Rafah Under Attack: Israeli Tanks Enter Gaza Amid Escalating Conflict
Rafah Under Attack: Israeli Tanks Enter Gaza Amid Escalating Conflict

Israeli tanks have entered Rafah for a second day, defying the World Court's order, despite warnings from the United States that this did not constitute a major ground operation. The assault is part of a larger offensive across Gaza, where Palestinians are seeking refuge from heavy bombardment.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, but stated that it did not believe such an operation was underway.

Residents of Rafah reported that Israeli tanks moved into Tel Al-Sultan in western Rafah and Yibna and near Shaboura in the center before retreating towards a buffer zone on the border with Egypt. This is in contrast to offensives elsewhere.

Tzachi Hanegbi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's National Security Advisor, said Israel's military-controlled three-quarters of the buffer zone and aimed to control all of it to prevent Hamas from smuggling in weapons.

He indicated that Israel expected fighting in Gaza to continue throughout 2024 at least, signaling its reluctance to heed international calls for a ceasefire with Hamas militants who control Gaza and exchange hostages they hold for Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas and its allies Islamic Jihad said they used anti-tank rockets, mortar bombs, and previously planted explosive devices against the Israeli forces. The Israeli military reported three soldiers killed and three others badly wounded in combat in southern Gaza.

Israeli public broadcaster Kan radio reported that they were hurt by an explosive device set off in a building in Rafah.

Palestinian health officials said several people were wounded by Israeli fire in eastern Rafah, and aid stores were set ablaze. Residents said constant Israeli bombardment overnight destroyed many homes in the area, from where most people have fled following Israeli evacuation orders.

Residents also reported seeing unmanned robotic armored vehicles opening fire from machine guns in some parts of the city.

Internet and mobile signals went down in parts of both east and west amid heavy Israeli air and ground bombardment, according to the pro-Hamas Shehab news agency, residents, and other journalists. The Israeli military said it could not confirm the reports.

In northern Gaza, tanks shelled several Gaza City neighborhoods, and forces penetrated deeper into Jabalia, the largest of the enclave's eight biggest historic refugee camps, where residents said large residential districts were destroyed.

Healthcare Needs Urgent in Rafah and North Gaza, Says Palestinian Health Ministry
Gaza's health ministry said several hospitals in areas where the army is operating had stopped functioning. Spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra called for immediate safe pathways for fuel, medical aid, and medical teams to Rafah and northern Gaza.

"The Israeli occupation deliberately destroyed the healthcare infrastructure in Rafah and the north," Qidra's statement said, adding that there was no help for the wounded people there.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA reported that around a million Palestinians who had taken shelter in Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip from Israel's offensives elsewhere have now fled after Israeli orders to evacuate.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said it had evacuated its medical teams from its field hospital in the Al-Mawasi area, a designated civilian evacuation zone, citing "continued artillery and air bombardments" in the vicinity.

World Court Concerns

The World Court said in its ruling on Friday that Israel had not explained how it would keep the Rafah evacuees safe and provide food, water, and medicine. Israel said the order allowed room for some military action to root out Hamas fighters there.

In the nearby city of Khan Younis, an Israeli airstrike killed three people overnight, including Salama Baraka, a former senior Hamas police officer, medics, and Hamas media said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its staff, Issam Aqel, was killed in an Israeli airstrike on his house in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, taking the total number of staff killed since October 7 to 30, at least 17 of them killed on duty.

Israel delivered its latest ceasefire and hostage release proposal to Qatar, and Qatar was to provide it to Hamas on Tuesday, a person familiar with the issue said. There was no immediate word on Wednesday from Hamas, which has said talks are pointless unless Israel ends its offensive on Rafah.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's Gaza offensive, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Malnutrition is widespread in Gaza as aid deliveries have slowed to a trickle, with international aid agencies accusing Israel of blocking their distribution attempts and Israel blaming the agencies.

In a further blow to aid efforts, part of a new aid pier put in place by the U.S. military off Gaza's coast broke off, probably due to bad weather, putting it out of operation temporarily, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

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