A Palestinian woman cries as she watches her apartment destroyed after an Israeli strike on February 8, 2024 on the town of Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip (AFP / SAID KHATIB)
The Israeli army intensified its strikes on Rafah on Thursday, with Washington warning Israel of the risk of a “disaster” in this city in the Gaza Strip, where more than a million Palestinians who have fled the fighting are crowded.
“We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation (editor’s note, in Rafah) and to carry out such an operation now without planning and without thought in an area where a million people are sheltered would be a disaster” , State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.
Previously, the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken, who concluded on Thursday a regional tour aimed at encouraging efforts to obtain a stop to the fighting, urged his Israeli ally to “protect” civilians in its military operations in Gaza, launched in retaliation for the unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israeli soil on October 7.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered preparations for an offensive on Rafah, on the closed border with Egypt, where there are 1.3 million Palestinians, the vast majority of whom are people displaced by the clashes of recent months.
Mr. Blinken left Israel after pleading for a truce agreement to allow more aid to be delivered to the besieged Gaza Strip, where the humanitarian situation is “nightmare” according to the UN, and for the release of Israeli hostages detained in the Palestinian territory.
– “War crime” –
Street vendors prepare bread and fries in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024 (AFP / Mohammed ABED)
On the ground, witnesses and hospital sources reported deadly nighttime strikes in the south of the territory, particularly in Rafah, with the Hamas Ministry of Health counting 130 deaths over the past 24 hours.
According to an AFP journalist, the Israeli army carried out seven airstrikes in Rafah. The house of a local police chief was particularly affected according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.
“These bombings are proof that Rafah is not a safe place,” says Oum Hassan, 48, whose house was damaged by the strike.
UN human rights chief Volker Türk has warned that the Israeli army’s destruction of buildings in the border area with Israel in Gaza, in an attempt to set up a “buffer zone”, constitutes a ” war crime”.
A Palestinian gets his hair cut at a school housing people displaced by the fighting in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024 (AFP / Mohammed ABED)
“With regard to Rafah…Israel has…an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that civilians are protected and have access to the aid they need. need,” Mr. Blinken said on Wednesday after meeting Mr. Netanyahu.
– “Terrorists” killed –
Palestinians cry after identifying the bodies of relatives, killed in an Israeli bombardment, at Al-Najjar hospital, in Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024 (AFP / Mahmud Hams)
The war was sparked on October 7 when Hamas commandos infiltrated from the Gaza Strip, where the movement took power in 2007, carried out an attack in southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of more than 1,160 people. , mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli data.
Around 250 people were also kidnapped and taken to Gaza. According to Israel, 132 hostages are still held there, of whom 29 are believed to have died.
In retaliation, Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, like the United States and the European Union, vowed to “destroy” this group and launched an offensive which left at least 27,840 dead in the Palestinian territory. , the vast majority of women, children and adolescents, according to the latest report from the Hamas Ministry of Health.
Map of the southern Gaza Strip showing in particular the municipalities of Khan Younes and Rafah (AFP / Sophie RAMIS)
On the front, the Israeli army indicated Thursday that it was carrying out operations in the north and south of the Gaza Strip.
For his fifth regional tour since the start of the war, Mr. Blinken supported a truce proposal drawn up by American, Qatari and Egyptian officials in late January in Paris, to which Hamas responded.
Although he considered that elements of Hamas’ response were “unacceptable”, he nevertheless said he hoped for a second truce after that of a week in November which had notably favored the release of hostages in Gaza and detained Palestinian prisoners. in Israel.
– Discussions in Cairo –
Visitors gather at a memorial for those killed or taken hostage by Hamas during the Supernova music festival, February 7, 2024 in Re’im, Israel (AFP / JACK GUEZ)
In Cairo, a “new round of negotiations”, sponsored by Egypt and Qatar with the participation of Hamas, began Thursday to obtain “calm in the Gaza Strip” as well as an exchange of Palestinian prisoners and hostages, according to an Egyptian official.
“We expect very (…) difficult negotiations, but Hamas is open to discussions and eager to reach a ceasefire,” explained an official close to Hamas.
For his part, American President Joe Biden will receive King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House on February 12, to discuss “the situation in Gaza” and discuss “the idea of lasting peace through a two-way solution.” States guaranteeing the security of Israel.
A cloud of smoke rises from the village of Kfar Kila, in southern Lebanon, after an Israeli bombardment, February 8, 2024 (AFP / HASSAN FNEICH)
The war is exacerbating tensions in the Middle East between Israel and its allies, including Washington, on the one hand, and Hamas and its supporters on the other.
The Israeli army reported Thursday fire from Lebanon on northern Israel, seriously injuring a soldier. Since October 7, the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, an ally of Hamas, has regularly claimed fire towards Israel, which retaliates.
According to a Lebanese security source, a pro-Iranian Hezbollah military official was seriously injured during an Israeli strike that targeted his car in southern Lebanon on Thursday. Israel later confirmed the strike.