Thursday, May 23, 2024

Israel defies international censure and orders more Palestinians to evacuate Rafah -Dlight News

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Israel has ordered more people to flee Rafah as it prepares to expand its assault on the southern Gazan city despite international condemnation of its offensive in the densely populated area.

The Israel Defense Forces said on social media on Saturday that Palestinians should leave three districts close to the centre of Rafah and two refugee camps in the city. It instructed them to move to what Israel describes as a “humanitarian area” on the coast.

The UN estimates that about 150,000 people have already fled Rafah since Israel sent ground troops to the eastern edge of the city on Monday and seized the border crossing with Egypt.

Israel described that as a limited operation. But it complicated diplomatic efforts to broker a deal to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and halt the war, while straining Israel’s relations with the Biden administration.

US President Joe Biden last week paused the delivery of some arms to Israel, including 3,500 bombs, over concerns about how they could be used in the city.

This week, Biden told Israel that Washington would not supply certain offensive weapons if Benjamin Netanyahu’s government proceeded with a full-scale assault on Rafah.

It was the first time the US placed any conditions on arms deliveries to Israel since the war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 attack.

On Friday, Washington declassified a state department report sent to Congress that said Israel may have used US-made weapons in ways that violated humanitarian rights. However, it stopped short of formally accusing Israel of breaking international law.

Western states and UN aid agencies have repeatedly warned that an attack on Rafah would have disastrous humanitarian consequences. The war between Israel and Hamas has devastated Gaza, forced more than 90 per cent of the strip’s 2.3mn population from their homes and raised the spectre of famine and disease.

More than 1mn people, many of whom have been forced to move multiple times, have sought sanctuary in Rafah.

But Israel insists that it has to conduct military operations in Gaza to destroy Hamas, saying the Palestinian militant group’s four last functioning battalions are in the southern city.

Netanyahu, who faces pressure from far-right members of his governing coalition to continue waging war, has publicly shrugged off US pressure even as Israel becomes more isolated internationally.

The prime minister said this week that Israel would “stand alone”, adding that “if we have to, we will fight with our fingernails”.

The IDF on Saturday also ordered Palestinians to leave areas in Gaza’s north where it said there was fighting between Hamas and Israeli forces, including around Jabilia.

UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said the latest evacuation orders for Rafah and the areas in the north affected at least 300,000 people.

Netanyahu has vowed to eradicate Hamas and pursue “total victory” after the militant group launched its October 7 attack on Israel, killing about 1,200 people and seizing 250 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive on Gaza has killed about 34,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials.

Talks mediated by the US, Qatar and Egypt to broker a hostage and ceasefire deal broke down this week after Israel attacked Rafah and mediators failed to narrow the gaps between the warring parties over the terms of an agreement.

Netanyahu has insisted that Israel needs to maintain military pressure on Hamas alongside diplomatic efforts to secure a hostage deal.

But John Kirby, US national security spokesman, said that Washington believed “that any kind of major Rafah ground operation would actually strengthen” the hand of Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader.

“If I’m Mr Sinwar and I’m sitting down in my tunnel . . . and I’m seeing innocent people falling victim to major significant combat operations in Rafah then I have less and less incentive to want to come to the negotiating table,” Kirby said.

“I can cast Israel in the worst possible way . . . It just gives him more ammunition for his twisted narrative.”

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