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Israel's invasion of Rafah reaches center of town, AFP reports say

Omar Tamo, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Israeli tanks have reached the heart of Rafah, according to AFP, a sign the military could be nearing its goal of taking full control of the southern Gazan city.

Residents reported clashes between Israeli and Hamas forces in the center of town on Tuesday, AFP said, suggesting troops have advanced beyond their initial incursions in the outskirts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long said the country needed to start a ground invasion of Rafah to seek out the thousands of Hamas fighters and some leaders it says are based in the city — as well as some hostages. The plan has drawn international condemnation — including from the U.S. — even after Israel insisted it would first allow civilians to leave.

The United Nations says roughly one million civilians have fled Rafah, having sought shelter there during fighting elsewhere in Gaza. Devastation caused earlier in the near eight-month war means there are limited places for them to go, a predicament made clear on Sunday when an Israeli airstrike killed an estimated 45 Palestinians at a tent camp northwest of the city.

Israel said the attack was based on “precise intelligence” and that it killed two “senior” officials from Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union. Netanyahu called the incident a “tragic mistake”.

Another Israeli strike on Tuesday on Rafah killed at least 16 Palestinians, the Associated Press reported.

 

Israel had pledged to invade Rafah while limiting civilian casualties, even as the city’s population swelled to about 1.4 million mostly displaced people. The U.S. and other allies fear mass deaths, and have urged Israel to cancel or sharply curtail plans for the assault.

The war has inflamed the region and led to widespread criticizm of Israel. The International Court of Justice published a ruling on Friday that most interpreted as ordering a halt to military activities in Rafah, while the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as leaders of Hamas.

On Tuesday, Spain, Ireland and Norway are set to formally recognize a Palestinian state, in defiance of Israel’s wishes.

The conflict began when Hamas fighters stormed into Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting 250. Israel’s counterattack has killed some 35,000 Gazans, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.


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