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Israel sends tanks into Rafah on raids amid Gaza-wide offensive

May 29, 2024 at 1:38 pm

Israeli artillery units hits on the Gaza Strip with tanks as Israel’s air, land and sea attacks continue on the Gaza Strip on May 13, 2024 in Re’im, Israel [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Israeli tanks mounted raids across Rafah in defiance of the International Court of Justice for a second day on Wednesday, after Washington said the assault did not amount to a major ground operation in the southern Gazan city that US officials have warned Israel to avoid.

Israel sent its tanks into the heart of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, Reuters has reported. This was despite an order from the ICJ to end its attacks on the city, where many Palestinians have taken refuge in Israeli-designated “safe areas” in order to escape the widespread bombardment.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah but said on Tuesday that it did not believe that such an operation was under way.

Rafah residents said today that Israeli tanks had pushed into Tel Al-Sultan in western Rafah and Yibna and near Shaboura in the centre before retreating towards the buffer zone on the border with Egypt, in contrast with offensives elsewhere.

Israel’s military controlled three quarters of the buffer zone and aimed to control all of it to prevent Hamas smuggling weapons, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi.

He added that he expects fighting in Gaza to continue throughout 2024 at least. Israel, he suggested, is not ready to heed international calls to agree a ceasefire with the Hamas movement which has been the de facto government of Gaza ever since the resistance group won the last Palestinian election in 2006. Any ceasefire agreement is likely to see the hostages held in Gaza exchanged for Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are held with neither charge nor trial and are thus, in effect, also hostages.

The armed wings of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad said that they confronted the invading forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and blew up previously planted explosive devices.

The Israeli occupation forces said that three soldiers were killed and three others were badly wounded in southern Gaza, without giving further details. Israel’s public broadcaster Kan radio said that they were wounded by an explosive device set off in a building in Rafah.

READ: Israel war cabinet split on Hamas demand to stop the war

According to Palestinian health officials, several people were wounded by Israeli fire in eastern Rafah and aid stores were set ablaze. Residents said that constant Israeli bombardment overnight destroyed many homes in the area, from where most people have fled after orders by Israel to evacuate. Some residents reported seeing what they described as unmanned robotic armoured vehicles opening fire with machine guns in some parts of the city.

Internet and mobile signals went down in parts of both east and west amid heavy Israeli air and ground bombardment, said the Shehab news agency, residents and other journalists. The Israeli military said it could not confirm the reports.

In northern Gaza, tanks shelled several Gaza City neighbourhoods, and occupation forces thrust deeper into Jabaliya, the largest of the enclave’s eight biggest refugee camps, where residents said that major residential districts were destroyed.

Gaza’s health ministry said several hospitals in areas where the army is operating had stopped functioning. Spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra called for immediate safe pathways for fuel, medical aid and medical teams to get to Rafah and northern Gaza. “The Israeli occupation [army] deliberately finished off the healthcare presence in Rafah and the north,” explained Qidra. There is no help for people wounded there, he added.

Around a million Palestinians who had taken shelter in Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip from Israel’s offensives elsewhere have now fled after Israeli orders to evacuate, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, reported on Tuesday.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said that it had evacuated its medical teams from its field hospital in Al-Mawasi area, a designated civilian evacuation zone, citing “continued artillery and air bombardments” in the vicinity.

The ICJ said in its ruling on Friday that Israel had not explained how it would keep the Rafah evacuees safe and provide food, water and medicine. Israel claimed that the order allowed room for some military action to root out Hamas fighters there.

In the nearby city of Khan Younis, an Israeli air strike killed three people overnight, including Salama Baraka, a former senior police officer in the enclave, medics confirmed.

The PRCS said that one of its employees, Issam Aqel, was killed in an Israeli air strike on his house in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, taking to 30 the number of Red Crescent staff killed since 7 October, at least 17 of whom were killed while on duty.

Israel has delivered its latest ceasefire and hostage release proposal to Qatar, which was able to provide it to Hamas on Tuesday, a person familiar with the issue said. There was no immediate word on Wednesday from the resistance movement, which has said that talks are pointless unless Israel ends its offensive on Rafah.

More than 36,000 Palestinians, mainly children and women, have been killed in Israel’s Gaza offensive, with 80,000 others wounded. Around 12,000 are believed to be buried under the rubble of their homes, many of them children.

READ: Israel has lost war on Gaza, says Jerusalem Post