Concern over Rafah rises after Israeli rescue mission kills 67

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JERUSALEM – The Israeli strikes that lit up the night in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Monday sent shockwaves through the 1.4 million Palestinians for whom that strip of land has become a refuge of last resort.

The Israeli army described the overnight attacks as cover for a special forces mission to rescue two old Israeli-Argentine enemies. The operation was successful, but at a high human cost: at least 67 people were killed in places across the region, the enclave’s Ministry of Health said. Video from a nearby house showed the body of a Palestinian girl, her legs slit in ribbons of flesh; Other pictures showed a bloodied boy being carried away, and four other dead children on hospital stretchers.

The ministry said that 164 people were killed and 200 others were wounded across the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours. That the overnight operation had focused on Rafah, a place the Israeli army had until recently described as safe from attacks, surprised a bone-weary crowd that has for months spent moving, in what has often been felt as futile. try to overcome the bombs.

Israeli army rescues two guards amid deadly airstrikes on Rafah

In Rafah, they are now packed into houses and tents, and even sleeping on the streets – dependent on humanitarian aid to stop famine, and separated from loved ones by that cellular connections are patchy and there is no electricity to charge most mobile phones.

“We are tired and we can’t bear this torture anymore,” said Mirvat, 51, who lives in a tent with her sister’s family in Rafah after being displaced from Gaza City. “All I hope for now is that the war will end.”

“I don’t know where to go,” she said, echoing a sentiment expressed throughout Gaza. “There is no safe place.” She asked that her last name not be used for security reasons.

The conflict began on October 7, when Hamas militants attacked Israeli border communities from Gaza, killing about 1,200 people and injuring 253. More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military campaign. , which has flattened much of the Gaza Strip while failing to bring back most of the prisoners, or capture or kill senior leadership within Hamas.

UN chief António Guterres, noting that half of Gaza’s population is already trapped inside the Rafah, said on social media that the upcoming Israeli campaign would “significantly escalate what is already a humanitarian nightmare.”

But Israeli officials now argue that they cannot take their fight against Hamas militants without following the group into Rafah itself, a message that has alarmed even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strongest diplomatic supporter, the United States, which provides much of the weaponry that would be used. there

Biden and Netanyahu spoke Sunday for the first time in more than three weeks, and a US administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, according to White House rules, said the American position on Rafah had been made “very clear.” ” The United States would not support such an operation unless Israel had a plan for the protection and sustenance of civilians “that was really designed, prepared and implemented,” they said.

It was unclear whether the US president was aware that a major operation to rescue Israeli-Argentine hostages Fernando Simon Merman, 60, and Luis Har, 70, in Rafah would follow hours later . In a press release, IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the mission was planned “for a while.”

It only lasted a few hours, but its effects continued throughout Monday in the houses and tents where civilians reached by phone that they had barely slept, and that they were once again facing such – impossible decisions about where to go, when nowhere felt safe.

Rafah was Gaza’s last refuge. The crowded city is now a target.

At the end of October, Israel asked 1 million Palestinians in the north to move south for their safety, although intense bombing continued across the sea. Later, Israeli forces advanced to Khan Younis, a southern region where they had asked Gazans to flee. Israeli authorities have also designated a beach town area called Mawasi, west of Khan Younis, as a “safer zone.”

Strikes have continued there as well.

A humanitarian worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said he was packing again, but running out of options for where to go.

“I am preparing to go back to Khan Younis because Rafah is unstable at the moment,” said the worker who fled Khan Younis after it was attacked by Israeli forces in early December.

The Beach Road – the last remaining route connecting southern, central and northern Gaza – was still open, he said, although he did not know how long. In earlier emergency evacuations, some of the routes designated by the IDF brought civilians into the line of fire. Israeli forces also arrested an unknown number of people at checkpoints on evacuation routes.

The humanitarian worker said he was afraid that would happen again, and that for now his family would be moving to the small one-bedroom house by the sea where his father lived. About two dozen relatives were already living there, he said. His immediate family of five had to go with them.

“So many people are moving now,” he said. “We have no choice,” he said. “This is what we do to survive.”

Loveluck reported from London. Karen DeYoung in Washington, Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo, Hazem Balousha in Amman and Hajar Harb in London contributed to this report.

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