WhatsApp Logo Subscribe
For News Alert

News

Mass exodus of Palestinians as Israel seizes Rafah crossing

Israeli strikes kill 7 in Gaza: US pauses bomb shipment to Israel, completes construction of aid pier: Europe student protests spread, sparking clashes, arrests

By AFP

May 8, 2024 08:12 AM


Displaced Palestinians arriving in Khan Younis after fleeing Rafah.–AFP

Twitter Share Facebook Share WhatsApp Share

 

 

Thousands of Palestinian civilians rushed out of their family homes after Israel sent tanks into Rafah in southern Gaza, seizing the border crossing with Egypt in an operation the United Nations said denied it access to the key humanitarian passage.

The exodus of the local population was unprecedented as some loaded children and possessions onto donkey carts, some packed into cars, others simply walked. The roof of at least one car was piled high with mattresses. Another had a wheelchair stowed in the boot.

The thrust into the eastern sector of Rafah, packed with displaced civilians, came as negotiators and mediators met in Cairo in another effort to forge a hostage release and truce in the seven-month war.

A senior Hamas official, requesting anonymity, warned this would be Israel's "last chance" to free the estimated 128 captives still held in Gaza, including 36 officials say are dead.

Egypt's state-linked Al-Qahera News reported that mediators from Qatar, the United States and Egypt were meeting with a Hamas delegation.

It later reported that "all parties" including Israel had agreed to resume talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier his country's delegation was already in Cairo.

Israel's close ally Washington said it was hopeful the two sides can "close the remaining gaps".

"We're going to do everything we can to support that process," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

"Everybody's coming to the table," Kirby told reporters. "That's not insignificant."

Despite the Cairo talks, an AFP correspondent reported that Israeli strikes continued to pound east Rafah late Tuesday.

Israel's long-threatened Rafah operation began hours after Hamas announced late Monday it had accepted a truce proposal, prompting cheering crowds to take to the streets -- despite Israel saying it was "far" from plans it had previously agreed to.

Netanyahu said that "within hours" of approving the operation, "our forces raised the Israeli flags at the Rafah crossing and took down the Hamas flags".

He called it "a very important step" in denying Hamas "a passage that was essential for establishing its reign of terror".

Rafah resident Abu Aoun al-Najjar said the "indescribable joy" following the Hamas statement was short-lived.

"It turned out to be a bloody night," he told AFP, as more Israeli bombardment "stole our joy".

- Aid crossing to reopen -

Army footage showed tanks taking "operational control" of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, in a deployment that the military said had a "very limited scope against very specific targets".

UN humanitarian office spokesman Jens Laerke said Israel had denied it access to both Rafah and Kerem Shalom -- the other main aid crossing, on the border with Israel -- with only "one day of fuel available" inside Gaza.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Israel to "stop any escalation" and "immediately" reopen the crossings.

"The closure of both... crossings is especially damaging to an already dire humanitarian situation", Guterres said.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a briefing Israel's closure of the crossings was "unacceptable".

She said the Kerem Shalom crossing was expected to reopen on Wednesday.

The Pentagon meanwhile said the US military had completed construction of an aid pier off Gaza's coast, but weather conditions mean it is currently unafe to move the two-part facility into place.

Hamas's armed wing said Tuesday it fired rockets at Israeli troops at Kerem Shalom, two days after four Israeli soldiers were killed there in an attack it also claimed.

The war was sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,789 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel may "deepen" its Gaza operation if negotiations fail to bring the hostages home.

"This operation will continue until we eliminate Hamas in the Rafah area and the entire Gaza Strip, or until the first hostage returns," he said in a statement.

- Three-phase truce -

Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, and Qatar, a US ally that also hosts Hamas leaders, have taken the lead in the talks.

Hamas said Monday it had told Egyptian and Qatari officials of its "approval of their proposal regarding a ceasefire".

Netanyahu's office called the proposal "far from Israel's essential demands", but the government would still send negotiators to Cairo.

Hamas member Khalil al-Hayya told the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news channel that the proposal agreed to by Hamas involved a three-phase truce.

It included a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the return of Palestinians displaced by the war and a hostage-prisoner exchange, with the goal of a "permanent ceasefire", he said.

International alarm has been building about the consequences of an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah, where the United Nations says 1.4 million people are sheltering.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the attack on Rafah began despite European and US warnings, and it could cause many "civilian casualties".

US spokesman Kirby said Israel told Washington "that this operation last night was limited and designed to cut off Hamas's ability to smuggle weapons" into Gaza.

Egypt urged Israel to "exercise the utmost restraint", while the Organization for Islamic Cooperation condemned Israel's "criminal aggression".

- 'Tangible opportunity' -

Netanyahu had repeatedly vowed to send ground troops into Rafah regardless of any truce, saying Israel needs to root out remaining Hamas forces.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum said it had appealed to several countries to "exert your influence on the Israeli government".

In a message to ambassadors of governments with citizens among the hostages, it asked them to push for an agreement "while a tangible opportunity for the release of the hostages is on the table".

Aid groups warn the coastal "humanitarian area" of Al-Muwasi that Israel's military told people in eastern Rafah to head for unprepared for such an influx.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA, said Tuesday it was "overcrowded with more than 400,000 people".

Al-Muwasi "does not have the facilities to take more people & is not safer than other parts of Gaza", he said in a post on X.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had begun discharging patients from a field hospital in Rafah and was preparing "for a possible evacuation".

"This offensive is... going to further aggravate the damage to the health system, which is barely functioning," an MSF statement said.

 Attacks kill 7 in Gaza

An Israeli air strike killed at least seven people and wounded several others early Wednesday in Gaza City, according to a local hospital.

The strike on an apartment in the devastated northern city killed seven members of the same family, the Al-Ahli hospital said, with eyewitnesses on Wednesday also reporting strikes elsewhere in the strip, particularly around Rafah.

US pauses bomb shipment to Israel over Rafah 'concerns': official

The United States paused a shipment of bombs last week after Israel failed to address US "concerns" over its plans to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, a senior US official said Tuesday.

"We have paused one shipment of weapons last week. It consists of 1,800 2,000-lb (907 kg) bombs and 1,700 500-lb (226 kg) bombs," the senior Biden administration official said on condition of anonymity.

Europe student Gaza protests spread, sparking clashes, arrests

 Protests by students demanding universities sever ties with Israel over the Gaza war spread across western Europe on Tuesday, sparking clashes and dozens of fresh arrests.

Students at various European universities, inspired by ongoing demonstrations at US campuses, have been occupying halls and facilities, demanding an end to partnerships with Israeli institutions because of Israel's punishing assault on Gaza.

Several hundred protesters resumed a demonstration around the University of Amsterdam campus, where police the previous night were filmed baton-charging them and smashing up their tents after they refused to leave the grounds.

As protests resumed on Tuesday night, demonstrators erected barriers to access routes watched over by a heavy police deployment.

Police said in a statement that a total of 169 people had been arrested when officers broke up Monday night's protests.

All had been released apart from two still in custody on suspicion of public disorder offences.

Violence had briefly erupted Monday when a small group of counter-protesters wielding flares stormed the main protest.

Around 50 demonstrators were also protesting Tuesday outside the library in Utrecht University and a few dozen at the Technical University of Delft, according to local news agency ANP.

- Protests in Germany -

In the eastern German city of Leipzig, the university said in a statement that 50 to 60 people occupied a lecture hall on Tuesday, waving banners that read: "University occupation against genocide".

Protesters barricaded the lecture hall doors from the inside and erected tents in the courtyard, according to the university.

The institution called in the police in the afternoon, and filed a criminal complaint.

A pro-Israeli counter-protest also took place in the area, involving about 40 people, police said.

Criminal proceedings have been initiated against 13 people who were in the lecture hall on suspicion of trespassing. No arrests have been made so far.

Earlier, at Berlin's Free University, police cleared a demonstration after up to 80 people erected a protest camp in a courtyard of the campus.

The protesters, some of whom wore the keffiyeh scarf that has long been a symbol of the Palestinian cause, sat in front of tents and waved banners.

They later tried to enter rooms and lecture halls and occupy them, according to the university, which said it then called in police to clear the protest.

The university said property was damaged while classes in some buildings were suspended for the day.

Berlin police said they made some arrests for incitement to hatred and trespassing.

- France, Switzerland, Austria -

In Paris, police twice intervened at the prestigious Sciences Po university to disperse about 20 students who had barricaded themselves in the main hall.

Security forces moved in to allow other students to take their exams and made two arrests, according to Paris prosecutors. The university said exams proceeded without incident.

Police have intervened several times over the past week at Sciences Po, where protesters are demanding the university reveal its partnerships with Israeli institutions. Some 13 students are on a hunger strike, according to the university.

At the nearby Sorbonne university building, police late Tuesday moved to eject about 100 students who had occupied an amphitheatre and made 88 arrests, police sources said.

In Switzerland, protests spread to three universities in Lausanne, Geneva and Zurich.

The University of Lausanne said in a statement it "considers that there is no reason to cease these relations" with Israeli universities as protesters demand.

In Austria, dozens of protesters have been camped on the campus of Vienna University, pitching tents and stringing up banners since late Thursday.

The war in the Gaza Strip was sparked by an unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel by the Palestinian group Hamas, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,789 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

US completes construction of Gaza aid pier

 The US military has completed construction of its Gaza aid pier, but weather conditions mean it is currently unsafe to move the two-part facility into place, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The pier -- which the US military started building last month and which will cost at least $320 million -- is aimed at boosting deliveries of desperately needed humanitarian assistance to Gaza, which has been ravaged by seven months of Israeli operations against Hamas.

"As of today, the construction of the two portions of the JLOTS -- the floating pier and the Trident pier -- are complete and awaiting final movement offshore," Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told journalists, using an acronym for Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore, the official name for the pier capability.

"Today there are still forecasted high winds and high sea swells, which are causing unsafe conditions for the JLOTS components to be moved. So the pier sections and military vessels involved in its construction are still positioned at the port of Ashdod," in Israel, Singh said.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) "stands by to move the pier into position in the near future," she added.

The vessels and the under-construction pier were moved to the port due to bad weather last week. Once the weather clears, the pier will be anchored to the Gaza shore by Israeli soldiers, keeping US troops off the ground.

- New US air drop -

Aid will then be transported via commercial vessels to a floating platform off the Gaza coast, where it will be transferred to smaller vessels, brought to the pier, and taken to land by truck for distribution.

Plans for the pier were first announced by US President Joe Biden in early March as Israel held up deliveries of assistance by ground, and US Army troops and vessels soon set out on a lengthy trip to the Mediterranean to build the pier.

Some two months later, the humanitarian situation in Gaza remains dire. The United Nations said Tuesday that Israel had denied it access to the Rafah crossing -- the key entry point for aid into the besieged territory.

The White House said the closing of Rafah and the other main crossing, Karem Shalom, was "unacceptable" and needed to be reversed.

In addition to seeking to establish a maritime corridor for aid shipments, the United States has also been delivering assistance via the air.

CENTCOM said American C-130 cargo planes dropped more than 25,000 Meal Ready To Eat military rations into Gaza on Tuesday in a joint operation that also delivered the equivalent of more than 13,000 meals of Jordanian food supplies.

"To date the US has dropped 1,200 tons of humanitarian assistance," CENTCOM said in a statement.

Gaza's bloodiest-ever war broke out following Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,789 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.


AFP


Most Read

  1. Several PIA flights cancelled, delayed at Karachi Airport Several PIA flights cancelled, delayed at Karachi Airport
  2. Female salon owner injured in ‘targeted attack’ in Lahore Female salon owner injured in ‘targeted attack’ in Lahore
  3. Iqrar ul Hassan issues video statement after attacked by Peer Haq Khateeb's followers in Gujranwala Iqrar ul Hassan issues video statement after attacked by Peer Haq Khateeb's followers in Gujranwala
  4. Water tariff doubled for Lahore consumers Water tariff doubled for Lahore consumers
  5. Rakul Preet and Jackky Bhagnani celebrate 3 months of marital bliss Rakul Preet and Jackky Bhagnani celebrate 3 months of marital bliss
  6. US and Sindh govt launch $9 million initiative  to combat tuberculosis in Pakistan  US and Sindh govt launch $9 million initiative  to combat tuberculosis in Pakistan 

Opinion

  1. Hats off to Fatah-II
    Hats off to Fatah-II

    By Naveed Aman Khan

  2. New twist in PTI founder’s strategy towards Military Establishment
    New twist in PTI founder’s strategy towards Military Establishment

    By Salim Bokhari

  3. Revoke the heat stroke
    Revoke the heat stroke

    By Dr Asif Channer

  4. Defiance, sacrifice & national resilience
    Defiance, sacrifice & national resilience

    By Naveed Aman Khan

  5. Maryam Nawaz Sharif's Police Uniform: Breaking Gender Stereotypes, Not Minds
    Maryam Nawaz Sharif's Police Uniform: Breaking Gender Stereotypes, Not Minds

    By Alysha Khan

  6. Pak-Saudi-Iran economic proximity
    Pak-Saudi-Iran economic proximity

    By News Desk