RAFAH: Israeli forces continued to conduct air strikes on Gaza on Sunday after it expanded an evacuation order for Rafah, with the United Nations warning an outright invasion of the crowded southern city risked an “epic” disaster.

Gaza’s civil defence agency said two doctors were killed on Sunday in the central town of Deir al-Balah amid heavy gunfire from Israeli helicopters.

Witnesses said Israel had carried out strikes in Rafah near the crossing with Egypt on Saturday and smoke was seen rising over the city.

Israeli troops defied international opposition and entered eastern areas of the city, effectively shutting a key aid crossing and suspending traffic through another.

EU chief says Rafah civilians are being ordered to move to unsafe zones, denouncing it unacceptable

Israel expanded an evacuation order for eastern Rafah, after 300,000 people had fled the city earlier this week.

“We don’t know where to go,” said Farid Abu Eida, who was preparing to leave Rafah, having already been displaced there from Gaza City.

Residents piled water tanks, mattresses and other belongings onto vehicles and prepared to flee again.

“There is no place left in Gaza that is safe or not overcrowded… There’s nowhere we can go.” Residents were told to go to the “humanitarian zone” of Al-Mawasi, on the coast northwest of Rafah.

International outrage mounted at Israel’s operations in Rafah.

EU chief Charles Michel said on social media that Rafah civilians were being ordered to “unsafe zones”, denouncing it as “unacceptable”.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had started transferring 22 patients from a field hospital in Rafah, saying Israel’s operations in the city were “making it impossible to provide lifesaving medical assistance”.

Israel’s offensive has so far killed at least 34,971 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to Palestinian health ministry.

Truce hopes fade

While mediation efforts towards a truce and prisoners’ release appeared to stall, Hamas’ armed wing said a prisoner who appeared in a video it released on Saturday had died from wounds suffered in an Israeli strike.

The Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades said Nadav Popplewell, a British-Israeli man, had been wounded in a strike a month ago and died “because he did not receive intensive medical care because the enemy has destroyed the Gaza Strip’s hospitals”.

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday a ceasefire would be achieved “tomorrow” if Hamas released the prisoners.

All-out attack on Rafah to provoke anarchy: US

An all-out Israeli offensive on Rafah would provoke “anarchy”, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Sunday, while agreeing that Israeli forces had killed more civilians than Hamas fighters.

“Israel’s on the trajectory, potentially, to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left or, if it leaves, a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy and probably refilled by Hamas,” Secretary Blinken told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Asked on CBS whether the US concurred with a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israeli forces had killed more civilians than Hamas fighters, Blinken simply replied, “Yes, we do.”

Donors pledge $2bn for Gaza

A conference of international donors in Kuwait on Sunday pledged over $2 billion to aid the devastated Gaza Strip over seven months into the war between Israel and Hamas.

The conference, organised by the International Islamic Charitable Orga­nisation and the UN’s humanitarian coordination agency OCHA, said the funds would be dispersed over two years to support life-saving humanitarian interventions in Palestinian territory.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2024

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