Israeli airstrikes kill more than 100 in Rafah as international concern grows over ground attack

(CNN) — Dozens of people, including children, were killed as a result of “extremely intense” Israeli airstrikes and shelling that hit several locations in Rafah on Monday night, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, as international concern grows over Israel’s planned ground offensive. Southern Gaza city.

The PRCS said on Monday morning that more than 100 people were killed as a result of Israeli airstrikes as warplanes targeted various areas of the city and helicopters opened fire with machine guns on border areas.

CNN cannot independently confirm the number of victims on the ground.

There are fears that the death toll could rise further, as the PRCS said many people were still trapped under debris and there was still a strong presence of warplanes in the skies over Rafah.

The director of Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital said that medical facilities in Rafah “cannot handle the large number of injured due to Israeli occupation shelling.”

Images obtained by CNN show a chaotic scene inside Rafah’s Al Kuwaiti hospital, with doctors trying to revive a motionless baby at one scene. Another photo shows doctors treating an injured man on the hospital floor. In another video, a woman was inconsolable holding the body of a child wrapped in white cloth.

Rafah municipality said on Monday that at least two mosques and about a dozen houses were targeted in the attacks.

release of israeli hostages

The Israeli military confirmed that it had carried out “a series of strikes” against what it described as targets in the Shaboura area of ​​Rafah, and that two Israeli hostages had been rescued in a “special operation”.

In a joint statement, the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Shin Bet Security Agency and police identified the hostages as 60-year-old Fernando Simon Marmon and 70-year-old Lewis Haar and said they had been kidnapped by Hamas. On October 7 in Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak.

Waves of smoke rise during the Israeli bombardment of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (Credit: Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)

“Both are in good medical condition and have been transferred to Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital for medical examination,” the statement said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed home two Argentine-Israeli hostages who were rescued overnight in an IDF operation in Rafah.

“Fernando and Luis: Welcome back home,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

The Prime Minister said, “I congratulate our brave warriors for the courageous action that led to their release. Only continued military pressure until complete victory will lead to the release of all our hostages.”

“We will leave no chance to bring them home,” he said.

IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters that the “secret operation” to secure the hostages began at 1:49 local time and air strikes on Rafah were launched a minute later.

In a statement on Monday, Hamas condemned the “horrible massacre” by Israel against civilians in Rafah.

Hamas said, “The Israeli army’s attack on Rafah and its horrific massacre against defenseless civilians and displaced children, women and the elderly… is considered a continuation of the genocidal war and forced displacement efforts being waged against our Palestinian people “

More than 1.3 million people – more than half of Gaza’s population – are seeking refuge in Rafah, with most displaced people from other parts of the besieged territory settled in a vast tent city.

There are severe shortages of food, water, medicine and shelter, and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesman Jens Larke has described the city as a “pressure cooker of desperation”.

Rafah has experienced months of air strikes by Israeli forces, but Monday’s bombardment raised fears that an early Israeli ground campaign could result in bloodshed, and that people trapped in the crowded city may have little way to escape. Will not survive.

“The Last Bastion”

Netanyahu on Friday ordered the country’s military to prepare a plan to “evacuate the population” of Rafah, after saying that the IDF would “soon move into Rafah, the last stronghold of Hamas.”

His comments sparked a wave of criticism, with Human Rights Watch saying that the forced displacement of Palestinians in Rafah would have “devastating consequences”. The UN said it was “extremely concerned about the fate of civilians in Rafah”, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, who added that people “are in need of protection.”

According to Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV, a source in the Hamas leadership said an attack on Rafah would mean “destroying” weeks of negotiations.

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Kingdom join a growing list of countries expressing concern about Israel’s planned invasion.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry warned of “very serious consequences of attacking and targeting” the city, while Qatar, a key mediator in talks between Israel and Hamas, urged the UN Security Council on Sunday to allow Israel to “Stop” from doing what he described. Warned of “massacre” and “humanitarian catastrophe in the city”.

A satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows Rafah, Gaza on February 3, 2024. (Credit: Satellite Image ©2024 Maxar Technologies)

According to a statement from White, in a call with Netanyahu this Sunday, US President Joe Biden “reaffirmed” his position that the IDF should leave Rafah “without a credible and executable plan” to ensure the safety of civilians. Military operations should not continue in India. Home.

But Netanyahu played down the criticism, saying that asking Israel not to enter southern Gaza City was like asking the country to lose the war.

“Victory is within our reach. Let’s do it. “We are going to move the remaining terrorist battalions of Hamas into Rafah, which is the last stronghold, but we are going to do it,” Netanyahu told ABC News in an interview this Sunday.

An Israeli official told CNN that Netanyahu wants the Rafah operation to be completed by the beginning of Ramadan, which is expected to begin in early March.

Netanyahu said Israel would provide safe passage for civilians, but did not give details about how this would happen. “We are developing a comprehensive plan,” he said.

Many Palestinians fleeing Israeli bombs and shelling have sought refuge through the enclave into the city as the IDF campaign moves south through Gaza.

It soon became home to a large population of displaced Palestinians. Satellite images last week showed how a tent city in Rafah has grown in size in just a few weeks, as more Gazans flock to the area to escape the IDF campaign.

It is unclear where they might go next; The city borders Egypt to the south, but the border with the country has been closed for months.

“The dead are better than us”

For more than a million Palestinians in the southern city, the expected advance toward Rafah is causing anxiety and fear.

Mohammed Jamal Abu Tour, a Palestinian who lives in Rafah, said, “We pray to God that what happened in Gaza City does not happen in Rafah because if the same thing happens in Rafah we will have nowhere to go.”

He added, “If we go to Gaza City, Khan Younis or Al Nusseirat, we will not get the supplies that were provided to us here in Rafah.” “We keep hearing that in Gaza City they are not getting drinking water and they eat grass, drink water from the sea, God help them.”

Mahmoud Khalil Amer, displaced from the al-Shatti refugee camp in northern Gaza, said he was staying in a tent near a cemetery in Rafah. He said, “We are not alive, the dead are better than us.”

Rafah is the last major population center in Gaza not occupied by Israeli forces.

Other cities attacked by the IDF in its mission to destroy Hamas have become wastelands – a grim preview of what may lie ahead for Rafah.

People in the Tal el Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City described scenes of “complete destruction” following Israeli operations in northern Gaza, with some saying they had to drink from toilets due to lack of water.

“We were under siege. We tried to return to the north, but we were surrounded here,” Abdul Karim al-Qaseer, a journalist working for CNN, told AFP. “There were martyrs every day. There were bomb blasts every day. “Felt hungry every day.”

“We even had to drink water from the bathroom. We had to drink from it and also make our children drink from it. There was no food or drink there,” he said.

Olfat Hamdan said he had seen bodies on the streets of Gaza City and that “no one can drag or move them.”

“That’s what I saw? The total devastation — look at the scale of the destruction,” he said in a video commissioned by CNN, as he pointed to damaged buildings and the debris surrounding them.

In the southern city of Khan Yunis, where Israeli forces urged large numbers of civilians to flee in the early days of the war, the devastation seen by CNN was described as beyond imagination.

As the IDF focused its operations on Khan Yunis, many buildings have been completely destroyed and the debris has been removed with bulldozers. Those left standing appear damaged beyond repair. Some look like the ruins of medieval castles: lonely walls that used to have windows.

At the heart of growing fears over the Israeli offensive in Rafah is the massive humanitarian cost of the war which has already inflicted a catastrophic humanitarian crisis on the people of Gaza, including famine, imminent famine, medical disaster and deaths. According to information released by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, more than 28,100 Palestinians.

—CNN’s Martin Goilandeau, Lauren Izzo, Alex Stambaugh, Ivana Kottasova, Simon Cullen, Karim El Damanhoury, Amir Tal, Mick Craver, Eve Brennan, Khader Al Zanoun and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed reporting.

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