Israel Says It Is Poised to Move on Rafah

A woman and a girl search for items through the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 24, 2024 following reported Israeli air strikes overnight. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
A woman and a girl search for items through the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 24, 2024 following reported Israeli air strikes overnight. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
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Israel Says It Is Poised to Move on Rafah

A woman and a girl search for items through the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 24, 2024 following reported Israeli air strikes overnight. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
A woman and a girl search for items through the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 24, 2024 following reported Israeli air strikes overnight. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel's military is poised to evacuate Palestinian civilians from Rafah and assault Hamas hold-outs in the southern Gaza Strip city, a senior Israeli defense official said on Wednesday, despite international warnings of humanitarian catastrophe.

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government said Israel was "moving ahead" with a ground operation, but gave no timeline.

The defense official said Israel's Defense Ministry had bought 40,000 tents, each with the capacity for 10 to 12 people, to house Palestinians relocated from Rafah in advance of an assault.

Video circulating online appeared to show rows of square white tents going up in Khan Younis, a city some 5 km (3 miles) from Rafah. Reuters could not verify the video but reviewed images from satellite company Maxar Technologies which showed tent camps on Khan Younis land that had been vacant weeks ago.

An Israeli government source said Netanyahu's war cabinet planned to meet in the coming two weeks to authorize civilian evacuations, expected to take around a month.

The defense official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that the military could go into action immediately but was awaiting a green light from Netanyahu.

Rafah, which abuts the Egyptian border, is sheltering more than a million Palestinians who fled the half-year-old Israeli offensive through the rest of Gaza, and say the prospect of fleeing yet again is terrifying.

"I have to make a decision whether to leave Rafah because my mother and I are afraid an invasion could happen suddenly and we won't get time to escape," said Aya, 30, who has been living temporarily in the city with her family in a school.

She said that some families recently moved to a refugee camp in coastal Al-Mawasi, but their tents caught fire when tank shells landed nearby. "Where do we go?"

HITTING HARD

Israel, which launched its war to annihilate Hamas after the group's Oct. 7 attacks on Israeli towns, says Rafah is home to four Hamas combat battalions reinforced by thousands of retreating fighters, and it must defeat them to achieve victory.

"Hamas was hit hard in the northern sector. It was also hit hard in the center of the Strip. And soon it will be hit hard in Rafah, too," Brigadier-General Itzik Cohen, commander of Israel's 162nd Division operating in Gaza, told Kan public TV.

But Israel's closest ally Washington has called on it to set aside plans for an assault, and says Israel can combat Hamas fighters there by other means.

"We could not support a Rafah ground operation without an appropriate, credible, executable humanitarian plan precisely because of the complications for delivery of assistance," David Satterfield, US special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issued, told reporters on Tuesday.

"We continue discussions with Israel on what we believe are alternate ways of addressing a challenge which we recognize, which is Hamas military present in Rafah."

Egypt says it will not allow Gazans to be pushed across the border onto its territory. Cairo had warned Israel against moving on Rafah, which "would lead to massive human massacres, losses (and) widespread destruction", its State Information Service said.

Israel has withdrawn most of its ground troops from southern Gaza this month but kept up air strikes and conducted raids into areas its troops abandoned. Efforts by the United States, Egypt and Qatar to broker an extended ceasefire in time to head off an assault on Rafah have so far failed.

Gaza medical officials say than 34,000 people have been killed in Israel's military campaign, with thousands more bodies feared buried under rubble.

Hamas killed 1,200 people and abducted 253 on Oct 7, according to Israeli tallies. Of those hostages, 129 remain in Gaza, Israeli officials say. More than 260 Israeli troops have been killed in ground fighting since Oct 20, the military says.

H. A. Hellyer, a senior associate fellow in international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said he expected the assault on Rafah "sooner rather than later" because Netanyahu is under pressure to meet his stated objectives of rescuing hostages and killing all the Hamas leaders.

"The invasion of Rafah is unavoidable because of the way he has framed all of this," he said. But it will not be possible for everyone to leave the city, so "if he sends the military into Rafah, there are going to be a lot of casualties". 



US Military Pier Operations in Gaza Suspended after Piece Breaks Off

US Navy personnel construct a JLOTS, which stands for "Joint Logistics Over-the Shore" temporary pier which will provide a ship-to-shore distribution system to help deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, in an undated handout picture in the Mediterranean Sea. (US Central Command/Handout via Reuters/File Photo)
US Navy personnel construct a JLOTS, which stands for "Joint Logistics Over-the Shore" temporary pier which will provide a ship-to-shore distribution system to help deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, in an undated handout picture in the Mediterranean Sea. (US Central Command/Handout via Reuters/File Photo)
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US Military Pier Operations in Gaza Suspended after Piece Breaks Off

US Navy personnel construct a JLOTS, which stands for "Joint Logistics Over-the Shore" temporary pier which will provide a ship-to-shore distribution system to help deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, in an undated handout picture in the Mediterranean Sea. (US Central Command/Handout via Reuters/File Photo)
US Navy personnel construct a JLOTS, which stands for "Joint Logistics Over-the Shore" temporary pier which will provide a ship-to-shore distribution system to help deliver humanitarian aid into Gaza, in an undated handout picture in the Mediterranean Sea. (US Central Command/Handout via Reuters/File Photo)

A part of the US military's pier off Gaza has broken off, rendering it temporarily inoperable, two US officials said, in the latest blow to efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said bad weather was believed to be the reason that the part had broken off. They did not say how big the part was or speculate on how long it would take for the pier to resume operations.

The pier was announced by US President Joe Biden in March and involved the military assembling the floating structure off the coast. Estimated to cost $320 million for the first 90 days and involve about 1,000 US service members, it went into operation two weeks ago.

Since the pier began operations, the United Nations has transported 137 trucks of aid from the pier - the equivalent of 900 metric tons - said a UN World Food Program (WFP) spokesperson.