Israeli forces move deeper into Rafah as diplomacy falters amid intense bombardment

Hamas welcomes ceasefire proposal but reaffirms its stance that any agreement must secure an end to the war in Palestinian enclave

Building destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. Photograph: Eyad Baba/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli tanks advanced deeper into the western area of Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, amid one of the worst nights of bombardment from air, ground, and sea, forcing many families to flee their homes and tents under darkness, residents said on Thursday.

Residents said the Israeli forces thrust towards the Al-Mawasi area of Rafah near the beach, which is designated a humanitarian area in all announcements and maps published by the Israeli army since it began its Rafah offensive in May.

The Israeli military denied in a statement it had launched any strikes inside the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone.

Israel said its assault aimed to wipe out Hamas’s last intact combat units in Rafah, a city that had sheltered more than a million people before the latest advance began. Most of those people have now moved north towards Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza.


The Israeli military said in a statement it was continuing “intelligence-based, targeted operations” on Rafah, saying forces in the past day had located weapons and killed Palestinian gunmen in close-range combat.

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The military said that over the previous day it had struck 45 targets across the Gaza Strip from the air, including military structures, militant cells, rocket launchers and tunnel shafts.

Israel has ruled out peace until Hamas is eradicated, and much of Gaza lies in ruins. But Hamas has proven resilient, with militants resurfacing to fight in areas where Israeli forces had previously declared to have defeated them and pulled back.

The group welcomed a new US ceasefire proposal but put forward amendments, reaffirming its stance that any agreement must secure an end to the war, a demand Israel still rejects.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Hamas had proposed numerous changes to the draft deal, some unworkable, but that mediators were determined to close the gaps.

However, a senior Hamas leader told Reuters that the group had not sought any “significant amendments” to the proposed deal. He said Hamas had demanded to choose a list of 100 Palestinians with long sentences to be released from Israeli jails, whereas Israel was seeking to exclude prisoners with long sentences and to restrict releases to prisoners with sentences of less than 15 years remaining.

The group’s demands also included the reconstruction of Gaza; the lifting of the blockade of the coastal enclave, including opening border crossings; allowing the movement of people; and transporting goods without restrictions, the senior Hamas figure said.

Israel described Hamas’s response to the US peace proposal as total rejection. But the efforts to secure an agreement were continuing, according to mediators Qatar and Egypt.

Since a brief week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on a permanent end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Hamas precipitated the war when militants stormed from Israeli-blockaded Gaza into southern Israel in a lightning strike on October 7th last, killing about 1,200 people and taking over 250 hostages back to the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s invasion and bombardment of Gaza since then has killed at least 37,000 people, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry. Thousands more are feared buried dead under rubble, with most of the 2.3 million population displaced. – Reuters