A boy lifts his hands in a peace sign as Palestinians flee from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, to what they believe may be safer areas in central Gaza on Feb. 15, 2024. (Credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP)


More than 200 Hezbollah members killed since Oct. 8; Blinken believes hostage deal still 'possible': Day 132 of Hamas-Israel war

What you need to know

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati calls on Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib to lodge an urgent complaint against Israel with the UN after the latest bombardments in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli army's chief of staff called on the commanders in charge of Israel's northern border to "prepare for war."

A Hezbollah official, targeted in a failed assassination attempt last week, has been killed by an Israeli strike. Three other Hezbollah members have been killed today according to announcements from the party.

The Gazan Ministry of Health has announced a new provisional death toll of 28,663 in the Gaza Strip since the start of the war.

22:25 Beirut Time

That's it for our LIVE coverage for today, thanks for joining us.

We'll be back tomorrow with more news updates and analysis, right here at L'Orient Today.

22:22 Beirut Time

Senior Hezbollah commander Ali Muhammad al-Debs was killed alongside two other Hezbollah members and seven civilians in a Israeli air strike in Nabatieh, southern Lebanon, yesterday, as confirmed by both Hezbollah and the Israeli army.

The strikes occurred on the deadliest day since the cross-border hostilities erupted, especially for civilians.

Al-Debs was a senior commander in the Iran-backed group's elite Radwan Forces, Hezbollah's special forces unit, which is estimated to be comprise of 2,500 fighters. His deputy commander Hassan Ibrahim Issa and a third Hezbollah operative Hussein Ahmad Akeel were also killed, according to Hezbollah.

👉 Read more about al-Debs, why he was targeted, and how he escaped a first attempt last week.

21:51 Beirut Time

Latest updates from southern Lebanon:

• Israeli aircraft have carried out two strikes in the Labbouna and Yarin areas, residents reported to our correspondent in the South. Artillery fire was also reported as having targeted the outskirts of Alma al-Shaab.

• In two separate statements, Hezbollah announced that it had targeted a gathering of Israeli soldiers in the vicinity of the Zariit barracks at 5:15 p.m., and the Birket Richeh site at 5:30 p.m. The party claims to have used "rockets that hit their target directly."

21:38 Beirut Time

(Credit: Armando Babani/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he believes an agreement on a truce in Israel's war on Gaza and the release of hostages by Hamas were still "possible," Reuters reports.

Mediators are racing to secure a pause to the fighting before Israel proceeds with a full-scale ground incursion into the Gaza Strip's far-southern city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped.

"So we're very focused on it and I believe it's possible," Blinken said at a press conference in Albania, as negotiations between mediators continue in Cairo. "We're now in the process, with our counterparts from Qatar, from Egypt, from Israel, in working on that and working very intensely on that, with the goal of trying to find an agreement." But, Blinken admits there are "some very, very hard issues that have to be resolved."

Yesterday, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said he had told the Israeli delegation not to return to Cairo for truce negotiations today, as they were scheduled to do, saying there was "no new Hamas proposal" to discuss.

Israel refuses to cease hostilities until it achieves its stated military victory of dismantling Hamas, while Hamas refuses to agree to any deal that doesn't include a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the enclave.

👉 Read the full report here.

21:10 Beirut Time

Yesterday was a bloody day in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh, directly targeted by Israel for the second time since fighting began between Hezbollah and Israel on Oct. 8, 2023.

After four violent raids on villages near Nabatieh, an attack was carried out in the evening on a residential building in the town, killing at least seven members of the same family and three Hezbollah members who were in the building, according security sources who spoke with L'Orient Today's correspondent in the south, Muntasser Abdallah.

The evening raid was probably aimed at Ali Mohammad al-Debs, a Hezbollah commander who had escaped a first assassination attempt when his vehicle was targeted on Feb. 8, also in Nabatieh.

👉 Read our analysis of the events, and a military perspective, here.

20:37 Beirut Time

Hezbollah has announced the death of one of its fighters, Abbas Ali Mahdi from the village of Aishieh, in Jezzine district.

According to our count, 203 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Lebanon and Syria since cross-border fighting with Israel began on Oct. 8.

20:15 Beirut Time

Hezbollah has announced the death of one of its fighters, Abdelkarim Mohammad Ali Samahat, who was from the village of Ainata, in the district of Bint Jbeil.

According to our count, 202 Hezbollah members have been killed in Lebanon and Syria since the beginning of cross-border fighting with Israel on Oct. 8.

20:12 Beirut Time

Here are the latest updates from southern Lebanon:

• Hezbollah announced that it has fired dozens of rockets into northern Israel, in retaliation for Israeli raids that killed 10 people including a Hezbollah military official on Wednesday in southern Lebanon.

"In an initial response to the massacres in Nabatieh and Souaneh, Islamic resistance fighters fired dozens of Katyusha rockets at Kiryat Shmona at 5:55 p.m." in northern Israel, Hezbollah said in a statement.

• Israeli artillery fire targeted the outskirts of Hamoul, Labouna and Naqoura, as well as the outskirts of Hula and Wadi Sluqi in southern Lebanon, according to reports from our correspondent in the South, Muntasser Abdallah.

• Israeli military aircraft carried out an air strike targeting the village of Blida, local residents told L'Orient Today. In addition, Israeli artillery fire targeted the village of Mais el-Jabal, while a barrage of machine-gun fire was reported in Metula.

• According to residents of Kfar Kila, a house in the village was targeted.

19:12 Beirut Time

Funeral of Hezbollah fighter Hassan Ali Najem in Adsheet, near Nabatieh, Feb. 15, 2023. Photo courtesy of the Hezbollah press office.

19:10 Beirut Time

More updates on the Israeli raid on the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, Gaza:

• Israel says it has raided the largest hospital in southern Gaza in its search for Hamas fighters and the bodies of hostages. "As demonstrated in the case of al-Shifa Hospital ... and many other hospitals throughout Gaza, Hamas systematically uses hospitals as headquarters for terrorism," Israeli army spokesperson Avichay Adraee claimed on X.

In November, the Israeli army provided what it claimed was a video proving that al-Shifa hospital was Hamas HQ, but several news outlets, including the BBC, cast doubts on the video's integrity and the idea that it was sufficient evidence to prove the presence of an HQ. The army laid siege and eventually raided al-Shifa Hospital, the Strip's largest medical facility, over the course of two weeks.

• Director of Nasser Hospital Nahed Abu-Teima told BBC News that conditions are "catastrophic and very dangerous."

"Since the midnight hours, violent shelling and severe explosions have continued in the vicinity of the complex," he added.

• Medical NGO Doctors Without Borders says their staff have been "forced to flee the hospital, leaving patients behind" because of the Israeli strikes. One team member is reported missing, according to a statement published on X.

18:47 Beirut Time

A picture taken during an organized tour by Yemen's Houthi rebels (on board) on Nov. 22, 2023 shows the Galaxy Leader cargo ship, seized by Houthi fighters two days earlier, docked in a port on the Red Sea in the Yemeni province of Hodeida, with Pal

The Houthi rebels in Yemen will press on with attacks on Red Sea shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza as long as Israel continues to commit "crimes" against them, announces Houthi leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi, cited by Reuters.

"Our operations have a big impact on the enemy which constitute a great success and a real triumph," Abdul Malik al-Houthi said in a televised speech.

He said the group would continue to support Palestinians despite joint US-British strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen, which began on Jan. 12 and are ongoing, with the latest attacks carried out earlier today.

The Houthis’ attacks on Red Sea container vessels have seriously disrupted global shipping and forced firms — some of the world's largest — to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around southern Africa.

👉 Read the full report here.

18:40 Beirut Time

CIA director William Burns has arrived in Israel to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad Chief David Barnea to discuss a potential deal with Hamas, Al Jazeera reports, citing Israeli Army Radio.

It follows a "secret visit" by FBI director Christopher Wray yesterday. The New York Times reports that Wray stressed the importance of efforts by FBI agents to “counter threats from Hezbollah and Hamas,” which the United States designated as terrorist groups.

18:10 Beirut Time

Hezbollah announced the death of two of its fighters, Hussein Ali Noureddine, from the village of Kherbet Selm, Bint Jbeil district, and Nasser Ahmad Saad, from Aita al-Jabal, also Bint Jbeil district.

According to our count, 183 party fighters have been killed in Lebanon since Oct. 8, and 18 killed in Syria, with a total of 199 altogether.

18:03 Beirut Time

Here are the latest updates from southern Lebanon:

• Israeli artillery fire targeted the area around the village of Hula, Marjayoun district, according to reports from local residents gathered by our correspondent. Machine-gun fire was also reported in the vicinity of Wazzani and Rashaya Fawqar, in Hasbaya district.

• Hezbollah announced that its fighters targeted the Israeli site of Samaka at 4:30 p.m. with missiles and "inflicted direct damage."

• Israeli fighter jets are flying over several villages and border towns, our correspondent in south reported around 5:30 p.m. 

17:44 Beirut Time

Medical NGO Doctors Without Borders (DWB) described a "chaotic situation" at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, after the Israeli army shelled the medical facility, which is the largest in southern Gaza.

In a statement on X, the agency said that thousands of displaced people were ordered to evacuate "despite Israeli Forces having told medical staff and patients they could remain."

They say that a number of people have been killed and injured. "Since the attack, one of our colleagues remains unaccounted for … Our medical staff have had to flee the hospital, leaving patients behind," they added.

17:25 Beirut Time

A building targeted by an Israeli air strike in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh, Feb. 15, 2024. (Credit: Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

17:01 Beirut Time

More on Gallant's comments:

The purpose of the meeting was to consider what a potential war scenario in northern Israel would look like, the Israeli news outlet said. During the meeting, Gallant also claimed that his forces "can attack not only at 20 kilometers [from the border], but also at 50 kilometers, and in Beirut and anywhere else."

He added that he wants to reach an agreement to "allow the safe return of residents of the north to their homes.” Around 80,000 Israelis were evacuated as a result of Hezbollah’s daily attacks.

17:00 Beirut Time

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told fellow Israeli officials that its military’s recent escalation in attacks on southern Lebanon is a mere fraction of what its capable of, according to a report from the Times of Israel. Tensions have escalated significantly at the Lebanon-Israel border since yesterday, and the two sides have been exchanging threatening words as well as cross-border fire.

Speaking at a meeting of Israel's emergency preparedness committee, Gallant framed the recent events by saying that Hezbollah increased its aggressions by a half-step, while Israel on the other hand responded with a full level increase, but, he added “it’s one step out of ten.”

Yesterday, Israel struck the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh killing seven members of one family and three members of Hezbollah. Israel says the air raid it was in response to Hezbollah rocket attack that killed a soldier in northern Israel Wednesday morning — the rocket was launched from Lebanon, but has yet to be claimed by any group.


16:23 Beirut Time

United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokesperson Andrea Tenent warns of "a worrying transformation in the level of hostilities along the Blue Line, including attacks in remote areas [of the Lebanon-Israel border]," in a statement published by the official National News Agency (NNA).

"Strikes that target civilians are considered breaches of international law and constitute war crimes. We are deeply concerned at the destruction and loss of life, and call on the parties involved to cease hostilities immediately," said the UN official.

Tenenti also called for "intensified diplomatic efforts to preserve the stability and security of people living near the Blue Line."

The Blue Line was a temporary border drawn up by the UN in June 2000 between Israel, Lebanon, and the Golan Heights. Its adoption marked the withdrawal Israeli forces from southern Lebanon. The UN refers to the Blue Line not as a border but as a “line of withdrawal.”

15:05 Beirut Time

Palestinian political prisoner Marwan Barghouti has been separated from other prisoners, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said yesterday. This decision could aggravate tensions in the West Bank, according to the independent media outlet Al-Monitor.

At 64, Barghouti was one of the main leaders of the first and second Intifadas. He is still considered a prominent and popular figure in Palestinian politics, despite being in prison.

Fatah is currently considering how to manage the post-Abbas era, as the leader of the Palestinian Authority is 88 years old, and Marwan Barghouti is seen as a potential replacement, while speculation that he could be released from prison as part of a deal with Israel, was reported earlier this month in some media.

14:58 Beirut Time

Mourners attend in the southern Lebanese village of al-Qantara on Feb. 15, 2024 the funeral of a woman and two children killed yesterday during an Israeli air strike in the village of Al-Sawwaneh. At least five family members were killed in an Israeli strike in south Lebanon, official media said on Feb. 15 in an updated toll, adding one boy was pulled alive from the rubble. (Credit: Hassan Fneich/AFP)

14:47 Beirut Time

Ali Mohammed Debs, the fighter whose death Hezbollah announced earlier in the day, was a senior member of Hezbollah's armed forces, according to a security source contacted by our correspondent. Although he was not high up in the chain of command, he had already been targeted by a drone attack on Feb. 8 in Nabatieh but had escaped.

For more information on the attack last week, read this.

14:19 Beirut Time

Also in southern Lebanon:

- Hezbollah announced that it had successfully targeted spy devices at the Israeli Raheb site opposite the Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab (Bint Jbeil) at 12:25 p.m. It also claimed responsibility for an attack at 12:45 p.m. on the Zebdin barracks in the disputed Shebaa Farms, using a Falaq-type missile.

- An Israeli army spokesman said that three anti-tank missiles, launched this morning from Lebanon towards Israel, fell in open areas near Shtula in northern Israel, according to Haaretz. Another missile from Lebanon reportedly fell near Mount Dov.

14:17 Beirut Time

An update on the situation in southern Lebanon over the last hour:

- Three Israeli rockets targeted the outskirts of Blida (Marjayoun caza), our correspondent reports, quoting local residents. Ambulances were dispatched to the scene.

- Hezbollah announced the death of three of its members, Hassan Ibrahim Issa, from the village of Houmin Tahta (Nabatieh caza), Ali Mohammad Debs, from Blat (Sour), and Hussein Ahmad Aqil, from Jibain (Sour). According to our count, 181 party members have been killed in Lebanon since Oct. 8.

13:52 Beirut Time

The organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest ruled out the idea of excluding Israel from the competition on Thursday, unlike what they had done for Russia in the wake of the country's invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Calls to ban Israel from the contest came from several countries following the war in Gaza on Oct. 7 by Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

13:33 Beirut Time

The US military claims to have intercepted weapons from Iran destined for Yemen, reports AFP.

13:29 Beirut Time

Gaza's health ministry announced that 28,663 people have been killed since the war began on Oct. 7, according to AFP.

The ministry added that, in the last 24 hours, 87 people had been killed. In total, 68,395 have been injured in Israeli strikes on the enclave.

13:13 Beirut Time

The Biden administration expects Israel to "honor its commitment" to send US-funded flour to Gaza, said White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Wednesday, after US media outlet Axios reported that Israel's ultranationalist Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich was blocking the transfer of these shipments.

According to Axios, Smotrich's office had stated that it had given the order to the Israeli customs service in coordination with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also asked officials to find a new delivery mechanism that would ensure the flour did not reach Hamas, accusing UNRWA of being a "central element" of the Palestinian movement's "war machine."

UNRWA, which has rejected such accusations in the past, is under scrutiny following Israeli accusations that 12 of its employees took an active part in the Oct. 7 attacks. The UN has launched an independent investigation.

13:12 Beirut Time

The Israeli army claimed to have attacked "dozens of Hezbollah targets" in Lebanon, including "rocket launching sites, military buildings and terrorist infrastructure in Wadi Slouqi," according to Haaretz.

Earlier in the day, our correspondent in South Lebanon reported that Israeli fighter jets fired several missiles at this village in the Marjayoun district.

12:59 Beirut Time

Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri has condemned the "massacre committed by Israel" on Wednesday evening in Nabatieh (South Lebanon), which left more than ten people dead and several wounded, including women and children.

"The blood spilled in Nabatieh ... is in the hands of international envoys, the United Nations and human rights organizations, not to condemn what has happened, but to act urgently" to stop Israel, he stressed, according to a statement issued by the Amal movement's press office.

12:52 Beirut Time

Men check the destruction following an Israeli airstrike the previous day on the village of Sawwaneh near the border with Israel in southern Lebanon, on Feb. 15, 2024. (Credit: Hassan Fneich/AFP)

12:13 Beirut Time

Lebanon's caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said Wednesday evening in an interview on the al-Hadath channel that he feared "war is getting closer to the heart of Lebanese territory."

"We must remain committed to international law and international resolutions to avoid war," he added.

12:02 Beirut Time

An update on the situation in southern Lebanon over the last hour:

- Israeli warplanes fired several missiles at Wadi Slouki (Marjayoun caza), reports our correspondent. Ambulances were dispatched to the scene.

- Hezbollah announced that it had successfully targeted spy devices at the Roueissat site in the disputed Shebaa farms at 10:40 a.m.

12:01 Beirut Time

Caretaker Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati says he has asked Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib to lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council against Israel following the Israeli bombardment of Nabatieh on Wednesday, which left at least seven civilians dead.

"In view of the persistence of the Israeli aggression, which has caused injuries and major destruction, I have spoken with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and asked him to file a new urgent complaint with the UN Security Council against Israel," Mikati said, according to a statement issued by his press office.

"While we call on all parties to engage in de-escalation, the Israeli enemy continues its aggressions, prompting us to question the relevant international parties about the measures taken to contain the enemy," he added.

11:15 Beirut Time

On Thursday, the Lebanese Ministry of Health published its latest assessment of the clashes in southern Lebanon between Hezbollah and Israel.

Based on hospital data, it counts a total of 843 victims since Oct. 8, 2023, up to and including Feb. 13, 2024, including 177 deaths and 171 wounded requiring hospitalization.

10:56 Beirut Time

Spain and Ireland jointly asked the European Commission on Wednesday to examine Israel's respect for human rights, even raising the possibility of sanctions, according to AFP.

This is the first time that EU members have taken such a step, illustrating Europeans' unease about the conflict in Gaza and their powerlessness to stop it.

In their joint letter to the European Commission, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his Irish counterpart, Leo Varadkar, ask the EU's executive body to act "urgently" to verify whether Israel respects "the essential points" of the association agreement that unites it with the EU "in terms of human rights and democratic principles," according to statements reported by AFP.

If not, the two heads of government propose that the Council of Heads of State and Government of the 27 "take appropriate measures," without specifying their nature or mentioning sanctions.

10:31 Beirut Time

Southern Lebanon in the last hour:

According to reports from local residents, Israeli military aircraft bombed Labbouneh, south of the town of Naqoura (Sour), firing several missiles at various points in the area.

10:17 Beirut Time

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that increased hostilities in Rafah, where over 1.4 million Palestinians are trapped, represent "a disastrous risk to civilian lives and infrastructure," and demanded that "the fundamental principle of humanity" be respected, AFP reported.

10:16 Beirut Time

Sleiman Frangieh, leader of Hezbollah's Christian ally, the Marada movement, condemned on his X account the Israeli strike that killed at least seven people in Nabatiye on Wednesday in southern Lebanon.

"Killing civilians and defenseless families in their homes is a habit of the enemy, and last night's massacre in Nabatieh is heartbreaking," wrote the Lebanese presidential candidate.

09:32 Beirut Time

Public administration and several institutions will be closed today in Nabatieh due to the deteriorating security situation in the region.

The announcement was made by the governor of Nabatieh, Houwaida Turk, in a press release. The branch of the Lebanese University in the region will also be closed to "guarantee the safety of students," as will the offices of the Lebanese Medical Association.

09:29 Beirut Time

The Israeli government announced on Wednesday that it had authorized the use of Elon Musk's Starlink satellite Internet access service on its territory, as well as for a field hospital run by the United Arab Emirates in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip.

09:28 Beirut Time

Also in southern Lebanon:

Citing statements by an official of the al-Risala Scouts, affiliated with the Hezbollah-allied Amal movement, it confirms that yesterday's bombing of a building in Nabatieh did kill 7 people, including women and children. A child was also found alive in the rubble at dawn.

"Search operations will continue today after reinforcing certain parts of the building threatened with collapse. We will continue to search under the rubble, even though we have received no news of missing persons. We don't know if anyone is still in the building," the official told L'Orient Today.

09:25 Beirut Time

In southern Lebanon, on the border with Israel, tensions rose several notches on Wednesday, with the death toll reaching at least 12, including 10 civilians and two Hezbollah members, according to the latest figures confirmed by our correspondent in South Lebanon.

This morning, Hezbollah announced the death of another of its fighters, Ibrahim Hussein al-Mistrah, born in 1978 and originally from Taybeh (Marjayoun caza) in South Lebanon, who is believed to have been killed in Wednesday's strikes.

Since the start of the war, 178 members from Hezbollah have been killed by Israel in Lebanon, bringing the total to 196 including those killed in strikes in Syria.

09:22 Beirut Time

Negotiations for a truce involving the further release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and Palestinians detained by Israel are continuing in Cairo, mediated by Qatar and Egypt.

Following a meeting in Cairo on Tuesday attended by Mossad chief David Barnea, CIA director William Burns, Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed ben Abdelrahmane Al-Thani and Egyptian officials, the talks were due to continue until Friday.

A Hamas delegation, according to a Hamas source, was due to meet Qatari and Egyptian officials in Cairo on Wednesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement in which he referred to Hamas' "delirious demands" as blocking negotiations, without giving any further details.

On Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on the Islamist movement to conclude a truce agreement "quickly."

09:20 Beirut Time

After the United States, Israel's main ally, which says it opposes an offensive on Rafah without "guarantees" for the safety of civilians, Australia, Canada and New Zealand on Thursday warned the Netanyahu government against a "catastrophic" operation at Rafah.

The Gazan Ministry of Health reported on Thursday that 107 people, "mostly women and children," had died overnight in Israeli attacks.

The total death toll in Gaza since the start of the war is now 28,576, most of them civilians.

09:19 Beirut Time

The situation in Gaza:

Israel persists in its plans for a large-scale offensive at Rafah, despite international warnings redoubled on Thursday and behind-the-scenes negotiations for a truce in Gaza with Hamas.

"We will fight until complete victory, which means powerful action at Rafah, and this after allowing the civilian population to leave the combat zones," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on his Telegram account on Wednesday.

The violence is currently focused on the south of the besieged and devastated Gaza Strip, in particular the town of Khan Younis, where thousands of displaced people have found shelter in the Nasser Hospital, surrounded by the Israeli army, and Rafah, on the border with Egypt, which remains closed.

According to the UN, some 1.4 million people, or more than half the population of Gaza, many of whom have been repeatedly displaced by the war, are crowded into Rafah.

09:17 Beirut Time

Be sure to read the Morning Brief so that you are caught up with everything that has been happening.

Morning Brief

Heavy fighting in southern Lebanon, Hariri's return, Gaza talks stall: Everything you need to know to start your Thursday

09:16 Beirut Time

Good morning!

Thank you for joining us for our live coverage of the ongoing war in Gaza.