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Palestinians walk through the destruction in the wake of an Israeli air and ground offensive in Khan Younis. Alamy Stock Photo

Israel bombs targets in Gaza as US says Rafah invasion not 'imminent'

Egypt is attempting to progress true talks as Israel insists it will invade Rafah.


ISRAEL BOMBED TARGETS in Gaza today as mediators in Cairo sought progress towards a truce and hostage deal and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Israeli troops would launch a ground invasion of Rafah.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had no indication of an “imminent” Israeli assault on the city, the last in the Gaza Strip yet to be the target of a ground invasion and where around 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Under the latest ceasefire proposal, fighting would stop for six weeks, about 40 women and child hostages in Gaza would be exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, and up to 500 aid trucks would enter Gaza per day, a Hamas source has said.

While mediator Qatar awaits Hamas’s latest response, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said some public remarks from the Palestinian militant group had been “less than encouraging”.

Hamas had said earlier it “appreciates” the efforts from mediators Qatar, Egypt and the United States, but accused Israel of failing to respond to its demands including a full withdrawal of forces from Gaza.

Despite growing pressure from top ally the United States, Netanyahu stressed Israel would pursue the twin goals of bringing home “all our hostages” and destroying Hamas after its 7 October attack.

In a video message released yesterday, the premier said Israeli forces would storm Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah on the Egyptian border, despite global concern for the fate of Palestinian civilians sheltering there.

“It will happen – there is a date,” he vowed without saying when he plans to send troops into the city.

Netanyahu reiterated that message today during a visit to a military base, saying: “No force in the world will stop us.”

US officials renewed their objections to such an operation, following a phone call last week between President Joe Biden and Netanyahu.

“A full-scale military invasion of Rafah would have an enormously harmful effect” on civilians trapped there and “would ultimately hurt Israel’s security”, said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Blinken said that Israel had not shared with Washington “any date for an operation” in Rafah.

He said he did not expect Israel to launch an invasion before new talks due next week in Washington, adding, “for that matter, I don’t see anything imminent”.

Israel has invited tenders for 40,000 large tents, according to a document on the defence ministry website – part of its preparations to evacuate Rafah ahead of an offensive, a government source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

‘Not Gaza anymore’

The carnage left by the bloodiest ever Gaza war was on display in the southern city of Khan Yunis, a wasteland of shattered buildings and mountains of rubble after months of heavy bombardment and street fighting.

Displaced Palestinians began to return after Israeli forces pulled out on Sunday in what the army said was a tactical and temporary withdrawal.

As Palestinians readied for tomorrow’s Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, they were stunned at the apocalyptic sight of hundreds of gutted or collapsed buildings.

Mohammed Saggah, a returning resident said:

“This house, my home, was a five-storey building and was home to more than 80 people. There is nothing left.”

One woman said she had come back to find “a ruined place – no water, no electricity, no columns, no walls and no doors, there’s nothing. Gaza is not Gaza anymore.”

The war broke out with Hamas’s 7 October attack against Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Palestinian militants also took more than 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,360 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

The army said on Tuesday it had destroyed “terrorist infrastructure” across Gaza, and killed a militant accused of involvement in the 7 October attack, in a strike on Khan Yunis.

In central Gaza, “troops eliminated a number of terrorists in close-quarter combat,” the military said, also reporting the killing of “several additional terrorists” in air strikes and sniper fire.

Aid trucks

While the war has destroyed swathes of the Gaza Strip, levelling entire city blocks and devastating the territory’s largest hospital, an Israeli siege has pushed many of its 2.4 million people to the brink of famine.

Israel, under US and international pressure to step up aid deliveries, said it had allowed in 468 aid trucks into the Gaza Strip today, describing it as a daily record since the start of the war.

That is still below the levels the UN says entered the Gaza Strip before the war devastated the territory and its economy.

Israeli officials have blamed aid agencies for not distributing the aid, but those agencies have hit back blaming Israeli restrictions.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations’ humanitarian agency OCHA, called the figures provided by Israel on aid distribution “meaningless”.

Screening rules, delays at crossings, restrictions on drivers and, most significantly, getting authorisation and assurances from the military that distribution can go ahead unimpeded combined to prevent aid distribution, he said.

Laerke also said food aid was three times more likely to be blocked by Israel than any other kind of aid.

Israel has faced a chorus of global calls to halt the fighting and ease the suffering.

After announcing Israeli authorities had refused a request to join aid airdrops over Gaza, Turkey said it would impose trade restrictions on I

srael, covering cement and steel, sparking an Israeli vow to take retaliatory steps.