Israel strikes Gaza's Rafah as temporary truce talks under way

Rafah, Gaza Strip - Israel launched air strikes Thursday on southern Gaza's Rafah after threatening to send troops into the city, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought shelter from around the territory.

A destroyed building and the rubble of the al-Faruq mosque are shown on February 22, 2024, following an overnight Israeli air strike on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.
A destroyed building and the rubble of the al-Faruq mosque are shown on February 22, 2024, following an overnight Israeli air strike on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.  © SAID KHATIB / AFP

Global powers trying to navigate a way to end Israel's assault on Gaza have so far come up short, but a US envoy was expected in Israel on Thursday to try to secure a temporary truce deal.

International concern has spiraled over the high civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza since the October 7 attack against Israel, which took place amid decades of Israeli occupation.

More than four months of relentless Israeli attacks and air strikes have flattened much of the coastal territory, pushing its population of around 2.4 million to the brink of famine, according to the UN.

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International concern has in recent weeks centered on Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million people forced to flee their homes elsewhere in the territory are now living in crowded shelters and makeshift tents.

The last city untouched by Israeli ground troops, Rafah also serves as the main entry point via neighboring Egypt for desperately needed relief supplies.

Israel has warned it will expand its ground operations into Rafah if Hamas does not free the remaining hostages held in Gaza by next month's start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel strikes Rafah amid concerns for displaced Palestinians

Palestinians check the rubble of the al-Faruq mosque after Israeli bombardment on February 22, 2024.
Palestinians check the rubble of the al-Faruq mosque after Israeli bombardment on February 22, 2024.  © SAID KHATIB / AFP

War cabinet member Benny Gantz said Israel's operation in Rafah would begin "after the evacuation of the population," although his government has not offered any details on where civilians would be pushed.

In the early hours of Thursday, AFP reporters heard multiple air strikes on Rafah, particularly in the Al-Shaboura neighborhood.

The health ministry in Gaza said early Thursday that 99 people had been killed around Gaza during the night, most of them women, children, and elderly people. At least 29,313 people have been killed total since October.

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Abdel Rahman Mohamed Jumaa said he lost his family in recent strikes on Rafah.

"I found my wife lying in the street," he told AFP. "Then I saw a man carrying a girl and I ran towards him and.... picked her up, realizing she was really my daughter."

He was holding a small shrouded corpse in his arms.

Israel rejects unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government will oppose any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government will oppose any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.  © REUTERS

Brett McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, was expected to arrive in Israel Thursday – his second stop in the region after Egypt as part of US efforts to advance a hostage deal and broker a truce.

Hamas' chief Ismail Haniyeh was in Cairo for talks as well, according to the group.

Israel's Gantz said there were efforts to "promote a new plan for the return of the hostages."

"We are seeing the first signs that indicate the possibility of progress in this direction," he said.

Matthew Miller, US State Department spokesperson, said Washington was hoping for an "agreement that secures a temporary ceasefire where we can get the hostages out and get humanitarian assistance," but declined to give details on ongoing negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will keep up its brutal attacks until it has destroyed Hamas and freed the remaining hostages.

Israel's parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Netanyahu to oppose any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.

The vote came days after the Washington Post reported that US President Joe Biden's administration and a small group of Arab nations were working out a comprehensive plan for long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It included a firm timeline for the establishment of a Palestinian state, the report said.

Israel attacks sheltering Doctors Without Borders employees

Combat and chaos have stalled sporadic aid deliveries for civilians in Gaza, while in Khan Younis – a city just north of Rafah – medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said an Israeli tank had fired on a house sheltering their employees and families.

Two relatives of MSF staff were killed and six others injured, it said, condemning the strike in the "strongest possible terms."

When contacted by AFP about the incident, the Israeli army said its forces had "fired at a building that was identified as a building where terror activity is occurring," adding that it "regrets" harm to civilians.

In the same town, the Palestinian Red Crescent said another hospital was also hit by "artillery shelling."

Cover photo: SAID KHATIB / AFP

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