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Hamas health ministry: ‘Around 100’ killed in Israeli Rafah strikes

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PALESTINIAN Territories—Predawn Israeli strikes in the southern Gaza city of Rafah killed “around 100” people on Monday, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry said in a statement.

The statement revised upward the ministry’s earlier toll of 52 people killed in the strikes on the city along the Egyptian border.

The Israeli military said in a statement on Monday that it had “conducted a series of strikes on terror targets in the area of Shaboura in the southern Gaza Strip,” adding the strikes had concluded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his army to prepare a ground offensive on Rafah, Gaza’s last major population center that troops have yet to enter after Hamas’s October 7 attacks sparked the war.

About 1.4 million Palestinians have crowded into Rafah, with many living in tents while food, water and medicine are becoming increasingly scarce.

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The strikes followed Hamas’ warning Israel on Sunday that a ground offensive in Rafah, crowded with displaced Gazans, would imperil future hostage releases, while US President Joe Biden urged the protection of civilians in the besieged territory.

Foreign governments, including Israel’s key ally the United States, and aid groups have voiced deep concern over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to extend operations into the far-southern Gaza city.

Rafah, on the border with Egypt, has remained the last refuge for Palestinians fleeing Israel’s relentless bombardment elsewhere in the Gaza Strip in its four-month war against Hamas, triggered by the group’s Oct. 7 attack.

“Any attack by the occupation army on the city of Rafah would torpedo the exchange negotiations,” a Hamas leader told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Netanyahu has told troops to prepare to enter the city which now hosts more than half of Gaza’s total population, spurring concern about the impact on displaced civilians.

Biden spoke to Netanyahu on the phone Sunday and told him the Gaza advance should not go ahead in the absence of a “credible” plan to ensure “the safety” of people sheltering there, the White House said.

About 1.4 million Palestinians have crowded into Rafah, with many living in tents while food, water and medicine are becoming increasingly scarce.

Netanyahu had told US broadcaster ABC News the Rafah operation would go ahead until Hamas is eliminated, adding he would provide “safe passage” to civilians wishing to leave.

When pressed about where they could go, Netanyahu said: “You know, the areas that we’ve cleared north of Rafah, plenty of areas there. But, we are working out a detailed plan.”

Mediators held new talks in Cairo for a pause in the fighting and the release of some of the 132 hostages Israel says are still in Gaza, including 29 thought to be dead.

Hamas seized about 250 hostages on Oct. 7, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. Dozens were released during a one-week truce in November.

Hamas’s military wing on Sunday said two hostages had been killed and eight others seriously wounded in Israeli bombardment in recent days, a claim AFP is unable to independently verify.

Netanyahu has faced calls for early elections and mounting protests over his administration’s failure to bring home the hostages.

Israeli strikes have long hit targets in Rafah, and combat on Sunday seemed intense several kilometers to the north in Khan Yunis city. AFP correspondents heard repeated explosions and saw plumes of black smoke.

Israel’s military said troops were conducting “targeted raids” in the west of Khan Yunis, southern Gaza’s main city, while Hamas reported violent clashes and said air strikes also hit Rafah.

Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Israel has responded with a relentless offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that the territory’s health ministry says has killed at least 28,176 people, mostly women and children.

Hamas said dozens of bodies had been found in Gaza City, in the coastal strip’s north, after Israeli ground troops withdrew from the area.

Most of them “were martyred by bullets of snipers”, the group said in a statement.

Since the start of the war, violence has also surged on the occupied West Bank.

On Sunday, troops near Bethlehem shot a man who tried to stab a soldier, the Israeli army said.

The same day, Israeli police said officers shot dead a knife-wielding suspect in the Muslim quarter of annexed east Jerusalem’s Old City.

Hossam al-Sharqawi of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies told reporters that “every day our ambulance guys (in Gaza) are martyred or injured”.

“This is unacceptable, this madness must stop.”

The United States, United Nations and many governments have voiced deep concern over Netanyahu’s plans to invade the city, where some 1.4 million people have crowded, with many living in tents amid increasingly scarce supplies of food, water and medicine.

Biden “reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there,” the White House said in a readout of the two leaders’ Sunday morning call.

A senior US administration official added that “under current conditions” Washington “could not support a military operation in Rafah because of the density of the population.”

The civilian population has “nowhere to go,” the official said.

Netanyahu, in extracts of an interview published Saturday evening, insisted the Rafah operation would go ahead “while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave.”

When pressed about where the population was supposed to go, Netanyahu said in the interview aired Sunday: “You know, the areas that we’ve cleared north of Rafah, plenty of areas there. But, we are working out a detailed plan.”

Not entering Rafah and confronting holdout Hamas battalions would amount to losing the war, the prime minister said.

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