Discover more from News Not Noise
The News Not Noise Letter: Hamas Releases 2 US Hostages
A Chicago mother and daughter, freed after 2 weeks in captivity – what about the others? Plus: aid still stuck at the Rafah Crossing, and why did the US veto a ceasefire?
In a Friday night miracle, we actually have some news that doesn’t suck. Sadly, we have a lot that does. In this newsletter we cover the release of 2 American hostages, Israel’s 3-stage war plan, what’s North Korea doing in all this, and what we now know about the hospital explosion.
Here are the headlines:
2 American Hostages Released: Hamas released 2 American hostages, mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan of Evanston, Illinois. The US thanked Qatar for helping to negotiate their return, and Secretary of State Blinken says the US continues to work for the release of all hostages. The White House says President Biden has spoken with the Raanans and promised them the full support of the US government as they recover.
Who are Judith and Natalie? The mother and daughter pair from Evanston, Ill. were visiting family in Kibbutz Nahal Oz to celebrate Judith’s mother’s birthday when Hamas operatives kidnapped them to Gaza. We don’t yet have more details. They are now in Israel receiving medical care and expected to be debriefed by US and Israeli law enforcement to glean information that could help locate other hostages. Natalie’s brother, Ben Ranaan, told CNN his sister has now spoken with her father and he laughed saying that, “she looks like a supermodel” even after 2 weeks in captivity. Natalie will celebrate her 18th birthday next week. The White House is asking people to respect their privacy.
What now? There are roughly 200 hostages still in Gaza, and nearly 30 of them are children. Ten are American citizens. The Secretary of State says “the entire United States government will work every minute of every day to secure their release.”
Why is Qatar in this? Qatar is home to a number of Hamas officials and the government of Qatar frequently acts as an intermediary between Western nations and non-state actors. They played a similar role in US talks with the Taliban before the US left Afghanistan.
Why did Hamas release the hostages? There are three leading reasons: 1) PR, to dispute President Biden’s representation of them as “pure, unadulterated evil,” 2) to buy time to delay a ground invasion and also, possibly 3) to try to divide US and Israel, by releasing only American hostages. National security expert Jeremy Bash, who is former Chief of Staff at the CIA and DOD under President Obama, says Hamas will fail in all three. There remain a lot of questions about why these two hostages were selected for release.
What about the others? It’s widely understood that a ground invasion could imperil the hostages remaining in Gaza. Tonight is the second Sabbath since the massacre. There is video circulating online of a shabbat dinner table in Tel Aviv set for every hostage – including empty high chairs and sippy cups. A reminder of the missing.
News Not Noise is a reader-supported publication. Paid subscribers make our work possible. Please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Russia and China and Iran, Oh My: This conflict is quickly reshaping global alliances. Anti-democratic countries are cozying up to one another. In the last week, there has been a flurry of activity between Iran, Russia, China, Syria, and North Korea. There is a report today that Hamas used North Korean rocket-propelled grenade launchers in its October 7 massacre. After Russia’s foreign minister made a rare visit to North Korea, its leader threatened to preemptively strike the US with a nuclear weapon (Don’t worry, he makes this threat every so often.) When Putin showed up for a meeting with China’s President Xi, he arrived with what Reuters says was his country’s nuclear football. And uniting them all: Iran, Hamas’ patron. I say more in this video.
Biden Seeks Billions for US Allies: President Biden spoke about the threat presented by these powers. In an Oval Office address he said, “history has taught us when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction.” He argued, “the cost and the threat to America and the world keep rising,” and US leadership “holds the world together.” To counter this growing axis, Biden is making a big ask. The White House formally requested Congress approve $106 billion – including military aid for Ukraine, military and humanitarian aid for Israel/Gaza, funding to support Taiwan and counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific and increased US border security.
Congress, Not So Good: The US Senate is ready to act swiftly on the aid package – but they’re stuck while the House GOP conference argues about who should be in charge. The latest? Rep. Jim Jordan performed even worse on a third ballot, losing three Republican votes. His colleagues voted him out of the running. What’s the plan? What makes you think there is one? This concludes a third week of rudderless chaos after a group of far-right Republican lawmakers ousted former Speaker McCarthy. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on US government funding and foreign aid.
Israel Doesn’t Want to Own Gaza: Armchair strategists publicly fret about “the day after.” Assuming Israel decisively routs Hamas, what happens to Gaza next? Today, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant made an effort to quell those fears. Speaking at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, he laid out a 3-phase plan for the war against Hamas. He said the first phase is an air and ground military campaign (already begun) aimed at “destroying [Hamas] operatives and damaging infrastructure;” the second, sustained but less intense fighting to “eliminate pockets of resistance” and third, “the creation of a new security regime in the Gaza Strip, the removal of Israel’s responsibility for day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip, and the creation of a new security reality.” He’s making clear that Israel does not intend to be an occupying force. So how do Palestinians choose their government and develop a sustainable economy after Hamas? That’s a topic of ongoing discussion among leaders in the region.
Egypt Peace Summit: Egypt is convening a peace summit to discuss containing the war and bringing it to an end. This is also a forum in which leaders would grapple with Gaza’s future. Many Arab and European leaders will attend, but US, Israel, and Iran will not.
Crisis in Gaza & Rafah Updates: As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza intensifies, President Biden says he expects that the Rafah Crossing will open to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza this weekend.
Over 200 trucks carrying critical relief supplies are lined up outside the crossing. This is not the first deadline set for the aid to enter. The gate is controlled by Egypt. They shut it when Hamas attacked, and haven’t opened it since. Cairo, Hamas and Israel have different needs that make it extremely difficult to negotiate an agreement to get it open. The UN agreed to manage security and inspections at the crossing. Repairs to the road are underway but so far, the gate controlled by Egypt remains closed.
The Gaza Health Ministry says 4,137 Palestinians have died and over 13,000 were injured since the war broke out, but we don’t have a way to independently confirm this. See lower section for more. The UN confirms roughly 1.4 million Gazans have been displaced in the past two weeks.
US Vetoes Ceasefire Resolution: Lots of you are asking why the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. US Amb. to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed disappointment it “made no mention of Israel’s right of self-defense,” and said the US want to let diplomacy “play out.” The measure was introduced after Israel was blamed for an explosion at a Gaza hospital that killed Palestinian civilians; the US says intelligence indicates that tragedy was caused by rocket fire inside Gaza – not from an Israeli airstrike. In general, the US does not support the idea of a ceasefire that would allow Hamas time to move munitions, assets and personnel and gain an advantage. Instead, the US has been working with Israel and Arab neighbors to bring in humanitarian aid, contain Israel’s fighting to Northern Gaza, and create safe zones for Palestinian civilians.
Al Ahli Hospital: What We Know Now
There’s been intense confusion this week over reports that Israel struck the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza and killed hundreds. The US has now assessed with “high confidence” that the hospital was not hit by an airstrike from Israel, but rather a rocket from inside Gaza; that it didn’t hit the hospital but rather the parking lot; and that the original death toll of 500 people – attributed to the Gaza Health Ministry – was overstated. Reuters reports an unclassified briefing delivered to Congress says likely 100-300 people lost their lives in that explosion. The Israelis say the rocket was likely from Islamic Jihad, another Iran-affiliated terror group in Gaza.
Western news organizations have spent a lot of time reviewing the facts and they draw the same conclusion — that it was a rocket fired from inside Gaza. Why:
US Surveillance: US officials briefed that their additional infrared satellite imagery shows the launch of a rocket or missile from inside Gaza at this time.
Signals Intelligence: US officials said there are additional intercepted communications.
Photographs and Blast Analysis: CNN, ABC, NBC, BBC, CBS, NPR have photos that show extreme damage in the hospital parking lot and do not show a major crater at the site, which would typically follow an Israeli airstrike. They also show evidence of significant fire damage and scattered debris more in line with a ground-level explosion. The BBC, CNN and others quote security experts who say the images suggest a small rocket may have exploded and caused leftover fuel to ignite. After-the-fact photos show the hospital largely intact.
Intercepted audio: Earlier this week, Israel released what it said was a real-time conversation between Hamas operatives who saw the events and agreed that this was “local shrapnel, not Israeli shrapnel.”
The death toll: The original number – 500 dead – comes from the Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas. News orgs rely on the Gaza Health Ministry’s numbers because they are the governing authority.
Alternative perspective: Qatar-state owned news outlet Al Jazeera is no longer attributing the explosion to an Israeli airstrike. They have footage of a rocket being launched at this time from Gaza and then – after a flash – disappearing just before the hospital explosion. Israel said the flash shows the rocket misfired. Al Jazeera argues it was shot down by the “Iron Dome” anti-missile system that defends Israel from Hamas’ rockets. European intelligence officials ruled out this possibility based on the design of the Iron Dome system.
To be clear: We can’t irrefutably prove whose artillery hit the hospital. That’s not the job of a journalist. The BBC, which quickly blamed Israel for the blast, has said “it was wrong to speculate” and other organizations corrected their reporting. The new, nuanced information might be too little, too late to cool temperatures.
Some accounts across social media are rejecting the day-after analysis as propaganda by Western media and governments. Some are circulating decontextualized claims to argue this is all a cover-up.
A larger point: Initial unverified reporting overshadowed most other stories this week and had real-world consequences. The event sparked mass protests in Jordan, Lebanon, and Ramallah and some continue to this day. Reporting on the explosion caused the cancellation of a summit meant to open a humanitarian corridor into Gaza and bring aid. Civilians in Gaza paid a price for a bad story that went viral.
Yes, news organizations that ran with an unverified story bear responsibility. But it’s also a lesson to everyone who rushes to reshare consequential, inflammatory information instantly.
We are all soldiers in an information war. Know this: The early facts in a war often change. News orgs get it wrong sometimes. So when a story is extremely distressing and consequential – wait. Check multiple sources that you know and trust. Let journalists do their job. And if a story changes, that doesn’t mean it’s a cover up. It often means, the picture is filling in.
It’s a lot and it’s heavy. We have one more story that would be front page news at any other time. But we’re just barely finding space for it.
Your weekend kicker:
Former Trump Lawyers Plead Guilty: Trump’s merry band of election deniers is considerably less merry this week. Former Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro pleaded guilty in the Georgia election interference case. Both have agreed to testify truthfully at future trials, which could spell trouble for the 17 other co-defendants, including former President Donald Trump. Both also agreed to write apology notes to the people of Georgia. We really hope they’re made public. No word on whether they have to be handwritten. 🤞
Want more information?
Find us on Instagram and Threads @jessicayellin. Please share this newsletter with family, friends, and anyone who wants to get the news and turn down the noise.