Israel expands assault on Gaza's Rafah, killing dozens and displacing thousands

People were forced to leave their homes as bombing and shelling continued

The Israeli army operating in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 8.  AFP
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Israel began bombarding Gaza's Al Zeitoun neighbourhood on Thursday, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians and forcing thousands to flee their homes, residents told The National.

While the army drove its tanks into the south-east of the enclave, helicopters opened heavy fire.

Many Al Zeitoun residents left their homes at about 2am, Mahmoud Bassal, the civil defence official in northern Gaza, told The National.

“As Israeli troops moved towards the Al Zeitoun neighbourhood, they continued shelling residential houses,” he said. “Israeli planes conducted approximately 20 air strikes, causing fear among the people who began evacuating immediately.”

Many left their homes without knowing where to go, he said, adding that air strikes struck crossroads, making it difficult for people to leave the area.

“We received around 12 calls from residents asking for help and requesting evacuation, but unfortunately, we couldn't do anything because there is no co-ordination between us and the Israeli army,” Mr Bassal said.

Witnesses said Israeli vehicles went into the southern areas of Street 8 and Ali Mosque.

The bombing claimed dozens of lives and injured several people, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported, citing medical sources.

Many of the bodies have yet to be retrieved from under the rubble of their homes.

This comes as Israeli forces lined up their tanks and opened fire close to areas surrounding Rafah.

The southern city is home to over 1.4 million displaced Palestinians and is the only major urban area in Gaza that has not yet been invaded by the Israeli army.

Residents and medics in Rafah said Israeli tank fire killed three people and wounded others near a mosque in the east of the city, according to local media.

Residents also said a helicopter opened fire, while drones hovered above houses in several areas, some close to rooftops.

In Deir Al Balah, central Gaza, medics said two people, including a woman, were killed when an Israeli drone hit a group of people. The area is packed with thousands of displaced civilians who fled Rafah after the start of Israel’s ground attack.

In a warning to Israel, US President Joe Biden said he would stop arming Israel with weapons if its forces launch a major invasion of Rafah.

Washington is by far the biggest supplier of weapons to Israel, and it increased deliveries after the Hamas attacks on Israel in early October.

On Wednesday, US officials said Washington had last week paused delivery of a shipment of heavy bombs, including 1,800 2,000lb (907kg) bombs and 1,700 500lb (227kg) bombs, to Israel because of the risk to civilians in Gaza.

Israel's United Nations ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said the US decision to pause some weapons deliveries will significantly impair Israel's ability to neutralise Hamas, according to Israeli public radio.

The war has driven about 80 per cent of Gaza's 2.3 million residents from their homes and destroyed apartments, hospitals, mosques and schools.

More than 34,900 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on October 7, after Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages.

Gazan health authorities say that more than 78,500 people have been injured since the start of the conflict.

Israel says Hamas is still holding about 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Updated: May 09, 2024, 12:43 PM