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Palestinians search debris after an Israeli strike on a school run by UNRWA Alamy Stock Photo
Rafah

Netanyahu claims 'no humanitarian catastrophe' in Rafah as hundreds of thousands flee area

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said Ireland is certain to recognise Palestinian statehood by the end of the month, without specifying a date.

LAST UPDATE | 15 May

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted there is no “humanitarian catastrophe” in Rafah as he announced nearly 500,000 people had been evacuated from the south Gaza city amid intense fighting.

It came as Palestinians commemorated the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, when around 760,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 wartime creation of Israel.

Israeli forces have battled and bombed Hamas militants around Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah, but clashes have also flared again in northern and central areas which Israeli troops first entered months ago.

Even as he announced that hundreds of thousands had been “evacuated”, Netanyahu insisted there was no humanitarian crisis in Rafah.

“Our responsible efforts are bearing fruit. So far, in Rafah, close to half a million people have been evacuated from the combat zones. The humanitarian catastrophe that was spoken about did not materialise, nor will it,” the premier said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden has threatened to withhold some arms deliveries over Netanyahu’s insistence on attacking Rafah, the last Gaza city so far spared a ground invasion, which is packed with civilians.

But Biden’s administration has also stressed it will continue to support Israel’s security and informed Congress yesterday of a new $1 billion weapons package for Israel, official sources told AFP.

The European Union urged Israel to end its military operation in Rafah “immediately”, warning that failure to do so would “inevitably put a heavy strain” on ties with the bloc, which is Israel’s biggest trade partner and the main aid donor for the Palestinian territories.

Nakba 

The sight of desperate families carrying their scant belongings through the ruins of conflict-scarred cities has evoked for many the events of 1948, when around 760,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.

“Your Independence Day is our catastrophe,” protesters chanted in Israel on the eve of Nakba Day at a rally joined by many Arab-Israelis, descendants of Palestinians who stayed on their land and now live as a minority in Israel.

Hamas declared in a Nakba Day statement that “the ongoing suffering of millions of refugees inside Palestine and in the diaspora is directly attributed to the Zionist occupation”.

The Islamist militant group said that “their legitimate right to return to their homes from which they were displaced cannot be compromised or relinquished”.

Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring home the hostages the militants are still holding in defiance of warnings from top ally the United States.

The decades-long conflict exploded into the deadliest-ever Gaza conflict after Hamas militants launched their attack on Israel on 7 October, sparking a military response that has devastated the coastal territory.

Israel’s military retaliation has killed at least 35,173 people, mostly civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine in parts of Gaza.

‘Close-quarters combat’

The Israeli military said today that its aircraft had “struck and eliminated approximately 80 terror targets” including military compounds, missile launchers and weapons depots.

It also said its forces fighting in eastern areas of Rafah had succeeded in “eliminating terrorists in close-quarters combat and locating large amounts of weapons”.

“Intense battles” also raged amid the ruins of Gaza City in the north, where troops had killed “a large number of terrorists” in Jabaliya and were also fighting in the Zeitun area, the army said.

file-displaced-palestinians-arrive-in-central-gaza-after-fleeing-from-the-southern-gaza-city-of-rafah-in-deir-al-balah-gaza-strip-on-thursday-may-9-2024-palestinians-on-wednesday-may-15-2024 Displaced Palestinians arrive in central Gaza after fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Hamas’s armed wing also reported that its fighters were clashing with troops in the Jabaliya area, much of which has been reduced to a hellscape of bombed-out buildings.

At least five people were killed, including a woman and her child, in two Israeli air strikes on Gaza City overnight, Gaza’s civil defence agency said.

Palestinian statehood

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin has said Ireland is certain to recognise Palestinian statehood by the end of the month, without specifying a date.

“We will be recognising the state of Palestine before the end of the month,” Martin told Newstalk.

In March, the leaders of Spain, Ireland, Slovenia and Malta said in a joint statement that they stand ready to recognise Palestinian statehood.

Ireland has long said it has no objection in principle to officially recognising the Palestinian state if it could help the peace process in the Middle East.

Last week, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Spain, Ireland and Slovenia planned to symbolically recognise a Palestinian state on 21 May, with others potentially following suit.

But Martin today shied away from pinpointing a date.

“The specific date is still fluid because we’re still in discussions with some countries in respect of a joint recognition of a Palestinian state,” Martin said.

“It will become clear in the next few days as to the specific date but it certainly will be before the end of this month.

“I will look forward to consultations today with some foreign ministers in respect of the final specific detail of this.”

Last month during a visit to Dublin by Spanish premier Pedro Sanchez, Taoiseach Simon Harris said the countries would coordinate the move together.

“When we move forward, we would like to do so with as many others as possible to lend weight to the decision and to send the strongest message,” Harris said.

The Taoiseach today spoke with King Abdullah of Jordan to update him on Ireland’s plan to recognise the State of Palestine. 

Both leaders agreed to stay in touch in the coming days. 

King Abdullah briefed Harris on efforts to secure an end to the conflict and to create a context for peace in the region, including his contacts with other regional leaders and his discussions with Biden in Washington last week.  

US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators have been pushing for a truce and hostage release deal for months, but the talks are now close to “a stalemate”, said Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

Includes reporting by © AFP 2024

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