War with Hamas: Israel seizes the Rafah crossing point in the Gaza Strip

The Israeli army deployed tanks on Tuesday into Rafah and took control of the Palestinian part of the crossing with Egypt, seven months after the start of the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The army released images showing tanks flying the Israeli flag deployed in the border area, on the Palestinian side, and claimed to be carrying out a “counterterrorism” operation in “specific areas” of eastern Rafah.

Overnight bombings on the city left at least 27 dead, according to two hospitals in Rafah.

The day before, the army had called for the evacuation of tens of thousands of families from the east of the city, which is home to a total of 1.2 million Palestinians, according to the UN, in anticipation of a ground offensive that the first Israeli Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, promised to launch to eliminate the last battalions of Hamas.

The UN announced on Tuesday that access to the Rafah crossing point, the main entry point for humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory, was being denied by the Israeli army.

While Israel continues its military operations, new discussions must take place in Cairo after the green light given Monday by Hamas to a draft agreement presented by the mediating countries to try to end the war, which began on October 7 by an unprecedented attack launched by the Islamist movement on Israeli soil.

This proposal is “far from Israeli demands,” replied the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Go West”

On Tuesday, the army announced that it had taken “operational control” of the Palestinian part of the crossing with Egypt and announced that ground troops had begun a “targeted counterterrorism operation” in eastern Rafah.

An armored unit “maneuvered in the area. Currently, special forces are inspecting the crossing point,” the army added.

“We had clues, including the firing” of rockets on Sunday, against the Kerem Shalom crossing point between Israel and Gaza which killed four Israeli soldiers, “but also intelligence, that the Gazan part of the crossing point […] was used by Hamas for terrorist purposes,” the army explained.

On Tuesday, the armed wing of Hamas announced that it had fired rockets “at a gathering of Israeli troops” around Kerem Shalom, the main crossing point for humanitarian aid between Israel and the Gaza Strip, closed since previous shots.

The day before, ordered to evacuate by the Israeli army, thousands of desperate men, women and children, many already displaced by the war, had hastily packed some belongings, without really knowing where to go.

“We are terrified, it is not easy to be moved from one place to another,” Hanah Saleh, a 40-year-old man displaced from the north of the Gaza Strip, told AFP. “We are going to head west from Rafah, but we don’t know exactly where. And everyone is asking the question,” he added.

The army dropped leaflets calling on residents to evacuate “to the expanded humanitarian zone of al-Mawasi”, around ten kilometers from Rafah. But residents and humanitarian organizations describe areas already overpopulated or destroyed by war.

“Pressure on Hamas”

On Monday evening, Hamas said it had informed Egypt and Qatar, the mediating countries with the United States, that it had “approved their proposal for a ceasefire agreement” with Israel.

Israel decided to send a delegation to Cairo, while continuing its military operations in Rafah “in order to exert military pressure on Hamas with the aim of progressing towards the release of the hostages and other objectives of the war”, indicated the Prime Minister’s services.

“Although Hamas’ proposal falls far short of key Israeli demands, Israel will send a high-ranking delegation to Egypt with the aim of maximizing the chances of reaching an agreement on acceptable terms,” they added.

Qatar also announced the sending of a delegation to Cairo on Tuesday “to relaunch indirect negotiations between the two parties”.

According to the number two of Hamas’s political branch in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya, the proposal includes three phases, each lasting 42 days, and includes a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territory, the return of the displaced and an exchange of hostages held in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, with the aim of a “permanent ceasefire”.

Israel has so far opposed a ceasefire until Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2007, has been defeated.

The Islamist movement, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union, for its part demands a definitive ceasefire and an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, prior to any agreement.

The war broke out on October 7 when Hamas commandos infiltrated from the Gaza Strip launched an attack in southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to a report by the AFP established from official Israeli data.

More than 250 people have been kidnapped and 128 remain captive in Gaza, of whom 35 have died, according to the army.

In retaliation, Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip that has so far left 34,789 people dead, mostly civilians, including at least 54 in 24 hours, according to the Hamas health ministry.

” The time has come “

In Israel, the Families Forum, an association of relatives of hostages, judged Monday that “the time has come for all parties concerned […] to transform this opportunity into an agreement for the return of all the hostages.”

During the night, Israeli media reported clashes in Tel Aviv between police and demonstrators demanding a truce agreement.

“Today I made a very strong appeal to the Israeli government and Hamas leaders to make an extra effort to materialize a vital agreement,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

A ground operation on Rafah “would be intolerable due to its devastating humanitarian consequences,” he added.

In a telephone interview, American President Joe Biden reiterated his “clear position” to Benjamin Netanyahu against any offensive in Rafah.

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