Continuing strikes see Israeli tanks advancing to central Rafah

Israeli forces have reportedly made their way to the heart of the southern Gaza city of Rafah and taken control of a strategically significant hill that overlooks the neighboring border with Egypt.

Tanks were reportedly stationed at al-Awda roundabout, a significant landmark according to witnesses and local journalists.

Tanks were spotted on Zoroub Hill, which effectively granted Israel control of the Philadelphi Corridor. This corridor is a narrow stretch of land that runs along the border to the sea.

The Israeli military continues its operations against “terror targets” in Rafah, as stated by the troops, three weeks after the ground operation was initiated.

Residents reported intense bombardment in the western areas of the city overnight, despite international condemnation of an Israeli air strike and the resulting fire on Sunday. The air strike had claimed the lives of dozens of Palestinians at a tented camp for displaced people.

The Israeli military is currently investigating the potential cause of the fire, considering the possibility that it may have been triggered by the explosion of weapons stored by Hamas in the area.

Contrary to reports from local health and emergency services officials on Tuesday afternoon, it has been denied that tank shells hit another camp in al-Mawasi, which is located on the coast west of Rafah. These reports claimed that at least 21 people were killed in the incident.

According to local health officials cited by Reuters news agency, the blast was a result of Israeli tank shells striking a group of tents in al-Mawasi on Tuesday. An official from the Hamas-run civil defense force also confirmed to AFP that there was a fatal Israeli strike on the tents.

Several videos shared on social media and reviewed by BBC Verify revealed numerous individuals with severe injuries, with some individuals lying motionless on the ground in close proximity to tents and other temporary structures.

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The cause of the incident could not be determined as there was no visible blast zone or crater. The incident occurred between Rafah and al-Mawasi, south of the IDF’s designated humanitarian zone. The location was confirmed by referencing the surrounding buildings.

The IDF has released a statement clarifying that they did not carry out any strikes in the humanitarian area of al-Mawasi, contrary to recent reports.

Israel has maintained that capturing Rafah is essential for achieving victory in its seven-month war with Hamas in Gaza. Despite concerns about potential humanitarian consequences, Israel has dismissed them and remains steadfast in its determination to seize control of Rafah.

According to the UN, the number of people who have fled the fighting in Rafah has reached one million. However, there could still be several hundred thousand more individuals seeking shelter in the area.

On May 6th, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initiated “targeted” ground operations against Hamas fighters and infrastructure in the eastern part of Rafah.

Tanks and troops have been steadily advancing into the developed eastern and central regions, as well as moving northwards along the 13km (8-mile) border with Egypt.

On Tuesday, they made their way to the city centre for the first time, according to reports.

The al-Awda roundabout, situated a mere 800m (2,600 ft) away from the border, serves as a hub for prominent banks, government institutions, businesses, and shops.

According to local residents, there were reports of tanks capturing Zoroub Hill, which is located approximately 2.5km northwest of al-Awda roundabout, following intense clashes with fighters belonging to Hamas.

The hill, which stands as the highest point along the Egyptian border, has now been taken over by Israel. This strategic move has resulted in complete Israeli control over the entire Gazan side of the border.

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Residents in western Rafah reported that there were intense air and artillery strikes overnight, marking the heaviest attacks since the beginning of the Israeli operation. Zoroub Hill, which provides a vantage point over western Rafah, witnessed these devastating strikes firsthand.

Thousands of people could be seen at dawn, making their way northward. They were tightly packed into cars, lorries, and even carts pulled by donkeys and horses.

“We are meant to be in a safe zone, as stated by the Israeli army. However, unlike those in the eastern region of Rafah, we have not been given any evacuation orders,” he emphasized. “If no one intervenes to protect us, we fear for our lives.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) refrained from commenting on the numerous reports. However, they released a statement acknowledging that their troops conducted operations on the Philadelphi Corridor. These operations were carried out with precision, guided by intelligence that indicated the presence of terror targets in the area.

Efforts are ongoing to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians in the area as the activity is being conducted.

“The soldiers are actively fighting against terrorists in close-quarter battles and discovering underground tunnels, weapons, and other structures used by the terrorists in the vicinity.”

The IDF has issued a warning to civilians residing in eastern Rafah, urging them to evacuate immediately for their own safety. They have designated an “expanded humanitarian area” that spans from al-Mawasi, a coastal region north of Rafah, all the way to the central town of Deir al-Balah.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry, a devastating fire broke out in a camp for displaced people near a UN logistics base in the Tal al-Sultan area on Sunday night. Tragically, at least 45 people lost their lives in the incident, with more than half of them being children, women, and the elderly. The fire was triggered by an Israeli air strike.

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Hundreds of individuals received medical treatment for severe burns, fractures, and shrapnel wounds.

The IDF has stated that it carried out the attack with the aim of targeting two high-ranking Hamas officials. This action was taken in response to Hamas fighters launching rockets towards Tel Aviv, which occurred earlier in the day. This is the first time in several months that such an attack has taken place.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed deep regret over a “tragic incident” that occurred despite the extensive efforts made to prevent harm to non-combatants. He assured a thorough investigation would be conducted to understand the circumstances surrounding the incident.

The spokesperson stated that they are currently investigating the cause of the large fire that broke out after the strike. They emphasized that their munitions alone would not have been able to ignite a fire of such magnitude.

Rear Admiral Hagari stated that investigators are currently examining the possibility that the fire was triggered by a detonation of weapons or ammunition stored in a nearby building. He also shared an intercepted phone conversation between two individuals from Gaza, which seemed to suggest the same. However, the authenticity of the audio recording is yet to be confirmed.

According to Sam Rose from the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, the large number of civilian casualties cannot be attributed to mere chance.

“We are witnessing an alarming increase in acts of horror, bloodshed, and brutality on a daily basis. Each day seems to bring a new low. If this doesn’t serve as a wake-up call, it’s difficult to imagine what will.”

According to the health ministry in Gaza, since then, a staggering number of 36,090 people have lost their lives.

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