Explained | Israel’s limited military operation in Rafah

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Smoke rises after the Israeli bombardment of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday, May 6, 2024. | Photo credit: AFP

The story so far: Israel advancing with a long-awaited ground invasion of Rafah and taking control of the Gaza side of the border crossing with Egypt on Tuesday, shortly after Hamas announced it would accept a ceasefire proposal brokered by Egypt and Qatar, has cast a shadow on the prospects. of stopping the war, which has so far cost the lives of more than 34,700 people.

Israeli tanks entered the southern part of the city overnight, while warplanes bombed areas near the crucial Rafah border crossing, killing at least 23 Palestinians and wounding several others. The invasion, described by the US as a “limited operation”, came a day after the Israeli army ordered more than a million people sheltering in Rafah to evacuate parts of the southern Gaza Strip city and move to an ‘extended humanitarian zone’. near Khan Younis, in preparation for an attack to wipe out Hamas.

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The military operation in Rafah: what, why and how

Israel ordered the evacuation of Rafah after four of its soldiers were killed in a rocket attack claimed by Hamas’ armed wing near Rafah on May 5. The evacuation order sparked widespread concern about the potential impact on the millions of displaced Palestinians camping there.

The US warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against launching an offensive in southern Gaza. President Joe Biden called the impending invasion a “red line” for his administration and said further military action risked more casualties and destruction. Furthermore, in a telephone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister, the US President re-emphasized the need for a ceasefire with Hamas to protect Israeli hostages and emphasized that this is the best course of action.

Human rights groups and aid agencies also warned that an Israeli incursion could have serious consequences, possibly leading to a “bloodbath.”

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Against the backdrop of an impending large-scale military attack on Rafah, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced that the group accepted a ceasefire proposal brokered by Qatar and Egypt. Israel must decide whether to accept or oppose a ceasefire, a Hamas official said. The ball is now in Israel’s court, the official said AFP.

Israel, meanwhile, remained defiant and insisted on invading Rafah despite international pressure. Tel Aviv said it would “stand alone if it had to.”

Hours after Hamas’s announcement raised hopes of a pause in shooting, Netanyahu rejected the ceasefire deal as “far from Israel’s necessary demands,” claiming its terms were “softened” goods.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli attack on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on May 7, 2024.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli attack on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip on May 7, 2024.

In a statement, the Israeli prime minister said the war cabinet had unanimously decided to continue its operation in Rafah to “put military pressure on Hamas,” promote the release of hostages and achieve the “other objectives” of the war. It added that a delegation will nevertheless be sent to meet with mediators in Cairo “to exploit the opportunity” to reach an agreement on “terms acceptable to Israel.”

On Sunday evening, the military alert dropped leaflets and messages, ordering people to move to an extended humanitarian zone ‘Muwasi’, a makeshift tent camp. Notably, the Israeli military had issued similar evacuation orders at the start of the war in 2023, often ordering civilians to leave combat zones before offensive actions and asking them to move south to Rafah.

Shortly afterwards, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a “precise counter-terrorism operation to eliminate Hamas terrorists and infrastructure” in eastern Rafah. Twenty-three people, including six women and five children, were killed in the series of attacks and bombings in Rafah. Associated press reported.Â

For the first time since the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the Israeli army returned to the core and took control of the Rafah crossing on the Gaza side. Video clips shared online by the IDF showed Israeli flags flying at the checkpoint and on top of tanks. “The IDF will continue to pursue Hamas throughout Gaza until all hostages they are holding in captivity are returned home,” it wrote on X.

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What is the significance of Rafah for Israel?

The southern city of Rafah has served as a shelter for an estimated 1.4 million Palestinians who were forced to leave their homes to escape military action after Israel launched a military campaign following Hamas’s October 2023 attacks in Israel, killing at least 1,200 people perished.

The Rafah crossing has been a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people caught up in the conflict. The border point is the main exit point from Gaza and the only border crossing that is not directly under Israeli control. It is the center for delivering crucial aid, food and humanitarian aid, facilitating the exit of injured people and foreign passport holders from the conflict-torn area. The displaced Palestinians and residents living in tightly packed camps and apartments in Rafah are completely dependent on international aid for food and basic supplies arriving into Gaza through the Rafah crossing.

The area has emerged as a flashpoint in the escalating conflict in recent months, amid Israel’s claims that the border crossing is being used for “terrorist purposes.” Israel claimed that Rafah is Hamas’s “last bastion” and hosts thousands of refugees. fighters and possibly numerous hostages. The government claimed that four of the militant group’s 24 battalions are based in the area.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu repeatedly deemed Rafah crucial to achieving his government’s “central goal” of dismantling Hamas’ military and administrative capabilities. “It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war, which is to eliminate Hamas, by leaving four Hamas battalions. in Rafah,” Mr Netanyahu said in a statement in February

A week ago, Israeli Prime Minister Rafah vowed to invade and destroy Hamas’ remaining battalions regardless of whether a deal was reached or not. ‘The idea that we will stop the war before all objectives are achieved is out of the question. We will invade Rafah and eliminate the Hamas battalions there – with or without a deal, to achieve total victory, Netanyahu said later in a meeting with the hostages’ families.

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With Israeli forces taking control of the Rafah crossing on Tuesday, Israel now has full control over the entry and exit of people and aid. The development has sparked global concern over the fate of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, who have been left hungry and homeless. because of the war.

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