Home International Israeli tanks push into Rafah, as displaced civilians flee again

Israeli tanks push into Rafah, as displaced civilians flee again

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Israeli tanks forged deeper into eastern Rafah on Tuesday, reaching some residential districts of the southern border city where more than a million people had been sheltering after being displaced in seven months of war.

People and rescuers work to recover the dead body of a Palestinian trapped under the rubble of a house hit in an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, May 14, 2024. Picture: Reuters, Ramadan Abed

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi

CAIRO – Israeli tanks forged deeper into eastern Rafah on Tuesday, reaching some residential districts of the southern border city where more than a million people had been sheltering after being displaced in seven months of war.

Israel’s international allies and aid groups have repeatedly urged against a ground incursion into refugee-packed Rafah, warning of a potential humanitarian catastrophe.

The World Court, also known as the International Court of Justice, said it would hold hearings on Thursday and Friday to discuss a request by South Africa seeking new emergency measures over the Rafah incursion, which Qatar says has stalled efforts to reach a ceasefire.

South Africa’s demand is part of a case it brought against Israel accusing it of violating the genocide convention in Gaza, and which Israel has called baseless. It would provide its views on the latest petition on Friday, the UN court said.

Israel has vowed to press on into Rafah even without the support of allies, saying its operation is necessary to root out four remaining Hamas battalions holed up in the city.

“The tanks advanced this morning west of Salahuddin Road into the Brzail and Jneina neighbourhoods. They are in the streets inside the built-up area and there are clashes,” one resident told Reuters via a chat app.

Video on social media showed one tank on George Street in Al-Jneina neighbourhood. Reuters could not verify the video.

Hamas’s armed wing said it had destroyed an Israeli troop carrier with an Al-Yassin 105 missile in the eastern Al-Salam neighbourhood, killing some crew members and wounding others.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declined to comment on the report.

In a round-up of its activities, the IDF said its forces had eliminated “several armed terrorist” cells in close-quarter fighting on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. In the east of the city, it said it had also destroyed militant cells and a launch post from where missiles were being fired at IDF troops.

‘NOWHERE IS SAFE’, UNRWA SAYS

Israel issued evacuation orders for people to move from parts of eastern Rafah a week ago, with a second round of orders extending to further zones on Saturday.

They are moving to empty tracts of land, including Al-Mawasi, a sandy strip bordering the coast that aid agencies have warned lacks sanitary and other facilities to host an influx of displaced people.

UNRWA, the main United Nations aid agency in Gaza, estimates some 450,000 people have fled Rafah since May 6.

“People face constant exhaustion, hunger and fear. Nowhere is safe,” the agency posted on X.

The war has pushed much of Gaza’s population to the brink of famine, the UN says, and has devastated its medical facilities, where hospitals, if working at all, are running short of fuel to power generators and other essential supplies.

James Smith, a British emergency room doctor volunteering in hospitals in southern Gaza, said that he had been told by a World Health Organisation official that some emergency fuel had made it into the strip.

“Health is still being prioritised over other essential services, so when health looks a bit better it generally means other essential services are struggling,” he told Reuters via a WhatsApp voice note. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

However, major hospitals, including Al-Aqsa, should have enough fuel for six days if it was managed frugally, he said.

FIERCE GUN BATTLES

Fighting across the strip has intensified in recent days, including in the north, with the Israeli military heading back into areas where it had claimed to have dismantled Hamas months ago. Israel says the operations are to prevent Hamas, which controls Gaza, from rebuilding it military capacities.

The Palestinian death toll in the war has now surpassed 35,000, according to Gaza health officials, whose figures do not differentiate between civilians and fighters. It said that 82 Palestinians were killed in the past 24 hours, the highest death toll in a single day in many weeks.

Israel launched its operation in Gaza following the devastating attack on October 7 by Hamas-led gunmen who rampaged through Israeli communities around the enclave, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Gun battles between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen were the fiercest in months, according to residents, both in the north and south of the densely populated enclave of 2.3 million people.

In the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City in the north, bulldozers demolished clusters of houses to make a new road for tanks to roll through into the eastern suburb.

In northern Gaza’s Jabalia, a sprawling refugee camp built for displaced Palestinians 75 years ago, residents said Israeli forces were trying to reach as deep as the camp’s local market under heavy tank shelling.

The IDF said it had killed dozens of Hamas fighters in Jabalia and dismantled a network of explosives, while in Zeitoun it located tunnel shafts and destroyed several rocket launchers.

With fighting intensifying, Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said ceasefire talks, mediated by his country and Egypt, were at a stalemate.

“There is one party that wants to end the war and then talk about the hostages and there is another party who wants the hostages and wants to continue the war. As long as there is not any commonality between those two things it won’t get us to a result,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

– REUTERS

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