19 May 2024, 09:23

UN says 800,000 have fled fierce fighting in Rafah

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories, May 19, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Heavy clashes and
bombardment rocked the southern Gaza city of Rafah Saturday, as the United
Nations said 800,000 people had been "forced to flee" Israel's assault on
Hamas militants there.

Israel's military said air strikes hit more than 70 targets across Gaza while
ground troops conducted "targeted raids" in eastern Rafah, killing 50
militants and locating dozens of tunnel shafts.

Philippe Lazzarini of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said that since
Israel's Rafah operation began, there had been a massive movement of people.

"800,000 people are on the road having been forced to flee since the Israeli
forces started the military operation in the area on 6 May", the UNRWA chief
said on X.

He said people were fleeing to areas without water supplies or adequate

It came as political divisions in Israel's war cabinet burst into the open on
Saturday night, with minister Benny Gantz saying he would quit unless Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

Gantz called for six goals to be met, including establishing a multinational
civilian administration for Gaza.

Netanyahu hit back, calling the threat "washed-up words" that would mean
"defeat for Israel".

Meanwhile, Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said it fired
a barrage of rockets towards Israel's port of Ashkelon and targeted an
Israeli command centre at the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza.

Late Saturday, Israel's military issued new evacuation orders for parts of
northern Gaza, saying militants in the area had fired rockets at Israel.

Earlier, an AFP reporter said air strikes and artillery pounded eastern Rafah
as warplanes overflew the city on Gaza's border with Egypt.

More than 10 days into what the army called a "limited" Rafah operation that
sparked the exodus, fighting has also flared again in northern Gaza.

Israel said in early January it had dismantled Hamas's command structure in
the north, but the army said Hamas -- whose October 7 attack sparked the war
-- had been "in complete control here in Jabalia until we arrived a few days

Hamas slammed what it called Israel's "escalating crimes of the occupation"
and "intensified brutal raids" on Jabalia, saying they had killed dozens of
civilians and wounded hundreds.

- First aid via pier -

Aid groups say Israel's Rafah incursion, launched despite overwhelming
international opposition and as mediators were hoping for a breakthrough in
stalled truce talks, has worsened an already dire humanitarian crisis.

With key land crossings closed or operating at limited capacity because of
the fighting, some aid began entering Gaza via a temporary US-built floating

The Israeli army said 310 pallets began moving ashore in "the first entry of
humanitarian aid through the floating pier".

Satellite pictures showed more than a dozen trucks lining up Saturday on its
approach road.

In the coming days, around 500 tonnes of aid are expected to be delivered via
the pier, according to US Central Command.

But UN agencies and humanitarian aid groups have warned sea or air deliveries
cannot replace more efficient truck convoys into Gaza, where the UN has
repeatedly warned of looming famine.

The Rafah crossing, a vital conduit for humanitarian aid, has been closed
since Israel launched its operation in the city.

The war began after Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which
resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according
to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,386
people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the Hamas-run
territory's health ministry.

The toll includes at least 83 deaths over the past 24 hours, said a ministry
statement on Saturday.

Out of 252 people taken hostage from Israel during the October 7 attack, 124
remain held in Gaza including 37 the army says are dead.

- 'Advancing and retreating' -

The army said Saturday that troops had recovered the body of hostage Ron
Benjamin in the same Gaza operation that saw the bodies of three other
hostages killed on October 7 retrieved late Thursday.

Israel has vowed to defeat remaining Hamas forces in Rafah, which it says is
the Iran-backed group's last bastion.

Palestinian sources in Rafah said Israeli forces were operating in the Al-
Salam and Jenina neighbourhoods and on the Philadelphi route along the
Egyptian border.

"Troops are advancing and retreating around these areas," a security source

Cairo, which has been involved in mediation efforts, says a potential Israeli
takeover of Philadelphi could violate the two countries' landmark 1979 peace

Meanwhile, Israel said it killed two senior Islamic Jihad militants in air
strikes in the northern West Bank and in Rafah.

In northern Gaza's Beit Lahia, witnesses reported air strikes near Kamal
Adwan hospital on Saturday.

Its director Hussam Abu Safiya said Friday the facility had received "large
numbers" of casualties from nearby Jabalia and was running low on supplies.

Its fuel supply was "barely enough for a few days", he told AFP.

The World Health Organization has received no medical supplies in Gaza since
the Rafah operation began, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said Friday.

- Biden aide visits -

On the diplomatic front, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was
heading to the region.

Sullivan will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday and
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, National Security
Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Political divisions inside Israel were highlighted Saturday when Gantz said
he and his party would quit the government unless Netanyahu approved a post-
war plan for Gaza.

In a televised address, Gantz gave a June 8 deadline for "an action plan" for
Gaza, including defeating Hamas, returning the hostages and ensuring Israeli
security control over Gaza.

Netanyahu dismissed Gantz's comments as "washed-up words whose meaning is
clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of
the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian

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