Saturday , June 22 2024

‘Constant shelling’ reported in Rafah as thousands flee


RAFAH/ GAZA CITY: People in the southern Gaza city of Rafah say Israeli shelling continues, with tanks massed near built-up areas.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees says 80,000 people have left the area since Monday, when Israel warned people to evacuate.

On Wednesday night, President Joe Biden said the US would not supply weapons to Israel for a major offensive in Rafah.

Biden says if Israeli troops enter the densely-packed city “we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

Israel’s far-right minister Itamar Ben-Gvir condemns the move, writing on X: “Hamas Loves Biden.”

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron says the UK would not support an offensive in Rafah without “a very clear plan for how to protect people.”

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded areas of Rafah on Thursday, Palestinian residents said, after U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to withhold weapons from Israel if its forces launch a major invasion of the southern Gaza city.

As ceasefire talks continued in Cairo, Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad said their fighters fired anti-tank rockets and mortars at Israeli tanks massed on the eastern outskirts of the city.

Residents and medics in Rafah, the biggest urban area in Gaza not yet overrun by Israeli ground forces, said an Israeli attack by a mosque killed at least three people and wounded others in the eastern Brazil neighborhood.

Video footage from the scene showed the minaret lying in the rubble, two bodies wrapped in blankets and a wounded man being carried away.

On the city’s eastern edge, residents said a helicopter opened fire, while drones hovered above houses in several areas, some close to rooftops.

Israel says Hamas militants are hiding in Rafah, where the population has been swelled by hundreds of thousands of Gazans seeking refuge from bombardments elsewhere in the coastal enclave, and it needs to eliminate them for its own security.

One of the displaced, Mohammad Abder-Rahman, said he feared the Israeli bombardments presaged an invasion of the city.

“It reminds me of what happened before Israeli tanks stormed our residential areas in Gaza City, heavy bombardment usually allows tanks to roll towards places they intend to invade,” the 42-year-old told media via a messaging app.

Ceasefire talks in Egypt’s capital made some headway but no deal was reached, according to two Egyptian security sources.

“Over the past few hours, we’ve been adjusting and adding and deleting points based on consultations with both sides,” one of the sources said.

The Hamas delegation left for Doha for consultations, blaming Israel for the lack of agreement so far.

Biden, who says Israel has not produced a convincing plan to safeguard civilians in Rafah, issued his starkest warning yet against a full ground invasion.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah … I’m not supplying the weapons,” Biden told media in an interview on Wednesday.

Israeli tanks seized the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Tuesday, cutting off a vital aid route and forcing 80,000 people to flee the city this week, according to the United Nations.

“The toll on these families is unbearable. Nowhere is safe,” the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said in a post on X.

An Israeli military statement on Gaza operations on Thursday morning did not refer to Rafah. (Int’l News Desk)

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