flagged chemical products tanker was extinguished without crew casualties in the incident 200 km 120 miles southwest of Veraval, India, it said.

While no group has claimed responsibility yet, the Iran-backed Houthis have been vowing to attack Israel-affiliated ships in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. The latter is off the west coast of India. 

“Some structural damage was also reported and some water was taken onboard. The vessel was Israel-affiliated. She had last called Saudi Arabia and was destined for India at the time,” the firm said on its website.

Ambrey said the Indian navy was responding.

UN Security Council passes resolution for boosted aid into Gaza; Israel creating ‘massive obstacles’ to aid delivery

The UN Security Council last night passed a resolution that will boost aid into Gaza, after several failed attempts to call for a ceasefire that were blocked by the US.

The final draft called on parties to “create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities”. America abstained from the vote, allowing the text to pass.

The UN chief though said the way that Israel is conducting its military operation is creating “massive obstacles” to aid distribution. 

For the past few weeks the UN has said that it is struggling to distribute the aid that has reached Gaza due to the intensity of fighting and lack of safe passage.

The UN says the aid available is just 10% of what is needed as the humanitarian catastrophe worsens by the day.

Israel issues evacuation orders of Central Gaza to Deir Al Balah

Israel has issued evacuation orders for people to move to Deir Al Balah, which has been the scene of intense fighting in previous weeks and an area in which aid is not being delivered due to the Israeli ground offensive.

Thomas White, director of UNRWA affairs, said that more than 150,000 people would be impacted and blasted Israel’s “checkerboard” approach to moving civilian lives. 

According to the UN, the new area designated by the Israeli military for evacuation covered about 15 per cent (approximately 9 square kilometres) of the Middle Area of Gaza.

Israeli authorities issued more evacuation orders for people in Middle Area of #Gaza to move to Deir al Balah to expand ongoing military operation.

More than 150k people impacted, area already overwhelmed with displaced including @unrwa shelters

— Thomas White (@TomWhiteGaza) December 23, 2023

People in #Gaza are People. They are not pieces on a checkerboard – many have already been displaced several times. The Israeli Army just orders people to move into areas where there are ongoing airstrikes. No place is safe, nowhere to go. @UNRWA

— Thomas White (@TomWhiteGaza) December 23, 2023

US says Iran ‘deeply involved’ in Houthi ship attacks

The United States on Friday accused Iran of close involvement in attacks on commercial ships by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, stepping up the tone as Washington considers tougher measures including possible force.

The White House publicly released US intelligence as the Iranian-linked Yemeni insurgents persist with ship strikes they say are in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is battling Hamas militants.

The White House said that Tehran’s clerical state has provided drones and missiles to the Houthis as well as tactical intelligence.

“We know that Iran was deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.

“We have no reason to believe that Iran is trying to dissuade the Houthis from this reckless behavior,” she said.

The Houthis, who control vast parts of the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country including the capital Sanaa, have launched more than 100 drone and missile attacks, targeting 10 merchant vessels, according to the Pentagon.

With commercial traffic increasingly disrupted, the United States recently announced a multinational naval task force of more than 20 countries to protect vessels transiting the Red Sea.

In a show of force, the US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has entered the Gulf of Aden, with a series of news reports saying President Joe Biden’s administration is weighing military strikes if the ship attacks persist.

Rebel leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi warned Wednesday that if they were attacked, the rebels would strike back against “American battleships, American interests and American navigation.”

Biden ‘heartbroken’ by death of US hostage in Gaza

US President Joe Biden has said that he is “heartbroken” over the death of Gadi Haggai, a US citizen who is reported to have died in Hamas captivity.

The death of Mr Haggai, 73, was announced yesterday by a group representing hostages’ families. It is not immediately clear how he died.

“Jill (Biden) and I are heartbroken by the news that American Gadi Haggai is now believed to have been killed by Hamas on October 7. We continue to pray for the well-being and safe return of his wife, Judy,” Mr Biden said in a statement released by the White House overnight.

Judith Weinstein, the wife of Mr Haggai, is still being held hostage in Gaza, according to Israeli media outlet Haaretz. Hamas has warned that “time is running out” for the remaining hostages in Gaza.

A statement from the family read: “We mourn the loss of our father and grandfather, and we continue to hope and pray that his body will be returned to us and that Judi is still alive and we will be reunited soon.”

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