Israel pounds Gaza, killing dozens, as fighting rages

Israel pounds Gaza, killing dozens, as fighting rages
Israel pounds Gaza, killing dozens, as fighting rages

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Palestinians stand near the damaged windows of a classroom in a UNRWA school, after the air strike on a neighbouring house to the school in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, June 21, 2024. ― Reuters pic

CAIRO, June 22 ― Israeli forces pounded Rafah in southern Gaza yesterday, as well as other areas across the enclave, killing at least 45 Palestinians as troops engaged in close-quarter combat with Hamas militants, residents and Israel's military said.

Residents said the Israelis appeared to be trying to complete their capture of Rafah, which borders Egypt and has been the focus of an Israeli assault since early May.

Tanks were forcing their way into the western and northern parts of the city, having already captured the east, south and centre.

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Firing from planes, tanks and ships off the coast caused more people to flee the city, which a few months ago was sheltering more than a million displaced people, most of whom have now relocated again.

The Gaza health ministry said at least 25 Palestinians had been killed in Mawasi in western Rafah and 50 wounded. Palestinians said a tank shell hit a tent housing displaced families.

“Two tanks climbed a hilltop overseeing Mawasi and they sent balls of fire that hit the tents of the poor people displaced in the area,” one resident told Reuters over a chat app.

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The Israeli military said that the incident was under review. “An initial inquiry conducted suggests that there is no indication that a strike was carried out by the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) in the Humanitarian Area in Al-Mawasi,” it said.

Earlier, the military said its forces were conducting “precise, intelligence-based” actions in the Rafah area, where troops were involved in close-quarter combat and had located tunnels used by militants.

Over the past week, the military said, troops targeted a university that served as a Hamas headquarters from which militants fired on soldiers and found weapons and barrel bombs. It did not name the university.

In the central Gaza area of Nusseirat, the military said soldiers killed dozens of militants over the past week and found a weapons depot containing mortar bombs and military equipment belonging to Hamas.

Some residents said the Israeli onslaught on Rafah had intensified in the previous two days and that the sounds of explosions and gunfire had hardly stopped.

“Last night was one of the worst nights in western Rafah: Drones, planes, tanks, and naval boats bombarded the area. We feel the occupation is trying to complete the control of the city,” said Hatem, 45, reached by text message.

“They are taking heavy strikes from the resistance fighters, which may be slowing them down.”

Strikes on Khan Younis and Gaza city

More than eight months into the war in Gaza, Israel's advance is now focused on the two last areas its forces had yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza's southern edge and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the centre.

“The entire city of Rafah is an area of Israeli military operations,” Ahmed Al-Sofi, the mayor of Rafah, said in a statement carried by Hamas media on Friday.

“The city is living through a humanitarian catastrophe and people are dying inside their tents because of Israeli bombardment.”

Sofi said no medical facility was functioning in the city, and that remaining residents and displaced families lacked the minimum daily needs of food and water.

Palestinian and UN figures show that fewer than 100,000 people may have remained in the far western side of the city, which had been sheltering more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people before the Israeli assault began in early May.

In nearby Khan Younis, an Israeli air strike yesterday killed three people, including a father and son, medics said.

In parallel, Israeli forces continued a new push back into some Gaza City suburbs in the north of the enclave, where they fought with Hamas-led militants.

On Friday, an Israeli air strike on a Gaza City municipal facility killed five people, including four municipal workers, the territory's Civil Emergency Service said. Rescue teams were searching the rubble for more missing victims.

In the nearby Beach camp, an Israeli air strike on a house killed at least seven people, medics said.

Palestinian health officials said at least 45 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes across Gaza on Friday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its Gaza office was damaged when heavy-calibre projectiles landed nearby, in an area where hundreds of displaced Palestinians are living in tents.

“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days; previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures,” the organisation said in a post on X on Friday. “We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

Israel's ground and air campaign was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.

The United Nations said yesterday it is Israel's responsibility ― as the occupying power in the Gaza Strip ― to restore public order and safety in the Palestinian territory so humanitarian aid can be delivered, amid warnings of imminent famine. ― Reuters

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