1 of 5 | Israel bombed Rafah Thursday as hundreds of thousands of Palestinians braced for a ground attack in the southern Gaza city where roughly half of Gaza's 2.3 million civilian population is sheltering.
Palestinians inspect the Fahjan family house, destroyed in Israeli bombardment on Rafah Thursday. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 8 (UPI) -- As Israeli bombs fell on Rafah Thursday, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians braced for the attack in the southern Gaza city where roughly half of Gaza's 2.3 million civilian population is sheltering.
At least 14 people were killed as Israeli airstrikes hit several residential buildings in Rafah according to a CNN report citing eyewitness and local journalist Tareq Al Hilou.
Hilou said the Tal Al-Sultan and Saudi neighborhoods in western Rafah were hit as a heavy bombardment was underway.
Another journalist witness, Khader Al Zaanoun, said several people were killed and wounded when the Israeli military allegedly opened fire on civilians in the streets of Gaza City.
As Rafah was attacked by air, Al Jazeera reported that panic in Rafah is growing ahead of an expected Israeli ground invasion.
"What people are experiencing in the southern part of the Gaza Strip is a surge in attacks from air, land and sea," Al Jazeera's Hani Mahmoud reported.
The Gaza Ministry of Health said the death toll from the war so far is at least 27,840 people with 67,317 injured including 130 deaths and 170 people injured in the past 24 hours.
Israeli forces have said they would coordinate with Egypt before any ground offensive into Rafah near the Egyptian border and would also look for a way to evacuate civilians to the north.
An Israeli ground attack on Rafah may have another purpose beyond attacking Hamas, based on recent remarks by officials who indicated Israel would like to control the Philadelphi route along the Gaza border with Egypt.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected a cease-fire and said Wednesday the IDF would begin operating in Rafah as he declared that total victory over Hamas was a "matter of months away."
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the best solution to end Israel's war with Hamas is a "clear and credible pathway to a Palestinian state."
U.N. Relief Chief Martin Griffiths said on X, "As the war in Gaza encroaches further into Rafah, I am extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of families which have endured the unthinkable in search of safety."
According to the IDF, a large tunnel was found Wednesday in Khan Younis that had been used by senior Hamas leaders to hold hostages. The IDF said the 98th Brigade and special forces found and destroyed the tunnel.
The IDF said the tunnel held approximately 12 hostages at different times and also included weapons and intelligence materials. The tunnel was built "under the heart of a civilian area in Khan Younis," according to the IDF.
"Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, and Rafah is now the most densely populated place in Gaza. Any sort of military campaign or air strike would amplify risks of disproportionate attacks," said a statement from Omar Shaki, the Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.
According to OCHA, the U.N. office coordinating humanitarian affairs, more than half of Gaza's homes -- 360,000 residential units -- have been destroyed or damaged. Just 13 out of 35 hospitals are partially functioning.