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Israeli strikes kill 13 Palestinians in overcrowded Rafah after US slams ‘over the top’ operation – India TV

Gaza, Israel Hamas war, Palestinians killed
Image Source : AP A damaged residential building after an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip.

Israel-Hamas war: Israel bombarded targets in overcrowded Rafah, where most Palestinians have squeezed into following evacuation orders from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) despite warnings from the United States against expanding its ground offensive. At least 13 people were killed as airstrikes struck residential buildings and a kindergarten as Israel vowed to crush Hamas.

Overnight airstrikes on Friday hit two residential buildings in Rafah, killing eight Palestinians, and a third strike targeted a kindergarten-turned-shelter for the displaced in central Gaza, killing at least four people – most of them women and children. The overnight air strikes came hours after US President Joe Biden said that he considers Israel’s conduct of the war to be “over the top”.

“I am of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,” Biden said on Thursday, after delivering remarks on a special counsel report on his handling of classified documents. The continuing strikes by Israel show a growing rift between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Biden administration, even as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the country.

Israel’s stated intentions to expand its ground offensive to Rafah also prompted an unusual public backlash in Washington. “We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman on Thursday. John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, said an Israel ground offensive in Rafah is “not something we would support.”

More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has been driven by Israel’s military offensive toward the border with Egypt. Unable to leave the tiny Palestinian territory, many are living in makeshift tent camps or overflowing UN-run shelters.

Israel’s operation alarms Egypt

The Palestinian death toll from the war has surpassed 27,840 people, the Health Ministry in Gaza said. The war began with Hamas’ October 7 assault into Israel, in which militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250. Hamas is still holding over 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu pushed a message of “total victory” in the war this week, when Blinken was in Israel to press for a cease-fire deal in exchange for the release of dozens of Hamas-held hostages. With the war now in its fifth month, Israeli ground forces are still focusing on the city of Khan Younis, just north of Rafah, but Netanyahu has repeatedly said Rafah will be next.

Netanyahu’s words have also alarmed Egypt which has said that any ground operation in the Rafah area or mass displacement across the border would undermine its 40-year-old peace treaty with Israel. The mostly sealed Gaza-Egypt border is also the main entry point for humanitarian aid.

Even in areas of refuge, such as Rafah, Israel routinely launches air strikes against what it says are Hamas targets. It holds the militant group responsible for civilian casualties because it operates from civilian areas.

Ceasefire negotiations continue

Biden has said he continues to work “tirelessly” to press Israel and Hamas to agree on an extended pause in fighting. A truce would be linked to the release of dozens of hostages, out of some 250 seized on October 7. However, Netanyahu has rejected Hamas’ demands for a hostage deal, which includes an end to the war and the release of hundreds of veteran Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences in Israel for deadly attacks carried out as part of the long-running conflict.

The Israeli PM has dismissed Hamas’ demands as delusional, even as Blinken said he believes continued negotiations, through mediators Egypt and Qatar, are possible. Israel’s war goals appear increasingly elusive, as Hamas reemerges in parts of northern Gaza, which was the first target of the offensive and has seen widespread destruction. Israel has only rescued one hostage, while Hamas says several have been killed in airstrikes or failed rescue missions.

(with inputs from AP)

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