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Israeli army announces attacks in eastern Rafah as Hamas accepts mediators’ ceasefire proposal

Despite warnings from the United States and President Joe Biden’s call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) tweeted that they are “currently carrying out targeted strikes against Hamas terrorist targets in eastern Rafah.” , in southern Gaza.”

The move came less than 24 hours after the Israeli military dropped leaflets and made phone calls and sent text messages warning the 110,000 Gazans sheltered in eastern Rafah to temporarily evacuate to what it described as a humanitarian zone. in a clear sign that Israel was getting closer to carrying out an attack.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA said Israeli airstrikes hit “roads, agricultural land, residential houses and animal farms” in three neighborhoods in eastern Rafah. The Turkish media outlet Anadolu reports that the Israeli Army has intensified bombing in the east of that city.

Al Jazeera noted that there has been an escalation of airstrikes and artillery shelling in the eastern part of Rafah. These are continuous bombings of houses. The vast majority of residents in eastern Rafah have begun to flee, while the Israeli army is trying to mobilize more troops.

Witnesses told Qatari television that they heard Israeli military tanks moving through Gaza’s separation fence with Israel.

According to The Guardian, people in Rafah had already reported on Sunday night that Israeli attacks intensified with aerial bombardments that killed 26 people, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, creating an environment of growing fear that had already prompted some to flee. before the IDF issued its warnings.

Displaced Palestinians, who fled Rafah after the Israeli military began evacuating civilians from the eastern parts of the southern Gaza city, sit in the back of vehicles with their belongings, in Khan Younis, on May 6 2024. Photo: Reuters

Egyptian channel Al Qahera broadcast footage of the aftermath of an attack on an aid warehouse on the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing late in the afternoon, raising fears about weakening aid supplies with the two main crossings heading towards the enclave closed.

Since the start of Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza last year, around a million people have fled to Rafah, the enclave’s southernmost city, where they have been living in dire conditions. Israel has told civilians in many parts of Gaza to evacuate their homes for safety since the start of the war. But in many cases places that Israel said would be safe for Gazans were also targeted by Israeli airstrikes.

Israel’s closest allies, including the United States, have been urging it not to send troops to Rafah, saying such an operation would come at a high cost to civilians. But Netanyahu repeatedly rejected those calls, saying Israel needs to defend itself and eliminate Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7.

President Biden even spoke again with Netanyahu on Monday, urging him not to launch an offensive on the city of Rafah.

On Sunday, Netanyahu repeated his promises to destroy Hamas, promising in English, in a speech marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, that Israel will “defeat our genocidal enemies.”

About two weeks ago, Israeli authorities said that before advancing toward Rafah, they would expand a humanitarian zone in nearby Al-Mawasi where civilians could take refuge.

Displaced Palestinians who fled Rafah sit in the back of vehicles with their belongings, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on May 6, 2024. Photo: Reuters

On Monday, the Israeli Army assured that it had done so and that the area had field hospitals, tents and increased supplies of food, water and medicine.

The military is not calling for a “large-scale evacuation of Rafah,” military spokesman Nadav Shoshani said Monday. “This is a very targeted operation right now to get people out of harm’s way.” The order applied to both residents of Rafah and those who fled there from other parts of Gaza.

UNRWA, the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, said Monday that it would not evacuate its staff from Rafah and would continue to provide humanitarian aid to those who have taken refuge there.

“An Israeli military offensive will lead to an additional layer of an already unbearable tragedy for the people of Gaza,” Philippe Lazzarini, the agency’s commissioner general, said on social media.

The New York Times recalled that Israel, days before launching an invasion of the city of Khan Younis, in central Gaza, in early December, again urged civilians to move south. On that occasion, they also designated certain areas of the city as safe, making announcements and releasing leaflets to convey the information.

Displaced Palestinians who fled Rafah sit in the back of vehicles with their belongings, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, May 6, 2024. Photo: Reuters

In both cases, civilians reported that obeying orders was fraught with danger, leaving them with agonizing decisions and often no safe options. Northern Gaza came under intense shelling in the weeks before the invasion, while people in Khan Younis said evacuation orders were not properly communicated and sometimes left them only hours to escape.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II told US President Joe Biden that the Israeli attack on Rafah threatens to provoke a “new massacre”, according to the Jordanian royal court.

A day after talks on a ceasefire in Gaza hit a deadlock, Hamas on Monday presented new terms for a truce that its leaders said they would accept.

Israeli officials said they would review the terms Hamas said it had agreed to. Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas’s political wing, said in a statement that the terms were based on a plan drawn up by Qatar and Egypt, two countries that have been acting as mediators in the talks with Israel.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to The New York Times, said Hamas had not agreed to the terms of the latest Israeli proposal, which was on the table when talks reached an impasse on Sunday.

Palestinians react after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal from Egypt and Qatar, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on May 6, 2024. Photo: Reuters

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the proposal Hamas was now willing to accept included three phases, of 42 days each, and stressed that its main objective was a permanent ceasefire. .

Haniyeh made the announcement about Hamas’ new position on the group’s Telegram channel, saying he had told Qatar’s prime minister and the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service that Hamas had accepted “his proposal.” There was no immediate comment from Qatar or Egypt.

Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, confirmed that Hamas had “issued a response” and that the United States was reviewing it with partners in the region. He did not say whether Hamas responded to a proposal that Israel had already accepted or a different one.

Hamas negotiators left Cairo on Sunday after talks hit a deadlock and failed to reach an agreement with mediators on Israel’s latest offer.

Palestinians react after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal from Egypt and Qatar, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on May 6, 2024. Photo: Reuters

The main obstacle in the indirect negotiations, mediated by Qatar and Egypt, has been the duration of the ceasefire. Hamas has demanded a permanent ceasefire, which would effectively end the seven-month war, while Israel wants a temporary cessation of fighting that would allow the exchange of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners.

Al-Hayya, who has been leading Hamas delegations in face-to-face talks in Cairo, said the new offer also included a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the return of displaced people to their homes and a “real and serious” exchange of hostages. by Palestinian prisoners.

In its most recent proposal, Israel made some concessions, including accepting the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza and reducing the number of hostages it would accept released in the initial phase of a deal.

The Israeli military’s top spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said at a news conference: “We examine every response in a very serious matter and maximize every opportunity in the negotiations to secure the release of the hostages as a core mission.” But he assured that, at the same time, Israeli forces would “continue to operate” in Gaza.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Hamas’ announcement that it accepted a proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza, adding that he hopes Israel will do the same. Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Erdogan called on Western countries to increase pressure on Israel’s leadership to accept the deal. “We welcome Hamas’ statement that they accepted the ceasefire with our suggestion. Now Israel must take the same step,” he stated.

Al-Hayya indicated that mediators had told Hamas that Biden was committed to ensuring the implementation of the agreement. There has been no confirmation of this from Washington.

Phases two and three will last a period of 42 days each. “A return to a sustainable calm (a permanent cessation of military and hostile operations) must be announced and come into force before the exchange of captives and prisoners: all living Israeli men (civilians and soldiers) in exchange for an agreed number of prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons and detention camps. “Israeli forces will completely withdraw from the Gaza Strip,” the agreement stated, according to Al Jazeera.

The third phase, according to the text, will include: “An exchange of the bodies and remains of the dead from both sides after they have been recovered and identified. The reconstruction plan for the Gaza Strip for a period of three to five years – including housing, civil facilities and infrastructure – and compensation to all those affected, under the supervision of a number of countries and organizations, including: Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations. A complete end to the siege of the Gaza Strip.”

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