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Gaza’s Rafah becomes battlefield as Israeli strikes continue

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GAZA STRIP: Israeli forces on Monday continued heavy air strikes on Rafah, as the overnight bombing killed 164 people, including children, according to the Palestinians authorities, while fears of a looming ground incursion grew among more than a million people trapped in the territory’s densely crowded far south.

The Palestinian foreign ministry condemned what it called a “massacre” as the latest strikes hit at least 14 houses and three mosques, while many people have been living in tents with no food, water and medicine.

With a dramatic overnight raid in Rafah city amid an intense firefight and heavy airstrikes, Israeli special forces freed two prisoners — Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Luis Har, 70, — both later declared in good health.

Netanyahu hailed the operation and said that only “continued military pressure, until complete victory, will result in the release of all our hostages”.

Israel’s forces claim to have rescued two prisoners held by Hamas

In Rafah, local Palestinian residents surveyed the large bomb craters and rubble left after the intense battle. One man walked with a pile of salvaged religious books from a bomb-damaged mosque.

Another, 28-year-old Abu Suhhaib, said the fighting had made him feel “as if hell had opened”.

The operation in Rafah city to release the prisoners, after nearly 130 days in captivity, was a joint operation between the army, police and Shin Bet security service, the Israeli military said. Troops came under fire from multiple buildings “and a prolonged battle took place, during which dozens of Hamas targets were attacked from the air in order to allow the force to leave the building”, the spokesperson said.

Army spokesman Daniel Hagari admitted many had been killed during the raid.

Time running out

The support group Hostages and Missing Families Forum warned that “time is running out” for the remaining prisoners held by Hamas, while aid groups and foreign governments, including Israel’s key ally the United States, voiced deep concern over the potentially disastrous consequences of expanding operations in Rafah.

Netanyahu vowed to send ground troops into Rafah where about 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are living in shelters and tent camps. They are hemmed into an area near the Egyptian border as the battlefront moves ever closer from the north.

Earlier during a one-week truce, hundreds of detainees, including at least 50 Israelis, were freed in a prisoner swap in November.

Iman Dergham, displaced from Khan Yunis city to Rafah, said that “wherever we go there’s bombing. Martyrs and wounded are everywhere.”

Another resident, Ibrahim Abu Jaber, survived the bombing on Monday but asked: “What if the actual invasion took place?” He fears “the martyrs will be in the thousands.”

Renewed talks for a pause in the fighting have been held in Cairo, with Hamas open to a fresh ceasefire including more prisoner exchange, but Netanyahu has dismissed some of the group’s demands as “bizarre”.

A Hamas leader said the Israeli push into Rafah “would torpedo the exchange negotiations”.

The Israeli army said on Monday two more soldiers had been killed inside Gaza, bringing the military death toll to 229 in four months, while Hamas said it had “finished off” 10 Israeli soldiers in Khan Yunis.

Journalists heard an intense series of strikes and saw smoke billowing above the city, which now hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population after they fled bombardment elsewhere on Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said in a statement it had conducted a series of strikes on targets in the area of Shaboura in the southern Gaza Strip, adding that the strikes had concluded.

Efforts for ceasefire

On the other hand, Jordan’s King Abdullah II met US President Joe Biden at the White House for talks on Monday on resolving the conflict.

Amman is a key player in the region and the king is also visiting Canada, France and Germany, amid mounting international efforts for a deal to pause fighting in Gaza and free prisoners there.

On the other hand, in a televised address, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Israel’s Gaza offensive would top the agenda in his talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2024


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