Escalating Conflict: Rafah Faces Intensified Siege Amid Gaza Strife
Escalating Conflict: Rafah Faces Intensified Siege Amid Gaza Strife

GAZA: Israeli forces have escalated their siege on Rafah and other parts of Gaza, engaging in heavy combat with Hamas fighters. This intensified operation has resulted in the displacement of over a million residents as Israeli forces target strategic tunnels and Hamas weapon stockpiles. The humanitarian crisis deepens with reports of inadequate food and medical supplies.

According to reports from residents and Israel's military, Israeli forces have intensified their assault on Rafah and other areas across the Gaza Strip. The focus has been on engaging in close-quarter combat with fighters aligned with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Israeli tanks have advanced into the western and northern sectors of Rafah after having already secured the eastern, southern, and central parts of the city.

The Israeli military has employed airstrikes from planes, tanks, and naval vessels off the coast, prompting a new wave of displacement from Rafah. Previously sheltering over a million displaced people, the city now faces renewed turmoil as most residents are forced to flee once more. The Israeli military stated on Friday that their actions in the Rafah area are based on precise intelligence and aimed at locating and neutralizing tunnels used by militants, with similar operations reported elsewhere in the enclave.

Residents have described an accelerated pace in the Israeli raid over the past two days, marked by relentless explosions and gunfire indicating intense combat. With Israel's focus now on Rafah and the area around Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, the ongoing conflict has entered a critical phase.

"The entire city of Rafah is under Israeli military operations," said Ahmed Al-Sofi, the mayor of Rafah, in a statement carried by Hamas media. "The city is enduring a humanitarian catastrophe, with people dying in their tents due to Israeli bombardment," he added. Sofi highlighted the absence of functioning medical facilities and the dire lack of essential supplies for remaining residents and displaced families.

According to Palestinian and UN sources, fewer than 100,000 people may remain in the far western part of Rafah, which previously housed more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million inhabitants before the Israeli assault began in early May.

The Israeli military has accused Hamas of using Palestinian civilians as human shields, a claim vehemently denied by Hamas. In a late Thursday statement, the military reported discovering large quantities of weapons hidden in civilian residences, including grenades, explosives, launchers, anti-tank missiles, ammunition, and firearms.

Hamas' armed wing countered with claims that its fighters successfully targeted two Israeli tanks with anti-tank rockets in the Shaboura camp in Rafah, resulting in casualties among soldiers attempting to escape through alleys. There has been no immediate response from Israeli authorities regarding Hamas' assertions.

In a separate incident in nearby Khan Younis, medics reported that an Israeli airstrike on Friday claimed the lives of three individuals, including a father and his son.

Simultaneously, Israeli forces continued to push into suburbs of Gaza City in the northern enclave, engaging in confrontations with Hamas-led militants. Residents reported widespread destruction of homes in the heart of Gaza City on Thursday. Later on Friday, medics confirmed that an Israeli airstrike on a main road in Gaza City resulted in the deaths of four Palestinians.

Israel initiated its ground and air campaign following an incursion by Hamas-led militants into southern Israel on October 7, which resulted in approximately 1,200 deaths and the capture of more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli estimates. The offensive has left Gaza devastated, with Palestinian health authorities reporting over 37,400 fatalities and the near-total displacement of the population.

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