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A Greek-owned commercial vessel targeted by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea on Monday was carrying corn from Brazil to Iran, according to US Central Command and the State Department.
This appears to be the first time the Houthis have targeted a ship destined for Iran, which provides backing for the rebel group that controls parts of Yemen.
The Houthis had previously claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was a US vessel.
“In this case, it seems Iran’s destabilizing activities have imperiled the food security of the Iranian people,” a State Department spokesperson said.
The vessel was not subject to US sanctions because it was carrying corn, which falls under an exemption that covers food supplies, the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the vessel is owned by Star Bulk Carriers, “a Greek-based global shipping company with partial U.S. owners.”
The ship suffered minor damage and no injuries to its crew, according to the US Central Command.
The vessel, named the "Star Iris," was sailing from the Brazilian port of Vila Do Conde to Iran’s Bandar Imam Khomeini port in the Persian Gulf, according to marine tracking company Kpler.
“The Star Iris, like every Iran-bound bulker, had not diverted away from the Red Sea, perhaps unafraid of attacks from Iran-backed Houthis who could be considered 'friendly' given the vessel's destination,” said Ishan Bhanu, Lead Agricultural Commodities Analyst at Kpler.
"At a projected 4.5 million tonnes for this year, flows from Brazil make for the majority of Iran's corn imports," he said.
The Houthis have been targeting vessels delivering for Israel in the Red Sea in response to what they call Israel's "aggression" against Gaza.
Despite repeated strikes against Houthi weapons, the Iran-backed rebel group has vowed to continue targeting vessels with links to Israel, the US and the UK.
This post was updated to include State Department and CENTCOM statements.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan virtually met Monday with the families of the six Americans believed to be held hostage in Gaza, sources familiar with the meeting said.
The conversation came a day ahead of CIA Director Bill Burns's expected travel to Egypt for further hostage release talks, two sources familiar with the plans told CNN.
In a statement, the families said they “expressed our gratitude for the Administration’s continued efforts to bring our loved ones home but made clear our frustration with the pace of negotiations.”
“With more than 20 percent of the hostages reported murdered, there is no time to waste,“ the families said. “Another week cannot go by without a deal. We need an agreement now to bring the hostages home.”
The hostage families participating in the call included Jonathan Dekel-Chen and Gillian Kaye; Yael and Adi Alexander; Lee Siegel and Hanna Siegel; Jon Polin and Rachel Goldberg; Ruby and Hagit Chen; and Ronen and Orna Neutra, a source said. Liz Hirsh Naftali, whose niece Abigail Edan was freed as part of the November hostage deal, also participated.
Several of the families met with Sullivan in person at the White House two weeks ago and with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken while he was in Israel last week.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown Jr. cast doubt on Monday on the idea that Iran wants war with the United States, telling NBC’s Lestor Holt, “I don’t know that they do.”
“Having watched Iran operate, they will do things through their militia groups and others to put pressure, to achieve their objectives. At the same time, not looking for a broader conflict with the United States,” Brown said in an interview on the “Nightly News” on Monday.
Brown’s comments come after at least 170 attacks by Iran-backed groups on US and coalition forces in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan since October 17. Brown echoed comments from other US officials saying the priories are to protect US forces while deterring further aggression in the region and avoiding a full-scale conflict in the Middle East.
Palestinians in Rafah are frantically trying to figure out whether to stay or evacuate after deadly Israeli strikes rained down Monday night on the southern Gaza city, a displaced aid worker told CNN on Monday.
“It was one of the most terrible nights,” Jamal al Rozzi said. “Not because of the number of martyrs of the number of injuries, but also because everybody was just asking themselves what to do.”
Dozens of people, including children, were killed as the “extremely intense” airstrikes and shelling pounded multiple locations, according to local officials.
The Israeli military confirmed it conducted a “series of strikes” in the Shaboura area of Rafah and that two Israeli hostages were rescued in a “special operation.”
More than 1.3 million people — more than half of Gaza’s population — are seeking refuge in Rafah, with the majority of people displaced from other parts of the besieged enclave crammed into a sprawling tent city.
On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directed the military to plan for the “evacuation of the population” ahead of an offensive against what he described as "Hamas’s last bastion.”
Here are the latest developments:
- Warnings over Rafah offensive: The UN's relief and human rights chiefs, Martin Griffiths and Volker Turk, called on Israel to abort its "terrifying" planned incursion into Rafah. They warned that such an operation would likely result in scores of civilian casualties. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said he was “deeply concerned by the reported bombardment and potential ground incursion by Israeli forces in Rafah,” and warned that his office is “actively investigating any crimes allegedly committed” in the war.
- US response to Rafah bombardment: The Biden administration is deeply concerned about the Israeli hostage rescue operation that may have also resulted in some 100 Palestinians being killed, according to a senior administration official. Meanwhile, the State Department said the US does not see the Israeli strikes as “the launch of a full-scale offensive."
- Death of 5-year-old Palestinian: The US called on the Israeli government to investigate the death of 5-year-old Hind Rajab. She was found dead this weekend after being trapped in a car for Gaza City with members of her family who were reportedly shot to death by Israeli forces weeks ago. Rescue workers dispatched to find her were also reportedly shot and killed.
- Biden and Abdullah differ on Gaza: US President Joe Biden discussed a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas which would include a six-week pause in fighting with Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House on Monday. Abdullah, for his part, called for a “lasting ceasefire” that would bring the current fighting to an end.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, the first Arab leader to visit the White House since the start of the war in Gaza in October, broke with his host President Joe Biden on key issues during a joint appearance Monday.
Abdullah made a call for a “lasting ceasefire” in Gaza that would bring the current fighting to an end and said it was essential the main United Nations agency responsible for Gaza continue to receive funding after the US and other nations withdrew support last month.
Biden has stopped short of calling for a permanent ceasefire, and his administration pulled funding for the agency over allegations some of its staff were involved with Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel. The open rifts between Biden and Abdullah underscored the delicate diplomatic balance the president is facing as the war in Gaza enters its fifth month.
Speaking from the White House Cross Hall, Abdullah said a ground operation in Rafah, which Israel has previewed in recent days, would amount to devastation.
“We cannot stand by and let this continue. We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end,” he said.
US President Joe Biden discussed a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas which would include a six-week pause in fighting with Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House on Monday.
"The key elements of the deal are on the table. There are gaps that remain – but I've encouraged Israeli leaders to keep working to achieve the deal. The United States will do everything possible to make it happen," Biden said, adding that in the past month, he has participated in talks about a deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of Qatar and Egypt.
The US president said he’s been working “day and night,” along with Abdullah, to bring home hostages held by Hamas and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza. He also thanked the king for conducting an airdrop of medical supplies to the region.
Speaking about reports that Israel is considering a military incursion into Rafah, Biden said the country “should not proceed without a credible plan" to ensure the safety of people sheltering in the city.
The Israeli military has released a pair of videos of what it says shows the moments two hostages were rescued from Rafah in an early morning raid Monday.
One video primarily shows aerial footage in black and white thermal imaging. It starts with a group of people walking through the street, with the voice of an unknown person saying, "The hostages are in our hands," according to the English translation on screen.
It then appears to show an exchange of gunfire during the rescue.
Moments later, a convoy of vehicles is seen moving along a road, with someone declaring, "The forces have started to move along the route. The forces are on their way. The forces are on their way."
The video ends with more aerial footage showing a helicopter taking off as one voice is heard saying, "They’re good and healthy," and another voice responds: "Good. Keep going. We’re accompanying you."
The second video was shot with the cameras of Shayetet 13 soldiers, and shows the troops meeting with the hostages for the first time inside a vehicle before boarding a helicopter to Israel, the Israel Defense Forces said.
The troops are seen chatting with both hostages, comforting them, and offering water and blankets.
One soldier asks, "How are you feeling?"
"Shocked, shocked, all right," one of the hostages responds, according to the English translation on screen.
Graphic images from Gaza illustrate the toll airstrikes are taking on the city of Rafah, now home to more than half of the enclave's population.
Israeli airstrikes killed at least 94 people overnight Monday, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The Israel Defense Forces said it launched a mission against Hamas to extract two hostages, which was successful.
Two of the videos, which CNN obtained from social media groups used by Palestinian journalists, show hospitals in southern Gaza. One video shows a young child hanging lifelessly from the side of a structure. Several men are trying to bring his body down.
A second image shows another boy, who appears to be a young teen, lying on a bed and clinging to a shroud-wrapped body. According to Gaza journalists, it's the body of his mother in the hospital mortuary. The woman's name is written on her shroud: Ghada Ahmad Yousef Abu al-Hanoud. Her name appears on a list of 74 victims identified and issued death certificates by the Abu Yousef Al-Najjar government hospital in Rafah.
In a third clip, a young girl wipes her eyes and cries but gathers herself to describe what she experienced, "I was going to the bathroom and the strikes were ongoing suddenly I found the fire in our house...(inaudible)...then I went to the bathroom and all the walls collapsed on me," the girl said.
Another video shows a woman holding a dead infant baby covered in a shroud. A young girl sits next to her with a pained expression. The woman says:
"What do I do with the baby, tell me what to do, leave him?" She hugs the lifeless body of the child. CNN cannot independently verify when this video was filmed.