Israeli forces step up strikes across Gaza

Published June 22, 2024
A Palestinian boy looks out from a classroom of a UNRWA school after an Israeli air strike targeted a nearby house in Khan Yunis, on Friday.—Reuters
A Palestinian boy looks out from a classroom of a UNRWA school after an Israeli air strike targeted a nearby house in Khan Yunis, on Friday.—Reuters

CAIRO: Israeli forces pounded Rafah and other areas across the Gaza Strip and engaged in close-quarter combat with fighters led by Hamas on Friday.

Residents said the Israelis appeared to by trying to complete their capture of Rafah, the city on the enclave’s southern edge that has been the focus of an Israeli assault since early last month.

Tanks were forcing their way into the western and northern parts of the city, having already captured the east, south and centre. Israeli forces fired from planes, tanks and ships off the coast, forcing a new wave of displacement from the city, which had been sheltering more than a million displaced people, most of whom have been forced to flee again.

Health officials said 12 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli military strikes on Friday.

The Israeli military said its forces were conducting “precise, intelligence-based” actions in the Rafah area, where troops were involved in “close-quarter combat”. It also reported actions elsewhere in the enclave. Some Rafah residents said the pace of the Israeli raid has picked up in the past two days. They said sounds of explosions and gunfire indicating fierce fighting have been almost non-stop.

“Last night was one of the worst nights in western Rafah, drones, planes, tanks, and naval boats bombarded the area. We feel the occupation is trying to complete the control of the city,” said Hatem, 45, reached by text message.

“They are taking heavy strikes from the resistance fighters, which may be slowing them down.”

Israel’s advance is now focused on the two last areas its forces had yet to storm: Rafah, on Gaza’s southern edge, and the area surrounding Deir Al Balah, in the centre.

“The entire city of Rafah is an area of Israeli military operations,” Ahmed Al Sofi, the mayor of Rafah, said in a statement carried by Hamas media on Friday.

“The city lives through a humanitarian catastrophe and people are dying inside their tents because of Israeli bombardment,” he added.

Sofi said there was no medical facility functioning in the city, and that remaining residents and displaced families lacked the minimum of their daily needs of food and water.

Palestinian and UN figures show that fewer than 100,000 people may have remained in the far western side of the city, which had been sheltering more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people before the Israeli assault began.

Hamas said on Thursday its fighters had hit two Israeli tanks with anti-tank rockets in the Shaboura camp in Rafah, and killed soldiers who tried to flee through the alleys.

In nearby Khan Younis, an Israeli air strike on Friday killed three people, including a father and son, medics said.

In parallel, Israeli forces continued a new push back into some Gaza City suburbs in the north of the enclave. Residents said the Israeli army had destroyed many homes in the heart of Gaza City on Thursday.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2024

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