Israel-Hamas conflict Live: Hamas releases two US hostages as Israel prepares for ground invasion

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Biden requests funding package for Israel and Ukraine

US President Joe Biden has requested almost US$106 billion from Congress largely for military aid to Ukraine and Israel.

The emergency funding includes US$14.3 billion for Israel, much of it to support the country’s Iron Dome and other weapons purchases.

Joe Biden during his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week.Credit: AP

The bulk of the package, US$61.4 billion, is to provide more weapons and economic assistance to Ukraine.

Biden also wants more than US$9 billion for humanitarian relief, including for Gaza, where the UN says more than two million people are enduring dire humanitarian conditions.

The funding request is far larger than even some Democrats expected and throws down the gauntlet to Republicans, many of whom back military funding but face pressure from fiscal hawks.

The proposal faces an uncertain fate in Congress, where Republican infighting has left the House of Representatives without a speaker and unable to pass legislation for more than two weeks.

Hardline conservative Republican Jim Jordan failed in his bid to become speaker of the House of Representatives on Friday, as fellow Republicans revoked their support following a third failed vote on the House floor.

Biden’s argument for financial investment in Ukraine and Israel has met increasing scepticism from the fringes of both parties in Congress.

The Telegraph and agencies

Church hit as Israel amasses troops ahead of ground invasion

Israel has amassed tanks and troops near the perimeter of Gaza for an expected ground invasion.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said that achieving Israel’s objectives would not be quick or easy.

“We will topple the Hamas organisation. We will destroy its military and governing infrastructure. It’s a phase that will not be easy. It will have a price,” he told a parliamentary committee.

He added that the subsequent phase would be more drawn out, but was aimed at achieving “a completely different security situation” with no threat to Israel from Gaza.

Israeli Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant meeting soldiers on the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip.Credit: Getty

“It’s not a day, it’s not a week, and unfortunately it’s not a month,” he said.

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the main Palestinian Christian denomination, said that overnight Israeli forces had struck the Church of Saint Porphyrius in Gaza City, where hundreds of Christians and Muslims had sought sanctuary.

It said targeting churches that were used as shelters for people fleeing bombing was “a war crime that cannot be ignored”.

Video from the scene showed a wounded boy being carried from the rubble at night.

“They felt they would be safe here. They came from under the bombardment and the destruction, and they said they would be safe here but destruction chased them,” a man cried out.

Gaza’s Hamas-run government media office said 18 Christian Palestinians had been killed, while the health ministry later gave a toll of 16.

The Israeli military said part of the church was damaged in a strike by fighter jets on a nearby Hamas command centre involved in launching rockets and mortars towards Israel, and that it was reviewing the incident.

“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) can unequivocally state that the church was not the target of the strike,” it said.


Hamas releases two US hostages

Hamas has released two US hostages, mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan, who were kidnapped as the terrorist organisation attacked southern Israel on October 7.

The women, who were taken from Nahal Oz kibbutz, near the Gaza border, were taken to a military base in central Israel, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

Judith Raanan, left, and her daughter Natalie.

They are the first hostages to be freed since Hamas gunmen burst into Israel nearly two weeks ago, killing 1400 people, mainly civilians, and taking around 200 hostages.

Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, said the hostages were released in response to Qatari mediation efforts “for humanitarian reasons, and to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless”.

The women had been on a trip to Israel from their home in suburban Chicago to celebrate Simchat Torah, a festive Jewish holiday when Hamas and other militants stormed into southern Israel.

Their family had heard nothing from them since the attack and were later told by US and Israeli officials that they were being held in Gaza, Natalie’s brother Ben said.

US President Joe Biden said he was “overjoyed” to learn of the release of the women. Biden said his administration has been “working around the clock” to free Americans held hostage by Hamas.

“We have not ceased our efforts to secure the release of those who are still being held,” he said.

At least 4137 Palestinians have been killed, including hundreds of children, and 13,000 wounded in Gaza, according to figures from the Palestinian health ministry.

The UN says more than a million have been made homeless.


Headlines this morning

Good morning and welcome to day 14 of our live coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

I’m Marta Pascual Juanola and I’ll bring you the latest developments for the first half of the day. It’s just gone 11pm in Tel Aviv.

A quick summary of where things stand:

  • Israel is preparing to launch its advance into Gaza, two weeks after Hamas went on a deadly rampage in southern Israel. US and European officials have pressed Israel to delay the invasion.
  • Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has told infantry soldiers assembled at the Israeli-Gaza border that they would soon see the strip “from the inside”.
  • Hamas has released two US citizens, a mother and daughter, who had been held captive in Gaza, according to the Israeli government.
  • Seven UN special rapporteurs have condemned Israel’s bombing and complete siege of Gaza and accused the country of triggering “crimes against humanity”.
  • US President Joe Biden says the first aid deliveries from Egypt should reach Gaza within two days, but the Rafah border crossing remains closed.
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Italy’s Prime Minister Georgia Meloni, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, as well as the foreign ministers of Japan, France and the EU, will all attend a peace summit in Cairo called by Egypt’s President Abdelfattah El-Sisi.
  • Israel’s military said it struck Hamas targets in Gaza overnight. Israel also responded to fire from Lebanon by hitting Hezbollah assets and evacuating residents near the border.
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