• Egypt refuses to coordinate with Israel on entry of aid from Rafah
• 37 Palestinians killed in overnight strikes across Gaza Strip

CAIRO: Israel called on Saturday for Palestinians in more areas of Gaza’s southern city of Rafah to evacuate and head to what it calls an expanded humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi, in a further indication that the military is pressing ahead with its plans for a ground attack on Rafah.

In a post on social media site X, a military spokesperson also called on residents and displaced people in the Jabalia area of northern Gaza, and 11 other neighbourhoods in the enclave to go immediately to places west of Gaza City.

The Palestinian health ministry said at least 37 Palestinians, 24 of them from central Gaza areas, were killed in overnight airstrikes across the enclave, including in Rafah.

“They threw fliers on Rafah and said, from Rafah to al-Zawayda is safe, people should evacuate there, and they did, and what has become of them? Dismembered bodies? There is no safe place in Gaza,” Khitam Al-Khatib, who said she had lost at least 10 of her relatives in an airstrike on a family house earlier on Saturday, told Reuters.

Al-Zawayda is a small town in central Gaza Strip that has been crowded by thousands of displaced people from across the enclave.

The Israeli military said its aircraft struck tens of targets across the Strip over the past day, adding its ground troops had eliminated fighters in Zeitoun in recent hours.

An Israeli airstrike killed at least seven people in a house in Beit Lahiya town in the northern Gaza Strip, all from the same family, medics said.

In Rafah, residents said the new evacuation orders by the Israeli military covered areas in the centre of the city and left little doubt Israel planned to expand its ground offensive there.

“The situation is very difficult, people are leaving their homes in panic,” said Khaled, 35, a resident of the Shaboura neighbourhood, an area where the new orders to leave have been issued.

The Israeli military said it was continuing operational activity against Hamas fighters in eastern Rafah and on the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing.

Despite heavy US pressure and alarm expressed by residents and humanitarian groups, Israel has said it will proceed with an incursion into Rafah, where more than one million displaced people have sought refuge during the seven-month-old war.

Israeli tanks captured the main road dividing Rafah’s eastern and western sections on Friday, effectively encircling the eastern side in an assault that has caused Washington to hold up the delivery of some military aid to its ally.

Two crossing points vital for delivery of aid to Gaza were still closed on Saturday. The Palestinian WAFA news agency said the Rafah crossing was closed for a fifth day, while another crossing, Kerem Shalom, has been shut for around a week.

The latest evacuation orders came hours after internationally mediated ceasefire talks appeared to be faltering, with Hamas saying Israel’s rejection of the truce offer it had accepted returned things to square one.

The Palestinian militant group also hinted it was reconsidering its negotiation policy. It did not elaborate on whether a review meant it would harden its terms for reaching a deal but said it would consult with other allied factions.

In Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands were sheltering, Palestinians mourned relatives during funerals on Saturday.

“Here they are, in pieces, here is my sister-in-law, without a head, my aunt is without a head, what is this injustice? Until when will this go on? We are exhausted, by God we are exhausted, I have lived in tents for the past seven months,” said Khatib, sitting near bodies wrapped in white shrouds bearing the names of the dead men and women.

Egypt refuses to coordinate

Egypt has refused to coordinate with Israel on the entry of aid into Gaza from the Rafah crossing due to Israel’s “unacceptable escalation”, Egypt’s state-affiliated Alqahera News satellite TV reported on Saturday, citing a senior official.

The official also said that Egypt held Israel responsible for the deterioration of the situation in the Gaza Strip.

Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2024

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