Israel says Gaza war likely to last another seven months


CAIRO: Israel sent tanks on raids into Rafah on Wednesday and said its war on Hamas in Gaza would likely continue all year after Washington said the Rafah assault did not amount to a major ground operation that would trigger a change in US policy.

Israeli tanks moved into the heart of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, despite an order from the International Court of Justice to end its attacks on the city, where many Palestinians had taken refuge from widespread bombardment.

Rafah residents said the tanks had pushed into Tel Al-Sultan in western Rafah and Yibna and near Shaboura in the centre before retreating towards a buffer zone on the border with Egypt, rather than staying put as elsewhere.

“We received distress calls from residents in Tel Al-Sultan where drones targeted displaced citizens as they moved from areas where they were staying toward the safe areas,” the deputy director of ambulance and emergency services in Rafah, Haitham al Hams, said.

Israel said its military controlled three-quarters of the buffer zone on the Egyptian border and aimed to control all of it to prevent Hamas smuggling in weapons. Palestinian Health Minister Majed Abu Ramadan said there was no indication the Rafah border crossing would be reopened for aid any time soon.

Fighting in Gaza would continue throughout 2024 at least, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi added, signalling that Israel was not ready to end the war as demanded by Hamas, as part of a deal that would see the exchange of hostages is holds for Palestinian prisoners.

“The fighting in Rafah is not a pointless war,” he said, reiterating that the aim was to end Hamas rule in Gaza and stop it and its allies from attacking Israel.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah on Tuesday while saying it did not believe such an operation was underway.

Mediator Qatar was expected to pass on Israel’s latest ceasefire and hostage release proposal to Hamas on Tuesday, a person familiar with the issue said. There was no immediate word on Wednesday from Hamas, which has said talks are pointless unless Israel ends its offensive on Rafah.

The armed wing of Hamas and that of allies Islamic Jihad said they confronted invading forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and blew up explosive devices they had planted.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed and three others were badly wounded, the military said, by what public broadcaster Kan radio said was an explosive device set off in a Rafah building.

Palestinian health officials said several people were wounded by Israeli fire in eastern Rafah and stores of aid were set ablaze. Residents said constant Israeli bombardment overnight destroyed many homes in the area, from where most people have fled after orders by Israel to evacuate.

Internet and mobile signals went down in parts of both East and west as Israel attacked, the pro-Hamas Shehab news agency, residents and other journalists said. The Israeli military said it could not confirm the reports.

Some residents reported seeing what they described as unmanned robotic armoured vehicles opening fire from machine guns in parts of the city.


Gaza’s health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra called for immediate safe pathways for fuel, medical aid and medical teams to Rafah and northern Gaza, where he said there was no help for the wounded.

Around a million Palestinians who had taken shelter in Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip from Israel’s offensives elsewhere have now fled after Israeli orders to evacuate, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA reported on Tuesday.

The World Court said Israel had not explained how it would keep the Rafah evacuees safe and provide food, water and medicine. Its ruling also called on Hamas to release hostages taken from Israel on Oct. 7 immediately and unconditionally.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said it had evacuated its medical teams from its field hospital in the Al-Mawasi area, a designated civilian evacuation zone, because of continued bombardments.

In the nearby city of Khan Younis, an Israeli air strike killed three people overnight, including Salama Baraka, a former senior Hamas police officer, medics and Hamas media said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its staff, Issam Aqel, was killed in an Israeli air strike on his house in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, taking to 30 the number of staff killed since Oct 7, at least 17 of them killed on duty.

In northern Gaza, tanks shelled several Gaza City neighbourhoods, and forces thrust deeper into Jabalia, where residents said large residential districts were destroyed.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s Gaza offensive, the enclave’s health ministry said.

Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas attacked southern Israeli communities on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Malnutrition is widespread as aid deliveries have slowed to a trickle, with aid agencies accusing Israel of blocking their distribution attempts and Israel blaming the agencies.

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In a further blow to aid efforts, an aid pier put in place by the US military off Gaza’s coast was out of operation after part of it broke off, probably due to bad weather, two US officials said on Tuesday.

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