- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 12, 2024

Frantic U.S. and international efforts to prevent a full-scale Israeli assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah appeared to be making little headway as Israel Defense Forces continued advancing and thousands more Palestinian civilians attempted to flee the besieged city.

Sunday brought fresh signs that the fighting may be spreading beyond Rafah despite intense U.S.-backed regional efforts to forge at least a temporary cease-fire and pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restrain his forces.

The Biden administration has been warning of a humanitarian disaster if Israel moves on Rafah, where the last full Hamas fighting units are holed up in a city of more than 2 million.

Israel continued to urge Gaza residents to leave the city for a protected sanctuary along the enclave’s southern coast even as Israeli tank shells reportedly landed near the city.

A defiant Mr. Netanyahu has insisted that the offensive will continue until Hamas is destroyed as a fighting force. Hamas militants killed 1,200 and took hundreds of Israeli and foreign hostages in an Oct. 7 assault.

The failure to forge a cease-fire has strained U.S.-Israeli relations. President Biden on Friday confirmed that he was blocking all new offensive weapons to Israel. He said there was evidence that the Israeli campaign to avenge the Oct. 7 attack had violated international law regarding the treatment of civilians in wartime.

Israel rejects those claims. Palestinian health officials, citing records that could not be independently confirmed, said Sunday that the total number of Palestinian deaths in the 7-month-old war had topped 35,000, with another 78,755 injured. Civilians make up the vast majority of casualties.

The United Nations’ top human rights official said Sunday that Israeli orders for an evacuation of Palestinian civilians trapped in Rafah are impractical and unlikely to avoid “further atrocity crimes.”

“These exhausted, famished people, many of whom have been displaced many times already, have no good options,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement.

“I can see no way that the latest evacuation orders, much less a full assault, in an area with an extremely dense presence of civilians, can be reconciled with the binding requirements of international humanitarian law and with the two sets of binding provisional measures ordered by the international court of justice,” Mr. Turk said.

Israel has evacuated the eastern third of Rafah, said IDF Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, and U.N. officials say some 300,000 Rafah residents have managed to flee.

Even as Israeli forces massed near Rafah, reports said Israel Defense Forces were in renewed battles with Hamas in other parts of the Gaza Strip that were supposedly cleared in the early days of the fighting.

Palestinians reported heavy Israeli bombardment overnight in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp and other areas in the northern Gaza Strip, The Associated Press reported Sunday. Other northern Gaza targets were hit as well. Hamas said it fired back at Israeli positions.

“We identified in the past weeks attempts by Hamas to rehabilitate its military capabilities in Jabaliya,” Adm. Hagari told reporters. “We are operating there to eliminate those attempts.”

He said IDF troops were also operating in Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun, two towns near Gaza’s northern border with Israel that were heavily bombed in the opening days of the war.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2024 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide