Israel Intensifies Airstrikes on Gaza's Rafah Before Ground Operation

25 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Rafah: Palestinians inspect a house that was destroyed following an Israeli airstrike. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa
25 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Rafah: Palestinians inspect a house that was destroyed following an Israeli airstrike. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa
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Israel Intensifies Airstrikes on Gaza's Rafah Before Ground Operation

25 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Rafah: Palestinians inspect a house that was destroyed following an Israeli airstrike. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa
25 April 2024, Palestinian Territories, Rafah: Palestinians inspect a house that was destroyed following an Israeli airstrike. Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa

Israel stepped up airstrikes on Rafah overnight after saying it would evacuate civilians from the southern Gazan city and launch an all-out assault despite allies' warnings this could cause mass casualties.
Medics in the besieged Palestinian enclave reported five Israeli airstrikes on Rafah early on Thursday that hit at least three houses, killing at least six people including a local journalist.
In the seventh month of a devastating air and ground war against Hamas, Israeli forces also resumed bombarding northern and central areas of the enclave, as well as east of Khan Younis in the south.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's war cabinet was holding meetings "to discuss how to destroy the last vestiges, the last quarter of Hamas' battalions, in Rafah and elsewhere," government spokesperson David Mencer said.
He declined to say when or whether the classified forum might give a green light for a ground operation in Rafah.
Israeli warplanes had hammered the north for a second day on Wednesday, shattering weeks of comparative calm there.
The war, now in its seventh month, has killed at least 34,305 Palestinians, Gaza health authorities said on Thursday. The offensive has laid to waste much of the densely populated and widely urbanized enclave, displacing most of its 2.3 million people and leaving many with little food, water or medical care.
Escalating Israeli warnings about invading Rafah, the last refuge for around a million civilians who fled Israeli forces further north earlier in the war, have nudged some families to leave for the nearby al-Mawasi coastal area or try to make their way to points further north, residents and witnesses said.
But the number of displaced people departing Rafah, abutting Gaza's southern border with Egypt, remained small. Many were confused over where they should go, saying their experience over the past 200 days of war had taught them that no place was genuinely safe.

Western countries, including the United States, have pleaded with Israel to hold back from attacking the city, saying this could cause a humanitarian disaster given the presence of many displaced people with only rudimentary shelter and little food or access to medical care.



In Lebanon, Top French Diplomat Seeks Israel-Hezbollah De-Escalation

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne is visiting Lebanon as part of a renewed push for calm as fighting intensifies between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. AFP
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne is visiting Lebanon as part of a renewed push for calm as fighting intensifies between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. AFP
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In Lebanon, Top French Diplomat Seeks Israel-Hezbollah De-Escalation

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne is visiting Lebanon as part of a renewed push for calm as fighting intensifies between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. AFP
French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne is visiting Lebanon as part of a renewed push for calm as fighting intensifies between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement. AFP

France's top diplomat on Sunday urged de-escalation between Israel and the Hezbollah movement during his second visit to Lebanon since cross-border tensions flared alongside the Gaza war.
Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group have exchanged near-daily fire since Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel sparked the war in Gaza.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks, with Israel striking deeper into Lebanese territory, while Hezbollah has stepped up its missile and drone attacks on military positions in northern Israel, said AFP.
The United States has led diplomatic efforts to halt violence along the border with Israel, with France also seeking ways to calm tensions.
Paris presented to both Lebanon and Israel an initiative earlier this year seeking to end hostilities.
"We refuse a worst-case scenario... No one has any interest in Israel and Hezbollah continuing this escalation. This is my message here," French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne told reporters in Beirut.
He said he "will bring this same message to Israel on Tuesday,"
Hezbollah has repeatedly declared that only a ceasefire in Gaza will put an end to its attacks on Israel.
A French diplomatic source told AFP that the volume of cross-border attacks had doubled since April 13.
Ahead of the press conference Sejourne met Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati, army chief Joseph Aoun and influential parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally.
Proposals 'to avoid war'
A return to stability "requires the redeployment of armed forces in southern Lebanon," he added, referring to a region where Hezbollah holds sway.
In March, Beirut submitted its response to the French initiative, based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.
The resolution called for the removal of weapons in southern Lebanon from everyone except the army and other state security forces.
The objective of that roadmap, Sejourne said, "is to achieve the full implementation by all parties of Security Council Resolution 1701."
Berri and Mikati both said that Lebanon was keen on implementing the UN resolution, according to separate statements following their meetings with Sejourne.
"The French initiative constitutes a practical framework for implementing Resolution 1701, which Lebanon is committed to implementing in full, while demanding Israel commit to it and stop its destructive aggression against southern Lebanon," Mikati said in a statement.
More than four years into an economic collapse, and essentially leaderless, Lebanon is ill-prepared for regional conflict.
Mikati has for about two years headed a caretaker government with reduced powers after a general election failed to deliver a majority to either of Lebanon's rival power blocs.
The country has not had a president since late 2022 when Michel Aoun's mandate ended without agreement on a successor.
"Without an elected president, without a fully-functioning government, Lebanon will not... be invited to the discussion table," he said.
Earlier in the day Sejourne visited the headquarters of the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL), which includes around 700 French troops.
Sejourne reiterated that Paris has been making proposals to "avoid war in Lebanon".
Since October 8 at least 385 people have been killed in Lebanon, including 254 Hezbollah fighters and dozens of civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israel says 11 soldiers and nine civilians have been killed on its side of the border.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides.