Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way

Israel has warned it will expand its ground operations into Rafah, above, if Hamas does not free the remaining hostages held in Gaza by next month’s start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan. (AP)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way

  • Global powers trying to navigate a way to end the Israel-Hamas war have so far come up short
  • International concern has in recent weeks centered on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israel launched air strikes Thursday on southern Gaza’s Rafah after threatening to send troops into the city, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought shelter from around the territory.
Global powers trying to navigate a way to end the Israel-Hamas war have so far come up short, but a US envoy was expected in Israel on Thursday to try to secure a truce deal.
International concern has spiraled over the high civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel.
More than four months of relentless fighting and air strikes have flattened much of the Hamas-run coastal territory, pushing its population of around 2.4 million to the brink of famine, according to the UN.
International concern has in recent weeks centered on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million people forced to flee their homes elsewhere in the territory are now living in crowded shelters and makeshift tents.
The last city untouched by Israeli ground troops, Rafah also serves as the main entry point via neighboring Egypt for desperately needed relief supplies.
Israel has warned it will expand its ground operations into Rafah if Hamas does not free the remaining hostages held in Gaza by next month’s start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan.
The war started when Hamas launched its attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.
Hamas militants also took about 250 hostages — 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,313 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by the Hamas-run health ministry in the territory.
War cabinet member Benny Gantz said Israel’s operation in Rafah would begin “after the evacuation of the population,” although his government has not offered any details on where civilians would be evacuated to.
In the early hours of Thursday, AFP reporters heard multiple air strikes on Rafah, particularly in the Al-Shaboura neighborhood.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said early Thursday that 99 people had been killed around Gaza during the night, most of them women, children and elderly people.
Abdel Rahman Mohamed Jumaa said he lost his family in recent strikes on Rafah.
“I found my wife lying in the street,” he said. “Then I saw a man carrying a girl and I ran toward him and.... picked her up, realizing she was really my daughter.”
He was holding a small shrouded corpse in his arms.
Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, was expected to arrive in Israel Thursday — his second stop in the region after Egypt as part of US efforts to advance a hostage deal and broker a truce.
Hamas’s chief Ismail Haniyeh was in Cairo for talks as well, according to the group.
Israel’s Gantz said there were efforts to “promote a new plan for the return of the hostages.”
“We are seeing the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress in this direction.”
Matthew Miller, US State Department spokesman, said Washington was hoping for an “agreement that secures a temporary ceasefire where we can get the hostages out and get humanitarian assistance,” but declined to give details on ongoing negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will keep fighting until it has destroyed Hamas and freed the remaining hostages.
Israel’s parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Netanyahu to oppose any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The vote came days after the Washington Post reported that US President Joe Biden’s administration and a small group of Arab nations were working out a comprehensive plan for long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
It included a firm timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, the report said.
Separately, a report by an Israeli group that fights sexual violence said Hamas’s October 7 attack also involved systematic sexual assaults on civilians, based on witness testimonies, public and classified information, and interviews.
The report came the same week UN rights experts called for an independent probe into alleged Israeli abuses against Palestinian women and girls — which Israel rejected as “despicable and unfounded claims.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly alleged the militants committed violent sexual assaults during the attack — something Hamas has denied.
Combat and chaos have stalled sporadic aid deliveries for civilians in Gaza, while in Khan Yunis — a city just north of Rafah — medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said an Israeli tank had fired on a house sheltering their employees and families.
Two relatives of MSF staff were killed and six others injured, it said, condemning the strike in the “strongest possible terms.”
When contacted by AFP about the incident, the Israeli army said its forces had “fired at a building that was identified as a building where terror activity is occurring,” adding that it “regrets” harm to civilians.
In the same town, the Palestinian Red Crescent said another hospital was also hit by “artillery shelling.”
Israel has repeatedly said Hamas militants use civilian infrastructure including hospitals as operational bases — claims that Hamas has denied.


Israeli forces kill senior Palestinian militant in Jenin: army

Updated 56 min ago
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Israeli forces kill senior Palestinian militant in Jenin: army

  • The strike by a fighter jet and helicopter killed Islam Khamayseh
  • Khamayseh was a leader of the Jenin Battalion

RAMALLAH: The Israeli military said on Saturday it killed a senior Palestinian militant during an air strike on an “operations center” in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
“A number of significant terrorists were inside the compound,” the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement posted to Telegram.
It said the strike by a fighter jet and helicopter killed Islam Khamayseh, a “senior terrorist operative in the Jenin Camp” who was responsible for a series of attacks in the area.
The Al-Quds Brigade, the armed wing of militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, confirmed in a statement that Khamayseh was killed and several others wounded during an Israeli raid on Friday night.
It said Khamayseh was a leader of the Jenin Battalion, which is affiliated with Islamic Jihad.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health said one person was killed and eight were wounded and receiving hospital treatment as a result of Israel’s operation in Jenin on Friday night.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967 and its troops routinely carry out incursions into areas such as Jenin, which are nominally under the Palestinian Authority’s security control.
The West Bank has seen a recent surge in violence, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7.
More than 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since October 7, according to Palestinian officials, and at least 20 Israelis have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The Gaza Strip has been at war since Hamas’s unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip has killed at least 35,303 people, most of them civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Updated 18 May 2024
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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

  • Residents say Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes, shops in Jabalia
  • Hamas says US floating aid pier no substitute for end to Israeli siege

CAIRO: Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.
“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.
Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Islamist militants re-grouping there.
In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.
“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, UN humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north toward the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.
As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.
The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land — disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah — were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.
“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
US aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.
Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade.”
The White House said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas militants rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.
A group of US medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

Humanitarian fears
The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive.”
A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.
“The 7th Brigade’s fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.
At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.
Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.
Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.
In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honorable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”
Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

‘Tragic war’
Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.
“They’re moving to areas where there is no water — we’ve got to truck it in — and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.
At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.
The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.


Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Updated 18 May 2024
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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

  • Residents say Israeli bulldozers demolishing homes and shops in Jabalia in the path of the advance
  • Hamas says US floating aid pier is no substitute for end of Israeli siege of Gaza

CAIRO: Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.
“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.
Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Islamist militants re-grouping there.
In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.
“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, UN humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north toward the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.
As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.
The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

Ships are seen near a temporary floating pier built to receive humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip in Gaza Beach on May 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land — disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah — were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.
“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
US aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.
Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade.”
The White House said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas militants rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.
A group of US medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

Ships are seen near a temporary floating pier built to receive humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip in Gaza Beach on May 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

Humanitarian fears
The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive.”
A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.
“The 7th Brigade’s fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.
At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.
Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.
Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.
In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honorable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”
Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

’Tragic war’
Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.
“They’re moving to areas where there is no water — we’ve got to truck it in — and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.
At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.
The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.


WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days

Updated 18 May 2024
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WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days

GENEVA: The World Health Organization said Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days as Israel pursues a new offensive against Hamas.
Israel’s closure of the Rafah crossing into Gaza has caused “a difficult situation,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. “The last medical supplies that we got in Gaza was before May 6.”
Israeli troops entered the city of Rafah on May 7 to extend their offensive against Hamas over the militant group’s attacks seven months earlier. They closed the Rafah crossing into Egypt that is crucial for humanitarian supplies.
With UN agencies warning of a growing risk of famine in Gaza, the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings from Israel are also virtually shut down.
Jasarevic said the biggest concern was over fuel needed to keep clinics and hospitals running. Gaza’s health facilities need up to 1.8 million liters of fuel a month to keep operating.
The spokesman said only 159,000 liters had entered Rafah since the border closure. “This is clearly not sufficient,” he added, highlighting how only 13 out of 36 hospitals across the Palestinian territory were now “partially” operating.
“Hospitals still functioning are running out of fuel, and that puts so many lives at danger,” said Jasarevic. “Current military operations in Rafah are putting countless lives at risk.”
The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the death of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Out of 252 people taken hostage, 128 are still held inside Gaza, but the army says 38 have died.
More than 35,300 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Palestinian territory since the war broke out, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.


Hezbollah uses new weapons in Israel attacks

Updated 18 May 2024
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Hezbollah uses new weapons in Israel attacks

  • The Israeli army said three soldiers were wounded in an attack on Thursday
  • Hezbollah has a large arsenal of weapons, that it has expanded significantly in recent years

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s powerful armed group Hezbollah announced on Thursday it had used a drone capable of firing rockets at a military position in one of its latest attacks in northern Israel.
Israel and Hezbollah have been involved in near-daily exchanges of fire since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out on October 7.
Hezbollah announced it had used an “armed attack drone” equipped with two S-5 rockets on a military position in Metula in northern Israel.
The Iran-backed group published a video showing the drone heading toward the position, where tanks were stationed, with the footage showing the moment the two rockets were released followed by the drone exploding.
It was the first time they had announced the use of this type of weapon since the cross-border exchanges with Israel erupted in October.
The Israeli army said three soldiers were wounded in Thursday’s attack.
Hezbollah-affiliated media said that the drone’s warhead consisted of between 25 and 30 kilogrammes (55 and 66 pounds) of high explosive.
Military analyst Khalil Helou told AFP that the use of drones offers Hezbollah the ability to launch the attack from within Israeli territory, as they can fly at low altitudes, evading detection by radar.
Hezbollah also announced on Wednesday that it had launched a strike using “attack drones” on a base west of the northern Israeli town of Tiberias.
That attack was the group’s deepest into Israeli territory since fighting flared, analysts said.
In recent weeks, the Lebanese militant group has announced attacks that it has described as “complex,” using attack drones and missiles to hit military positions, as well as troops and vehicles.
It has also used guided and heavy missiles, such as Iran’s Burkan and Almas missiles, as well as the Jihad Mughniyeh missile, named after a Hezbollah leader killed by Israeli fire in Syria in 2015.
Helou, a retired general, said that depite its new weaponry, Hezbollah still relied primarily on Kornet anti-tank missiles with a range of just five to eight kilometers.
They also use the Konkurs anti-tank missile, which can penetrate Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
Hezbollah has a large arsenal of weapons, that it has expanded significantly in recent years.
The group has said repeatedly that it has advanced weapons capable of striking deep inside Israeli territory.
Analysts have described the skirmishes between Israel and Hamas as a war of “attrition,” in which each side is testing the other, as well as their own tactics.
Hezbollah has expanded the range of its attacks in response to strikes targeting its munitions and infrastructure, or its military commanders.
One such Israeli strike on Wednesday targeted the village of Brital in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley, with the Israeli army later announcing it had hit a “terror target related to Hezbollah’s precision missile project.”
Helou said Hezbollah’s targeting of the base near Tiberias and its use of the rocket-equipped drone “can be interpreted as a response to the attack on Brital, but it remains a shy response compared to the group’s capabilities.”
He suggested that the Israeli strike likely hit a depot for Iranian missiles that had not yet been used by Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah does not wish to expand the circle of the conflict,” Helou said.
“What is happening is a war of attrition through which it is trying to distract the Israeli army” from Gaza and seeking to prevent it from “launching a wide-ranging attack on Lebanon.”