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MORE EVACUATIONS ORDERED IN RAFAH

LawMORE EVACUATIONS ORDERED IN RAFAH


RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Israel ordered new evacuations Saturday in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, forcing tens of thousands more people to leave as it prepared to expand its military operation deeper into what is considered Gaza’s last refuge, in defiance of growing pressure from close ally the United States and others.

As pro-Palestinian protests continued against the war, Israel’s military also said it was moving into an area of devastated northern Gaza where it asserted the Hamas militant group regrouped after seven months of fighting.

Israel has now evacuated the eastern third of Rafah, and top military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said dozens of militants were killed there as “targeted operations continued.”

The United Nations warned a full-scale Rafah invasion would further cripple humanitarian operations and cause a surge in civilian deaths.

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Rafah borders Egypt near the main aid entry points, which already are affected. Israeli troops captured the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing, forcing it to shut down. Egypt refused to coordinate with Israel on the delivery of aid though the crossing due to “the unacceptable Israeli escalation,” the stateowned Al Qahera News television channel reported, citing an unnamed official.

U.S. President Joe Biden said he won’t provide offensive weapons to Israel for Rafah. On Friday, his administration said there was “reasonable” evidence that Israel breached international law protecting civilians — Washington’s strongest statement yet on the matter.

In response, Ophir Falk, foreign policy adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told The Associated Press that Israel acts in compliance with the laws of armed conflict and the army takes extensive measures to avert civilian casualties, including alerting people to military operations via phone calls and text messages.

More than 1.4 million Palestinians — half of Gaza’s population — have been sheltering in Rafah, most after fleeing Israel’s offensives elsewhere. The latest evacuations are forcing some to return north, where areas are devastated from previous attacks. Aid agencies estimate 110,000 left before Saturday’s order that added 40,000.

“Do we wait until we all die on top of each other? So we’ve decided to leave,” Rafah resident Hanan al-Satari said as people rushed to load mattresses, water tanks and other belongings onto vehicles.

Many people have been displaced multiple times.

“The Israeli army does not have a safe area in Gaza. They target everything,” said Abu Yusuf al-Deiri, displaced earlier from Gaza City.

There are few places left to go. Some Palestinians are being sent to what Israel calls humanitarian safe zones along the Muwasi coastal strip, which is already packed with about 450,000 people in squalid conditions.

Georgios Petropoulos, with the U.N. humanitarian agency in Rafah, said aid workers had no supplies to help people set up in new locations. “We simply have no tents, we have no blankets, no bedding,” he said.

The World Food Program said it would run out of food to distribute in southern Gaza by Saturday, Petropoulos said — as parts of Gaza face what the WFP chief called “full-blown famine.”

Aid groups said fuel will be depleted soon, forcing hospitals to shut down critical operations.

Heavy fighting was underway in northern Gaza, where Hagari said the air force was carrying out airstrikes.

Palestinians in Jabaliya, Beit Lahiya and surrounding areas were told to leave for shelters in the west of Gaza City, warned that Israel would strike with “great force.”

Northern Gaza was the first target of Israel’s ground offensive launched after Hamas and other militants attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7. About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed that day and militants took about 250 hostages. They still hold about 100 captives and the remains of more than 30.

Hamas said Saturday that hostage Nadav Popplewell died after being wounded in an Israeli airstrike a month ago, but provided no evidence.

Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives killed more than 34,800 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its figures. Israel blames Hamas for civilian casualties, accusing it of embedding in densely populated residential areas.

Civil authorities in Gaza gave more details of mass graves that the Health Ministry announced earlier at Shifa hospital, the largest in northern Gaza and the target of an earlier Israeli offensive. Authorities said most of the 80 bodies were patients who died from lack of care. The Israeli army said “any attempt to blame Israel for burying civilians in mass graves is categorically false.”

At least 19 people, including eight women and eight children, were killed overnight in central Gaza in strikes that hit Zawaida, Maghazi and Deir al-Balah, according to Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital and an AP journalist who counted the bodies.

A round of cease-fire talks in Cairo ended earlier this past week without a breakthrough, after Israel rejected a deal that Hamas said it accepted.

Tens of thousands of people attended the latest anti-government protest in Israel on Saturday evening amid growing pressure on Netanyahu to make a deal.

“I think the (Rafah) operation is not meant for the hostages and not meant for killing the Hamas, it’s meant for just for one thing, save the government,” protester Kobi Itzhaki said.



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