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Israeli forces thrust deeper into Rafah as diplomacy falters

By Thomson Reuters Jun 13, 2024 | 2:19 AM

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

CAIRO (Reuters) – Israeli tanks advanced deeper into the western area of Rafah, amid one of the worst nights of bombardment from air, ground, and sea, forcing many families to flee their homes and tents under darkness, residents said on Thursday.

Residents said the Israeli forces thrust towards the Al-Mawasi area of Rafah near the beach, which is designated as a humanitarian area in all announcements and maps published by the Israeli army since it began its Rafah offensive in May.

The Israeli military denied in a statement it had launched any strikes inside the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone.

Israel said its assault aimed to wipe out Hamas’ last intact combat units in Rafah, a city which had sheltered more than a million people before the latest advance began. Most of those people have now moved north towards Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said in a statement it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” on Rafah, saying forces in the past day had located weapons, and killed Palestinian gunmen in close-range combat.

Over the past day, the military said it had struck 45 targets across the Gaza Strip from the air, including military structures, militant cells, rocket launchers, and tunnel shafts.

Israel has ruled out peace until Hamas is eradicated, and much of Gaza lies in ruins. But Hamas has proven resilient, with militants resurfacing to fight in areas where Israeli forces had previously declared to have defeated them and pulled back.

CEASEFIRE PROPOSAL

The group welcomed a new U.S. ceasefire proposal but made some amendments, reaffirming its stance that any agreement must secure an end to the war, a demand Israel still rejects.

Israel described Hamas’s response to the new U.S. peace proposal as total rejection. But the efforts to secure agreement are still continuing, according to mediators Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States.

Since a brief week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on a permanent end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Hamas precipitated the war when militants stormed from Israeli-blockaded Gaza into southern Israel in a lightning strike last Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking over 250 hostages back to the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s invasion and bombardment of Gaza since then has killed at least 37,000 people, according to the territory’s health ministry. Thousands more are feared buried dead under rubble, with most of the 2.3 million population displaced.

(Reporting and writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi. Additional reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Gareth Jones)