Israel Pounds Gaza as Iran Attack Threat Puts Region on Edge

A boy stands in the rubble of a house during an Israeli military operation in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City,12 April 2024. (EPA)
A boy stands in the rubble of a house during an Israeli military operation in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City,12 April 2024. (EPA)
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Israel Pounds Gaza as Iran Attack Threat Puts Region on Edge

A boy stands in the rubble of a house during an Israeli military operation in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City,12 April 2024. (EPA)
A boy stands in the rubble of a house during an Israeli military operation in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp south of Gaza City,12 April 2024. (EPA)

Residents reported heavy Israeli fire in central Gaza on Friday, with regional tensions soaring after Iran threatened reprisals over a strike in Syria this month that killed two Iranian generals.  

As talks for a truce and hostage release dragged on, fears that Iran could soon launch an attack on Israel spurred France to recommend its citizens avoid travelling to the region.  

Mohammed al-Rayes, 61, told AFP that he fled Israeli "air strikes and artillery shelling" in Al-Nusseirat, central Gaza overnight.  

"It was all fire and destruction, with so many martyrs lying in the street," he said.

Another resident, Laila Nasser, 40, reported "shells and missiles" throughout the night.

"They will do to Nuseirat what they did to Khan Y0unis," said Nasser, vowing to flee to the southernmost city of Rafah, like most of Gaza's population.  

Israeli troops pulled out of the devastated city of Khan Younis last week after months of heavy fighting, but officials said the move was in preparation for and assault on Hamas militants in Rafah.  

Authorities in the Hamas-ruled territory reported dozens of new air strikes in Gaza's central region.  

Israel's military said its aircraft had struck more than 60 militant targets in Gaza over the previous day.  

The Hamas media office said 25 people were taken to hospital in Deir al-Balah city "as a result of an air strike on a house".  

'Shoulder to shoulder'

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack against Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.  

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,634 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.  

The latest bombardments in Gaza came after Israel said it had strengthened air defenses and paused leave for combat units, following a deadly April 1 air strike that destroyed Iran's consulate building in Damascus.  

Iran blamed its arch foe Israel, which has stepped up strikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria since the Gaza war began.  

US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that Iran was "threatening to launch a significant attack" and sent the head of US Central Command, General Michael Kurilla, to Israel for urgent talks.  

The White House said on Friday that the threat from Iran remained "real".  

After meeting Kurilla, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel and the United States were "shoulder to shoulder" in facing the threat from Iran, despite recent differences over the conduct of the war in Gaza.  

"Our enemies think that they can pull apart Israel and the United States, but the opposite is true -- they are bringing us together and strengthening our ties," Gallant said. "We stand shoulder to shoulder."

Washington, which has had no diplomatic relations with Tehran since the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, also asked its allies to use their influence with Iran to urge restraint, the State Department said.  

After calls with his Australian, British and German counterparts Thursday, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said: "Iran does not seek to expand the scope of the war."  

But he added that it felt it had no choice but to respond to the deadly attack on its diplomatic mission after the UN Security Council failed to take action.  

Khaled Meshaal, a senior Hamas official, said its six-month-old battle with Israel would "break the enemy soon".

He spoke at an event in Doha, Qatar, to mourn members of Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh's family killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Wednesday.  

"This is not the final round," he said. "It is an important round on the path of liberating Palestine and defeating the Zionist project."

New crossing for aid

France on Friday warned its nationals against travelling to Iran, Israel, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, after the US embassy in Israel announced it was restricting the movements of its diplomats over security fears.  

Moscow and Berlin urged restraint.

In their October attack, Hamas militants seized about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.  

Washington has ramped up pressure on Netanyahu to agree to a truce, increase aid flows and abandon plans to send troops into Rafah.  

The Israeli army said Friday that an undisclosed number of aid trucks had been allowed to enter Gaza through a newly opened border crossing into the north of the territory.  

"The first food aid trucks entered through the new northern crossing from Israel into Gaza yesterday," the Israeli defense ministry body that oversees Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said.  

Despite repeated AFP requests for comment, Israeli authorities did not disclose how many trucks entered Thursday nor the exact location of the new crossing, which Israeli media reported to be close to the Zikim kibbutz.  

Gallant had trumpeted the new crossing on Wednesday, promising to "flood Gaza with aid", but on Thursday the UN Security Council said "more should be done to bring the required relief given the scale of needs in Gaza".  

The UN says famine is imminent in Gaza, much of which has been reduced to a bombed-out wasteland.  

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said an assessment team that visited Khan Younis found "destruction disproportionate to anything one can imagine" and three medical centers that were no longer functioning.  

Truce talks which started on Sunday in Cairo have brought no breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators, which Hamas said it was studying.  

The framework plan would halt fighting for six weeks and see the exchange of about 40 hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, as well as more aid deliveries.



Israeli Tanks at Edge of Rafah's Mawasi Refuge Zone

A man walks across  fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024.  (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
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Israeli Tanks at Edge of Rafah's Mawasi Refuge Zone

A man walks across  fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024.  (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons' camp in the northwest of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, residents said.
Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.

"The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis," said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.

More than eight months into Israel's war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza's southern tip and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the center.

Residents said Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses.

The Israeli military said it was continuing "intelligence-based, targeted operations" in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.

Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike killed eight Palestinians in Sabra, a suburb of Gaza City in the north, and another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.

The military said it had struck dozens of targets throughout the Strip.

On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas's military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.

In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said a baby had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 30, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.