Israel-Hamas war

Pressure mounts on Israel not to attack Palestinians’ last refuge in Gaza


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Pressure mounts on Israel not to attack Palestinians’ last refuge in Gaza

A displaced Palestinian woman, who fled her house due to Israeli strikes, sits by a tent as she takes shelter in a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, February 14, 2024.

REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

The Israeli military says it wants to flush out Islamist militants from hideouts in Rafah and free hostages being held there after the Hamas rampage in Israel on October 7, but has given no details of a plan to evacuate civilians

CAIRO, Egypt – Israel faced growing international pressure on Wednesday, February 14, to hold off on a planned assault on the last refuge for displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza after truce talks in Cairo ended inconclusively.

Officials said Tuesday’s talks were constructive and would continue, but the lack of an immediate breakthrough fuelled fears among hundreds of thousands of people crammed into Rafah that Israel would soon storm the city on the border with Egypt.

Tensions also rose along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon on Wednesday. Israel said a woman was killed in a rocket attack from Lebanon, and four people were reported killed in Israeli strikes on southern Lebanon.

The Israeli military says it wants to flush out Islamist militants from hideouts in Rafah and free hostages being held there after the Hamas rampage in Israel on October 7, but has given no details of a proposed plan to evacuate civilians.

“The news was disappointing, we hoped there could be a deal reached in Cairo. We are now counting down the days before Israel sends in tanks. We hope they don’t but who can prevent them?” Said Jaber, a Gaza businessman who is sheltering in Rafah with his family, told Reuters via a chat app.

Richard Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization representative for Gaza and the West Bank, said an assault on Rafah would be “an unfathomable catastrophe… and would even further expand the humanitarian disaster beyond imagination.”

Israel says it takes steps to minimize civilian casualties and accuses Hamas fighters of hiding among civilians, including in hospitals and shelters – something the militant group denies.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said people in Rafah with nowhere to go “cannot simply vanish into thin air”.

“They need safe places and safe corridors to avoid being caught in the crossfire even more,” she said before talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Overnight shelling

Israeli forces shelled eastern areas of Rafah overnight, and pounded several areas of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, residents said.

The health ministry in the Hamas-governed enclave said Israeli forces were continuing to isolate the two main hospitals in Khan Younis, and that sniper fire at the city’s Nasser Hospital had killed and wounded many people in recent days.

An Israeli airstrike on a house in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed six people, health officials said.

At least 28,576 Palestinians have been killed, including 103 in the past 24 hours, and 68,291 wounded in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

Many other people are believed to be buried under rubble of destroyed buildings across the densely populated Gaza Strip, much of which is in ruins. Supplies of food, water and other essentials are running out and diseases are spreading.

At least 1,200 Israelis were killed and around 250 were taken hostage in the Hamas raid on southern Israel on October 7, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel has vowed to fight on until it eradicates Hamas and has made the return of the last hostages a priority. Hamas says Israel must commit to ending the war and withdrawing from Gaza.

Border tensions

Diplomacy is focused not just on halting the war and securing the hostages’ release but also on preventing the conflict from spreading across the region.

The armed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which backs the Palestinians, has frequently fired across the border into northern Israel since the war began in Gaza.

In Wednesday’s clashes, Israel said it had carried out retaliatory strikes on Hezbollah targets after rocket attacks which it said had killed an Israeli woman, struck a military base and wounded several other people.

A woman and her two children were killed in an Israeli strike on the village of al-Sawana, the two Lebanese security sources said. Hezbollah said another strike on a separate town killed one of their fighters.

Iran-aligned Houthi forces in Yemen have also sought to show solidarity with the Palestinians, by attacking international shipping in the Red Sea. The United States and Britain have retaliated with strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen.

In the latest such strike, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said its forces targeted a cruise missile that was about to be fired at ships in the Red Sea.

Diplomatic efforts continued on Wednesday, with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan making his first visit to Egypt in over a decade. He said the war in Gaza topped his agenda in Egypt.

Sources briefed on Tuesday’s talks described them as “good” and said the sides had agreed to continue them, but declined to say where or when.

White House spokesman John Kirby, in an interview with CNN, said the talks had been constructive.

“And it’s important that they are still ongoing, that neither side has backed away and said, ‘Nope, not doing this.’ That’s important,” he said. –

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