Six months into ‘long’ war, Israel says readying for Rafah

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, April 8 — Israeli officials said yesterday they are preparing for military operations in Gaza’s southernmost point of Rafah six months into a “long war”, which has shattered buildings and lives.

Israel pulled its forces out of the southern Gaza Strip yesterday in a partial withdrawal half a year into the war sparked by the attack against Israel by Hamas militants on October 7.

But Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said troops left the city of Khan Yunis, after months of fighting, “to prepare for future missions, including... in Rafah”.

World leaders have expressed alarm at the prospect of an invasion of the city, near the Egyptian border, where most of Gaza’s population has taken shelter.


“The war in Gaza continues, and we are far from stopping,” said Israel’s military Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. “This is a long war, with varying intensity.”

After troops left areas in and around the largely destroyed city of Khan Yunis, a stream of displaced Palestinians walked there, hoping to return to their homes from temporary shelters in Rafah, a little further south.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “one step away from victory”.


Muhammad Yunis, 51, a Palestinian in northern Gaza, sees nothing but loss.

“Isn’t the bombing, death and destruction enough?” he asked. “There are bodies still under the rubble. We can smell the stench.”

On a day when talks toward a truce deal were set to resume in Cairo, Netanyahu also stressed that “there will be no ceasefire without the return of hostages”.

He is facing intense pressure at home from families and supporters of captives seized by the militants as well as from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.


“Israel is ready for a deal. Israel is not ready to surrender,” Netanyahu told his cabinet in a speech to mark six months since Hamas’ attack that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants also took more than 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,175 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Israel has faced growing global opposition to the war, and the outcry intensified after an Israeli drone strike killed seven aid workers — most of them Westerners — for the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen on April 1.

Vast areas of Gaza have been turned into a rubble-strewn wasteland with damage estimated at US$18.5 billion to critical infrastructure, mostly housing, a World Bank report said.

Charities have accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel has defended its efforts and blamed shortages on aid organisations’ inability to distribute assistance once it gets in.

“The denial of basic needs — food, fuel, sanitation, shelter, security and health care — is inhumane and intolerable,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Netanyahu has come under heightened pressure from Israel’s top ally the United States to work toward a truce and hostage deal and to allow vastly more aid into the territory.

Medical supplies were delivered for the first time through Israel’s Erez border point with northern Gaza, AFPTV footage showed.

Khan Yunis is the hometown of Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, whom Israel accuses of being the mastermind of the October 7 attacks.

Israel’s “98th commando division” left the city, and Gaza, “in order to recuperate and prepare for future operations,” the army told AFP.

US pressure

Israeli security expert Omer Dostri predicted that, as more displaced Palestinians leave densely crowded Rafah, “within two months there will be a move in Rafah to destroy the remaining Hamas brigades”.

The partial withdrawal came as talks towards a truce and hostage release deal were expected to resume in Cairo, including United States, Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

United States President Joe Biden told Netanyahu on Thursday he wants a ceasefire and hostage release deal and ramped-up aid deliveries.

After the deaths of the seven aid workers, Biden — whose government is Israel’s top arms supplier and political backer — also hinted at making US support for Israel conditional on curtailing the killing of civilians and improving humanitarian conditions.

Hours after Biden’s comments, Netanyahu said Israel would allow “temporary” aid flow through Erez and Ashdod.

Maha Thaer, a mother of four returning to Khan Yunis, said she would move back into her badly damaged apartment, “even though it is not suitable for living, but it is better than tents.”

‘Stay strong’

In Israel, people gathered yesterday at the site of the Nova desert music festival to pay tribute to the young revellers who died or were kidnapped there on October 7.

At the festival alone, 364 people were killed.

In Jerusalem, thousands gathered outside Israel’s parliament to demand the return of the hostages.

“Stay strong you who are still there,” cried former hostage Agam Goldstein, 17, with tears in her eyes.

The call to free the hostages was also heard in Paris, where around 1,500 people demonstrated yesterday, police said.

The night before in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities, tens of thousands rallied for “elections now”. They were joined by families and supporters of the Gaza hostages.

Yesterday also brought reminders that the war could spread.

An adviser to Iran’s supreme leader warned Israeli embassies are “no longer safe” after a strike in Syria which Tehran blamed on Israel killed seven Revolutionary Guards members.

Israel’s army said it had reached “another phase” of preparation for war on its northern border with Lebanon, where it has spent months exchanging fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, also backed by Iran, said they had targeted with missiles three more ships in surrounding waters vital to world trade. — AFP

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