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Israel says war likely to last another seven months

Israeli officials say they will not commit to end their war campaign before Hamas is eliminated.

Israeli officials say they will not commit to end their war campaign before Hamas is eliminated. Photo: Getty

Israel has sent tanks on raids into Rafah and predicted its war with Hamas in Gaza would continue all year, after Washington said the Rafah assault did not amount to a major ground operation that would trigger a change in US policy.

Israeli tanks moved into the heart of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, despite an order from the International Court of Justice to end its attacks on the city, where many Palestinians had taken refuge from bombardment elsewhere.

The World Court said Israel had not explained how it would keep evacuees from Rafah safe and provide food, water and medicine. Its ruling also called on Hamas to release hostages taken from Israel on October 7 immediately and unconditionally.

Rafah residents said Israeli tanks had pushed into Tel Al-Sultan in the west and Yibna and near Shaboura in the centre before retreating towards a buffer zone on the border with Egypt, rather than staying put as they have in other offensives.

“We received distress calls from residents in Tel Al-Sultan where drones targeted displaced citizens as they moved from areas where they were staying toward the safe areas,” the deputy director of ambulance and emergency services in Rafah, Haitham al Hams, said.

Palestinian health officials said 19 civilians had been killed in Israeli air strikes and shelling across Gaza. Israel accuses Hamas militants of hiding among civilians, which the militants deny.

Health Minister Majed Abu Raman urged Washington to pressure Israel to open the Rafah crossing to aid, saying there was no indication that Israeli authorities would do so soon and that patients in besieged Gaza were dying for lack of treatment.

The Israeli military controls three quarters of the buffer zone on the Egyptian border and aims to control all of it to prevent Hamas smuggling in weapons, National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi said.

Fighting in Gaza would continue throughout 2024 at least, he added, signalling that Israel was not ready to end the war as demanded by Hamas, as part of a deal that would see the exchange of hostages it holds for Palestinian prisoners.

“The fighting in Rafah is not a pointless war,” he said, reiterating that the aim was to end Hamas rule in Gaza and stop it and its allies attacking Israel.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major ground offensive in Rafah on Tuesday while saying it did not believe such an operation was under way.

Mediator Qatar was expected to give Israel’s latest ceasefire and hostage release proposal to Hamas on Tuesday, a person familiar with the issue said. There was no immediate word on Wednesday from Hamas, which has said talks are pointless unless Israel ends its offensive on Rafah.

The armed wing of Hamas and that of allies Islamic Jihad said they confronted invading forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and blew up explosive devices they had planted, resulting in numerous successful hits.

The Israeli military said three Israeli soldiers were killed and three others badly wounded. Public broadcaster Kan radio said an explosive device had been set off in a Rafah building.

Palestinian health officials said several people were wounded by Israeli fire and stores of aid were set ablaze in eastern Rafah, where residents said Israeli bombardment had destroyed many homes in an area Israel has ordered evacuated.

Internet and mobile signals went down in parts of both east and west as Israel attacked, the pro-Hamas Shehab news agency, residents and other journalists said. The Israeli military said it could not confirm the reports.

Gaza’s health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra called for immediate safe pathways for fuel, medical aid and medical teams to Rafah and northern Gaza, where he said there was no help for the wounded.

Around a million Palestinians who had taken shelter in Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip have now fled after Israeli orders to evacuate, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA reported on Tuesday.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it had evacuated its medical teams from its field hospital in the Al-Mawasi area, a designated civilian evacuation zone, because of continued bombardments.

Staff member Issam Aqel was killed in an Israeli air strike on his house in central Gaza, it said, taking to 30 the number of staff killed since October 7, at least 17 of them while on duty.

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