Gaza war will last all year at least, Israeli official warns as tanks raid Rafah again

Fighting in Gaza is set at least until the end of the year, an Israeli official has predicted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser signalled that his country was not ready to agree a ceasefire with Hamas and to exchange Palestinian prisoners for the Israeli hostages held by the militants.

“The fighting in Rafah is not a pointless war,” said Tzachi Hanegbi, reiterating that the aim was to end Hamas’ rule in Gaza and stop it and its allies attacking Israel.

He added: “The army is achieving its objectives but (it) said from the first days it was presenting its plan to the cabinet that the war will be long....they have designated 2024 as a year of war.”

Palestinians have been fleeing Rafah amid advancements from Israeli troops (Reuters)
Palestinians have been fleeing Rafah amid advancements from Israeli troops (Reuters)

Israeli tanks mounted raids across Rafah for a second day on Wednesday, despite an order from the International Court of Justice to end its attacks on the city, where many Palestinians had taken refuge from bombardment.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said they confronted the invading forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, as well as blowing up previously planted explosive devices. The Israelis retreated to positions near the border with Egypt.

Palestinian health officials said several people were wounded by Israeli fire in the eastern area of Rafah, where they also said several aid stores were set ablaze.

Some residents reported seeing what they described as unmanned robotic armoured vehicles opening fire from machine guns.

Israeli tanks pressed further into Rafah (Getty Images)
Israeli tanks pressed further into Rafah (Getty Images)

The Palestinian health ministry said several hospitals in areas where the army was operating had stopped functioning.

Washington had said the assault did not amount to a major ground operation in the southern Gazan city that US officials have warned Israel to avoid.

The Palestinian health minister has urged the United States to pressure Israel to open the Rafah crossing, which is used to bring in humanitarian and medical supplies.

Israel said its military controlled three-quarters of the buffer zone on the border and aimed to control all of it to prevent Hamas smuggling in weapons.

Rafah was a major entry point for humanitarian relief before Israel stepped up its military offensive on the Gaza side of the border earlier this month and seized control of the crossing.

Malnutrition is widespread after aid deliveries slowed to a trickle.

“There is no indication when they want to open it,” said Palestinian minister, Majed Abu Ramadan.

“However, I would expect all our friends and the international community to press hard, and especially the United States of America.”

He said the crossing’s closure made the situation “really very, very catastrophic”.

The World Health Organisation says the border closure has significantly affected delivery of medical supplies into the Gaza Strip, which has been targeted by an Israeli offensive following the 7 October attacks by Hamas in southern Israel.

Around a million people have fled from bombardment in the city in three weeks, according to the UN Palestinian refugee agency.

Israel continued it attack on Rafah for a second day (Reuters)
Israel continued it attack on Rafah for a second day (Reuters)

The Israeli military said three soldiers were killed in Rafah on Tuesday. It reportedly happened when a booby trap exploded.

At least 290 soldiers have been killed since October, according to military figures.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it had evacuated a field hospital in the Al-Mawasi area, a designated civilian evacuation zone.

One of its staff was killed in an Israeli air strike on his house in the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, workers added. His death brought to 30 the number of staff killed since 7 October, at least 17 of them killed on duty.

In the city of Khan Younis, an Israeli air strike killed three other people overnight, including a former senior Hamas police officer, doctors and Hamas media said on Wednesday.

Israel’s military denied striking a tent camp in a designated civilian evacuation zone on Tuesday.

Nearly eight months since the war started, the two sides continued to be far from reaching a deal to cease fire and exchange hostages.

Israel has delivered its latest ceasefire and hostage release proposal to Qatar, and Qatar was to provide it to Hamas on Tuesday, a source said. Hamas says talks are pointless unless Israel ends its Rafah offensive.