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Israeli armored vehicles deployed near Kibbutz Reim in southern Israel yesterday Alamy
No deal

More than 100,000 people have fled Rafah ahead of threatened invasion

Israel continues its bombardments despite Hamas accepting a ceasefire proposal put forward by mediators.


MORE THAN 100,000 people have fled Rafah in recent days, the United Nations has said, with the southern Gaza city under threat of a full-scale Israeli ground invasion.

Israel’s military on Monday called for Gazans to leave eastern Rafah, which triggered widespread international alarm.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF said more than 100,000 had left, with the UN humanitarian agency OCHA putting the figure at more than 110,000.

All eyes have been on Rafah in recent weeks, where the population had swelled to around 1.5 million after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled fighting in other areas of Gaza.

Georgios Petropoulos, head of OCHA’s sub-office in Gaza, said the situation in the besieged Palestinian territory had reached “even more unprecedented levels of emergency”.

“The recent evacuation order that we had from the government of Israel linked to the military operation in Rafah is now counting 110,000-plus displaced people having to move north,” he told a briefing in Geneva, via video-link from Rafah.

“Most of these are people who have had to displace five or six times.”

Countries around the world, including key Israeli backer the United States, have urged Israel not to extend its ground offensive into Rafah, citing fears of a large civilian toll.

Hamish Young, UNICEF’s senior emergency coordinator in the Gaza Strip, insisted Rafah “must not be invaded” and called for the immediate flow of fuel and aid into the Gaza Strip.

“Yesterday, I was walking around the Al-Mawasi zone, that people in Rafah are being told to move to,” he said, also speaking from Rafah.

“More than 100,000 people have fled Rafah in the last five days and the stream of displacement continues.

“Shelters already lined Al-Mawasi’s sand dunes and it’s now becoming difficult to move between the mass of tents and tarpaulins.

AFP journalists in the Gaza Strip early Friday witnessed artillery strikes on Rafah on the territory’s southern border with Egypt.

Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war began following Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel has conducted a retaliatory offensive that has killed more than 34,900 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

No deal

Israel launched fresh strikes in the Gaza Strip today after negotiators pursuing a long-stalled truce agreement left talks in Cairo without having secured a deal.

AFP journalists in the Gaza Strip early today witnessed artillery strikes on Rafah on the territory’s southern border with Egypt, while witnesses reported air strikes and fighting in Gaza City further north.

Hamas said in a message to other Palestinian factions: “The ball is now completely in the hands of the occupation.”

The deal, the group said, involved a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the return of Palestinians displaced by the war, and the exchange of hostages held by militants for Palestinian prisoners detained in Israel, with the aim of a “permanent ceasefire”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office at the time called the proposal “far from Israel’s essential demands”, but said the government would still send negotiators to Cairo.

Israel has long resisted the idea of a permanent ceasefire, insisting it must finish the job of dismantling Hamas.

‘A path forward’

CIA director William Burns, who is also part of the truce efforts, is due to return to the United States from the Middle East on Friday, the White House said.

“That doesn’t mean there aren’t still ongoing discussions,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

“We still believe that there’s a path forward, but it’s going to take some leadership on both sides.”

But at a makeshift refugee camp in Rafah, displaced Gazan Inas Mazen al-Shami said she was fed up with the stalling.

“We have no money and we don’t have the means to move from one place to another again and again. We have no means at all,” she said.

‘No fuel, no movement’

Israel’s military said Wednesday it was reopening another aid crossing into Gaza, Kerem Shalom, as well as the Erez crossing into north Gaza.

But the head of the UN humanitarian office in the Palestinian territories, Andrea De Domenico, told AFP that military activity at Kerem Shalom made civilian aid deliveries practically impossible.

He said the closure of the Rafah crossing, the only one equipped for fuel deliveries, had effectively halted aid operations.

“In Gaza there are no stocks” of fuel, he said. That “means no movement. It is completely crippling the humanitarian operations.”

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini announced late last night that the agency was closing its east Jerusalem headquarters after the latest in a spate of attacks by “Israeli extremists” put its staff at “serious risk”.

Lazzarini said the compound would remain closed “until proper security is restored”.

A US container ship loaded with aid for Gaza left Cyprus Thursday in a new test of a maritime corridor to get relief into the besieged Palestinian territory, the Cyprus government said.

US military engineers have been assembling a temporary pier to unload aid deliveries but the work has been delayed by heavy seas.