Biden lands in Tel Aviv; Hamas and Israel trade blame over hospital blast: Live updates

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked U.S. President Joe Biden for his “unequivocal” support, saying it was “deeply, deeply moving” for him to visit the country during a time of war.

Biden arrived in Tel Aviv earlier on Wednesday, making his first visit to Israel since the start of the war. A spate of high-profile U.S. officials have carried out similar trips since the conflict erupted, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken conducting two visits to Tel Aviv over that timeframe.

“You described what Hamas did as sheer evil. It is exactly that,” Netanyahu said while sat next to Biden in Tel Aviv, reflecting on the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas.

“Mr. President, for the people of Israel, there is only thing one better than having a true friend like you standing with Israel and that is having you standing in Israel,” Netanyahu said. “Thank you for standing with Israel, today, tomorrow and always.”

— Sam Meredith

A group of U.S. lawmakers including Sen. Elizabeth Warren wrote a letter asking the Department of the Treasury how it plans to deal with cryptocurrency being used to finance terrorism.

It comes after the Wall Street Journal last week reported that three militant groups — Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and their Lebanese ally Hezbollah — raised money through cryptocurrency donations.

Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israel this month sparking a conflict that has cost thousands of lives.

“Congress and this Administration must take strong action to thoroughly address crypto illicit finance risks before it can be used to finance another tragedy,” the lawmakers said in the letter dated Oct. 17.

“As Congress considers legislative proposals designed to mitigate crypto money laundering and illicit finance risks, we urge you to swiftly and categorically act to meaningfully curtail illicit crypto activity and protect our national security and that of our allies.”

The letter is addressed to Brian Nelson, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury, and Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser.

The lawmakers asked the Treasury Department to “address the serious national security threats posed by the use of cryptocurrency to finance terrorism” no later than Oct. 31 and listed a set of questions that require an answer.

— Arjun Kharpal

Pope Francis speaks during the weekly general audience at St Peter’s square in The Vatican on October 18, 2023.

Alberto Pizzoli | Afp | Getty Images

Pope Francis on Wednesday lamented the “desperate” situation in Gaza, as he urged his weekly audience to take the side “of peace” in the Israel-Hamas war.

“War does not solve any problem, it only sows death and destruction, increases hatred, multiplies revenge. War erases the future,” Francis said in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican, according to Reuters.

“I urge believers to take only one side in this conflict, that of peace, but not with words but with prayer and total dedication,” he added.

The pope did not comment on the deadly Gaza hospital strike, with Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel trading blame for the explosion.

— Sam Meredith

U.S. President Joe Biden arrives in Israel

U.S. President Joe Biden touched down in Tel Aviv as he commences a visit to Israel meant to show solidarity with the country after it suffered its largest-ever terrorist attack, carried out by Palestinian militant group Hamas, on Oct. 7.

Biden wrote on X on Tuesday: “On Wednesday, I’ll travel to Israel to stand in solidarity in the face of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack.

In the post, he added that he would also visit Jordan and meet with Arab leaders to discuss humanitarian aid and next steps for Palestinians. But the Arab leaders Biden was scheduled to have a trilateral meeting with — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — canceled the meeting after a blast at a Gaza hospital Tuesday night killed more than 500 people.

Hamas and other Arab leaders blamed Israel for the strike, while Israel says it was caused by a failed rocket fired by Hamas affiliates inside Gaza.

The White House has so far fully supported what it says is “Israel’s right to defend itself,” and Biden has requested that Congress approve more military funding for Israel.

Israel responded to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack with a ferocious bombing campaign over the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-blockaded territory which Hamas governs. It has been criticized by international aid organizations for its tactics which they say overwhelmingly harm civilians.

More than 1,300 Israelis have died in both the Hamas attack and ensuing conflict, while Israel’s bombings and siege over Gaza have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians.

— Natasha Turak

Hamas and Israel are blaming each other for the deadly blast on a Gaza hospital Tuesday night that killed hundreds of people. The World Health Organization called the strike on a hospital in Gaza “unprecedented in scale.

Horrific scenes of the wounded ignited street protests in capitals across the region as Arab protesters and leaders assigned the blame squarely on Israel’s Defense Forces.

Palestinian U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour said Israeli forces caused the “massacre” and called for an immediate ceasefire, while the U.N. Ambassador for Israel Gilad Erdan assigned responsibility to the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

— Natasha Turak

President Joe Biden is planning to submit a request for $100 billion in supplemental funding to Congress in the coming days that would include money for Israel, Taiwan, Ukraine and U.S. border security, two people familiar with the discussions told NBC News.

One source said the details of the package have not been finalized and could still change. The president is expected to send his request to lawmakers by the end of this week after he returns from his Middle East trip.

— NBC News

The U.S. State Department advised Americans against traveling to Lebanon, citing an unpredictable security situation due to kidnappings, unrest in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war and “rocket, missile, and artillery exchanges” between Israel and Hezbollah.

The department raised its travel advisory for Lebanon to level 4, the highest on its rating scale, and warned that the embassy in Beirut has limited capacity to support U.S. citizens there.

State currently has a level 4 travel advisory for Gaza, citing terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict. It has a level 3 advisory for Israel and the West Bank, recommending Americans reconsider traveling due to terrorism and civil unrest.

— Christine Wang

The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 17 journalists have been killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Of the known deaths, the CPJ said 13 were Palestinian, three were Israeli and one was Lebanese.

It said eight journalists have been injured and three have been reported missing or detained.

The nonprofit said it continues to investigate “unconfirmed reports of other journalists being killed, missing, detained, hurt or threatened, and of damage to media offices and journalists’ homes.”

“CPJ emphasizes that journalists are civilians doing important work during times of crisis and must not be targeted by warring parties,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Journalists across the region are making great sacrifices to cover this heartbreaking conflict. All parties must take steps to ensure their safety.”

Christine Wang

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