Home News Israel pushes deeper into Rafah, but Gaza withdrawal plan remains unclear

Israel pushes deeper into Rafah, but Gaza withdrawal plan remains unclear

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The Israeli military said on Friday that its troops had advanced into the center of Rafah and deeper into southern Gaza cities, but Israel has not withdrawn despite strong international opposition and pressure from its allies to agree to a ceasefire.

The Israeli military said in a statement that Israeli special forces were conducting “intelligently based targeted raids” in the center of Rafah. The statement also said that the troops were conducting “targeted low-intensity operations” in the city. On Wednesday, the military announced that it had established “operational control” of the border area with Egypt, an eight-mile-long area on the outskirts of Rafah known as the “Philadelphia Corridor.”

Commercial satellite images taken Thursday by Planet Labs showed Israeli forces had established positions in parts of central Rafah, while military vehicles and tanks could be seen as far west as the outskirts of Rafah’s Tell Sultan district.

As fighting rages in Gaza, President Biden said in Washington on Friday that it is time to end the war and achieve a ceasefire. “At this point, Hamas is no longer capable of carrying out the attack that it did on October 7,” Biden said at the White House. “It is time to end this war and move forward to tomorrow.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement following Biden’s comments that “the war will not end until all goals are achieved, including the return of all abductees and the elimination of Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities.”

Despite nearly eight months of fighting, Israel has yet to achieve its stated goals of overthrowing the Hamas regime and bringing home some 125 hostages kidnapped in the Oct. 7 raid. Israeli officials say shutting down Hamas’s cross-border smuggling network and rooting out militants in Rafah will be key steps toward those goals.

Israel’s military said it had launched more than 200 airstrikes in eastern Jabalya, another Israeli focus in Gaza, during weeks of fierce fighting with Hamas militants. Israel said on Friday that its troops had withdrawn from eastern Jabalya after recovering the bodies of seven hostages, killing hundreds of militants and destroying miles of underground tunnel networks. The military said it was still conducting combat operations in central Gaza.

Military analysts have expressed doubts that the Rafah offensive will deliver the decisive blow to Hamas that Israel hopes for. But it has deepened the suffering of Palestinians, who still face widespread hunger in the region. The United Nations says the amount of international aid arriving in southern Gaza has fallen sharply since the offensive began, although the amount of commercial supplies arriving in Gaza has increased slightly recently.

Israeli National Security Adviser Zach Hanegbi said on Wednesday that Israel’s military operation in Gaza could continue until the end of the year. In a radio interview, Hanegbi, a senior aide to Netanyahu, said the fighting would continue for months to “consolidate the victory over Hamas.”

Israeli troops have repeatedly returned to parts of Gaza after Hamas militants re-emerged. An Israeli media outlet described the latest operation in Jabaliya as a “second re-clearance.”

Residents returning to the once densely populated urban areas of Jabalia and its environs on Friday expected to find severe devastation. Instead they saw a flattened landscape covered in rubble, with even the bush destroyed.

“The devastation is indescribable,” said Mohammad Awais, who returned to his home in Jabalia with his family on Friday. “We can’t comprehend what we are seeing.”

He said he and his family walked for nearly an hour along the destroyed roads in sweltering heat, finding no vehicles accessible and streets blocked by piles of rubble from destroyed homes and shops. As they walked, rescue workers passed by carrying the wounded and dead on stretchers. Some bodies were found on the street, while others were dug up and pulled from the rubble and had begun to decompose, said Mr. Awais, a social media marketer.

“Even ambulances cannot pass through these streets to transport the wounded and martyrs,” he said of Jabaliya’s streets.

Imagery from April showed some buildings in the area had been destroyed before the latest Israeli offensive, but by the end of May, many more buildings in those areas appeared to have been razed to the ground and nearly all vegetation destroyed.

Mr. Awais and his family are among the few residents who still have a place to return to because their home was only partially damaged. On Friday, they began clearing collapsed walls, wood and glass fragments and damaged furniture to move back in. But he said the Family Mart, which was closed in December by the Israeli invasion, was completely destroyed.

Satellite images of eastern Rafah taken on May 22 show that the area has also been desolate since the offensive began in early May. On May 7, Israeli forces occupied the border area with Egypt at night, and satellite images showed a desolate area.

Retired Israeli Brigadier General Shlomo Brom said on Friday that the offensive in Rafah could last for weeks as Israeli troops destroyed the tunnels in controlled demolitions and battled remaining militants in parts of the city.

Israeli troops will remain on the border with Egypt for the foreseeable future to prevent Hamas from rearming, said General Brom, the head of the Israeli military’s strategic planning department. He said Israeli officials have not yet taken the only other option available – handing over security responsibilities to a new government.

Senior Israeli officials have expressed frustration that Netanyahu has not articulated a clear exit strategy from the war, with Benny Gantz, a centrist member of Israel’s wartime cabinet, saying that the Recently said he would leave the government If it does not come up with a plan for Gaza by June 8.

General Brom said that as long as Israel did not reach a diplomatic agreement for the Gaza Strip, its troops would be locked in a continued battle with Palestinian militants.

“There will be all kinds of operations that will unfold that have a military logic but will not be part of any clear strategy,” General Brom said, adding that weakening Hamas in Gaza “will probably take years” under the Israeli military regime.

Lauren Leatherby, Christian Tribert Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed to this article.

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