Our live coverage of the conflict in Israel and Gaza has moved here.
The head of US Central Command arrived in Israel Monday to meet with the chief of staff of the country’s military, according to a statement from US Central Command.
Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla’s goal is to better understand Israel’s defense requirements and outline US support during the conflict, the statement said.
US Central Command did not say how long Kurilla would stay in Israel. His visit comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is conducting shuttle diplomacy in the region, including a nearly eight-hour long meeting with Israel’s war cabinet.
Diplomatic efforts to address the crisis are intensifying, with US President Joe Biden also scheduled to visit Israel Wednesday.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul told CNN Monday that his committee is drafting legislation “in the event it’s necessary” to authorize US military force if the current conflict between Israel and Hamas broadens into a wider proxy war with Iran.
"I hope I never have to mark this bill up. But we have a situation in the Middle East that’s growing day by day with intensity and if Hezbollah gets involved, Iran has already threatened if Gaza is, you know, if Israel goes, you know, if IDF (Israel Defense Forces) goes into Gaza that they're gonna come out,” he told CNN.
The revelation that his committee is crafting draft legislation — known as an Authorization of Use for Military Force — comes as President Joe Biden prepares to travel to the region later this week and is the latest indication that the US government is deeply concerned over how the current crisis could broaden in a way that might require a US military response.
The US military ordered a second carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean as well as Air Force fighter jets to the region as part of US efforts to deter Iran and its proxies from expanding the conflict.
McCaul was careful not to say whether the White House had specifically asked for such an authorization, telling reporters: "I don't want to confirm that. It's just that there is concern that — we, I'm currently, we're currently drafting one in the event it's necessary."
When asked by CNN what this potential authorization might entail, McCaul said: “I'd prefer not to put Iran as a nation state in there. It would be more Iran proxies, you know, like Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran-backed Shi’ia militias, but if Iran gets directly involved, then we would have to put them on the list."
In an interview later with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, McCaul said he would want any potential authorization to have the full support of the American people.
“I’m currently preparing a draft of that in the event it is called upon and is necessary, but most importantly is supported by the American people,” he said.
The rabbi of the Chicago mother and daughter who are being held hostage in Israel feels reassured that US President Joe Biden and the United States are being supportive of all families.
Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natali Raanan, went to Israel to celebrate the 85th birthday of Natali Raanan’s grandmother. The mother and daughter are now being held hostage by Hamas.
Rabbi Mei Hecht told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Monday night the family is beyond devastated as they continue to wait for any news on their family members.
“This is a travesty, this is devastation, the pain is just unimaginable,” Hecht said.
Hecht described Judith as someone who is full of glee and joy. Before traveling to Israel, Hecht said Judith Raanan dropped off a pink prayer book for his 7-year-old daughter as a gift.
“The fact that someone who lives next door to us, and is a part of our community, is a hostage in Israel makes the devastation and the pain and the grief that all Jews around the world are feeling that much more real,” Rabbi Hecht said. “It brings it home in a way that is so much more a part of our life here, even though we're on the other side of the world.”
Nearly 1,000 US citizens and their immediate family members departed from Israel on US government-chartered transport, a State Department spokesperson told CNN.
The spokesperson said the US government had offered “more than 4,000 seats on US government-chartered transport by air and sea to US citizens and their immediate family members” since last Friday.
Notably, however, the spokesperson said “the departure options we have offered have generally departed at half capacity or less.”
US government-facilitated flights are expected to continue on a rolling basis from Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport through at least Thursday, the spokesperson said.
“We will continue to monitor demand from US citizens for assistance in departing Israel on a real-time basis. The overall security situation, availability and reliability of commercial transportation, and US citizen demand will all influence the duration of this departure assistance,” the spokesperson said. “We urge those US citizens wishing to leave to take advantage of this departure assistance while it is available.”
More than 3,000 additional US citizens have said “they successfully departed Israel and the West Bank using commercial air, via the land border, or other means,” according to the spokesperson.
Meanwhile, Americans in Gaza told CNN they have had no luck getting into Egypt through the Rafah crossing, despite indications from US officials that it may be opening. The US Embassy Cairo is tracking 253 US citizens, with 153 “associated family members,” requesting help to depart Gaza via the Rafah Crossing, according to an internal government memo obtained by CNN.
“US citizens in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank in need of assistance should complete the crisis intake form on travel.state.gov,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to provide updates to US citizens, including departure assistance, as information becomes available.”
Two Canadian residents were confirmed to have died in the October 7 Hamas attack, according to Canadian officials and news agencies.
Netta Epstein, an Israeli Canadian, died while shielding his fiancée from gunfire and a grenade when Hamas militants invaded their home, according to the Israeli consulate in Toronto and CTV News.
“Without hesitation, 21-year-old Netta jumped on the grenade to shield his loved one with his own body. His girlfriend survived and was rescued,” reads a statement the agency shared on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Their future dreams, including marriage, were abruptly and tragically cut short.”
Epstein’s mother, Ayelet Shachar-Epstein, spoke to CNN news partner CTV and said one of his last text messages to her stated “They’re here, Mom.”
She said she later learned from his fiancée that he sacrificed his life to save her.
“He had a huge heart, my son,” Shachar-Epstein said. “He was beautiful on the outside but also the inside.”
CNN has also confirmed that Ben Mizrachi, 22, was killed while attending an outdoor music festival that came under attack, according to Sara Bandel with the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.
Taleeb Noormohamed, member of parliment for Vancouver Granville, shared condolences on X, formerly known as Twitter, on last week.
“A wonderful young man from my riding of #VanGran — Ben Mizrachi — was found amongst those murdered by Hamas terrorists. My heartfelt condolences and prayers are with his family, his friends, loved ones & the community.”
Mizrachi graduated in 2018 from King David High School in Vancouver. The school released a statement last week, confirming his death and that he was gunned down while at the music festival.
“Ben was larger than life, with a big personality that matched his size. He was full of joy, had a smile for everyone, and was always there to help. Ben was a friend to everyone and was so proud of his service in the IDF.”
Global Affairs Canada on Sunday said that five Canadians have died and three others are still missing. GAC has not released names of the missing or the deceased from the Hamas attack.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken departed Tel Aviv in the early morning hours Tuesday local time after a long day of meetings with senior Israeli officials, including a seven-and-a-half-hour meeting with the Israeli war cabinet.
In remarks following that meeting, Blinken announced President Joe Biden will travel to Israel on Wednesday, and that the US and Israel “have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza.”
However, it is unclear if any progress was made on the actual opening of the Rafah crossing – the only route into or out of Gaza.
Blinken will stay overnight in Amman.
The White House took into account the complex security situation in Israel before announcing President Joe Biden’s visit to the country, a spokesperson said Monday, though he added the US is not dictating military terms to the Israelis surrounding the president’s trip.
“We wouldn't make a trip, obviously, if we did not believe that proper security parameters would be in place,” said John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson.
The president will arrive in Israel on Wednesday for talks with the country’s leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kirby said the White House had done its “homework” in scheduling and announcing Biden’s visit.
“The security situation is certainly tense, of course. But we take all those factors into account when we both plan the president's trip and when we make a decision to preview it,” he said.
Asked whether allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza was a contingency of Biden making the visit, Kirby did not answer directly. Instead, he said the situation in the coastal Palestinian enclave was a priority for the president.
“I think we've been crystal clear about the need for humanitarian aid to be able to continue to flow into into Gaza, that has been a consistent call by President Biden and certainly by this entire administration,” he said.
“We certainly want to see that humanitarian assistance begin to flow as soon as possible,” he added. “That’s going to be a major topic of the discussion for the future.”
Asked whether the White House expected an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza to begin only after the president departed the region, Kirby declined to weigh in on the country’s military decisions.
“We're not dictating terms or operational directions to the Israelis,” he said.
Humanitarian aid convoys in El-Arish are moving toward the Rafah border crossing in Gaza, state-affiliated media outlet Al-Qahera News reported early Tuesday local time.
El-Arish is about 45 kiometers (or about 28 miles) from the Rafah border crossing.
Earlier on Monday, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said there has been no progress in efforts to open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza, while the Israeli prime minister’s office denied there were any arrangements for its opening.
Airplanes carrying aid from Jordan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the World Health Organization and the Red Cross have arrived at El-Arish since Thursday.