Uptade Israel orders new evacuations in Rafah as it prepares to expand operations

CAIRO: The Palestinian militant group Hamas said on Friday that efforts to find a Gaza Strip truce deal were back at square one after Israel effectively spurned a plan from international mediators, and the White House said it was trying to keep the sides engaged “if only virtually.”
Hamas said in a statement it would consult with other Palestinian factions on its strategy for talks to halt seven months of war triggered by its deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Hours earlier, the United Nations warned that aid for Gaza could grind to a halt in days after Israel seized control this week of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, a vital route for supplies to the devastated Palestinian enclave.
Despite heavy US pressure, Israel has said it will proceed with an assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1 million displaced people have sought refuge and Israeli forces say Hamas militants are dug in.
Israeli tanks captured the main road dividing the eastern and western sections of Rafah, effectively encircling the eastern part of the city in an assault that has caused Washington to hold up delivery of some military aid.
The White House said that it was watching “with concern,” but the Israeli operations appeared to be localized around the shuttered Rafah crossing and did not reflect a large-scale invasion.
“Once again, we urge the Israelis to open up that crossing to humanitarian assistance immediately,” said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.
Israel’s plan for an all-out assault on Rafah has ignited one of the biggest rifts in generations with its main ally. Washington held up a weapons shipment over fears of massive civilian casualties.
In a report to Congress, President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday said it was reasonable to assess that Israel had used US arms in instances “inconsistent” with international humanitarian law.
However, the administration said it still found credible and reliable Israel’s assurances that it will use US weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law.
Indirect diplomacy has failed to end a war that health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza say has killed almost 35,000 people since the Oct. 7 attack. Some 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 253 taken hostage on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
Ceasefire talks in Cairo broke up on Thursday with no agreement.
Hamas had said it agreed at the start of the week to a proposal by Qatari and Egyptian mediators that had previously been accepted by Israel. Israel said the Hamas proposal contained elements it cannot accept.
“Israel’s rejection of the mediators’ proposal through the amendments it made returned things to the first square,” Hamas said in Friday’s statement.
“In the light of (Israel Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s behavior and rejection of the mediators’ document and the attack on Rafah and the occupation of the crossing, the leadership of the movement will hold consultations with the brotherly leaders of the Palestinian factions to review our negotiation strategy.”
“Hamas did not suspend nor withdraw from the negotiations; the occupation (Israelis) turned against the mediators’ proposal,” a senior Hamas official, Khalil Al-Hayya, said in comments to Al Araby TV published by Hamas.
Kirby said the end of the talks — which CIA Director William Burns was helping mediate — was “deeply regrettable,” but the US believed the differences were surmountable.
“We are working hard to keep both sides engaged in continuing the discussion, if only virtually,” he said.

EXPLOSIONS AND GUNFIRE
Residents described almost constant explosions and gunfire east and northeast of Rafah on Friday, with intense fighting between Israeli forces and militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Hamas said it ambushed Israeli tanks near a mosque in the east of the city, a sign the Israelis had penetrated several kilometers from the east to the outskirts of the built-up area.
Israel has ordered civilians out of the eastern part of Rafah, forcing tens of thousands of people to seek shelter outside the city, previously the last refuge of more than a million who fled other parts of the enclave during the war.
Israel says it cannot win the war without assaulting Rafah to root out thousands of Hamas fighters it believes are sheltering there. Hamas says it will fight to defend it.
Supplies were already running short and aid operations could halt within days as fuel and food stocks get used up, UN aid agencies said.
“For five days, no fuel and virtually no humanitarian aid entered the Gaza Strip, and we are scraping the bottom of the barrel,” said the UNICEF Senior Emergency Coordinator in the Gaza Strip, Hamish Young.
Aid agencies say the battle has threatened hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians.
“It is not safe, all of Rafah isn’t safe, as tank shells landed everywhere since yesterday,” Abu Hassan, 50, a resident of Tel Al-Sultan west of Rafah told Reuters via a chat app.
“I am trying to leave but I can’t afford 2,000 shekels ($540) to buy a tent for my family,” he said. “There is an increased movement of people out of Rafah even from the western areas, though they were not designated as red zones by the occupation.”
Israeli tanks have sealed off eastern Rafah from the south, capturing and shutting the only crossing between the enclave and Egypt. An advance on Friday to the Salahuddin road that bisects the Gaza Strip completed the encirclement of the “red zone” where they have ordered residents out.
The Israeli military said its forces in eastern Rafah had located several tunnel shafts, and troops backed by an air strike fought at close quarters with groups of Hamas fighters, killing several.
It said Israeli jets had hit several sites from which rockets and mortar bombs had been fired toward Israel.
The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member by recognizing it as qualified to join and recommending the UN Security Council “reconsider the matter favorably.”

 

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