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Israel pushes back into northern Gaza, ups military pressure on Rafah

Cairo, Egypt

Israel sent tanks into eastern Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip early on Sunday after a night of heavy aerial and ground bombardments, killing 19 people and wounding dozens of others, Palestinian health officials said.

The death toll in Israel’s military operation in Gaza has now passed at least 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry. The bombardment has laid waste to the coastal enclave and caused a deep humanitarian crisis.

Smoke billows after an explosion in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel, on 12th May, 2024. PICTURe: Reuters/Amir Cohen

The war was triggered by a Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on 7th October in which some 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 people taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel says 620 soldiers have been killed in the fighting, more than half of them during the initial Hamas assault.

Jabalia is the biggest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps and is home to more than 100,000 people, most of whom were descendants of Palestinians who were driven from towns and villages in what is now Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that led to the creation the state of Israel.

Late on Saturday, the Israeli military said forces operating in Jabalia were preventing Hamas, which rules Gaza, from re-establishing its military capabilities there.

“We identified in the past weeks attempts by Hamas to rehabilitate its military capabilities in Jabalia. We are operating there to eliminate those attempts,” Israeli military’s spokesperson Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters.

Hagari also said Israeli forces operating in Gaza City’s Zeitoun district killed about 30 Palestinian militants.

Israeli forces thrust deep into Jabalia camp, deeper than the first time when they invaded northern Gaza, with tanks close to the local market, residents said. They also reported the fiercest gun battles in months there.

“They were bombing everywhere, including near schools that are housing people who lost their houses,” Jabalia resident Saed, 45, told Reuters via a chat app. “War is restarting, this is how it looks in Jabalia.”

The army sent tanks back into Zeitoun, as well as Al-Sabra, where residents also reported heavy bombardments that destroyed several houses, including high-rise residential buildings.

The army had claimed to have gained control of most of these areas months ago.

Israeli soldiers walk next to a tank near the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Israel, on 12th May, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Amir Cohen

The Israeli Defence Forces said air sirens had sounded in the southern Kerem Shalom area and it had successfully intercepted two rockets launched from the vicinity of Rafah. It said there were no injuries and no damage reported.

Later on Sunday, sirens sounded in the Israeli city of Ashkelon as a result of incoming rocket fire from Gaza, which signalled militants there were still able to launch rocket attacks after over seven months of war.

Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV said on its telegram account, the rockets were launched from Jabalia, despite the active army raid.

Gunfight on Deir Al-Balah outskirts
Tanks did not invade eastern Deir Al-Balah city, residents and Hamas media said, but some Israeli tanks and bulldozers penetrated the fence on the outskirts of the city prompting a gunfight with Hamas fighters.

In an air strike late on Saturday in Deir Al-Balah two doctors, a father and his son, were killed, health officials said.

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The armed wing of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said their fighters attacked Israeli forces in several areas inside Gaza with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, including in Rafah, previously the Palestinians’ last refuge where more than a million people were sheltering.

The Palestinian Telecommunication company said internet services in southern areas of Gaza had resumed after several hours of cuts which it blamed on the ongoing Israeli “aggression”.

On Sunday, more families, estimated in the thousands, were leaving Rafah as the Israeli military pressure intensified. Tank shells landed across the city as the army gave new evacuation orders covering some neighbourhoods in the centre of the city, which borders Egypt.

Israel’s military said on Sunday it had opened a new crossing in northern Gaza, called “Western Erez”, to transfer humanitarian aid to the strip.

“As I moved out of Rafah, I passed through Khan Younis, I cried,” said Tamer Al-Burai, a resident from Gaza, who had been sheltering in Rafah.

“I saw a ghost city, all buildings on the two sides of the road, complete districts were wiped out. People are fleeing for safety, knowing there was no place safe, and there are no tents and no people to care for them,” he told Reuters.

Displaced Palestinians, who fled Jabalia after the Israeli military called on residents to evacuate, travel in a motorised rickshaw as they make their way towards Gaza City, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, on 12th May, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Mahmoud Issa

Burai, a Palestinian businessman, said the Palestinians were abandoned by the world , with world powers failing to end hostilities and international mediation efforts to reach a ceasefire collapsing over Hamas and Israel disputes.

“No ceasefire, no UN decision, no hope,” he said.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said Cairo would continue its mediation between Israel and Hamas and urged the two sides to show the flexibility and the will needed to reach a deal.

– Additional reporting by NAYERA ABDALLAH in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; EMILY ROSE and MAYTAAL ANGEL in Jerusalem


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