Home west asia Israel Intensifies Airstrikes On Rafah Ahead Of Proposed Ground Invasion

Israel Intensifies Airstrikes On Rafah Ahead Of Proposed Ground Invasion

Palestinians set up tents for displaced people amid fears of Israeli ground offensive on Rafah, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in the al-Mawasi area in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza, Strip, REUTERS/Ramadan Abed

Israel stepped up airstrikes on Rafah on Thursday night in preparation for what many believe will be a ground invasion. Medics in the Palestinian enclave have reported at least five Israeli airstrikes on Thursday that hit at least three houses and killed six people.

“We are afraid of what will happen in Rafah. The level of alert is very high,” Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, said. “Some are leaving, they are afraid for their families, but where can they go? They are not being allowed to go to the north and so are confined to a very small area.”

Israeli government spokesperson David Mencer said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war cabinet was meeting “to discuss how to destroy the last vestiges, the last quarter of Hamas’ battalions, in Rafah and elsewhere.” This follows claims from a senior Israeli defence official on Thursday who stated that Israel is poised to move ahead with a ground operation on Rafah. The aim, according to the official, was to attack the remaining Hamas holdouts in southern Gaza and evacuate Palestinians from there. He said that the Israeli defence ministry had already bought 40,000 tents, each of which could hold 10-12 people in advance of the assault.

The defence official, who requested anonymity had said that the military could go into action immediately but was awaiting a green light from Netanyahu. The Israeli prime minister, who has so far given no official indication of when the operation will take place, has however, suggested that it would be soon.  In a video message in Hebrew on Sunday which was posted on X, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Israel would strike “painful blows” at the terrorist group to free the hostages. This was seen as a hint of an impending invasion of Rafah.

The airstrikes came as a United Nations team visiting a site for a staging area and pier for maritime aid operations was forced to take cover in a bunker on Wednesday after the area came under attack, a spokesperson said on Thursday. They were there for “some time,” but there were no injuries.

The southern city is already facing a humanitarian crisis and Fabrizio Carboni, Middle East Regional Director for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was not immediately clear where they could be evacuated to.

“The rumour is that the probability of a major operation in Rafah is increasing. When we see the level of destruction in the middle area (of Gaza) and in the north, it’s not clear to us where people will be moved to… where they can have decent shelter and essential services. So today, with the information we have and from where we stand, we don’t see this (massive evacuation) as possible,” said Carboni, on the sidelines of the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference (DIHAD).

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Rafah, which abuts the Egyptian border, is sheltering more than a million Palestinians who fled the half-year-old Israeli offensive through the rest of Gaza. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres has described their situation as a “humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences,” and has called for an immediate ceasefire.

International pressure has been put on Israel to not go ahead with the offensive. Israel’s closest ally Washington has called on it to set aside plans for an assault, and says Israel can combat Hamas fighters there by other means.

“We could not support a Rafah ground operation without an appropriate, credible, executable humanitarian plan precisely because of the complications for delivery of assistance,” David Satterfield, U.S. special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues, told reporters on Tuesday.

“We continue discussions with Israel on what we believe are alternate ways of addressing a challenge which we recognise, which is Hamas military present in Rafah.”

Israel’s neighbour Egypt says it will not allow Gazans to be pushed across the border onto its territory. Cairo has warned Israel against moving on Rafah, which “would lead to massive human massacres, losses (and) widespread destruction,” its State Information Service said.

(Edited by Ashwin Ahmad)