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Israel promised ‘limited’ operation, two months on, Rafah turned to rubble | Israel-Palestine conflict News

Israel promised ‘limited’ operation, two months on, Rafah turned to rubble | Israel-Palestine conflict News

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Israel invaded Rafah on May 6 promising a “limited” operation against Hamas fighters, but two months on, the southern-most city has been turned into a dust-covered ghost town.

The Associated Press photojournalist was among the first foreign journalists allowed into the Palestinian city, which sheltered most of Gaza’s more than two million people displaced by Israel’s devastating war. Israel has barred international journalists from entering Gaza independently.

More than 150 Palestinian journalists, who have been reporting from the ground, have been killed in Israeli attacks, making it one of the deadliest conflicts for journalists.

Abandoned, bullet-ridden apartment buildings have blasted out walls and shattered windows. Bedrooms and kitchens are visible from roads dotted with rubble piles that tower over the Israeli military vehicles passing by. Very few civilians remain.

Israel, which has been accused of disproportionate use of force in Gaza, says it aimed for a complete defeat of Hamas. More than 70 percent of the enclave’s houses have been destroyed in Israeli air and ground offensive since October 7, 2023.

In the last week of May, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately” halt its military assault on Rafah, which faced a humanitarian crisis due to the blocking of aid. In January, the top UN court had ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide.

Nearly 40,000 people have been killed, half of them children and women.

Rafah, an area of about 65sq km (25sq miles) bordering Egypt, was considered a safe zone where most Palestinians fleeing from Israeli bombardment took shelter. But Israel invaded the southern city despite international concerns, saying Hamas fighters had moved to the area. It provided no proof for its claims. Israel has repeatedly targeted areas designated as safe zones since the war began nine months ago.

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians crammed into Rafah after fleeing Israeli bombardment elsewhere in Gaza. The UN estimates that about 50,000 remain in Rafah, which had a pre-war population of about 275,000. Last week, the United Nations said most of Gaza’s 2.4 million people are now displaced.

Most people are clustering in squalid tent camps along the beach with scant access to clean water, food, toilets and medical care.

Efforts to bring aid into southern Gaza have stalled as Israel closed down Rafah, one of two important crossings into the south of Gaza. The UN says little aid can enter from the other main crossing – Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) – because Israeli settlers have attacked aid trucks.

On Wednesday, a line of trucks on the Gaza side of Karem Abu Salem was visible, but the trucks were hardly moving – a sign of how Israel’s pledge to keep the route safe to facilitate the delivery of aid inside Gaza has fallen flat.

UN officials say some commercial trucks have braved the route into Rafah, but not without hired armed guards riding atop their convoys.

Israel says it is close to dismantling the group as an organised military force in Rafah. In a reflection of that confidence, soldiers brought journalists in open-air military vehicles down the road that leads into the heart of the city.

Along the way, debris lying by the side of the road made clear the perils of aid delivery: carcasses of trucks baking in the hot sun; dashboards covered in fencing meant to protect drivers; and aid pallets lying empty.

The longer the aid delivery is frozen, humanitarian groups say, the closer Gaza comes to running out of fuel, which is needed for hospitals, water desalination plants and vehicles. Most of the hospitals have been crippled by repeated Israeli attacks.

“The hospitals are once again short on fuel, risking disruption of critical services,” said Dr Hanan Balkhy, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “Injured people are dying because the ambulance services are facing delays due to fuel shortages.”

As the humanitarian situation worsens, Israel is pushing ahead with its offensive. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated that any potential ceasefire deal should allow Israel to resume its operation in Gaza. The Hamas group wants an end to the war as part of any deal.

After journalists heard nearby gunshots on Wednesday, the soldiers told the group they would not be visiting the beach as planned.

The group departed the city soon after, with clouds of dust kicked up by vehicles temporarily obscuring the mass of destruction behind them.

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