Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Israel seize Rafah crossing in Gaza

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Threatens aid and puts cease-fire talks on edge

Cairo, May 7: Israeli tanks seized control of Gaza’s vital Rafah border crossing on Tuesday as Israel brushed off urgent warnings from close allies and moved into the southern city even as cease-fire negotiations with Hamas remained on a knife’s edge.
The UN warned of a potential collapse of the flow of aid to Palestinians from the closure of Rafah and the other main crossing into Gaza, Kerem Shalom, at a time when officials say the northern part of the enclave is already experiencing “full-blown famine.” The Israeli foray overnight came after hours of whiplash in the Israel-Hamas war, with the militant group on Monday saying it accepted an Egyptian-Qatari mediated cease-fire proposal. Israel, however, insisted the deal did not meet its core demands.
The high-stakes diplomatic moves and military brinkmanship left a glimmer of hope alive – if only barely – for a deal to bring at least a pause in the war, which as it marked its 7-month point Tuesday, has killed more than 34,700 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and has devastated the Gaza Strip.
The incursion appeared to be short of the full-fledged offensive into Rafah that Israel has planned, and it was not immediately known if it would be expanded. The looming operation threatens to widen a rift between Israel and its main backer, the United States, which says it is concerned over the fate of around 1.3 million Palestinians crammed into the city.
US President Joe Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again on Monday against launching an invasion of the city after Israel ordered 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate from parts of Rafah.
Cheers of joy overnight among Rafah’s Palestinians over Hamas’ acceptance of the cease-fire turned to fear Tuesday. Families fled in a steady stream out of Rafah’s eastern neighbourhoods on foot or in vehicles and donkey carts piled with mattresses and supplies.
Children watched as parents disassembled tents in the sprawling camps that have filled Rafah for months to move to their next destination – which for many remained uncertain.
“Netanyahu only cares about coming out on top. He doesn’t care about children. I don’t think he’ll agree” to a deal, said Najwa al-Saksuk as her family packed up. Israeli strikes rang out and raised plumes of black smoke.
The Israeli 401st Brigade entered the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing early Tuesday, the Israeli military said, taking “operational control” of it.
Footage released by the military showed Israeli flags flying from tanks that seized the area. It also said that ground troops and airstrikes targeted suspected Hamas positions in Rafah.
The military claimed it had intelligence the crossing was “being used for terrorist purposes,” though it did not immediately provide evidence. It said Hamas fighters near the crossing launched a mortar attack that killed four Israeli troops near Kerem Shalom on Sunday and that more mortars and rockets were fired from the area on Tuesday.
The Rafah crossing with Egypt and the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel are critical points of entry for food, medicine and other supplies keeping Gaza’s population of 2.3 million alive.
‘Will ‘deepen’ Rafah offensive if talks on hostage deal fail’
Israel’s defence minister has vowed to “deepen” the military offensive in Rafah if a deal to bring home Israeli hostages held by Hamas does not make progress. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant visited troops in the Rafah area on Tuesday and said the operation would continue until Israel “eliminates” Hamas in Rafah and the rest of Gaza. But he said Israel is willing to make “compromises” to bring home hostages. “If that option is removed, we will go on and “deepen” the operation,” he said. (AP)

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