Published: 12:33, May 24, 2024
Israeli forces kill dozens of Palestinians in Gaza strikes, battle Hamas in Rafah
By Reuters
Black smokes rise to the sky during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians demonstrators in the West Bank city of Jenin, May 22, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

CAIRO - Israeli forces killed at least 60 Palestinians in aerial and ground bombardments across the Gaza Strip on Thursday and battled in close combat with Hamas-led militants in areas of the southern city of Rafah, health officials and Hamas media said.

Israeli tanks advanced in Rafah's southeast, edged towards the city's western district of Yibna and continued to operate in three eastern suburbs, residents said.

"The occupation (Israeli forces) is trying to move further to the west, they are on the edge of Yibna, which is densely populated. They didn't invade it yet," one resident said, asking not to be named.

"We hear explosions and we see black smoke coming up from the areas where the army has invaded. It was another very difficult night," he told Reuters via a chat app.

UNRWA, the main United Nations agency in Gaza, estimated as of Monday that more than 800,000 people had fled Rafah since Israel began targeting the city in early May, despite international pleas for restraint

Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the northern and southern edges of Gaza this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing their homes, and have cut off the main access routes for aid, raising the risk of famine.

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Israel launched its assault on Gaza following a Hamas-led attack on southern Israeli communities on Oct 7 that killed 1,200 people and led to more than 250 hostages, by Israeli tallies. Since then, Israel's assault in Gaza has killed more than 35,000 people, with thousands more feared buried under the rubble, according to Gaza health authorities.

Hostages in Rafah

Israel says it has no choice but to attack Rafah to root out the last battalions of Hamas fighters it believes are sheltering there.

"Hamas is in Rafah, Hamas has been holding our hostages in Rafah, which is why our forces are maneuvering in Rafah. We're doing this in a targeted and precise way," Israeli chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a statement on Thursday.

"We're protecting Gazan civilians in Rafah from being a layer of protection for Hamas, by encouraging them to temporarily evacuate to humanitarian areas... So far we have eliminated dozens of Hamas terrorists, exposed dozens of terror tunnels and destroyed vast amounts of infrastructure."

Israeli forces have killed around 180 militants in Rafah so far, Hagari said in a televised news conference.

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A Palestinian man inspects the damage to a building after Israeli forces raided the West Bank city of Jenin, May 23, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

UNRWA, the main United Nations agency in Gaza, estimated as of Monday that more than 800,000 people had fled Rafah since Israel began targeting the city in early May, despite international pleas for restraint.

Suze van Meegan, the Norwegian Refugee Council's Emergency Response Leader in Gaza, said many civilians were still stuck.

"The city of Rafah is now comprised of three entirely different worlds: the east is an archetypal war zone, the middle is a ghost town, and the west is a congested mass of people living in deplorable conditions," she said in a statement.

In parallel, Israeli forces stepped up a ground offensive in Jabalia, where the military has razed several residential areas, and struck nearby Beit Hanoun town, areas where Israel declared major operations over months ago. Israel says it has had to return to prevent Hamas from regrouping there.

Hamas media said 12 Palestinians were killed in an air strike on a store belonging to the welfare ministry east of Deir Al-Balah city in the central Gaza Strip, and that 10 more were killed in an air strike on a residential building in Gaza City.

Except for the intensive care unit and the neonatal unit, power was stopped at the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip amid huge fuel shortages, medics said.

The Israeli military said in a statement forces began conducting targeted raids in Beit Hanoun "to eliminate terrorists, locate and strike terror infrastructure, below and above the ground."

It said its operations had killed Hussein Fiad, the Commander of Hamas’ Beit Hanoun Battalion in an underground area in Jabalia in northern Gaza.

"Fiad was responsible for launching a significant number of the anti-tank missiles that were fired at Israeli territory throughout the war, along with extensive mortar fire toward Israeli communities near the northern Gaza Strip," it said in a statement.

A senior Hamas security official, Diaa Aldeen Al-Shurafa, was also killed in an Israeli strike as he toured residential districts of Gaza City, the interior ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said.

The Israeli military said three soldiers had been killed in the fighting on Wednesday, raising the number killed since Gaza incursions began on Oct. 20 to 286 soldiers.