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Home / Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks underway

Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks underway

2024-02-23  Correspondent

Israel strikes Gaza’s Rafah as truce talks underway

GAZA STRIP - Israel launched air strikes yesterday on southern Gaza’s Rafah after threatening to send troops against Hamas militants in the city where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge. Global powers trying to find a way to end the Israel-Hamas war have so far failed, but a US envoy was expected in Israel yesterday in the latest attempt to secure a truce deal.

The war has also triggered mounting violence in the occupied West Bank, where three Palestinian gunmen opened fire yesterday on cars in a highway traffic jam, killing one and wounding eight, including a young pregnant woman. The attackers were shot dead at the scene, near a Jewish settlement east of Jerusalem. Israeli far-right politicians quickly called for more citizens to carry weapons, and for even greater restrictions on Palestinian West Bank residents.

International concern has spiralled over Gaza’s high civilian death toll, and the dire humanitarian crisis sparked by the war which followed Hamas’s 7 October attack against Israel. More than four months of relentless fighting and bombardments have flattened much of the Hamas-run coastal territory, and pushed its population of around 2.4 million to the brink of famine, according to the UN.

Alarm has centred on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million people are now living in crowded shelters and makeshift tents, where disease threatens.

Israel has warned that, if Hamas does not free the remaining hostages held in Gaza by the start of Ramadan, it will keep fighting during the Muslim holy month, including in Rafah. Israel has already been bombing targets in Rafah, which was again hit overnight, and where early yesterday AFP reporters heard multiple air strikes.

“I woke up to the sound of a huge explosion like an earthquake -- fire, smoke, blasts and dust everywhere,” said Rami al-Shaer, 21, who said he and others pulled wounded family members from the rubble. He charged that Israel “doesn’t care” about the ongoing ceasefire talks, and rather “wants to displace the people from Rafah, and are preparing for a ground attack”.

Gaza’s Civil Defence agency reported “a number of martyrs” there, while elsewhere in Rafah, residents walked among the rubble of the city’s al-Faruq mosque after strikes.

The 7 October attack 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 Israeli and foreign hostages -- 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29 410 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s health ministry. War cabinet member Benny Gantz said Israel’s operation in Rafah would begin “after the evacuation of the population”, although his government has not specified where civilians could go in devastated Gaza.

Gazans have repeatedly said nowhere is safe, and the health ministry said yesterday that 97 people had been killed across the Palestinian territory over the previous day.

- Nampa/AFP

2024-02-23  Correspondent

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