Israel shells Gaza as troops push into central Rafah

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Israeli forces attacked targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, with witnesses reporting airstrikes around the southern city of Rafah, the latest focus of the nearly eight-month war.

Israel launched its military incursion into Rafah in early May, despite international concerns over the safety of civilians sheltering in the city on Gaza’s border with Egypt.

Witnesses said on Friday that Israeli strikes hit the Rafah area and Nuseirat in central Gaza, while intense bombardments were reported in the north.

Strikes at two separate locations killed a total of 11 people in one night, medical sources said at a hospital in Deir al-Balah and the Nuseirat refugee camp.

The Israeli army said its forces were “operating in central Gaza”, where it had previously announced that troops had found rocket launchers, weapons and “tunnel shafts”.

An airstrike ‘targeted and eliminated’ a militant in the Rafah area, the army said.

In central Gaza, further airstrikes eliminated “several terrorists operating in the vicinity of” troops, the army said, without elaborating.

Israel, which has repeatedly vowed to destroy Hamas after the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7, said on Wednesday its forces had seized the 14 km Philadelphi corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border, where it claims weapons were smuggled.

Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict, has not yet officially commented on the Israeli takeover, which officials have previously said could violate the two countries’ 1979 peace deal.

Amid stalled diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire, Hamas said it had informed mediators that it would only agree to a “comprehensive” ceasefire, including an exchange of hostages and prisoners, if Israel continues its “aggression.” would stop.

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Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’s Qatar-based political bureau, reiterated Friday that the group’s core demands — including a permanent ceasefire and full Israeli withdrawal — are “non-negotiable.”

He accused Israel of “using negotiations as a cover to continue its aggression,” and said Hamas “refuses to be part of these maneuvers.”

On Thursday, Israel said its forces had killed about 300 Palestinian militants in Rafah since launching its military operation in the city.

A stream of civilians fled Rafah, carrying their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.

Assistance at sea

Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said 1.4 million people were sheltering in the city. Since then, a million people have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said.

The United Nations has warned of an impending famine in Gaza.

Israel’s seizure of the Rafah crossing has further delayed sporadic aid deliveries to Gaza’s 2.4 million residents and effectively closed the territory’s main exit.

However, Israel said this weekend that aid deliveries had been stepped up, including through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza.

Cyprus, the European Union’s easternmost member, said humanitarian aid shipped to Gaza was held at sea off the territory’s coast after a US-built pier was damaged in bad weather.

Cypriot government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said on Friday that the maritime corridor was “uninterrupted” and that the pier would be “back on track” within days.

“Our goal… is to be able to help half a million people per month, and we think this goal is achievable,” he said.

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In an interview on the French channel LCI, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed as “anti-Semitic slander” accusations that Israel had deliberately targeted the starvation of civilians in Gaza.

Mr. Netanyahu said the ratio of the number of militants to the number of civilians killed so far in the Israeli offensive is “the lowest number we have seen in an urban war.”

Car hit house

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s attack on southern Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 who the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,224 people, mostly civilians, according to Israel’s Health Ministry.

A medical official from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza said eight people, including two children, were killed in an airstrike that hit a house in the Al-Bureij refugee camp.

Another source at Al-Awda Hospital in Nuseirat reported three deaths in an attack on a car.

An AFP correspondent spotted Israeli military vehicles southwest of Gaza City, in the north of the area.

The army announced the deaths of two soldiers in Gaza, bringing to 294 the number of Israeli troops killed since ground operations began in late October.

An Israeli attack Sunday that set off a fire and killed dozens at a displaced persons camp in Rafah sparked a wave of new condemnations and led to two days of debate at the U.N. Security Council.

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Israel has said it attacked a Hamas complex and killed two senior members.

After the attack, Algeria presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council demanding an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages, but it was unclear when it would be voted on.

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