Israel Strikes Gaza’s Rafah As Truce Talks Under Way

Israel launched fatal air raids on Rafah on Thursday after threatening to send soldiers in to hunt down Hamas militants in the southern Gaza city, where over 1.4 million Palestinians have taken safety.

Major nations have failed to find a solution to end the deadly Israel-Hamas war, but a US envoy arrived in Israel on Thursday in the latest attempt to broker a truce.

International alarm has grown over Gaza’s rising civilian death toll and the dire humanitarian crisis triggered by Hamas’ October 7 offensive on Israel.

The battle has also sparked increased bloodshed in the occupied West Bank, where three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on cars in a traffic congestion on Thursday, killing one and injuring eight others, including a pregnant lady.

The attackers were shot dead on the spot, in a Jewish hamlet east of Jerusalem.

Israeli far-right leaders soon called for more Israelis to carry firearms and stricter restrictions on Palestinian West Bank inhabitants, while Hamas supported an increase in attacks.

According to the United Nations, more than four months of unremitting combat and bombardment have devastated much of Gaza, bringing its population of about 2.4 million dangerously close to hunger.

Alarms have been raised in Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of displaced residents are living in overcrowded shelters and improvised camps where disease is a threat.

Israel has threatened that if Hamas does not release the remaining detainees in Gaza before the start of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, it will continue to fight throughout the Muslim holy month, including in Rafah.

‘Like an earthquake’

Israel has already been bombing the city, which was again hit overnight and where early Thursday 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 told AFP he and others pulled wounded family members from the rubble.

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

“At night, we were surprised by a call asking us to evacuate because the surrounding area was being targeted,” said Mohamad Abu Khosa, adding that the army had targeted the mosque with two missiles.

Another 97 people were killed across the Palestinian territory in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said.

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.

Gazans have said nowhere in the territory is safe.

Ceasefire efforts

The conflict began after Hamas launched an unprecedented onslaught on Israel on October 7, killing around 1,160 people, the majority of whom were civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official estimates.

Hamas militants also grabbed approximately 250 hostages, 130 of whom are still in Gaza, with 30 thought dead, according to Israel.

According to the Gaza Ministry of Health’s most recent tally, Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 29,410 individuals, the majority of whom are women and children.

Mediators from the United States, Qatar, and Egypt, who had previously attempted but failed to mediate a cease-fire and hostage release agreement, renewed their efforts.

Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after meeting with other mediators in Cairo who had met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh earlier this week.

Israel’s Gantz stated that attempts were on to “promote a new plan for the return of the hostages,” and that “we are seeing the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress in this direction.”

According to US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, Washington hopes for a “agreement that secures a temporary ceasefire where we can get the hostages out and humanitarian assistance in”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that the army will fight until Hamas is eliminated, but his inability to return all hostages has sparked widespread demonstrations and calls for early elections.

A poll of hundreds of Israelis published Wednesday found that the majority do not believe “absolute victory” is a likely outcome.

With Arab support, the United States has advocated for a path to a Palestinian state, which Israel’s parliament has decisively rejected.

Aid efforts

The UN humanitarian organization stated that help to Gaza is being hampered by “intense hostilities, restrictions on aid entry and delivery, and growing insecurity.”

Volunteer Mohammad al-Oukshia of NGO World Central Kitchen in Rafah said the organization was attempting to give “nutritious meals to displaced people” and hoped to expand to northern Gaza, where starvation fears are most acute.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that an Israeli tank had fired on a residence housing its personnel and families in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Two relatives of MSF staff were killed and six others were injured, according to the statement, which condemned the walkout in the “strongest possible terms”.

The Israeli army stated that its forces “fired at a building” identified as a site of “terror activity,” and that it “regrets” any harm caused to civilians.

The military reported that troops killed more than 15 militants in Khan Yunis, which has undergone intense battle.

Elsewhere in the region, the battle has resulted in strikes by Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels on Red Sea shipping channels critical to global trade.

The Huthis claim they are acting in solidarity with the Palestinians.

A missile attack on Thursday ignited a fire aboard a vessel crossing the Gulf of Aden, according to two maritime security organizations.

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