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Israeli forces have entered Rafah in southern Gaza

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Israel has confirmed its soldiers entered and struck parts of Rafah in southern Gaza, where an estimated 1.4 million people are sheltering.
Israeli forces have taken control of parts of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Israeli forces have entered the southern Gazan city of Rafah, in an operation they say is aimed at destroying Hamas targets.

In February, Israel vowed to advance into Rafah, where at least 1.4 million Palestinian people are estimated to be seeking refuge from the war.

Global powers, including the UN and U.S, have repeatedly warned Israel that attacking Rafah could significantly worsen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Background

On 7 October, Hamas launched an attack on Israel. According to data cited by the UN, roughly 1,200 people were killed.

Hamas, which Australia lists as a terrorist organisation, captured about 240 hostages. 133 remain captive.

Israel responded by declaring war and bombarding Gaza. According to data cited by the UN, more than 34,700 Palestinians have been killed since 7 October. Israel’s war in Gaza has caused a humanitarian crisis.

Rafah

At the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, the Israeli military’s focus was on the north of the territory.

As a result, civilians fled to southern areas of Gaza, including Rafah.

Israel’s military has since moved southwards. At least 1.4 million people are currently sheltering in Rafah and an adjacent refugee camp to avoid the violence, according to local estimates.

Rafah is approximately 64 square kilometres, meaning there are nearly 22,000 people per square kilometre. That makes it one of the most population-dense locations in the world.

The city is a critical point of entry for trucks delivering humanitarian aid from Egypt. Earlier this year, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, warned a ground invasion in Rafah would bring “catastrophe on top of catastrophe”.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also previously said an assault on Rafah would end up “killing thousands more civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee”.

Evacuation

Yesterday, senior Israeli ministers approved plans for the country’s army to move into Rafah.

About 100,000 civilians were told by the IDF to evacuate to two nearby cities in southern Gaza, Al-Mawasi and Khan Yunis. However, the Red Cross said “there’s…no room for 100,000 people in the areas [they] have been told to flee to“.

IDF strikes

The IDF has confirmed it’s taken control of the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing.

It said it had struck about “50 terrorist targets” in eastern Rafah and “eliminated 20 terrorists”.

The IDF also said it had uncovered three tunnels being used by Hamas in Rafah.

UN response

The main UN agency that aids Palestinians in Gaza has said: “The biggest problem we have in the last 24 – 48 hours is the [Rafah] border crossing and not having enough aid supplies come in…

“The catastrophic hunger faced by people, especially in northern Gaza will get much worse if these supply routes are interrupted.“

U.S. response

The U.S. is Israel’s closest ally.

According to the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden spoke to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday and warned him against launching an invasion into Rafah.

National security spokesperson John Kirby said: “We’ve been very clear that we don’t support a major ground operation in Rafah [and] operations in general that put at greater risk the more than a million people that are sheltering there.”

Ceasefire

Shortly after Israel indicated it would enter Rafah, Hamas declared it would agree to a variation of the latest ceasefire deal proposed in Egypt last month.

A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said “the Hamas proposal is far from meeting Israel’s core demands”.

Israel said it sent a delegation to Egypt to work towards “reaching an agreement on terms acceptable to Israel”.

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