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Israel promises “powerful” operation in Rafah

Photo: Israeli Army via Agence France-Presse Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday

Béatrice Le Bohec – Agence France-Presse and Adel Zaanoun – Agence France-Presse respectively in the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem

February 14, 2024

  • Middle East

Israel promised Wednesday to carry out a “powerful” operation in Rafah, despite growing international pressure to try to avoid a potentially devastating offensive in this overpopulated town in the south of the Gaza Strip.

“We will fight until complete victory, which involves powerful action in Rafah and this, after allowing the civilian population to leave the combat zones,” declared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his Telegram account .

Negotiations for a truce in the war between Israel and Hamas in the Palestinian territory continued in parallel in Cairo, while deadly Israeli strikes also targeted southern Lebanon, rekindling fears of an escalation between the two border countries.

In the Gaza Strip, besieged and devastated for more than four months of war, bombings left 103 dead in 24 hours, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health, targeting in particular the two neighboring towns of Khan Younes and Rafah.

In Rafah, hundreds of thousands of civilians, massed against the closed border with Egypt, live in fear of a land offensive, announced several days ago by Benjamin Netanyahu, who wants to drive the Islamist movement from its “last bastion “.

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“Avoid an attack”

In Cairo, the mediators nevertheless tried to negotiate an agreement on a new truce which would allow the release of hostages held in Gaza.

A Hamas delegation, according to a source from the movement, was expected on Wednesday to meet representatives of Egypt and Qatar, the two mediator countries alongside the United States.

On Tuesday, the head of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, David Barnea, participated in these discussions with the director of the CIA, William Burns, the Prime Minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdelrahmane Al-Thani, and Egyptian officials.

The President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who exercises no authority over the Gaza Strip where Hamas took power in 2007, on Wednesday called on the Islamist movement to conclude “quickly” a truce agreement, in particular to “avoid an attack” on Rafah, which would cause “thousands of victims”.

The war was triggered by the attack carried out on October 7 by Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza in southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to a count by the AFP produced from official Israeli data.

Israel vowed in retaliation to “destroy” Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization, along with the United States, Canada and the European Union, and launched an offensive that left 28,576 dead in Gaza, the vast majority civilians, according to the Islamist movement's Ministry of Health.

Strikes in Lebanon

The war in Gaza has also reignited tensions on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

The Israeli army carried out air raids on Lebanon on Wednesday which left four dead according to Lebanese media, in response to a rocket attack from this country which targeted a military base in northern Israel, killing a 20-year-old female soldier. years old and causing several injuries.

In the evening, a new Israeli strike killed three civilians in southern Lebanon, according to a security source.

The UN denounced a “dangerous escalation” which “must stop”. The United States, saying it was “concerned by the escalation in Lebanon”, called for favoring the “diplomatic route” to reduce tensions.

The Israeli chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, visiting the north of the country, threatened a “very offensive campaign” in Lebanon, after four months of exchanges of fire between the army and Lebanese Hezbollah, ally of Hamas and supported by Iran.

“Guarantees” requested for civilians

Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, says he is determined to continue his offensive against Hamas in Gaza and free all the hostages.

According to Israel, 130 hostages are still held in Gaza, of whom 29 are believed to have died, out of around 250 people kidnapped on October 7. A week-long truce at the end of November allowed the release of 105 hostages and 240 Palestinians held by Israel.

The prime minister also assured that Israel would open “a secure passage” for the population to leave Rafah, without specifying where.

But many countries are worried about the risks of a ground assault on the city, due to the extreme population density.

Israel promises “powerful” operation in Rafah

Photo: Said Khatib Agence France-Presse Displaced Palestinians stood outside their tents in Rafah on Tuesday.

Rafah is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid from Egypt, insufficient to meet the needs of a population threatened in the middle of winter by famine and epidemics.< /p>

The United States, Israel's main ally, has called for “guarantees” for the safety of civilians. French President Emmanuel Macron raised his voice, saying military operations in Gaza must “stop”.

Around 1.4 million people, according to the UN, many of them displaced several times by the war, are crowded into Rafah, a city transformed into a gigantic encampment, the only large urban center in the territory where the army has not not yet launched an assault.

“Submerged” hospitals

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned of the “disastrous” impact that the offensive could have and called for respect for the “fundamental principle of humanity”.

A few kilometers to the north, thousands of displaced people sought refuge in the Nasser hospital in Khan Younes, a town destroyed by bombings and fighting.

Mohammed al-Astal, a 39-year-old emergency nurse, told AFP about a night in the besieged hospital.

“It was a dark night, with a stream of strikes and explosions,” he said. “Tanks opened fire on the hospital and snipers on the roofs of nearby buildings also fired, killing three displaced people. »

The World Health Organization (WHO) once again denounced on Wednesday the situation of hospitals in Gaza, “completely submerged, overwhelmed and insufficiently supplied”.

Staff have to carry out amputations due to lack of means to treat patients, local WHO representative Rik Peeperkorn testified from Gaza.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116