Israeli tanks may roll into Rafah soon; IDF takes control of crossing between Gaza and Egypt

Ceasefire hangs in balance after Israel says 'This isn’t what we agreed to'

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-RAFAH A Palestinian boy walks through the rubble following Israeli bombardment of Rafah's Tal al-Sultan district in the southern Gaza Strip | AFP

Hinting that the Rafah invasion is imminent, the Israel military on Tuesday took control of the vital Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. The move comes amid a stalemate in the ceasefire talks that saw Hamas agreeing to the Egyptian and Qatari ceasefire proposals, but not Israel. 

Soon after, Israeli tanks and troops began making their way into Rafah. Palestinian sources said Israeli tanks and planes pounded several areas and houses in Rafah overnight, killing 20 Palestinians and wounding several others. 

An announcement from the IDF said it was conducting "targeted strikes"   against Hamas in eastern Rafah. The tanks entered Gaza near Rafah, reaching as close as 200 meters from the Rafah Crossing terminal with neighbouring Egypt, reported The Times of Israel. 

The Rafah crossing, a major route for aid into the devastated enclave, had to be closed down due to the presence of Israeli tanks.

Israel had sent an evacuation order for some 100,000 Gazans in parts of eastern Rafah, who were told to evacuate to a 'safe zone' near Khan Younis, north of Rafah. The evacuation notice came in the form of Arabic text messages, phone calls and flyers. This triggered an evacuation with families moving with their prized possessions on donkey carts or whatever available means.  

Ceasefire talks

The ceasefire proposal mooted by the Qatari and Egyptian mediators has been accepted by Hamas, according to a brief statement by the militant group's chief Ismail Haniyeh. "After Hamas agreed to the mediators’ proposal for a ceasefire, the ball is now in the court of Israeli occupation, whether it will agree to the ceasefire agreement or obstruct it," a senior Hamas official told AFP.  

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the truce proposal fell short of Israel's demands but Israel would send a delegation to meet with negotiators to try to reach an agreement. The statement said Hamas’s latest offer was "far from [meeting] Israel’s essential requirements."

It added that the war cabinet had decided unanimously to push ahead with an IDF operation in Rafah "in order to apply military pressure on Hamas, with the goal of making progress on freeing the hostages and the other war aims."

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the proposal that Hamas approved was a watered-down version of an Egyptian offer and included elements Israel could not accept."This would appear to be a ruse intended to make Israel look like the side refusing a deal," said the Israeli official. 

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