Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way

Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way
Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way

Hello and welcome to the details of Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks under way and now with the details

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Smoke billows in the sky following Israeli bombardment on a mosque in Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on February 22, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. — AFP pic

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, Feb 22 — 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 spiralled 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.

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International concern has in recent weeks centred 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 neighbouring 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.

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‘My daughter’

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 neighbourhood.

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 told AFP. “Then I saw a man carrying a girl and I ran towards him and.... picked her up, realising she was really my daughter.”

He was holding a small shrouded corpse in his arms.

‘Possibility of progress’

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’ 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.

‘Waiting for death’

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. — AFP

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