Home International Israeli military takes control of vital Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt

Israeli military takes control of vital Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt

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The Israeli military seized control of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Tuesday and its tanks pushed into the southern Gazan town of Rafah after a night of air strikes on the Palestinian enclave.

Israeli military vehicles operate on the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in the southern Gaza Strip, in this handout image released on May 7, 2024. Picture: Israel Defense Forces, Handout via Reuters

By Mohammad Salem and Nidal Al-Mughrabi

RAFAH, Gaza Strip/CAIRO – The Israeli military seized control of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Tuesday and its tanks pushed into the southern Gazan town of Rafah after a night of air strikes on the Palestinian enclave.

The Israeli offensive took place as mediators struggled to secure a ceasefire agreement between Israel and its Hamas foes and as the conflict entered its 8th month.

The Palestinian militant group said late on Monday it had agreed to a ceasefire proposal but Israel said the terms did not meet its demands.

Amid international concern over the plight of civilians crammed into Rafah, Israeli tanks and planes attacked several areas and houses there overnight.

On Tuesday morning, people searched for bodies under the rubble of wrecked buildings. One corpse was taken away for burial, wrapped in a white shroud.

Raed al-Derby said his wife and children had been killed.

Standing in the street, anguish etched on his face, he told Reuters: “We’re patient and we will remain steadfast on this land. We are waiting for liberation and this battle will be for liberation, God willing.”

More than one million people have sought refuge in Rafah, living in tented camps and makeshift shelters. Many are trying to leave, heeding Israeli orders for them to evacuate, but with large areas of the coastal enclave already laid to waste, they say they have nowhere safe to go to.

The Israeli military said a limited operation in Rafah was meant to kill fighters and dismantle infrastructure used by Hamas, which governs the besieged Palestinian territory.

Egypt said the Israeli operation in Rafah threatened the ceasefire efforts, and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell said the assault would be deadly for civilians.

“I am afraid that this is going to cause again a lot of casualties, civilian casualties. he told reporters. “There are no safe zones in Gaza.”

Israel has for weeks threatened to mount a major incursion in Rafah, which it says harbours thousands of Hamas fighters and where potentially dozens of hostages are being held. Victory over Hamas is impossible without taking Rafah, it says.

A total of 34,789 Palestinians, most of then civilians, have been now killed in the conflict, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and abducting about 250 others, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

RAFAH CROSSING CLOSED

A Gaza border authority spokesperson told Reuters the Rafah crossing, a vital route for aid into the devastated enclave, was closed because of the presence of Israeli tanks.

Israeli Army Radio had earlier announced its forces were there and army footage showed tanks rolling through the crossing point and the Israeli flag raised on the Gaza side.

Red Crescent sources in Egypt said aid to Gaza had completely halted at Rafah and at the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing.

The United States and other foreign governments have been pressing Israel not to start a campaign in Rafah until it had drawn up a humanitarian plan for the Palestinians sheltering there.

“The Israeli occupation has sentenced the residents of the Strip to death after closure of the Rafah border crossing,” said Hisham Edwan, spokesperson for the Gaza Border Crossing Authority.

Israel said the vast majority of people had been evacuated from the area of military operations and it has told them to go to what it calls an “expanded humanitarian zone” around 20km (12 miles) away.

Palestinian families piled children and possessions onto donkey carts and pick-up trucks or walked through the muddy streets. Abdullah Al-Najar said this was the fourth time he had been displaced since the fighting began in October.

“God knows where we will go now. We have not decided yet,” he said.

TRUCE TALKS IN CAIRO

As the ceasefire talks stumbled, mediator Qatar said its delegation would head to Cairo on Tuesday to resume indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas said in a statement on Monday that its chief, Ismail Haniyeh, had informed Qatari and Egyptian mediators the group accepted their proposal for a ceasefire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said later the proposal fell short of Israel’s demands but Israel would send a delegation to meet with negotiators to try to reach an agreement.

Netanyahu’s war cabinet approved continuing an operation in Rafah, his office said.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the proposal that Hamas approved was a watered-down version of an Egyptian offer and included elements Israel could not accept.

Another official said Hamas had agreed to the phased ceasefire and hostage release deal Israel proposed on April 27 with only minor changes that did not affect the main parts of the proposal.

A Palestinian official close to mediation efforts told Reuters a Hamas delegation may arrive in Cairo later on Tuesday or on Wednesday to discuss the ceasefire.

Any truce would be the first pause in fighting since a week-long ceasefire in November during which Hamas freed around half of the hostages and Israel released 240 Palestinians it was holding in its jails.

Since then, all efforts to reach a new truce have foundered over Hamas’ refusal to free more hostages without a promise of a permanent end to the conflict, and Israel’s insistence that it would discuss only a temporary pause.

– REUTERS

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