Israeli military takes control of vital Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt


Houses damaged in an Israeli strike are seen, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 7, 2024. REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

By Mohammad Salem and Nidal Al-MughrabiRAFAH, Gaza Strip/CAIRO, May 7: The Israeli military took control of the vital Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Tuesday, pushing into the southern Gazan town after a night of air strikes and as prospects for a ceasefire deal hung in the balance.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas said late on Monday it had agreed to a ceasefire proposal from mediators seven months into the war that has pushed more than a million Gazans into the south of the enclave.

Israel said the terms did not meet its demands and launched a military operation in Rafah.

Israeli tanks and planes pounded several areas and houses in Rafah overnight, killing 20 Palestinians and wounding several others in strikes that hit at least four houses, Palestinian health officials said.

"The Israeli occupation has sentenced the residents of the Strip to death after the closure of the Rafah border crossing," said Hisham Edwan, spokesman for the Gaza Border Crossing Authority. It also condemned to death cancer patients due to the collapse of the healthcare system, he added.

Israel has been threatening to launch a major incursion in Rafah, which it says harbours thousands of Hamas fighters and potentially dozens of hostages. Victory is impossible without taking Rafah, it says.


A Gaza border authority spokesperson told Reuters the Rafah crossing, a major route for aid into the devastated enclave, was closed because of the presence of Israeli tanks. Israel's Army Radio had earlier announced its forces were there.

The United States has been pressing Israel not to launch a military campaign in Rafah until it had drawn up a humanitarian plan for the Palestinians sheltering there, which Washington says it has yet to see.

Israel said the vast majority of people had been evacuated from the area of military operations.

Instructed by Arabic text messages, phone calls and flyers to move to what the Israeli military called an "expanded humanitarian zone" around 20 km (12 miles) away, some Palestinian families began trundling away in chilly spring rain.

Some piled children and possessions onto donkey carts, while others left by pick-up or on foot through muddy streets.

As families dismantled tents and folded belongings, Abdullah Al-Najar said this was the fourth time he had been displaced since the fighting began seven months ago.

"God knows where we will go now. We have not decided yet."


Hamas said in a brief statement that its chief, Ismail Haniyeh, had informed Qatari and Egyptian mediators the group accepted their proposal for a ceasefire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said later 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.

Qatar's foreign ministry said its delegation will head to Cairo on Tuesday to resume indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

In a statement, Netanyahu's office said his war cabinet approved continuing an operation in Rafah. Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on social media site X that Netanyahu was jeopardising a ceasefire by bombing Rafah.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 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.

Another official briefed on the agreement said Hamas had agreed to the phased ceasefire and hostage release deal Israel proposed on April 27 with only minor changes that did not affect the main parts of the proposal.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington would discuss the Hamas response with its allies in the coming hours, and a deal was "absolutely achievable".

Any truce would be the first pause in fighting since a week-long ceasefire in November, during which Hamas freed around half of the hostages.

Since then, all efforts to reach a new truce have foundered over Hamas' refusal to free more hostages without a promise of a permanent end to the conflict, and Israel's insistence that it would discuss only a temporary pause.

More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, according to Gaza health officials. The U.N. has said famine is imminent in the enclave.

The war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and abducting 252 others, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

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