New era | Pounds Gaza as Israel promises to expand Rafah raid

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Airstrikes and shelling hit Gaza on Monday, witnesses said, as fighting raged in the north of the besieged area and in the far southern city of Rafah, where Israel’s defense minister vowed to expand ground operations.

Nearly two weeks after Israel defied international opposition and sent troops to Rafah, which the army has described as Hamas’s last stronghold, the UN said more than 8,10,000 Palestinians have fled the city.

“The question that haunts us is where will we go,” said Sarhan Abu al-Saeed, a 46-year-old resident of Rafah.

“Certain death pursues us from all sides,” he said.

Witnesses said Israeli naval forces attacked Rafah, and medics reported an airstrike that hit a residential building in the western parts of the city.

The army said Israeli forces carried out “targeted attacks on terrorist infrastructure” in eastern Rafah, where they found “dozens of tunnel shafts.”

Since the long-threatened Rafah raid began in early May, Israeli forces have also been engaged in heavy fighting in northern and central Gaza, where the army says Hamas has regrouped after earlier announcing that these areas had been cleared of militants.

An AFP correspondent and Palestinian medics said Israeli warplanes carried out nighttime attacks on central Gaza City and the southern neighborhoods of Zeitun and Sabra.

Witnesses also reported helicopters hovering over the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, one of the areas where fighting has flared up again in recent weeks, and airstrikes on Al-Bureij camp and Deir al-Balah in central Gaza .

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue fighting Hamas in Gaza, following the October 7 attack that sparked the war, until the Iran-backed Islamist group is defeated and all remaining hostages are released.

Defense Secretary Yoav Gallant – who last week criticized the prime minister for failing to announce post-war plans – said Monday he told visiting US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan about “Israel’s obligation to expand the ground operation in Rafah, to dismantle and return the hostages’. ‘.

Sullivan met with Netanyahu on Sunday and told him that Israel must link the military operation against Hamas to a “political strategy” for the future of Gaza, the White House said.

It added that they also discussed the “potential” of a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, where Sullivan held talks before arriving in Israel.

The war broke out after Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.

Hamas also took about 250 hostages in the October 7 attack, 124 of whom are still held in Gaza, including 37 who the military says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 35,456 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to Health Ministry data in the Hamas-administered territory.

Washington has pushed for a post-war plan for Gaza involving Palestinians and backed by regional powers, as well as a broader diplomatic deal that would see Israel and regional power Saudi Arabia normalize relations.

Israeli centrist politician Benny Gantz has threatened to leave the ruling hard-right coalition over this issue alone if Netanyahu does not approve a post-war “action plan” by June 8.

Hamas, backed by Iran, expressed condolences after Tehran confirmed that President Ebrahim Raisi died in a helicopter crash.

The Palestinian group said it appreciated Raisi’s “support for the Palestinian resistance and tireless efforts in solidarity” with the Palestinians since the start of the Gaza war.

Israel has laid siege to the long-blocked Gaza Strip, denying its 2.4 million people normal access to clean water, food, medicine and fuel. The suffering is only alleviated by sporadic relief transports by land, air and sea.

The number of trucks has decreased after the Rafah border crossing with Egypt was closed as Israel launched its operation in the city.

Following a series of attacks on trucks bound for Gaza in Israel, a group of Israeli activists traveled with an aid convoy on Sunday to protect the country, an AFP correspondent said.

Aid is also coming in through a temporary US-built floating pier, where shipments sent from Cyprus are offloaded for distribution.

The UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, warned that if severe fuel shortages are not alleviated, the “famine that we have talked about for so long and that is looming will no longer loom.” It will be present’.