Photo: Mahmud Hams Agence France-Presse Palestinians mourned the death of a loved one after an Israeli bombardment carried out overnight from Wednesday to Thursday in the south of the Gaza Strip.
Shaun Tandon – Agence France-Presse and Adel Zaanoun – Agence France-Presse respectively in the Gaza Strip and Tel-Aviv
February 8, 2024
- Middle East
The Israeli army intensified its strikes on Rafah on Thursday, with Washington warning Israel of the risk of a “disaster” in this city in the Gaza Strip, where more than a million Palestinians are crowded together having fled the fighting.
“We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation [in Rafah] and to carry out such an operation now without planning and thought in an area where a million people are sheltered would be a disaster,” he said. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.
Earlier, the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, who concluded a regional tour on Thursday aimed at encouraging efforts to obtain a halt to the fighting, urged his Israeli ally to “protect” civilians in its military operations in Gaza, launched in retaliation for the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israeli soil on October 7.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered preparations for an offensive on Rafah, on the closed border with Egypt, where there are 1.3 million Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are displaced by the clashes of recent months.
- Netanyahu wants to launch assault on Rafah despite efforts towards truce
- “The world is entering an era of chaos”, warns the UN chief
Mr. Blinken left Israel after pleading for a truce deal to allow more aid to flow into the besieged Gaza Strip, where the humanitarian situation is “nightmare” according to the UN, and for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Palestinian territory.
On the ground, witnesses and hospital sources reported deadly nighttime strikes in the south of the territory, particularly in Rafah, with the Hamas Ministry of Health counting a total of 130 deaths over the last few months. 24 hours.
According to an AFP journalist, the Israeli army carried out seven airstrikes in Rafah. The house of a local police chief was notably hit according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.
“These bombings are proof that Rafah is not a safe place,” says Oum Hassan, 48, whose nearby house was damaged by the strike.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that an assault on Rafah would “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare.”
And UN human rights chief Volker Türk warned Thursday that the Israeli army's destruction of buildings in the Gaza border area with Israel, aimed at a “buffer zone”, constituted a “war crime”.
“Regarding Rafah […] Israel has […] an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that civilians are protected and have access to aid what they need,” Mr. Blinken said on Wednesday after meeting Mr. Netanyahu.
The war was sparked on October 7 when Hamas commandos infiltrated from the Gaza Strip, where the movement seized power in 2007, carried out an attack in southern Israel that resulted in the death of more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data.
Around 250 people were also kidnapped and taken to Gaza. According to Israel, 132 hostages are still held there, of whom 29 are believed to have died.
In retaliation, Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, like the United States and the European Union, vowed to “destroy” the group and launched an offensive that left least 27,840 dead in the Palestinian territory, the vast majority of women, children and adolescents, according to the latest report from the Hamas Ministry of Health, also reporting 67,317 injured.
The army said Thursday it was carrying out operations in the north and south of the Gaza Strip, saying it had notably arrested two “terrorists” who took part in the October 7 attack.
On his fifth tour of the region since the start of the war, Mr. Blinken supported a truce proposal drawn up by American, Qatari and Egyptian officials in late January in Paris, to which Hamas responded.
Although he considered that elements of Hamas' response were “unacceptable”, he nevertheless said he hoped for a second truce after that of a week in November which had notably favored the release of hostages in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Discussions in Cairo
In Cairo, a “new round of negotiations”, sponsored by Egypt and Qatar with the participation of Hamas, began on Thursday to obtain “calm in the Gaza Strip” as well as a exchange of Palestinian prisoners and hostages, an Egyptian official announced to AFP.
“We expect very […] difficult negotiations, but Hamas is open to discussions and eager to achieve a ceasefire,” explained an official close to the Palestinian Islamist movement.
For his part, American President Joe Biden will receive King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House on February 12, to discuss “the situation in Gaza” and discuss “the idea of 'lasting peace through a two-state solution guaranteeing Israel's security.'
Iran denounced Thursday as a “threat to peace and security”, an American strike the day before having killed a senior commander of the Hezbollah Brigades, an influential pro-Iran Iraqi armed group.
The war in Gaza is also exacerbating tensions in the Middle East between Israel and its allies, including Washington, on the one hand, and Hamas and its supporters on the other.
The Israeli army reported Thursday fire from Lebanon on northern Israel, seriously injuring a soldier. Since October 7, the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas, has regularly claimed fire towards Israel, which retaliates.
According to a Lebanese security source, a military official from pro-Iranian Hezbollah was seriously injured during an Israeli strike which targeted his car in southern Lebanon on Thursday. Israel later confirmed the strike.