Friday, May 24, 2024

Israel seizes key Gaza border crossing

Israeli soldiers have seized control of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing, cutting off a vital route for humanitarian aid and potential sanctuary for civilians.

The Israeli military announced on Tuesday that it had seized “operational control” of the Gaza side of the border post, which links the besieged enclave with Egypt. The closure of the crucial passage and positioning of tanks in the centre of Rafah is seen as a demonstration of Israel’s determination to press on with an assault on the southern city despite ongoing truce talks.

The 401st Brigade entered the Rafah crossing early on Tuesday, the Israeli military said, closing a route vital for the aid entering Gaza and any civilians able to flee the fighting to Egypt.

The military claimed that the crossing was “being used for terrorist purposes”, alleging that Hamas’s mortar attack on Sunday on the Karem Abu Salem crossing, known as Kerem Shalom to Israelis, which remains closed, was launched from the vicinity. However, it has not so far provided evidence.

The operation came amid an overnight assault on eastern parts of the city. Warplanes pounded residential homes, killing several people.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority acknowledged to The Associated Press news agency that Israeli forces had seized the crossing and closed it for the time being.

The aggression comes despite Hamas having said on Monday that it had agreed with the terms of a truce deal hammered out by mediators.

However, pressed by hardline nationalist coalition partners who have demanded a full offensive on Rafah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears set to press on regardless.

Despite urgent warnings from its closest allies that an offensive on the city risks huge numbers of civilian casualties, Israel insists that its plans will allow it to clear Rafah and press on to attack the Hamas command and fighters there.

Israeli troops whipped up panic on Monday as they ordered 1.4 million or so Palestinians in Rafah – most of whom are displaced following previous instructions from the Israeli military – to evacuate.

The Israeli army reiterated on Tuesday that it has “encouraged” displaced people and international humanitarian organisations operating in eastern Rafah to “temporarily evacuate”.

However, people sheltering in Rafah, amid poor conditions with little shelter, food, or medicine, have few places to go.

The closure of the border crossing only threatens to worsen those shortages and trap more people close to the fighting.

Sources from three humanitarian relief agencies told the Reuters news agency that aid shipments had been halted due to the closure of the crossing.

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