Israel Sets Ramadan Deadline for Assault on Gazan City Rafah

Palestinian women mourn the death of relatives in an Israeli air strike in Gaza's Deir al-Balah. AFP
Palestinian women mourn the death of relatives in an Israeli air strike in Gaza's Deir al-Balah. AFP
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Israel Sets Ramadan Deadline for Assault on Gazan City Rafah

Palestinian women mourn the death of relatives in an Israeli air strike in Gaza's Deir al-Balah. AFP
Palestinian women mourn the death of relatives in an Israeli air strike in Gaza's Deir al-Balah. AFP

Israel has threatened to invade Gaza's Rafah by the start of Ramadan if Hamas does not return the remaining hostages by then, despite international pressure to protect Palestinian civilians sheltering in the southern city.
With prospects for truce talks dimmed, the United States and other governments, as well as the United Nations, have issued increasingly urgent appeals to Israel to call off its planned offensive on Rafah, AFP said on Monday.
The Israeli government says the city on the Egypt border is the last remaining stronghold in Gaza of the Palestinian group Hamas.
But it is also where three-quarters of the displaced Palestinian population has fled, taking shelter in sprawling tent encampments without access to adequate food, water or medicine.
"The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know —- if by Ramadan our hostages are not home, the fighting will continue everywhere, including the Rafah area," Benny Gantz, a retired military chief of staff, told a conference of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Sunday.
"Hamas has a choice. They can surrender, release the hostages and the civilians of Gaza can celebrate the feast of Ramadan," added Gantz, a member of the three-person war cabinet.
Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, is expected to begin around March 10.
But where Palestinians can go after four months of war have flattened vast swathes of the Strip remains unclear.
"There's no safe place. Even the hospital is not safe," Ahmad Mohammed Aburizq told AFP from the morgue of a Rafah hospital where mourners gathered around a loved one wrapped in a white body bag.
"That's my cousin -- he was martyred in Al-Mawasi, in the 'safe area'. And my mother was martyred the day before."
'Total victory'
For weeks, international mediators have sought to broker a truce-for-hostages deal that would pause fighting for six weeks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has played down the possibility of an impending breakthrough, calling Hamas's demands "delusional".
Even if a deal is struck, he insists the campaign to eliminate Hamas from Gaza will not be completed until clearing Rafah.
"Deal or no deal, we have to finish the job to get total victory," he said at the Jerusalem conference on Sunday.
With international pressure piling on Israel, the UN's top court will open a week of hearings from Monday examining the legal consequences of the country's 57-year occupation of Palestinian territories.
The hearings, requested by the UN General Assembly, are separate from South Africa's high-profile case alleging Israel is committing genocide in its current Gaza offensive.
At the UN's Security Council, the United States signaled it would veto the latest UN draft resolution seeking an immediate ceasefire should it come to a vote this week.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the resolution would jeopardize the ongoing truce talks, as well as the broader aim of "an enduring resolution of hostilities".
Western governments have increasingly pushed for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state to be part of that wider peace process, but Israel's government on Sunday unanimously adopted a declaration rejecting such recognition
"After the terrible massacre of October 7, there can be no greater reward for terrorism than that and it will prevent any future peace settlement," Netanyahu said.
Hamas has meanwhile threatened to suspend its involvement in any ceasefire negotiations unless relief supplies reach Gaza's north, where aid agencies have warned of looming famine.
'Crying from hunger'
On Sunday morning, dozens of Israelis blocked Gaza-bound aid trucks from entering through the Nitzana crossing with Egypt, AFP reporters and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.
Gazans say they are going so hungry they are grinding animal feed into flour.
"My children are starving, they wake up crying from hunger. Where do I get food for them?" a northern Gazan woman told AFP.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said nearly three in four people are drinking contaminated water.
"The speed of deterioration in Gaza is unprecedented," it said.
After a week-long siege, the largest hospital still functional in Gaza is no longer operational, according to the World Health Organization.
At least 20 of the 200 patients still at the Nasser Hospital urgently require relocation to other facilities, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that his organization "was not permitted to enter" the site.
Seven patients, including a child, have died there since Friday due to power cuts, and "70 medical staff including intensive care doctors" have been arrested, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht said diesel and oxygen supplies had been delivered on Saturday and a temporary generator was running.
Israeli troops in Khan Yunis were still operating around the hospital on Sunday after the military said it had "located additional weapons".
Israel has concentrated its military operations in Khan Yunis, just a few kilometers from Rafah and the hometown of Hamas's Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, who is accused of orchestrating the October 7 attack.
The Hamas assault that launched the war killed about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.
Israel's retaliatory campaign in Gaza has killed at least 28,985 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.



Israel Strikes Gaza, Yemen, Lebanon Foes after Attacks

Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
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Israel Strikes Gaza, Yemen, Lebanon Foes after Attacks

Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)
Smoke rises from a building hit by an Israeli strike in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on July 20, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)

The Middle East was reeling Sunday from deadly violence with Israel bombing Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen in quick succession in response to attacks from Iran-backed militant groups.
Despite Washington's top diplomat asserting a deal is near the "goal line" to end more than nine months of devastating war between Israel and Gaza rulers Hamas, the Israeli military said it intercepted a missile fired from Yemen, as it pressed on with its offensive in the besieged Palestinian territory, Agence France Presse reported.
Dozens have been killed since Saturday across the Gaza Strip, the civil defense agency said, including in strikes on homes in the central Nuseirat and Bureij areas and displaced people near southern Khan Yunis.
Residents said a major operation was underway in the district of Rafah in the south, reporting heavy artillery and clashes.
The deadly strikes in Gaza came hours after Hezbollah and its ally Hamas said they fired at Israeli positions from south Lebanon, while Yemen's Houthi group vowed to respond to Israeli warplanes hitting a key port.
The fire left raging by the strikes on Hodeida port "is seen across the Middle East and the significance is clear," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said.
Detailing the first strikes claimed by Israel in Yemen, Gallant warned of further operations if the Houthis "dare to attack us" after a Houthi drone strike killed one in Tel Aviv on Friday.
In Hodeida three people were killed and 87 wounded, health officials said in a statement carried by Houthi media.
Netanyahu travels to Washington
The trio of militant groups has vowed to keep up attacks on Israel until a truce ends the violence in Gaza, which lies in ruins, with most residents forced to flee their homes.
The Gaza war was triggered by Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom are still in Gaza, including 42 the Israeli military says are dead.
Israel's military retaliation to wipe out Hamas has killed at least 38,919 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
The war has also unleashed hunger and health crises in Gaza, with Israel and the United Nations trading blame for vital aid supplies failing to reach those in need.
After the detection of poliovirus in Gaza sewage, though no individual cases, the World Health Organization said there were "monumental" constraints to mounting a timely response.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Friday the agency believes many more diseases are "spreading out of control" inside Gaza.
The premier is due to address US lawmakers Wednesday in Washington, where he will be under pressure to reach a ceasefire with Hamas.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday a truce was within reach.
"I believe we're... driving toward the goal line in getting an agreement that would produce a ceasefire, get the hostages home, and put us on a better track to trying to build lasting peace and stability," he said.