Israel carpet bombs Rafah after Hamas accepts a ceasefire proposal

Israeli military says it is conducting targeted strikes on Rafah after Netanyahu’s office said Israel was pressing on with Rafah invasion

MEE staff

A billow of smoke rises over buildings after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on 4 April 2024.
Smoke rises over buildings after an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on 4 April 2024 (Mohamed Abed/AFP)

Israel’s military began “carpet bombing” areas of eastern Rafah on Monday night, after ceasefire talks appeared to be moving in a positive direction, according to Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Israel bombed the eastern part of Rafah with warplanes and artillery, the Palestinian news outlet reported. A Palestinian journalist reported flares in the night sky and locals reported dozens of reconnaissance drones flying overhead.

Wafa also said Israeli military vehicles are reportedly advancing towards the eastern separation fence of Rafah, but that could not be independently verified by Middle East Eye. The Israeli military announced it was conducting targeted strikes against Hamas in eastern Rafah.

The military strikes on Rafah come after Hamas announced it accepted a ceasefire proposal from Qatar and Egypt. 

The full text of the deal has been revealed by Middle East Eye and involves three phases, with the first phase calling for a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Netzarim corridor and the return of displaced Palestinians to their homes. The second phase involves an announcement of a permanent cessation of military operations. In the last phase, there would be a complete end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip. 

In exchange, Israel would be expected to release an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners, withdraw its troops from certain regions of the Gaza Strip, and allow Palestinians to travel from the south of the territory to the north.

While countries in the region, including Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey, welcomed Hamas’s acceptance of the proposal, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel was moving ahead with its invasion of Rafah.

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The statement said the invasion of Rafah needed to take place “in order to apply military pressure on Hamas, with the goal of making progress on freeing the hostages and the other war aims”.

Israel for months has said that it plans to invade Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, where more than one million Palestinians have fled since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza in October.

Israel has said the invasion would help complete its goal of eliminating Hamas, as Israel claims there are four Hamas battalions in the city.

The Biden administration had publicly been calling on Israel not to launch an assault on the city, raising concerns about Israel’s ability to “evacuate” the area’s civilian population.

Earlier on Monday, Israel ordered 250,000 Palestinians to leave Rafah, as it began to heavily bombard the eastern part of the border city.

Palestinians currently in Rafah have told MEE that the people sheltering there are in a state of panic, and are concerned that they will not be safe even if they leave, given their experiences in Gaza over the past seven months.

The UN’s top human rights chief, Volker Turk, on Monday slammed what he called an “inhumane” Israeli order for Palestinians to leave Rafah, forcibly displacing them, and said the plan was “inconceivable”, warning an attack on the city would bring suffering in Gaza to“unbearable” levels.

“Gazans continue to be hit with bombs, disease, and even famine…Today, they have been told that they must relocate yet again as Israeli military operations into Rafah scale up.”

Aid groups have repeatedly warned that an attack on Rafah would not only be catastrophic for civilians in the area, but will also have a major impact on their ability to get food to northern Gaza where a “full-blown famine” is now underway, according to the World Food Programme.

The increased bombardment of Rafah also comes as a Middle East Eye report on Monday revealed that Egypt’s military intelligence held meetings with Sinai tribes in recent weeks to discuss their potential role in the event of an Israeli invasion.

At those meetings, Egyptian intelligence officers said they estimated a Palestinian influx of between 50,000 and 250,000 people towards Sinai if Israel carried such a ground invasion.

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