June 18, 2024

Israel’s military said early Monday that it had conducted a “wave of attacks” on Rafah, fueling fear and panic among the more than a million Palestinians who have crowded into Gaza’s southernmost city, seeking refuge from Israeli military actions further north.

This was the latest in a barrage of deadly strikes which Israel has launched against Rafah and other parts of the southern Gaza Strip for weeks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated on Sunday that the military will soon enter the city, which is bracketed by a closed Egyptian border. Palestinians in Rafah fear they have nowhere else to go.

At about 3 a.m. local time, the military said on Telegram that its strikes on “quality targets” were over. Images and videos on social media, which could not immediately be verified, showed injured people and damage to buildings. News outlets reported deadly attacks on two mosques in Rafah and said people were being taken to Kuwait Hospital in the city.

The military also announced that it had rescued two hostages being held in Rafah in an overnight operation, representing one of the few examples of a successful hostage rescue from Gaza since the start of the war.

Mr. Netanyahu has ignored warnings from its most important allies, including the United States and Britain, not to proceed with the plan to send troops into Rafah, saying that Israel has no choice but to finish its assault on Hamas, which it says is hiding among the civilians in Rafah.

The United Nations and aid groups have repeatedly warned that an advance on Rafah would be devastating to civilians and risk exacerbating a catastrophe that is already unfolding, with the residents running low on food, clean water and medicine. The people in Rafah, many of whom have already fled their homes at least once to escape Israeli attacks since the start of the war, have nowhere else to go, the United Nations and aid groups have said.

On Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu promised to offer Palestinians “safe passage” to northern areas of Gaza before the planned ground invasion, though he offered no details.

The warnings of a ground invasion have also sparked tensions with Israel’s neighbor, Egypt, whose border some of the recent strikes have landed near. Egypt has warned of “dire consequences” if the military operation proceeds, while ruling out opening its border to allow large numbers of displaced Palestinians to take temporary refuge on its territory.

A flurry of diplomatic activity in recent days has done little to advance a cease-fire deal. On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu spurned a proposal from Hamas that would have freed Israeli hostages in Gaza for Israel’s withdrawal from the territory, abiding by a long-term cease-fire and freeing Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Asked during an interview on Sunday how many of the remaining hostages were still alive, Mr. Netanyahu said, “Enough to warrant the kind of efforts that we’re doing.”