Israeli Tanks Push into Rafah’s Center Amidst Global Criticism

Israeli Tanks Push into Rafah's Center Amidst Global Criticism

Tanks manoeuvre near the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Israel, May 27, 2024.

Israeli tanks reportedly advanced to the heart of Rafah on Tuesday, marking three weeks of a ground offensive in the southern Gaza city that has drawn worldwide censure for its civilian casualties. Witnesses reported tanks and armored vehicles near Al-Awda mosque, a central Rafah landmark, while the Israeli military confirmed ongoing operations in Rafah without addressing the city center advancement.

The previous night, the city endured airstrikes and tank fire, according to residents, as the offensive persisted despite international outrage over Sunday’s attack. The attack ignited a massive blaze in a tent camp, resulting in at least 45 Palestinian deaths, more than half of them children, women, and the elderly.

World leaders expressed shock at the fire in a designated “humanitarian zone” and urged the implementation of a World Court order to halt Israel’s assault. Spain, Ireland, and Norway officially recognized a Palestinian state on Tuesday, aiming to accelerate ceasefire efforts in the eight-month conflict with Hamas militants that has devastated the territory.

Residents reported ongoing bombardment in Rafah’s Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood, the site of Sunday’s attack. One resident reported via a chat app that “Tank shells are falling everywhere in Tel Al-Sultan. Many families have fled their houses in western Rafah under fire throughout the night.”

Approximately one million people have fled the Israeli offensive in Rafah since early May, according to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). A Reuters-obtained video showed families relocating again, carrying belongings through Rafah’s damaged streets, their exhausted children following behind. Moayad Fusaifas, pushing belongings on two bicycles, stated, “There are a lot of attacks, smoke and dust. It is death from God…The (Israelis) are hitting everywhere. We’re tired.”

Israeli tanks have recently moved towards western neighborhoods and established positions on the Zurub hilltop in western Rafah. Witnesses reported gunfights between Israeli troops and Hamas-led fighters in the Zurub area on Tuesday. Central Rafah witnesses reported remote-operated armored vehicles, with no immediate personnel presence. An Israeli military spokesperson had no immediate comment.

The Israeli military stated it operated overnight along the Philadelphi Corridor, which separates Gaza from Egypt, based on intelligence indicating terrorist targets. The statement reported close-quarter combat and the discovery of tunnel shafts, weapons, and militant infrastructure.

Israel has continued attacks despite the International Court of Justice’s Friday ruling ordering a stop, arguing that the ruling allows some military action. Gaza’s health ministry reports over 36,000 Palestinian deaths in Israel’s offensive. Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, resulting in around 1,200 deaths and over 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel aims to eliminate Hamas fighters in Rafah and rescue hostages it believes are held in the area. Since Sunday’s tent camp attack, at least 26 more people have been killed by Israeli fire in Rafah, according to health officials in the Hamas-run enclave. In Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, residents reported fierce fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters. In some residential districts from which Israeli forces have withdrawn, civil emergency teams reported recovering bodies from the ruins.

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