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Israeli strikes kill 44 Palestinians in Rafah ahead of possible invasion

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  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Palestinians search for survivors after an Israeli airstrike on a residential building In Rafah, Gaza Strip, today.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Palestinians search for survivors after an Israeli airstrike on a residential building In Rafah, Gaza Strip, today.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip >> Israeli airstrikes killed at least 44 Palestinians — including more than a dozen children — in the southern Gaza city of Rafah today, hours after Israel’s prime minister said he had asked the military to plan for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people there ahead of a ground invasion.

Benjamin Netanyahu did not provide details or a timeline, but the announcement set off panic and warnings from diplomats. More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are packed into Rafah, many after following Israeli evacuation orders that now cover two-thirds of the territory. It’s not clear where they could run next.

Israel says that Rafah, which borders Egypt, is the last remaining stronghold for the Hamas militant group in Gaza after more than four months of war sparked by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said any Israeli ground offensive on Rafah would have “disastrous consequences,” and asserted that Israel aims to eventually force the Palestinians out of their land.

Another mediator, Qatar, warned of disaster if Israel carries out a Rafah offensive, and Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious repercussions.” There is even increasing friction between Netanyahu and the United States, whose officials have said a Rafah invasion with no plan for the civilian population would lead to disaster.

Israel has carried out airstrikes in Rafah almost daily, even after telling civilians in recent weeks to seek shelter there from the current ground combat in Khan Younis just to the north.

Overnight into today, three airstrikes on homes in the Rafah area killed 28 people, according to a health official and Associated Press journalists who saw the bodies arriving at hospitals. Each strike killed multiple members of three families, including a total of 10 children, the youngest 3 months old.

Fadel al-Ghannam said one strike tore the bodies of his loved ones to shreds. He lost his son, daughter-in-law and four grandchildren.

He fears even worse with a ground invasion of Rafah, and said the world’s silence has enabled Israel to proceed. “To this day, the world has not been fair to us,” he said.

Later today, an Israeli airstrike on a home in Rafah killed at least 11 people, including three children, according to Ahmed al-Soufi, head of Rafah municipality. The dead were taken to Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, according to an AP journalist there.

“This is what Netanyahu targets — the civilians,” said a neighbor, Samir Abu Loulya.

Two other strikes killed two policemen and three senior officers in the civil police, according to city officials.

In Khan Younis, Israeli forces opened fire at Nasser Hospital, the area’s largest, killing at least two people and wounding five, according to the medical charity Doctors Without Borders.

Israeli tanks reached the hospital gates this morning, Ahmed Maghrabi, a physician at the hospital, said in a Facebook post.

Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said hospital staff are no longer able to move between buildings because of the intense fire. He said 300 medical personnel, 450 patients and 10,000 displaced people are sheltering there.

The Israeli military said troops were not currently operating inside the hospital and called the surrounding area “an active combat zone.”

Roughly 80% of Gaza’s people have been displaced, and the territory has plunged into a humanitarian crisis with shortages of food and medical services.

Gaza death toll tops 28,000

The Gaza Health Ministry said today that the bodies of 117 people killed in Israeli airstrikes were brought to hospitals over the past 24 hours, raising the overall death toll from the offensive to 28,064, mostly women and children. The ministry said more than 67,000 people have been wounded.

Israel declared war after several thousand Hamas militants burst across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,300 people and taking 250 others hostage. Not all are still alive.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian deaths because it fights from within civilian areas, but U.S. officials have called for more surgical strikes. President Joe Biden said this week Israel’s response is “over the top.”

Netanyahu’s office says it is impossible to eliminate Hamas while leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah.

Egypt has warned that any movement of Palestinians into Egypt would threaten the four-decade-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. The Rafah border crossing, which is mostly closed, serves as the main entry point for humanitarian aid.

Rafah had a prewar population of roughly 280,000. The United Nations says it is now home to some 1.4 million additional people who fled fighting elsewhere.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making,” adding on X that “the people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air.”

Deaths elsewhere in Gaza

Israel’s offensive has caused widespread destruction, especially in northern Gaza, and hundreds of thousands of people no longer have homes.

An Israeli airstrike on the central town of Deir al-Balah killed five people and wounded about 10 others, according to hospital officials and AP journalists.

In the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City, two medics from the Palestinian Red Crescent were found dead in a destroyed ambulance after going missing 12 days ago. They had rushed to rescue 6-year-old Hind Rajab, who had been traveling with family to heed evacuation orders.

The PRC previously released a recording of a call from Hind’s cousin saying the car had come under fire and only she and Hind survived. The cousin went silent mid-call.

The PRC said the rescue mission was coordinated with Israel’s military, which had no comment.

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