Israel bombs Rafah as assault looms, Gaza ceasefire talks continue

Israel bombs Rafah as assault looms, Gaza ceasefire talks continue
The looming assault on Rafah comes as Gaza negotiations intensify, with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken working with Egypt and Qatar to push the talks
12 min read
07 February, 2024

Israel has stepped up its bombing of the Gaza's southern city of Rafah, killing at least 12 people and injuring in others as the military signals it will carry out a ground assault on the city.

Fears are raised for  the residents of the city, which now hosts at least half of all Gaza's residents according to UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Israel's has killed 27,708 Palestinians in Gaza since 7 October, with a further 67,147 injured according to Gaza's health authorities.

The heightened pressure on Rafah comes amid intense ceasefire talks between Hamas and Israel.

A Hamas counterproposal which was reportedly given to Egyptian and Qatari mediators has offered a ceasefire composing of three 45-day phases which would see the release of Israeli captives in return for the release of 1,500 Palestinian prisoners.  

5:46 PM

The live blog has now ended and will be back tomorrow at 9am GMT. Read more of The New Arab's coverage of Israel's war on Gaza here.

Israeli military calls for longer army service due to war
5:42 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Israel's military on Wednesday proposed increasing the country's mandatory enlistment and reserve service commitments "in light of the war's challenges".

The army issued a statement outlining the proposed lengthening of required military service from 32 months to 36 months for men, and women serving in certain roles.

It also proposed increasing the required number of days of reserve service and extending the maximum age of soldiers and officers in the reserves.

The proposed changes require approval by parliament to go into effect.

The military had previously reduced mandatory service for most male citizens from 36 months to 32 months in 2015, and had planned further scalebacks for 2024.

UN chief: Rafah assault would have 'untold' consequences
4:25 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday that if Israel pushed its Gaza ground invasion into the southern city of Rafah, it would have "untold regional consequences."

"I am especially alarmed by reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been squeezed in a desperate search for safety," said Guterres, adding that "such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences."

Israeli strikes on south Lebanon kill civilian
4:22 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Israeli strikes on a south Lebanon village killed one civilian and injured two others on Wednesday, Lebanon's state media said.

"Two civilians were wounded and a third killed in an enemy drone strike on a house in Khiam" about six kilometres (around four miles) from the border, Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA) reported.

An AFP photographer in the area reported a series of strikes on Khiam, with one of his pictures showing smoke billowing from four positions in the village at once.

Since Wednesday morning, Israel has struck several border villages and a water pumping station in the Wazzani plain at the border, according to the NNA.

Algeria set to submit revised ceasefire draft to UNSC
2:37 PM
Basma El Atti

Algeria is poised to present a revised draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as the North African nation seeks to sway the veto-wielding powers in the UN Security Council (UNSC)  to pass the resolution. 

The new resolution "demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire that must be respected by all parties." It also rejects the forced displacement of civilian Palestinians. 

The draft reiterates "unwavering commitment to the two-state vision where two democratic states, Palestine and Israel, live side by side in peace." 

It was not immediately known when Algeria's draft resolution could be put to a vote. 

You can read more about Algeria's draft resolution here.

PRCS president visits Gaza with IRC president
2:19 PM
The New Arab Staff

The President of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, Dr. Younis Al-Khatib, joined President of the International Federation of Red Cross, Ms. Kate Forbes, held their first visit in Gaza since 7 October, according to a post on X by PRCS.

According to PRCS the two, along with their delegations, travelled to the enclave to "assess the humanitarian crisis during the ongoing conflict, discuss challenges faced by PRCS teams, and explore ways to improve emergency and relief services for Gaza's citizens". 

Egypt denies fortifying North Sinai's Rafah border crossing
1:47 PM
Thaer Mansour
Egypt - Cairo

A high-level Egyptian security source has denied recent media reports about the Egyptian authorities recently fortifying the walls and fences across the country's border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip to foil any infiltration attempts into Egypt's once restive North Sinai province.

Photos and segments have gone viral over the past few days, showing Egypt's side of the crossing being fortified and barbed wires installed on the fences.

Sinai Foundation for Human Rights posted pictures reportedly taken across the border, showing the fortified walls.

The New Arab could not independently verify the authenticity of the clips in question.   

But the security source told TNA, on condition of anonymity, for not being authorised to talk to the media, that "the circulated clips and pictures dated back to earlier operations on the border after the Israeli offensive against Gaza first erupted in October last year."

You can read more about the allegations about Egypt fortifying its border with Gaza here.

Israel conducts strikes against Hezbollah in south Lebanon
1:33 PM
The New Arab Staff

The Israeli military has said it has carried out strikes against a Hezbollah military site in the village of Marwahin, adding that overnight aircraft struck another site in Bani Haiyyan.

The military added that two projectiles were fired at Israel from Lebanon today.

UNRWA staff deny Israeli accusations levelled against them
1:25 PM
Sally Ibrahim

Israel accused, in a file prepared by its intelligence service (Mossad), some employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) of participating in the Hamas-led 7 October attack on Israeli military bases and civilian settlements in and around the "Gaza envelope". 

According to Israeli claims, 190 UNRWA employees, including teachers, belong to Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and local Israeli and international media agencies published pictures of 11 UNRWA employees who were accused of being in the Palestinian resistance groups and participated in the 7 October attack.

As a result of these as-of-yet unproven allegations, about 11 Western countries, including the United States, ceased funding the United Nations agency. UNRWA, for its part, and seemingly to avoid further sanctions, dismissed some of its employees until the completion of internal investigations.

Mohammed, one of the UNRWA employees being targetted and who preferred to remain anonymous while speaking to The New Arab, was stunned when he was informed by UNRWA that he had been dismissed from his job at a school in Gaza City and is currently being investigated.

"I am shocked because I was fired from my job. I never belonged to any Palestinian faction or was involved in any military actions in the Gaza Strip," he stressed to The New Arab

"I am ready for any internal investigations, and I can prove my innocence of the Israeli charges," he added. 

You can read more about the response from UNRWA staff on Israel's allegations, and UNRWA's response, here.

Blinken meets Netanyahu in visit to Israel
1:21 PM
The New Arab Staff

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to the prime minister's office, the two are holding an extended meeting with the Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, as well as chiefs of the Israeli military. 


Israeli protesters block Karem Abu Salem crossing
1:01 PM
The New Arab Staff

Protesters have set up tents and barricades at the Karem Abu Salem border crossing between Israel and Gaza in a bid to stop aid trucks from entering the enclave.

According to Israel's Channel 12 132 aid trucks are currently stuck at the border, as protesters demand the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza. 


Jordan 'arrests, harasses' pro-Palestine protesters
11:56 AM
William Christou

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday revealed that the Jordanian government has been arresting and harassing scores of Jordanians who participated in pro-Palestine activism since October.

Since the 7 October surprise attack on the Gaza envelope by Hamas and the subsequent start of Israel's military operation on Gaza, which has killed more than 27,000, thousands of Jordanians have participated in peaceful protests in solidarity with Palestine.

The Jordanian government has likely arrested "hundreds" for their involvement in pro-Palestine activism, HRW reported, many of them charged under a controversial new cybercrime law.

"Jordanian authorities are trampling the right to free expression and assembly in an effort to tamp down Gaza-related activism," said Lama Fakih, Middle East director at HRW.

Read more about Jordan's arrest of pro-Palestinian demonstrators here.

84 percent of UNRWA facilities 'affected by attacks'
11:50 AM
The New Arab Staff

According to the UN's Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), 84 percent of its facilities have been "affected by attacks", with only four out of 22 of its health facilities operational in Gaza.

Israeli soldier dies from fungal infection after wounding
11:45 AM
The New Arab Staff

An Israeli soldiers has died from a fungal infection he contracted after being wounded in Gaza, according to the Times of Israel.

His death was confirmed today by the Israeli military, who said that he was wounded in fighting in northern Gaza on 17 December, bringing the Israeli death toll in its ground invasion of Gaza to 227. 

US senate Democrats urge reinstatement of UNWRA funding
11:39 AM
Brooke Anderson
Washington, DC

In response to the US administration halting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency following as of yet unproven accusations that several of the agency employees took part in Hamas's 7 October attack, a group of Democrats in the US Senate are urging for the reinstatement of funding to UNRWA and generally increase humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

The initiative, announced earlier this month, is being led by Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Chris Coons of Delaware and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. 

In their letter, they emphasise the severity of the humanitarian crisis and the urgency for access to life-saving aid, dismissing recent accusations of theft of aid by Hamas.

"The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is dire, and the civilian suffering is at an unacceptable and staggering level. Ninety-three per cent of Palestinians in Gaza are facing crisis levels of hunger. Eighty-five per cent of the population is displaced. Seventy per cent of those killed are women and children," the senators wrote.

Read more about what US Senators are trying to do to resume US funding for UNRWA here.

Israeli official says some Hamas demands unacceptable
11:19 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

According to Israel's Channel 13 a senior Israeli official has said that some of Hamas' demands in its counterproposal sent to Qatar and Egypt for a mediated ceasefire in Gaza could not be accepted under any circumstances.

The official also said that the the option to reject the proposal entirely, or in part, is being debated by the government. 

Gaza health ministry: 11,000 need life saving evacuation
11:08 AM
The New Arab Staff

According to Gaza's health ministry, 11,000 sick and wounded people in the enclave require a medical evacuation in order to save their lives.

The ministry also stated that some hospitals were partially functioning in northern Gaza, but that more medical supplies, fuel, and the return of medical teams from south are needed to continue the work.

About 350,000 patients in Gaza need life saving medicine, according to the ministry.

Activists in occupied West Bank slam UNRWA funding cuts
10:57 AM
Qassam Muaddi
West Bank

Defunding the UN Agency for the Relief of Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) is "complicity in the genocide", according to Palestinian activists for refugee rights in the occupied West Bank. 

UNRWA, which was created following the mass expulsion by Zionist forces of Palestinians in 1948, provides basic humanitarian aid and services to millions of Palestinians recognised as refugees in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It is the largest services provider and one of the major employers in the Gaza Strip, employing 80 per cent of whom are refugees.

In late January, Israel claimed that 12 UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip had taken part in the 7 October attack on Israel. Israel also claimed that one out of every 10 UNRWA employees in Gaza has 'links' to Palestinian armed groups.

UNRWA announced that it immediately terminated the contracts of the employees in question. UNRWA's Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said there was still no proof to back Israeli claims that some UNRWA staff took part in Hamas' 7 October attacks. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also admitted that evidence for Israel's allegations was yet 'to be born out', meaning there is no actual evidence provided as of yet, despite the US administration cutting funds.

You can read more on what occupied West Bank activists say about UNRWA cuts here.

Syria says Israeli airstrikes in Homs killed civilians
9:28 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Israeli airstrikes over the central city of Homs and nearby areas killed and wounded civilians, the Syrian military said on Wednesday.

Syrian state news agency SANA quoted an unidentified military official as saying the strikes late Tuesday damaged both private and public property, without giving additional details.

The Israeli jets reportedly struck the Syrian city and the countryside from over the Mediterranean Sea near the Lebanese coastal city of Tripoli.

The pro-government Sham FM radio station said the areas struck included the affluent al-Malaab neighborhood and Hamra Street. It said Israel hit farmland in al-Waer, causing fires but no casualties there.

Britain-based pro-opposition war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Humanitarian Rights said at least six civilians were killed, among them a woman and a child, as well as two militants from the Lebanese Hezbollah group.

The casualties were all in a building on Hamra Street that was apparently targeted in one of the strikes, it said. Search efforts were ongoing, the Observatory added.

It said at least nine explosions were heard in Homs and its outskirts, where Hezbollah is reportedly present.

Saudi Arabia says no normalisation without Palestinian state
9:17 AM
The New Arab Staff

Saudi Arabia's foreign ministry has said that there will be no normalisation between it and Israel unless Israel recongnises a Palestinian state and ends its war on Gaza.

"There will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognized on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip stops and all Israeli occupation forces withdraw from the Gaza Strip."

The ministry also called for UN member states to recognise a Palestinian state. 

The comments come following White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby's comments that the US has received positive comments from the Saudi government that about the prospect of normalization between it and Israel.

Hamas proposes three-stage ceasefire over 135 days
9:14 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Hamas has proposed a ceasefire plan that would quiet the guns in Gaza for four-and-a-half months leading to an end to the war, in response to a proposal sent last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators and backed by the United States and Israel.

According to a draft document seen by Reuters, the Hamas counterproposal envisions three phases lasting 45 days each.

The proposal would see Hamas exchange remaining Israeli hostages they captured on 7 October for Palestinian prisoners. The reconstruction of Gaza would begin, Israeli forces would withdraw completely, and bodies and remains would be exchanged.

According to the Hamas counterproposal, all Israeli women hostages, males under 19, the elderly and sick would be released during the first 45-day phase in exchange for the release of Palestinian women and children from Israeli jails.

Remaining male hostages would be released during the second phase, and remains exchanged in the third phase. By the end of the third phase, Hamas would expect the sides to have reached agreement on an end to the war.

The group, which governs Gaza, said in an addendum to the proposal that it wished for the release of 1500 prisoners, a third of whom it wanted to select from the a list of Palestinians handed life sentences by Israel.

The truce would also increase the flow of food and other aid to Gaza's desperate civilians who are facing hunger and dire shortages of basic supplies.