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Israel strikes landmark residential tower in southern Rafah as truce talks stall

ISRAEL struck one of the largest residential towers in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, residents said, stepping up pressure on the last area of the enclave it has not yet invaded and where over a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

The 12-floor building was damaged in the strike, and residents said dozens of families were made homeless, though no casualties were reported. Israel’s military said the block was being used by Hamas to plan attacks on Israelis.

One of the 300 residents of the tower, which is located some 500 metres (1,600 ft) from the border with Egypt, told Reuters Israel gave them a 30-minute warning to flee the building at night.

“People were startled, running down the stairs, some fell, it was chaos. People left their belongings and money,” said Mohammad Al-Nabrees, adding that among those who tripped down the stairs during the panicked evacuation was a friend’s pregnant wife.

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The strike raised alarm among residents of a wider Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering. Israel has said it plans to carry out operations in the area, which it has called Hamas’s last bastion.

But its pledge to do so only after civilians have evacuated has done little to quell international concern.

Five months into Israel’s unrelenting air and ground assault on Gaza, health authorities say nearly 31,000 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more bodies are feared buried under rubble.

READ:  Egypt facilitating aid flights to Sinai for besieged Gaza

The war was triggered by an October 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Hamas on Saturday named four Israeli hostages as having died in Israeli strikes in the enclave, though it offered no evidence. The Israeli military, which did not immediately respond to the claim, has previously said such videos by Hamas were psychological warfare.

CEASEFIRE NEGOTIATIONS

The offensive has plunged Gaza, already reeling from a 17-year Israeli-Egyptian security blockade, into a humanitarian catastrophe.

In a speech marking Martyrs’ and Veterans’ Day in Egypt on Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the cost of rebuilding Gaza could exceed $90 billion.

Much of the coastal enclave has been reduced to rubble and most of its population is displaced, with the U.N. warning of disease and starvation.

A ship laden with relief supplies for Gaza was preparing to depart Cyprus on Saturday. The European Commission has said a maritime aid corridor between Cyprus and Gaza could start operating as early as this weekend in a pilot project run by an international charity and financed by the United Arab Emirates.

Three Palestinian children died of dehydration and malnutrition at the northern Al Shifa Hospital overnight, said Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra, raising to 23 the number of Palestinians who have died of similar causes in nearly 10 days.

READ:  Gaza families ordered south return home, say nowhere is safe from Israeli bombs

“This brutal war has ruptured any sense of a shared humanity,” said Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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She called for an end of hostilities to allow for meaningful aid distribution in Gaza, for Hamas to release all hostages without conditions and for Israel to treat Palestinians in its custody humanely and to permit them to contact their families.

However, negotiations on a ceasefire and the release of 134 hostages still held incommunicado in Gaza seemed to stall ahead of the hoped-for deadline, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on or around March 10.

A Hamas source told Reuters the group’s delegation was “unlikely” to make another visit to Cairo over the weekend for talks. Hamas blamed the deadlock on Israel, which has refused to give guarantees to end the war or pull its forces out of Gaza.

Israel says the war will end only with the defeat of Hamas, whose ceasefire terms Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called “delusional”.

The Israeli military said that over the past day, it conducted arrests, located weapons and killed more than 30 militants in southern Khan Younis, central Gaza and in its north.

Gaza’s health ministry said at least 82 people were killed in Israeli attacks in the last day. Medics said 23 people were killed in Khan Younis and that in northern Gaza Israeli fire killed a Palestinian fisherman along the beach.

READ:  How Hamas duped Israel as it planned devastating attack

Fears are mounting that during Ramadan violence could also spiral in the occupied West Bank, where Israel has stepped up raids amid Palestinian street attacks.

The Palestinian Prisoner’s Association said on Saturday more than 7,500 Palestinians have been detained there by Israel since October 7. The Israeli military has said 3,500 Palestinian suspects have been arrested around half of them belonging to Hamas.

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By NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI and BASSAM MASOUD

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