Israeli forces say they have operational control of Palestinian side of Rafah crossing in Gaza

Israeli military forces have taken control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, a key strategic objective and the sole gateway between Egypt and Gaza for humanitarian aid, Israeli military officials have confirmed.

“At the moment we have operational control of the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing and we have special forces scanning the crossing … That is what is happening in the upcoming hours. The operation is not over … I can’t give a timeline,” a military official said on Tuesday morning.

The spokesperson of the Gaza border authority on Tuesday confirmed the presence of Israeli tanks at the Rafah crossing. Aid officials in the territory said that the flow of aid through the crossing has been halted.

The Israeli operation comes as ahead of a new round of indirect negotiations on a ceasefire in Cairo following an announcement by Hamas leaders on Monday night that they would accept a recent proposal for a deal. Israeli officials say they will send a delegation for further talks although the deal did not meet its core demands and vowed to push ahead with an often threatened assault on Rafah.

“Israel is receiving Hamas response … an Israeli delegation will soon be in Cairo,” the military official said.

The promise of continued talks left a glimmer of hope alive for an agreement that could bring at least a pause to the seven-month-old war that has devastated Gaza.

The Israeli military said late on Monday it was conducting targeted strikes against Hamas in Rafah. The city’s Kuwaiti hospital said on Tuesday that 11 people had been killed and dozens of others injured in Israeli strikes.

After having vowed for weeks to push into the southern border town, Israel on Monday called for Palestinians in eastern Rafah to leave for an “expanded humanitarian area” ahead of a ground incursion.

The military official said the target was “terrorist infrastructure”, after the launch of rockets at Israeli troops at the Kerem Shalom earlier this week.

“We were able to operate in this manner and quickly because of the vast majority of people evacuating and moving and we were able to operate in a very specific area within a specific areas. We are only talking about the Gaza side of the crossing,” the official said.

The Rafah gate is a vital aid lifeline and particularly sensitive for Egypt, which is anxious to avoid a mass migration of Palestinians into its Sinai desert.

The more than 1 million Palestinians taking refuge in Rafah were thrown into confusion by the day’s events, with Israel’s evacuation order triggering an exodus of thousands of people.

Aftermath of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah
Photograph: Hatem Khaled/Reuters

In a private meeting on Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah told US president Joe Biden that an Israeli offensive in Rafah would lead to a “new massacre” of Palestinian civilians and urged the international community to take urgent action.

In a phone call on Monday, Biden pressed Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to go ahead with a large-scale offensive. Biden has been vocal in his demand that Israel not undertake a ground offensive in Rafah without a credible plan to protect Palestinian civilians.

US state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US had not seen such a plan, adding that Washington could not support an operation in Rafah as it is currently envisioned.

Protesters block the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv on Monday evening. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

Miller said American officials were reviewing the Hamas response to the ceasefire proposal “and discussing it with our partners in the region.”

It was not immediately known if the proposal Hamas agreed to was substantially different from one that US secretary of state Antony Blinken pressed the group to accept last week, which Blinken said included significant Israeli concessions.

Talks in Cairo had appeared to stall at the weekend over Hamas’s insistence that Israel should commit to making the ceasefire permanent at the outset of the agreement, rather than to negotiate its duration after the truce had taken hold.

An account in Haaretz suggested that the deal Hamas agreed to does not include an immediate demand for a permanent ceasefire, but also changes other elements of the Egyptian deal proposal, such as the requirement that it free 33 hostages in the first phase. It also reportedly takes away Israel’s right of veto on which Palestinian detainees are released in exchange.

On Monday night, hundreds of Israelis rallied around the country calling for the government to agree to the terms of the deal that Hamas had accepted.

About 1,000 protesters gathered near the defence headquarters in Tel Aviv, while in Jerusalem, about 100 protesters marched toward Netanyahu’s residence with a banner reading, “The blood is on your hands.”

(Source: The Guardian)