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Israeli military enters Rafah and takes control of border crossing with Egypt

The two main entry points for humanitarian aid into Gaza are now closed while the population no has no way to escape from the war

Israel ataque por tierra Rafah
Internally displaced Palestinians leave Rafah following the evacuation order from the Israeli authorities, this Monday.MOHAMMED SABER (EFE)
Luis de Vega

The brochures that Israel dropped on Gaza this Monday contained several threatening messages to the population of Rafah to evacuate their places of residence. One of them said: “We warn you not to approach the east and south wall.” That wall, or fence, marks the perimeter of the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel (east) and with Egypt (south). Before dawn on Tuesday, as the war entered its eighth month, the Israeli military launched a ground operation that the authorities had been announcing for weeks amid international pressure not to do so.

The European Union and Egypt immediately criticized this attack. At the moment, the military has not launched an invasion with blood and fire and house by house, as they did in other towns in the Strip during the conflict, although they have taken control of the strategic Rafah crossing, which they claim was being “used for terrorist purposes.” A statement by the Israeli Defense Forces said that “IDF ground troops are continuing to operate against Hamas terrorist operatives and infrastructure in the area of the Rafah Crossing in eastern Rafah.”

The attack, which included agents from the Shin Bet (Israeli internal security service) and aviation support, focused on “specific” targets and in “limited areas” of eastern Rafah to try to reduce the presence of Hamas members, according to military sources. About 20 of them have been “eliminated,” as well as military structures, underground infrastructure, and additional infrastructure, the military said in a statement.

Some media outlets showed images taken before dawn from the Egyptian side, in which Israeli airstrikes continued to batter Rafah, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians are struggling to survive in tent camps, more than half of the population of Gaza. The United Nations warned that the two main entry points for humanitarian aid, the Rafah crossing and the Kerem Shalom crossing, are now closed. “With this double blockade, Israel is leading the region towards a disaster and continues with its policy of famine and persecution of the Palestinians,” Hamas denounces in a statement.

Israel launched this operation shortly after a half-hour telephone conversation between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. With this latest ground operation, the Israeli leader seeks to demonstrate that, despite the warnings from his American ally and the rest of the international community, it is he who holds the reins of the conflict and who makes the final decisions. Netanyahu also said that they were sending a delegation to Cairo, where negotiations are being held to achieve a ceasefire. Hours earlier, Hamas had accepted a peace plan proposal negotiated with Qatar and Egypt that Israel considered “far from” its own demands.

Israeli authorities launched an operation on Monday to evacuate tens of thousands of Gazans from the areas that are now considered combat zones. People have been urged to move northeast, to a camping area called Al Mawasi near the Mediterranean coast.

Israeli tanks take control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing.
Israeli tanks take control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing. Ejército israelí

The image of the Israeli armored vehicles circulating through the Rafah crossing and the Israeli flag flying on the flagpole as a new symbol of the occupation reflect the line that the most far-right sector of the Israeli government seeks to impose on Netanyahu, who depends on several of his ministers to remain in office.

Humanitarian aid

“The two main arteries to bring aid to Gaza are currently blocked,” denounced Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the United Nations humanitarian coordination office (OCHA), recalling that UN agencies have very low reserves within the Palestinian enclave. “If fuel does not arrive for a prolonged period of time, it would be a very effective way to bury the humanitarian operation,” added Laerke while denouncing that the Israeli authorities had previously prohibited the agency from being present at the Rafah crossing.

Rafah is the only point that gives access to neighboring Egypt. Until now, it was the only way out of the war for the Gazan population, including the wounded. Since October 7, between 80,000 and 100,000 people have been able to escape from the Strip through that crossing, according to the Palestinian National Authority. It is also one of the few points through which Israel allows the arrival of humanitarian aid, although it has always been controlled by Israeli authorities. Another crossing through which some aid also flowed, Kerem Shalom, is also closed since Sunday, when a Hamas attack on Sunday killed four members of the Israeli army.

Rafah is of vital importance for the operation that Israel wants to carry out. Israeli authorities believe this is where any surviving Hamas battalions are located, and where the majority of the hundred or so hostages, many already dead, could have been transferred to.

Meanwhile, the most wanted man in the entire Strip continues to be Yahia Sinwar, top leader of Hamas in the enclave, whom Israel accuses of being the mastermind of the attack against Israel on October 7. No information has emerged to suggest that he is outside the Palestinian enclave. He is considered a key player in the negotiations and awarded a fundamental role in any decision that Hamas ends up making, such as a possible ceasefire.

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