Battles in Rafah after Blinken says truce still possible

Friday, Jun 14, 2024

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israeli helicopters struck Gaza’s Rafah on Thursday, residents said, with Hamas militants reporting street battles in the southern city after top US diplomat Antony Blinken said a truce was still possible.

Western areas of Rafah came under heavy Israeli fire from the air, sea and land, residents said.“There was very intense fire from warplanes, Apaches (helicopters) and quadcopters, in addition to Israeli artillery and military battle ships, all of which were striking the area west of Rafah,” one of them told AFP.

The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Islamist movement Hamas, said its fighters were battling Israeli troops on the streets of the same area. The latest toll includes at least 30 more deaths over the previous day, it said.

Blinken, in Doha on Wednesday for the last stop of a tour to promote Biden’s ceasefire roadmap, said the United States would work with regional partners to “close the deal”.

Hamas responded to mediators Qatar and Egypt late Tuesday. Blinken said some of its proposed amendments “are workable and some are not”.

A senior Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, said the group sought “a permanent ceasefire and complete withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza, demands repeatedly rejected by Israel. The plan includes a six-week ceasefire, a hostage-prisoner exchange and Gaza’s reconstruction.

It would be the first truce since a week-long November pause in fighting that saw hostages freed and Palestinians released from Israeli jails.Blinken said Israel was behind the plan, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government has far-right members strongly opposed to the deal, has yet to formally endorse it. Blinken expressed hopes that gaps could be closed.

“We have to see... over the course of the coming days whether those gaps are bridgeable,” he said. A UN investigation concluded Wednesday that Israel had committed crimes against humanity during the Gaza war, while Israeli and Palestinian armed groups had both committed war crimes. The independent Commission of Inquiry’s report is the first in-depth investigation by UN experts into Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war.

Israel’s foreign ministry on Thursday dismissed the report as “biased and tainted by a distinct anti-Israeli agenda”.The war has led to widespread destruction of homes and other infrastructure, with hospitals out of service and the UN warning of famine.

The World Health Organization said more than 8,000 children aged younger than five have been treated for acute malnutrition in Gaza, where only two stabilisation centres for severely malnourished patients currently operate.

Israel’s military on Thursday said troops were “continuing intelligence-based, targeted operations in the area of Rafah”, where they found weapons and killed several militants “in close-quarters encounters”.