Israel strikes targets in Rafah, says cease-fire deal accepted by Hamas inadequate

Palestinians inspect the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah on Friday that killed seven members of one family, according to medical sources. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI
Palestinians inspect the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Rafah on Friday that killed seven members of one family, according to medical sources. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

May 6 (UPI) -- Israel said Monday it is pressing ahead with a much-anticipated assault on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza despite an announcement by the Palestinian militant group Hamas that it had accepted the terms of a brokered cease-fire.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the War Cabinet in charge of the Gaza campaign had "unanimously decided" late on Monday that Israel "will continue its operation in Rafah, in order to apply military pressure on Hamas so as to advance the release of our hostages and achieve the other objectives of the war."


The announcement came hours after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement to media outlets the militant group had accepted the terms of a cease-fire proposal during negotiations with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani and Egyptian Minister of Intelligence Abbas Kamel.


The terms of the cease-fire deal agreed to by Hamas are "far from meeting Israel's core demands," Netanyahu's office said in a statement, but the government has nevertheless agreed to "dispatch a ranking delegation to Egypt in an effort to maximize the possibility of reaching an agreement on terms acceptable to Israel."

Shortly afterward, the Israel Defense Forces announced it was "conducting targeted strikes against Hamas terror targets in eastern Rafah in southern Gaza," where more than 1 million Palestinian refugees are sheltering in the wake of Israel's military campaign to smash Hamas' military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian WAFA news agency reported the IDF launched "carpet bombings" in densely populated areas of eastern Rafah and southern Gaza late Monday, quoting local sources describing intense shelling in the area.

The IDF move on Rafah was quickly followed by rocket fire emanating from the northern Gaza Strip toward the southern Israeli city of Sderot, the military told the Times of Israel. No injuries were reported in the attack, which was claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

"I reiterate my urgent call to the Israeli government & Hamas leadership to come to an agreement & stop the suffering," United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a social media post. "I'm deeply concerned by indications that a large-scale military operation in Rafah may be imminent. Protection of civilians is paramount in int'l humanitarian law."


The Rafah assault appeared to be moving ahead as senior U.S. and Israeli officials indicated that Hamas' announcement of cease-fire deal was not based on terms agreed to by Jerusalem, according to CNN.

The proposal agreed to by the militant group calls for a permanent end to the war, they said -- a red line for Netanyahu that he has repeatedly rejected.

Israel early on Monday instructed about 100,000 Palestinians sheltering in Rafah to begin evacuating to "expanded" humanitarian zones elsewhere in southern Gaza ahead of the anticipated assault on the city.

The military air-dropped flyers, texted and called people telling them to leave for zones in nearby Khan Younis to the northeast or Al-Mawasi directly to the north near the coast, Israel Defense Forces said on X.

"Based on the approval of the political level, the IDF calls on the civilian population under Hamas control to temporarily evacuate from the eastern neighborhoods of the Rafah area to the expanded humanitarian zone," said IDF spokesman Avichay Adraee.

The IDF said the Al-Mawasi humanitarian area, with field hospitals, tents, and increased amounts of food, water and medication was also designed to facilitate a surge in the volume of aid flowing into Gaza "in cooperation with some international organizations and other countries," with a significant increase already seen.


The evacuation order came after U.S. President Joe Biden held a phone conversation with Netanyahu in which the president "updated the Prime Minister on efforts to secure a hostage deal, including through ongoing talks today in Doha, Qatar," according to the White House.

Washington said Netanyahu agreed to ensure the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza would remain open for humanitarian assistance for those in need.

The crossing had been closed after four Israeli soldiers were killed and 10 more were injured in a rocket attack that Hamas claimed responsibility for.

Biden, meanwhile, "reiterated his clear position on Rafah," in which he has previously urged Netanyahu not to attack Rafah and to reduce civilian casualties.

The latest figures from Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry show that in the 24-hour period to Sunday, 29 Palestinians were killed and 110 injured, bringing the total number killed since the start of the current conflict in October to 34,683 with another 78,018 injured.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly located the Kerem Shalom crossing in northern Gaza.

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