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GAZA: A man sits amid the debris of destroyed houses in the aftermath of Zionist bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb 22, 2024. – AFP  
GAZA: A man sits amid the debris of destroyed houses in the aftermath of Zionist bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb 22, 2024. – AFP  
Zionists strike Rafah as truce talks underway

GAZA: The Zionist entity launched deadly air strikes on Rafah on Thursday, after threatening to send troops in to hunt for Hamas fighters in the southern Gaza city where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge. Major powers trying to find a way to end the destructive Zionist-Hamas war have so far failed, but a US envoy was in the Zionist entity Thursday in the latest attempt to secure a truce deal.

International concern has spiraled over Gaza’s escalating civilian death toll and the desperate humanitarian crisis sparked by the war. The war has also triggered mounting violence in the occupied West Bank, where three Palestinians opened fire on cars in a traffic jam on Thursday, killing one person and wounding eight. The attackers were shot dead at the scene, near a Zionist settlement east of Jerusalem.

Zionist far-right politicians quickly called for more citizens to carry weapons and for even greater restrictions on Palestinian West Bank residents, while Hamas urged an escalation in attacks. More than four months of relentless fighting and bombardment have flattened much of Gaza and pushed its population of around 2.4 million to the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

Alarm has centered on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians are living in crowded shelters and makeshift camps where disease threatens. The Zionist entity has warned that, if Hamas does not free the remaining captives held in Gaza by the start of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, it will keep fighting during the holy month, including in Rafah. The Zionist entity has already been bombing the city, which was again hit overnight and where early Thursday AFP reporters heard multiple air strikes. “I woke up to the sound of a huge explosion like an earthquake — fire, smoke, blasts and dust everywhere,” said Rami Al-Shaer, 21, who told AFP he and others pulled wounded family members from the rubble.

Gaza’s Civil Defense agency reported “a number” of people were killed, while elsewhere in Rafah residents walked amid the rubble of the city’s Al-Faruq Mosque, after strikes. “At night, we were surprised by a call asking us to evacuate because the surrounding area was being targeted,” said Mohamad Abu Khosa, adding that the army had targeted the mosque with two missiles. Another 97 people were killed across the Palestinian territory in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said.

War cabinet member Benny Gantz said the Zionist entity’s operation in Rafah would begin “after the evacuation of the population”, although his government has not specified where civilians could go. Gazans have said nowhere in the territory is safe. The Zionist entity’s campaign has killed at least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest count by Gaza’s health ministry.

Mediators including the United States, Qatar and Egypt, who have tried and so far failed to broker a ceasefire and hostage release deal, made a new push for an agreement. Brett McGurk, White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, held talks with Zionist Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, after meeting with other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh earlier this week.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington hopes for an “agreement that secures a temporary ceasefire where we can get the hostages out and get humanitarian assistance in”. Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will fight on until it has destroyed Hamas — but his failure so far to bring home all the captives has led to mounting protests and calls for early elections.

A poll of hundreds of Zionists, published Wednesday, showed a majority do not think “absolute victory” is a likely outcome. With Arab support, the United States has called for a pathway to a Palestinian state — something the Zionist entity’s parliament has overwhelmingly rejected.

The UN humanitarian agency said aid to Gaza is being gravely hampered by the “intense hostilities, limitations on the entry and delivery of aid, and growing insecurity”. Volunteer Mohammad Al-Oukshia at NGO World Central Kitchen in Rafah said the group was trying to provide “nutritious meals to displaced people” and was hoping to expand to northern Gaza, where famine fears are most acute.

In the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said a Zionist tank had fired on a house sheltering their employees and families. Two relatives of MSF staff were killed and six others wounded, it said, condemning the strike in the “strongest possible terms”. The Zionist army said its forces had “fired at a building” identified as a place where “terror activity is occurring”, adding that it “regrets” harm to civilians. The military said troops killed more than 15 fighters in Khan Yunis, which has seen fierce fighting.

Elsewhere in the region, the war has led to attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Red Sea shipping lanes vital for global trade. The Houthis say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians. A missile attack on Thursday caused a fire on board a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire on board, two maritime security agencies said. – AFP

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