Israeli Troops Seize Gaza Side Of Rafah Crossing, Hit Rafah With Airstrikes


Israel’s military said Tuesday its forces had taken control of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, a day after ordering tens of thousands of Palestinians to leave the area and launching repeated airstrikes.

The Israeli operation comes after weeks of Israeli officials saying an offensive in Rafah was necessary to achieve their goal of defeating Hamas, while the United States, the United Nations and others warned that launching an offensive in an area crowded with Palestinian civilians could create a humanitarian disaster.

“I am afraid that this is going to cause again a lot of casualties, civilian casualties. Whatever they say,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters Tuesday. “There are no safe zones in Gaza.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian cited “overwhelming demands of the international community” as China called for Israel to stop attacking Gaza and instead “do everything it can to avoid a more serious humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip.”

U.N. humanitarian agency spokesperson Jens Laerke told journalists Tuesday that Israel had shut the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, cutting off access to the two main route used to bring humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz posted on social media that Israel’s move into Rafah is about achieving its main goals, including the release of the hostages held by Hamas and the militant group’s defeat.

The developments in Rafah followed a Hamas announcement Monday that it had accepted a cease-fire proposal worked out with Egyptian and Qatari negotiators.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Monday the cease-fire proposal was “far from Israel’s essential demands,” but that Israel would send negotiators to Cairo to continue talks.

During the past week, efforts to secure a cease-fire intensified, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s traveling to the region and repeatedly telling Hamas that Israel had made compromises, and that Hamas should accept the proposal.

Israeli officials told media outlets that the plan approved by Hamas was not what Israeli had agreed to, but was unclear what, if anything, had changed about the cease-fire proposal that Hamas would accept but Israel would not.

The U.S. State Department and the White House said they were reviewing the Hamas response.

The status of the cease-fire negotiations seemed unlikely to affect Israel’s plans to move into Rafah, with Netanyahu saying last week a Rafah operation would happen whether or not there was a cease-fire in place.

Netanyahu’s office said Monday the Israeli War Cabinet “unanimously decided that Israel continue the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to advance the release of our hostages and the other goals of the war.”

The United States on Monday urged all sides to make a deal for a temporary halt in fighting and the release of hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza.

“We want to get these hostages out,” said John Kirby, White House national security spokesperson. “We want to get a cease-fire in place for six weeks. We want to increase humanitarian assistance and the last thing that I want to do is say anything at this podium that’s going to put that process at risk. Regardless, as we’ve said before, we still believe that reaching an agreement is the absolute best outcome, not just for the hostages, but for the Palestinian people.”

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu by telephone Monday, reiterating the U.S. position that a Rafah operation must include a plan for keeping Palestinian civilians safe. A White House statement said that Netanyahu agreed “to ensure the Kerem Shalom crossing is open for humanitarian assistance for those in need.”

The World Health Organization says about 1.2 million people are sheltering in Rafah. Many of them came from other parts of Gaza, fleeing in search of safety and shelter as Israel’s campaign against Hamas left much of the Gaza Strip in ruins.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Monday he is “deeply concerned by the indications that a large-scale military operation in Rafah may be imminent. We are already seeing movements of people — many of these are in desperate humanitarian condition and have been repeatedly displaced.”

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus posted Monday on the social media platform X, “A full military incursion into Rafah will plunge the crisis into unprecedented levels of humanitarian need. A cease-fire is urgently needed for the sake of humanity.”

The U.N. relief agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, said on social media Monday that an Israeli operation in Rafah would bring “more civilian suffering and deaths,” and “devastating” consequences for more than 1 million people sheltering there.

The Israel-Hamas war was triggered by the October 7 Hamas terror attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 250 hostages, according to Israeli officials. About 100 of the hostages were freed in a weeklong truce in late November.

Israel’s ensuring counteroffensive in Gaza has killed more than 34,700 Palestinians, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

Houthi attacks

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said a merchant vessel reported an attack early Wednesday in the Gulf of Aden involving two explosions near the vessel.

UKMTO said both the vessel and crew were safe, and that authorities were investigating the attack.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Yemen-based Houthi militant group has spent months attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea with drones and missiles.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who have been designated by the United States as a terror group, say their campaign is in solidarity with the Palestinians amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.


The VOA is the Voice of America

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