Israel says Gaza war likely to last another seven months as tanks occupy Rafah

 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

Israel said its war on Hamas is likely to last “at least” the next seven months, as it sent tanks on raids into Rafah on Wednesday.

Israeli tanks moved into the heart of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, despite an order from the International Court of Justice for the IDF to end its attacks on the city, where many Palestinians have taken refuge from widespread bombardment.

Fighting in Gaza is likely to continue throughout 2024 at least, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi on Wednesday.

His words signalled that Israel was not ready to end the war as demanded by Hamas, as part of a deal that would see the exchange of hostages it holds for Palestinian prisoners."The fighting in Rafah is not a pointless war," he said, reiterating that the aim was to end Hamas rule in Gaza and stop it and its allies attacking Israel.

Residents said the tanks had pushed into Tel Al-Sultan in western Rafah and Yibna and near Shaboura in the centre before retreating towards a buffer zone on the border with Egypt, rather than staying put as elsewhere.Israel said its military controlled three-quarters of the buffer zone on the Egyptian border and aimed to control all of it to prevent Hamas smuggling in weapons.

Palestinian Health Minister Majed Abu Ramadan said there was no indication the Rafah border crossing would be reopened for aid any time soon.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah on Tuesday while saying it did not believe such an operation was currently underway.

The armed wing of Hamas and that of allies Islamic Jihad said they confronted invading forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and blew up explosive devices they had planted.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed and three others were badly wounded, the military said, by what public broadcaster Kan radio said was an explosive device set off in a building in Rafah.

Palestinian health officials said several people were wounded by Israeli fire in eastern Rafah and stores of aid were set ablaze.

Residents said constant Israeli bombardment overnight on Tuesday destroyed many homes in the area, from where most people have fled after orders by Israel to evacuate. Internet and mobile signals went down in parts of both east and west as Israel attacked, the pro-Hamas Shehab news agency, residents and other journalists said.

The Israeli military said it could not confirm the reports. Some residents reported seeing what they described as unmanned robotic armoured vehicles opening fire from machine guns in parts of the city.

Gaza's health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra called for immediate safe pathways for fuel, medical aid and medical teams to Rafah and northern Gaza, where he said there was no help for the wounded.

Around a million Palestinians who had taken shelter in Rafah at the southern end of the Gaza Strip from Israel's offensives elsewhere have now fled after Israeli orders to evacuate, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA reported on Tuesday.

The World Court said Israel had not explained how it would keep the Rafah evacuees safe and provide food, water and medicine. Its ruling also called on Hamas to release hostages taken from Israel on October 7 immediately and unconditionally.

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