Israel pulls troops out of Gaza’s Rafah as it prepares for military operations

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Israel pulled its forces out of the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday as Israeli leaders said the army was preparing for military operations in the southern city of Rafah on Monday, where most of the Palestinian territory’s population has fled after six months of fighting.

Talks in Cairo aimed at brokering a truce have made “significant progress”, with more negotiations expected in the coming days, Egyptian state-linked outlet Al-Qahera reported Monday.

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International pressure has mounted on Israel to bring an end to the war, with its main ally the United States last week demanding a ceasefire and hostage release deal along with ramped-up aid deliveries.

Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said troops had left the city of Khan Younis “to prepare for future missions, including... in Rafah.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was “one step away from victory.”

After troops left areas in and around the largely destroyed Khan Younis, a stream of displaced Palestinians walked there, hoping to return to their homes from temporary shelters in Rafah, a little further south.

Muhammad Yunis, 51, a Palestinian in northern Gaza, saw nothing but loss.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 25, 2024. (File photo: Reuters)
Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 25, 2024. (File photo: Reuters)

“Isn’t the bombing, death and destruction enough?” he asked. “There are bodies still under the rubble. We can smell the stench.”

Israel has killed at least 33,175 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the territory.

Cairo talks

In Cairo, Al-Qahera reported “significant progress being made on several contentious points of agreement,” citing a high-ranking Egyptian source.

The outlet said Qatari and Hamas delegations had left Cairo and were expected to return “within two days to finalize the terms of the agreement”.

US and Israeli delegations were due to leave the Egyptian capital “in the next few hours” and consultations were expected to continue over the next 48 hours, it added.

In a speech to mark six months since Hamas’s October 7 attack, Netanyahu told his cabinet that “Israel is ready for a deal,” adding that “there will be no ceasefire without the return of hostages.”

Netanyahu has come under heightened pressure from US President Joe Biden – whose administration is Israel’s top arms supplier and political backer – to end the war and improve the humanitarian situation.

An Israeli drone strike on April 1 killed seven aid workers for the US-based food charity World Central Kitchen, prompting Biden to hint at making US support for Israel conditional on boosting protections for civilians and improving humanitarian conditions.

A view of the rubble inside the destroyed Al Shifa Hospital during an inspection by the World Health Organisation, in Gaza City April 6, 2024. (Reuters)
A view of the rubble inside the destroyed Al Shifa Hospital during an inspection by the World Health Organisation, in Gaza City April 6, 2024. (Reuters)

Vast areas of Gaza have been turned into a rubble-strewn wasteland, with damage estimated at $18.5 billion to critical infrastructure, mostly housing, a World Bank report said.

Charities have accused Israel of blocking aid, but Israel has defended its efforts and blamed shortages on aid organizations’ inability to distribute assistance once it gets in.

“The denial of basic needs – food, fuel, sanitation, shelter, security and health care – is inhumane and intolerable,” World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on social media platform X.

Medical supplies were delivered for the first time through Israel’s Erez border point with northern Gaza, AFPTV footage showed.

Israel’s 98th commando division withdrew from Khan Younis and left Gaza “in order to recuperate and prepare for future operations,” the army told AFP.

Maha Thaer, a mother of four returning to Khan Younis, said she would move back into her badly damaged apartment, “even though it is not suitable for living, but it is better than tents.”

With AFP

Read more:

Cairo talks yield promising truce progress for Gaza conflict: Egyptian TV

Aid organizations condemn ‘beyond catastrophic’ six-month toll in Gaza conflict

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