Israel seizes border crossing

Families have been crammed into tented camps and makeshift shelters, suffering from shortages of food, water, medicine and other essentials. Picture: AFP

Families have been crammed into tented camps and makeshift shelters, suffering from shortages of food, water, medicine and other essentials. Picture: AFP

Published May 8, 2024


Israeli forces seized the main border crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza on Tuesday, shutting down a vital aid route into the Palestinian enclave that is already on the brink of famine.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas accused Israel of trying to undermine efforts to secure a ceasefire in the seven-month-long war that has laid waste to Gaza and left hundreds of thousands of its people homeless and hungry.

Israeli army footage showed tanks rolling through the Rafah crossing complex and the Israeli flag raised on the Gaza side.

UN and other international aid agencies said the closing of the two crossings into southern Gaza – Rafah and Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom – had virtually cut off the enclave from outside aid and very few stores were available inside. Red Crescent sources in Egypt said shipments had completely halted.

“The Israeli occupation has sentenced the residents of the Strip to death,” said Hisham Edwan, spokesperson for the Gaza Border Crossing Authority.

The seizure of the Rafah crossing came despite weeks of calls from the US, other governments and international bodies for Israel to hold off from a big offensive in the Rafah area – said by Israel to be the last stronghold of Hamas fighters but also the refuge of more than a million displaced Palestinian civilians.

Many of the people now in Rafah were struggling to find a safe place to go in the tiny strip of land which has been bombarded almost non-stop since Hamas fighters stormed over the border into Israel on October 7.

Families have been crammed into tented camps and makeshift shelters, suffering from shortages of food, water, medicine and other essentials. Aid agencies say famine is imminent as not enough food aid is reaching the enclave.

Residents said Israeli tanks and planes also attacked several areas and houses in Rafah overnight on Monday and Tuesday.

The Gaza health ministry said Israeli strikes across the enclave had killed 54 Palestinians and wounded 96 in the past 24 hours. On Tuesday, people searched for bodies under the rubble of wrecked buildings.

Raed al-Derby said his wife and children had been killed. Standing in the street, anguish etched on his face, he said: “We’re patient and we will remain steadfast on this land. We are waiting for liberation and this battle will be for liberation, God willing.”

The Israeli military said a limited operation in Rafah was meant to kill fighters and dismantle infrastructure used by Hamas, which governs Gaza.

It has told civilians to go to what it calls an “expanded humanitarian zone” around 20km away.

Patients started to leave Abu Youssef Al-Najar hospital east of Rafah after residents and some inside the hospital received phone calls telling them to evacuate areas designated by the Israeli army as a combat zone, medics and residents said.

Geneva, UN humanitarian office spokesperson Jens Laerke said “panic and despair” were gripping the people in Rafah. He said under international law people must have adequate time to prepare for an evacuation, and have a safe route to a safe area with access to aid. This was not the case in the Rafah evacuation, he said.

“It’s littered with unexploded ordnance, massive bombs lying in the street. It’s not safe,” he said.

A total of 34 789 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been now killed in the conflict, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1 200 people and abducting about 250 others, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Israel and Hamas to spare no effort to get a truce deal and warned Israel that a full assault on Rafah would “be a strategic mistake, a political calamity, and a humanitarian nightmare”.

Hamas said late on Monday that it had told Qatari and Egyptian mediators handling the indirect talks that it had agreed to a ceasefire proposal but Israel said the terms did not meet its demands.

On Tuesday, the militant group said Israel’s Rafah incursion was aimed at undermining the ceasefire efforts.

However, the various players appeared willing to talk again on Tuesday.

An official briefed on the talks said the Israeli delegation had arrived in the Egyptian capital Cairo, although Israel has reiterated its objective remained the destruction of Hamas.

A Palestinian official close to mediation efforts said that a Hamas delegation may arrive in Cairo to discuss the ceasefire.

Cape Times