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Roving Periscope: Ignoring protests, Israel pushes into Rafah to flush out Hamas

Roving Periscope: Ignoring protests, Israel pushes into Rafah to flush out Hamas

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Seven months and nearly 36,000 deaths after, Israel started pushing inside Rafah on the Egyptian border of the Gaza Strip to flush out Hamas terrorists in what it believes might be its decisive ground offensive against the Iran-supported group that has ruled the enclave’s 2.3 million people with an iron hand for over a decade and is now hiding amongst the refugees.

Israel struck Gaza deep inside over 3 km on Sunday and its troops battled terrorists in several areas of the Hamas-run territory, where the health ministry said the death count in the war had exceeded 35,000 people in the last seven months.

The ongoing war started after the October 7, 2023, Hamas invasion of Southern Israel that left over 1,200 Israelis dead while the terrorists carried with them around 250 hostages, many of whom are still in their custody.

All efforts at ceasefire have failed, as the war raged on between Israel and the combination of Hamas-Hezbullah-Houthi terrorists—all supported by Iran—who continued their attacks on the Jewish state from their bases in Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen, respectively.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and an immediate surge in humanitarian aid” in the besieged Gaza Strip, the media reported on Monday.

“But a ceasefire will only be the start,” Guterres told a donor conference in Kuwait. “It will be a long road back from the devastation and trauma of this war.”

As Egyptian, Qatari, and US mediation efforts towards a truce appeared to stall, US President Joe Biden said on Saturday a ceasefire could be achieved “tomorrow” if Hamas released the remaining hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack that sparked the conflict.

Israeli air strikes pounded parts of northern, central, and southern Gaza during the night and into Sunday morning. The Israeli military said its jets had hit “over 150 terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip” over the past day.

In Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city which sits on the border with Egypt, the Kuwaiti hospital said on Sunday it had received the bodies of “18 martyrs” killed in Israeli strikes over the past 24 hours.

The health ministry in the territory said that at least 63 people had been killed over the last 24 hours, bringing the overall death count from Israel’s bombardment and offensive in Gaza to at least 35,034 people, mostly women and children.

The war began with Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, leaving over 1,170 people, mostly civilians, dead. The terrorists also seized hostages, of whom scores were freed during a one-week truce in November. Israel estimates 128 captives remain in Gaza, including 36 who the military says are dead.

Months after Israel said it had dismantled Hamas’s command structure in northern Gaza, fighting has resumed in recent days in Jabalia refugee camp and Gaza City’s Zeitun neighborhood.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Saturday that “in recent weeks we have identified attempts by Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities in Jabalia, and we are acting to destroy these attempts.”

The military said on Sunday its troops were operating in Jabalia after launching an operation overnight.

Israel defied international opposition this week and sent tanks and troops into eastern Rafah, effectively shutting a key aid crossing.
On Saturday, the Israeli military expanded an evacuation order for eastern Rafah and said 300,000 Palestinians had left the area.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian refugees gave a similar estimate of “around 300,000 people” who fled Rafah over the past week and decried in a post on X (formerly Twitter) the “forced and inhumane displacement of Palestinians” who have “nowhere safe to go” in Gaza.

Palestinians in Rafah, many of them displaced by the fighting elsewhere in the territory, piled water tanks, mattresses, and other belongings onto vehicles and prepared to flee again. Residents were told to go to the “humanitarian zone” of Al-Mawasi on the coast northwest of Rafah, though aid groups have warned it was not ready for an influx of people.

European Union President Charles Michel said on social media that Rafah civilians were being ordered to “unsafe zones,” as he denounced it as “unacceptable.”

Israel began what it termed a “limited” operation in Rafah this week, while the international community has repeatedly condemned the possibility, long-threatened by the Israeli government, of a full-scale ground invasion of the city.

Israel’s closest ally, the United States, paused the delivery of 3,500 bombs as it appeared ready to invade Rafah.

Protests against the war spread to Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden, where thousands rallied outside the Malmo Arena condemning Israel’s participation.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv on Saturday, Israeli protesters again took to the streets to pressure their government to do more to reach a truce and hostage release deal.


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