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16 Jul 2024 19:05
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  •   Home > News > International

    IDF strikes kill at least 45 Palestinians, drive new wave of displacement as Israel pushes into Rafah

    Gaza's health ministry says at least 25 Palestinians have been killed in Al-Mawasi, a tented "humanitarian area" on the coast north of Rafah, and 50 wounded.


    Israeli forces pounded Rafah in southern Gaza on Friday, as well as other areas across the enclave, killing at least 45 Palestinians as troops engaged in close-quarter combat with Hamas militants.

    Residents said the Israelis appeared to be trying to complete their capture of Rafah, which borders Egypt and has been the focus of an Israeli assault since early May.

    Tanks were forcing their way into the western and northern parts of the city, having already captured the east, south and centre.

    Firing from planes, tanks and ships off the coast on Friday drove a new wave of displacement from the city, which had been sheltering more than 1 million displaced people, most of whom have now had to flee again.

    Palestinian and United Nations figures show that fewer than 100,000 people likely now remain in the area.

    Gaza's health ministry said at least 25 Palestinians were killed in Al-Mawasi, a "humanitarian area" on the coast north of Rafah, and 50 were wounded. Witnesses said a tank shell had hit a tent housing displaced families.

    "Two tanks climbed a hilltop overseeing Mawasi and they sent balls of fire that hit the tents of the poor people displaced in the area," one resident told the Reuters news agency.

    The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a post on social media X that its Gaza office was damaged when heavy-calibre projectiles landed nearby.

    "This grave security incident is one of several in recent days; previously, stray bullets have reached ICRC structures," the humanitarian organisation said.

    "We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk."

    The Israeli military said the incident was under review.

    "An initial inquiry conducted suggests that there is no indication that a strike was carried out by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] in the Humanitarian Area in Al-Mawasi," it said.

    Earlier, the military said its forces were conducting "precise, intelligence-based" actions in the Rafah area, where troops were involved in ground combat and had found tunnels used by militants.

    The IDF said Israeli troops had over the past week targeted a Gazan university that served as a Hamas headquarters from which militants had fired on soldiers, and where Israeli troops later found weapons and barrel bombs.

    It did not name the university.

    Some residents said the Israeli onslaught in Rafah had intensified in the previous two days, and the sounds of explosions and gunfire had hardly stopped.

    "Last night was one of the worst nights in western Rafah: drones, planes, tanks, and naval boats bombarded the area. We feel the occupation is trying to complete the control of the city," said Hatem, 45, reached by text message.

    Israel's ground and air campaign was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on October 7 last year, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

    The offensive has left Gaza in ruins and killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.

    Strikes on Khan Younis and Gaza City

    More than eight months into the war in Gaza, Israel's advance is now focused on the last two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah, on Gaza's southern edge, and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the centre.

    "The entire city of Rafah is an area of Israeli military operations," Ahmed Al-Sofi, the mayor of Rafah, said in a statement carried by Hamas media on Friday.

    "The city is living through a humanitarian catastrophe and people are dying inside their tents because of Israeli bombardment."

    Mr Sofi said no medical facility was functioning in the city, and remaining residents and displaced families lacked the minimum daily needs of food and water.

    In nearby Khan Younis, an Israeli air strike on Friday killed three people, including a father and son, medics said.

    Elsewhere, Israeli forces continued a new push back into some Gaza City suburbs in Gaza's north, where they fought with Hamas-led militants.

    Residents said the Israelis had destroyed many homes in the heart of Gaza City on Thursday.

    On Friday, an Israeli air strike on a Gaza City municipal facility killed five people, including four municipal workers, the territory's Civil Emergency Service said, while in the nearby Beach camp, medics said an Israeli air strike on a house killed at least seven people.

    UN chief warns Lebanon cannot become another Gaza

    Also on Friday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he was profoundly concerned by escalating tensions between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group, adding that UN peacekeepers were working to calm the situation and prevent miscalculation.

    "One rash move — one miscalculation — could trigger a catastrophe that goes far beyond the border, and frankly, beyond imagination," he told reporters.

    "Let's be clear: The people of the region and the people of the world cannot afford Lebanon to become another Gaza."

    Hezbollah, an Islamist Lebanese political party and militant group backed by Iran, has been firing rockets at Israel in solidarity with Hamas since the Gaza war erupted in October, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes in Israel, where political pressure is building for tougher action.

    Tens of thousands of Lebanese have also fled their homes following Israeli strikes against southern Lebanon.

    Iran's mission to the United Nations said on Friday that Hezbollah had the capability to defend itself and Lebanon against Israel.

    "Any imprudent decision by the occupying Israeli regime to save itself could plunge the region into a new war," Iran's UN mission posted on X.

    A UN peacekeeping force, UNIFIL, as well as unarmed technical observers known as UNTSO, have long been stationed in southern Lebanon to monitor hostilities along the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel, known as the Blue Line.

    "UN peacekeepers are on the ground working to de-escalate tensions and help prevent miscalculation," Mr Guterres said.

    "The world must say loudly and clearly: immediate de-escalation is not only possible — it is essential.

    "There is no military solution."

    Reuters/ABC

    © 2024 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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