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Israel troops push into central Rafah

Gallant tells US Israel has 'duty' to expand Rafah ground assault

The Israeli army said Friday its troops pushed into central Rafah, escalating its nearly eight-month war with Hamas despite international objections over any offensive in the southern Gaza city.

Israel first sent tanks and troops into Rafah from the city’s east in early May, ignoring concerns over the safety of displaced Palestinian civilians sheltering in the city on the Egyptian border.

Soldiers were operating “in central Rafah” where they uncovered rocket launchers and tunnel shafts and dismantled a Hamas weapons storage facility, the army said in its latest statement.

Witnesses reported seeing Israeli air strikes in the Rafah area as well as troop movements at the Al-Awda roundabout, Yibna camp and Kir intersection in central Rafah.

In central Gaza, the army said it was “intensifying operations” and had carried out air strikes that “eliminated several terrorists” operating near Israeli troops.

Israel has repeatedly vowed to destroy Hamas since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7.

On Wednesday, it declared its forces had taken control of the 14-kilometre (8.5-mile) Philadelphi corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border, where it alleges weapons were being smuggled.

Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict, has yet to officially comment on the Israeli takeover, which officials have previously said could violate the two countries’ 1979 peace deal.

Amid stalled diplomatic efforts towards a ceasefire, Hamas said it had informed mediators it would only agree a “comprehensive” truce agreement including a hostage-prisoner swap if Israel halts its “aggression”.

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’s Qatar-based political office, reiterated Friday that the group’s core demands — including a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal — “are non-negotiable”.

He accused Israel of “using negotiations as a cover to continue its aggression”, saying Hamas “refuses to be a part of these manoeuvres”.

– Aid at sea –

A stream of civilians has flooded out of Rafah, taking their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.

Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering in the city. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.

The United Nations has warned of looming famine in Gaza.

The Israeli seizure of the Rafah crossing has further slowed sporadic deliveries of aid for Gaza’s 2.4 million people and effectively shuttered the territory’s main exit point.

Israel said at the weekend that aid deliveries had been stepped up.

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged Friday that the humanitarian situation was “dire” despite US efforts to bring in more assistance.

“We’ve seen changes — some positive changes — but the net effect is not there,” Blinken told reporters in Prague.

UN Palestinian refugee agency chief Philippe Lazzarini appealed Friday for Israel to “stop its campaign against UNRWA”, in an opinion article published in the New York Times.

Jordan announced it will host a summit on June 11, jointly organised with Egypt and the United Nations, bringing together aid agency chiefs and heads of donor governments to discuss the humanitarian response.

– Car, house hit –

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,284 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

A medical official at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah said eight people, including two children, were killed in an air strike that hit a house in Al-Bureij refugee camp.

Another source at Nuseirat’s Al-Awda Hospital reported three deaths in a strike on a car.

In northern Gaza, witnesses said that after carrying out a three-week-long operation in the town of Jabalia and its neighbouring refugee camp, troops had ordered residents of parts of nearby Beit Hanoun to evacuate ahead of an imminent assault.

“They dropped leaflets on us by plane and asked us to evacuate Beit Hanoun immediately,” resident Ziad Hamad told AFP.

“A million times we have been displaced and we do not know where to go now.”

Jabalia shopkeeper Belal al-Kahlot said there was nothing left of his store after the Israeli operation. “Everything is ashes.”

The military announced the deaths of two soldiers in Gaza, taking to 294 the number of Israeli troops killed since the start of ground operations in late October.

An Israeli strike Sunday that sparked a fire and killed dozens in a displacement camp in Rafah drew a fresh wave of condemnation and prompted two days of discussions at the UN Security Council.

Israel has said it targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members.

After the strike, Algeria presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages, but it was unclear when it would be voted on.

The organisers of next month’s Eurosatory 2024 trade fair in Paris said the French authorities had banned Israeli defence firms from exhibiting there.

Seventy-four Israeli firms had been set to be represented at the event.

 

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AFP

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.







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