Israel strikes Gaza's Rafah as truce talks under way

Israel strikes Gaza's Rafah as truce talks under way
Israel intensified its bombardment of Rafah in Gaza's south amid truce talks conducted by the United States, Egypt and Qatar to secure a pause in the war.
20 min read
22 February, 2024

The New Arab's Gaza live blog is now wrapping up for the night. It will be back again tomorrow at 8am. Thanks to all for following.

Israel launched further air strikes Thursday on southern Gaza's Rafah after threatening to send troops into the city, where around 1.4 million Palestinians have sought shelter from around the territory.

Global powers trying to navigate a way to end the war have so far come up short, but a US envoy was expected in Israel on Thursday to try to secure a truce deal.

More than four months of Israeli air strikes have flattened much of the coastal territory, pushing its population of around 2.4 million to the brink of famine, according to the UN.

International concern has in recent weeks centred on Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million people forced to flee their homes elsewhere in the territory are now living in crowded shelters and makeshift tents.

The last city untouched by Israeli ground troops, Rafah also serves as the main entry point via neighbouring Egypt for desperately needed relief supplies.

Israel has warned it will expand its ground operations into Rafah if Hamas does not free the remaining hostages held in Gaza by next month's start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan.

6:00 PM

TNA’s live coverage of the latest from the war on Gaza concludes for today. Join us again tomorrow at 0800 GMT for updates from the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Israeli forces withdraw from Nasser hospital: ministry
5:58 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza's Nasser Medical Complex on Thursday, a week after raiding it, the Palestinian enclave's health ministry said in a statement.

The World Health Organization says the hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza's second largest and crucial to the territory's crippled health services, stopped working last week after a week-long Israeli siege followed by the raid.

WHO plans more evacuations from Gaza hospital
5:45 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to evacuate more of the roughly 140 patients stranded in Gaza's Nasser hospital, where Palestinian officials said bodies of dead patients had begun to decompose amid power cuts and fighting.

The WHO and partners have so far carried out three evacuations from the hospital in Khan Younis, the latest on Wednesday, transferring 51 patients to southern Gaza, the UN agency's Ayadil Saparbekov said at a press briefing on Thursday.

The WHO says the hospital, Gaza's second-largest and crucial to the territory's crippled health services, stopped working last week after a week-long Israeli siege followed by a raid.

"The WHO will continue to try evacuation of those critically ill and critically wounded patients from the Nasser hospital to other hospitals in the south, including the field hospitals that have been established in Rafah," Saparbekov said.

"However it's a very difficult and high risk mission."

The numbers of patients remaining in Nasser hospital had been changing by the hour as some people left to escape the fighting and others succumbed to their wounds, Saparbekov said.

Gaza's health ministry had said on Wednesday that 110 patients were waiting to be evacuated. It said eight patients at Nasser had died due to the lack of power and oxygen four days previously and that their bodies had begun to decompose, posing a risk to other patients.

When the WHO carried out the evacuation, it observed four doctors and nurses at Nasser hospital along with about a dozen volunteers helping medical staff keep patients alive, Saparbekov said.

There was no food, medical supplies, power or oxygen, and staff had not so far managed to reconnect the main generator.

Four and a half months after Israel began its campaign in Gaza in retaliation for a major Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7, just 13 of the Palestinian enclave's 34 hospitals are functioning on a partial or minimal level.

Gaza's population of 2.3 million faces acute hunger and the spread of disease in a humanitarian crisis that aid officials describe as unprecedented.

Most Gaza residents have been displaced and are crammed into the south of the strip around Rafah, close to the border with Egypt.

US, allied forces down six drones launched by Houthis
5:43 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

American and allied forces shot down six drones launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels that were likely targeting warships in the area, the US military said Thursday.

The Iran-backed Huthis have continued attacks on shipping despite repeated American and British strikes aimed at degrading their ability to threaten a vital global trade route.

The drones were downed by US aircraft and a coalition warship on Thursday morning local time, and were identified "as likely targeting US and coalition warships and were an imminent threat," US Central Command (CENTCOM) said.

The military command did not identify the nationality of the coalition warship, but the French defense ministry said Thursday that the country's navy shot down two drones overnight.

Gaza economy shrank by more than 80% in 4th quarter: report
5:38 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

The Gaza war has had a "catastrophic" impact on Gaza's infrastructure and caused its economy to contract by more than 80 percent in the fourth quarter of the year, the World Bank said.

The ongoing conflict has caused widespread damage and destruction across Gaza, and caused a "massive loss of life," the Bank said a statement.

Beyond the devastating human impact, "Almost all economic activity in Gaza has ground to a halt," the Bank said.

"Since the start of the conflict, the Palestinian economy experienced one of largest shocks recorded in recent economic history," it added.

The World Bank pointed to preliminary estimates from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), which found that Gaza's GDP has "plummeted by more than 80 percent" -- from around $670 million in the third quarter to just $90 million in the fourth quarter.

This 80 percent quarterly decline amounts to an annual a drop of 24 percent, the Bank continued, adding that "the observed level of fixed assets damage and destruction is catastrophic."

"Nearly every resident of Gaza will live in poverty, at least in the short term," it said.

Amid the ongoing conflict, the Bank announced a $30 million grant Thursday "to help ensure the continuity of crucial education for children."

"This grant will contribute to the education sector to help ensure that learners don't miss out on essential education," it said in a statement.

Islamophobia soared in UK with Gaza war: monitor
4:11 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Anti-Muslim hate incidents in the UK more than tripled following the outbreak of the war on Gaza, a monitoring group said Thursday.

Tell MAMA recorded 2,010 such cases in the four months since Hamas's attack against Israel on October 7.

That was the largest recorded number of cases in a four-month period, said a statement from the organisation, which was set up to monitor and report such incidents.

The latest figures were up from 600 incidents over the same period in 2022-2023, a rise of 335 percent.

"We are deeply concerned about the impacts that the Israel and Gaza war are having on hate crimes and on social cohesion in the UK," said Tell MAMA director Iman Atta.

"This rise in anti-Muslim hate is unacceptable and we hope that political leaders speak out to send a clear message that anti-Muslim hate, like anti-Semitism, is unacceptable in our country."

Tell MAMA said that 901 cases occurred offline while 1,109 were online. Most of the offline incidents took place in the British capital London, it added.

They included abusive behaviour, threats, assaults, vandalism, discrimination, hate speech and anti-Muslim literature.

Women were the target in 65 percent of cases, the group said.

Eurovision scrutinises Israel's song lyrics amid Gaza furore
3:58 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Eurovision Song Contest organisers are scrutinising the Israeli submission after lyrics leaked to the media appeared to refer to the October  7 attack by Hamas.

Eurovision, which this year will take place on May 7-11 in the Swedish city of Malmo, bills itself as a non-political event and can disqualify contestents deemed to have breached that rule.

Israel's entry, "October Rain", is a ballad sung by female soloist Eden Golan.

According to the Israel Hayom newspaper, it includes lines such as "There's no air left to breathe" and "They were all good children, each one of them" - apparent allusions to people who holed up in shelters as the killing and kidnapping spree at an outdoor music festival and other sites took place.

The song also contains a reference to "flowers" which, Israel Hayom said, is military code for war fatalities. A source in national broadcaster Kan, which sponsors the Israeli entry, confirmed to news agency Reuters that the leaked lyrics were accurate.

In a statement, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organises Eurovision, said it is "in the process of scrutinising the lyrics, a process which is confidential between the EBU and the broadcaster until a final decision has been taken.

No 'plan B' once UNRWA funds end in March: Lebanon head
2:55 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has no "plan B" past March should donor countries that withheld funding following Israeli allegations uphold their suspensions, the head of its Lebanon office said on Thursday.

Israel accused 12 of UNRWA's 13,000 employees in the Gaza Strip of taking part in the Hamas assault on Israel last year. The claims came after years of Israeli calls for the agency to be disbanded, and as Gazans face widespread hunger and only a trickle of aid into the bombarded strip.

Sixteen countries suspended funding pending an investigation by the UN's oversight office that Lebanon chief Dorothee Klaus said would be ready in a few weeks.

"We hope that as many donors as possible indicate to the agency that they are reconsidering the funding freeze, and that funding will be restored to the agency, hopefully in such a way that we don't have a cash flow issue, and services continue uninterrupted," she said.

"We do not have a plan B."

Already, her office may not be able to finance its quarterly cash distribution to 65% of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

"This will be the first indicator to the community that UNRWA is cash-strapped, and this would be the first service that we will not be able to provide in quarter one," Klaus said.

While UNRWA has faced cash crunches before, the collective suspension has prompted an unprecedented crisis and it would be wrong to think other agencies could fill the gap, she said.

In Lebanon, UNRWA manages 12 camps for refugees, providing services from healthcare and schooling to garbage collection. If funding dries up, within a couple of days there would be trash filling camp streets, Klaus said.

Israel's allegations have also prompted a separate review process by UNRWA that she said would examine safeguards protecting its neutrality and independence.

Asked if that would involve an examination of possible affiliations to armed groups of UNRWA staff in Lebanon's camps, Klaus said she expected her branch would be consulted.

A view of the destruction as a result of Israeli attacks at the UNRWA headquarters [Getty]
Injured Gaza man says Israeli troops beat him
2:43 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

 News agency Reuters reported that a Palestinian man being treated at a Gaza hospital for severe bruising on his face, cuts on his fingers and other injuries said Israeli soldiers beat him with chunks of masonry and chairs after bursting into his home on February 20.

The account by Ramadan Shamlakh, 22, which Reuters said they could not verify from another source, was the latest in a series of allegations of mistreatment of Palestinians by Israeli forces since the start of their war against Hamas.

Israeli forces says it treats detainees in accordance with international law.

Filmed for Reuters by their freelance video journalist at Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Shamlakh had a bloodstained bandage wrapped around his head and another around his left arm.

"He would lie me down on the ground and tell me not to move. He would get rocks, the broken ones from our balcony, and throw them at my legs," Shamlakh said, describing his treatment by one of the soldiers.

"Whenever I would move, I would find his boot, kicking me here, kicking me there. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't speak," he said, adding that the soldier had also smashed up two chairs over him.

Reuters provided Shamlakh's name, the name of the area where he lived and the date of the alleged beating to an Israeli army spokesperson, who said the army was unaware of the incident. 

Israeli forces release footage of raids in southern Lebanon
2:36 PM
The New Arab Staff

The Israeli military has released video footage of its air attacks in southern Lebanon's Maroun al-Ras, Kfar Kila and al-Khyam, in southern Lebanon.

A video posted on its X account showed heavy blasts that exploded buildings in its entirety.

The army said it hit military targets and “terrorist infrastructures” affiliated with Hezbollah.

Palestinians demand detainees' protection in Israeli prisons
2:31 PM
Qassam Muaddi
West Bank

Palestinian prisoner support organisations have called for an independent investigation into claims of sexual abuse of Palestinian detainees by Israeli forces.

On Monday, the UN experts issued a report in which, for the first time, the UN acknowledges that Israeli forces are committing sexual abuse against Palestinian detainees.

According to the report, at least two Palestinian detainee women from the Gaza Strip have been raped. The report also indicated that Palestinian detainees face systematic sexual harassment and threats in Israeli detention.

"This report adds to previously documented abuses of our prisoners, which have led to the death of eight prisoners in the occupation jails and the disappearance of many prisoners of whom there is no information since their arrest", said a statement by the prisoner support organisations.

To read the full report by The New Arab, please click here.

UK and Jordan air drop aid to hospital in northern Gaza
1:47 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Britain and Jordan have air-dropped four tonnes of aid including medicines, fuel and food to Tal Al-Hawa Hospital in northern Gaza, Britain's Foreign Office said.

The UK-funded aid was delivered by the Jordanian Air Force.

"Thousands of patients will benefit and the fuel will enable this vital hospital to continue its life-saving work," British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said in a statement.

"However, the situation in Gaza is desperate and significantly more aid is needed, and fast. We are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow additional aid into Gaza as quickly as possible and bring hostages home."

This comes as the US has come under fire for its alleged complicity in the Gaza war for its close relationship with Israel. 

The US Senate passed a bill ban that would ban funding of the Palestinian relief agency UNRWA as part of a $95 billion aid package to Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan, and others.

Washington and its allies cut funding to UNRWA last month - a lifeline for millions of Palestinian refugees in Gaza and elsewhere - following unproven allegations by Israel that its aid workers were involved in Hamas's 7 October attacks.

UNRWA has strongly denied the claims.

French navy downs two more drones over Red Sea
1:38 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

The French navy has shot down two drones over the Red Sea where Yemen's Houthi rebels have been attacking ships, the defence ministry said Thursday, in the second such incident this week.

The navy, which has two frigates deployed in the area, detected a threat in the night of Wednesday to Thursday and "destroyed two drones", it said.

It said earlier this week it had downed two other drones overnight Monday to Tuesday. France's Languedoc previously shot down two drones in the Red Sea in self-defence in December, the foreign ministry has said.

On Monday, the European Union formally launched a naval mission to protect Red Sea shipping from the Iran-backed Houthis who control much of war-torn Yemen.

The European Union aims to have its mission -- called Aspides, Greek for "shield" -- up and running in a "few weeks" with at least four vessels, an official said last Friday.

23 US citizens died during Israeli military service
1:25 PM
The New Arab Staff

The Washington Post has reported that at least 23 US citizens have died from fighting for the Israeli armed forces since the ground invasion in Gaza began.

The US outlet said that the statistic makes up almost 10 percent of the death toll,

According to Israel's military, approximately 23,380 American citizens currently serve in the army.

Casualties alerted in Israeli bombing of UNWRA building
12:57 PM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

News publication Al Jazeera has reported casualties from an Israeli attack on an UNRWA building that houses displaced Palestinians in the Jabalia refugee camp. 

Israeli forces raid were also said to target a Palestinian-owned vehicle east of the camp, located in the northern Gaza Strip, earlier that time.

According to Al Jazeera, there has been one confirmed killing and others wounded. 

“An Israeli reconnaissance plane bombed the car, and we found martyrs and wounded in the street,” one witness told the outlet.

Houthis set to ban Israel- linked, US, UK owned vessels
12:49 PM
The New Arab Staff

Yemen's Houthi group have announced the ban of Israeli-linked and American and British-owned ships from passing through the Red Sea.

According to news agency Reuters, any ships travelling under the Great Britain and US flags will be banned from crossing.

Jordan: ‘No country must be allowed to be above the law’
12:03 PM
The New Arab Staff

Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s representative at the ICJ, has made his presentation at the UN court.

“Israeli Aggression on Gaza, which your esteemed court has indicated warrants examination of plausible genocide, rages on," he said during his opening statement/

“No country must be allowed to be above the law,” he adds. “Israel is acting and has been allowed to act in complete disregard of international law that cannot continue.

“The occupation is unlawful, it is inhumane, it must end, yet Israel has been systematically consolidating the occupation that is blatantly denying Palestinian’s right to self-determination.”

Japan calls for two-state solution, 'peace and dignity'
11:57 AM
The New Arab Staff

Tomohiro Mikanagi, a legal adviser of Japan’s Foreign Ministry, has argued his case, telling the ICJ that his country has emphasised for a “two-state solution where Israel and the future independent Palestinian state live side by side in peace and dignity remains the only viable path for both peoples”.

“Japan emphasises the conflict between the Israeli side and Palestinian side should be solved not through any violent acts or unilateral action but through negotiations and efforts for mutual trust among the parties concerned while respecting international law."

Lebanon’s Hezbollah says Israeli military site targeted
11:34 AM
The New Arab Staff

Hezbollah said that the group has targeted the building of the Israeli military in Kfar Yuval, northern Israel.

Hezbollah added that the attack was due to Israeli attacks on civilian homes and villages in southern Gaza- as well as showing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. 

Israeli media outlets, citing the  the Upper Galilee Regional Council, have also reported that an antitank missile sent from Lebanon had damaged a home.

The Jerusalem Post also reported that another missile had landed in an open field in Kiryat Shmona.

No injuries have been reported.

Iran, China speak to ICJ on Israeli aggression
10:50 AM
The New Arab Staff

China, Ireland and Iran have addressed the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the fourth day of public hearings, as at least 52 countries will argue on Israeli occupation of  Palestinian territories.

This includes controversial Israeli policies in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and occupied East Jerusalem.

It is said to be the highest number of the largest number of parties to participate in an ICJ case since the court's establishment in 1945.

The case was initiated following a request by UN General Assembly in December of last year- where a vast majority of member states voted to seek the court's input on the legal consequences of the ongoing occupation of Palestine.

This is what has been said thus far in the hearing:

  • Ma Xinmin, China's Foreign Ministry legal adviser: “Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed on multiple occasions that China calls for a comprehensive ceasefire and the early solution to the question of Palestine on the basis of a two-state solution through negotiation."

  • Raza Najafi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister: "The opinion of this court can set the ground for saving the lives of thousands of innocent women and children and contribute to the legitimate demand of the people deprived of their inherent right to self-determination."

  • Hayder Shiya Al-Barrak, the representative of Iraq: "“We hope that the court’s commitment to justice will lead to additional decisions … affirming its dedication to ending the campaign of mass murder and preventing acts of genocide as well as policies of harassment, blockade and starvation against the Palestinian people."

  • Attorney General Rossa Fanning, the representative of Ireland: "Ireland has been a consistent and vocal supporter of a comprehensive two-state solution to the conflict. We lament the lack of progress made towards achieving that objective."

One dead in attack near Israeli settlement in West Bank
10:27 AM
The New Arab Staff

Israeli ministers have called for the expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank after one person was killed and several injured in a shooting attack near an Israeli settlement on Thursday.

One person was shot and 12 injured when three gunmen opened fire on cars waiting near the az-Za’ayyem checkpoint on the Route 1 highway between Jerusalem and the large Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, the Times of Israel reported.

Three Palestinian men from villages near Bethlehem were named as the perpetrators by Shin Bet, Israel’s national security agency.

(The New Arab)

Israel shoots down fire in suspected Yemen Houthi attacks
9:44 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Israel intercepted what appeared to be an attack launched by Yemen's Houthi rebels on Thursday near the port city of Eilat, as the group escalates its assaults over Israel's war in the Gaza Strip , authorities said.

Sirens sounded early Thursday morning over Eilat, followed by videos posted online of what appeared to be an interception in the sky overhead.

Israeli forces later said the interception was carried out by its Arrow missile defense system.

Israel did not identify what the fire was, nor where it came from. However, the Arrow system intercepts long-range ballistic missiles with a warhead designed to destroy targets while they are in space.

The system “successfully intercepted a launch which was identified in the area of the Red Sea and was en route to Israel,” the Israeli military said. “The target did not cross into Israeli territory and did not pose a threat to civilians.”

The Houthis did not immediately claim the attack. They typically acknowledge assaults they conduct hours afterward.

Brussels Airlines to restart flights to Israel
9:43 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Brussels Airlines said on Thursday that it will restart flights to Israel from March 24.

Like many other carriers, the Belgian airline stopped flying to Israel after the October 7 attack by Hamas.

The decision to resume flights was made "after careful consideration with all relevant departments," it said in a statement.

The carrier, which is a subsidiary of Germany's Lufthansa , will begin by operating three flights per week from Brussels to Tel Aviv.

On Wednesday, United Airlines became the first American carrier to announce the resumption of direct US flights to Israel. 

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: UK
9:34 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

A missile attack targeted a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire on board, a British maritime security agency said Thursday.

"A vessel was attacked by two missiles, resulting in a fire onboard," the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said, adding that "coalition forces are responding".

United Airlines: First US carrier to resume Israel flights
8:46 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

United Airlines said on Wednesday it plans to resume direct US flights to Israel early next month, becoming the first American carrier to resume direct service since the October 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel.

United, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines all suspended US service to Israel in October following the attack.

Chicago-based United said it will resume flights from Newark to Tel Aviv next month but does not plan to restart flights from other US cities until at least this fall.

Restarting US carrier flights to Tel Aviv signals a potential turning point for travel to Israel, after tourism dried up on security fears following the Hamas attack and Israel bombardment of Gaza.

United said its goal is to resume daily nonstop service to Tel Aviv starting March 6 from Newark on a Boeing 787-10.

On March 2 and March 4, the airline will operate flights from Newark to Tel Aviv with a stop in Munich, Germany, "to ensure all service providers are ready to support non-stop service to and from Newark," the airline said.

United said it "conducted a detailed safety analysis in making this decision, including close work with security experts and government officials in the United States and Israel."

The airline said it "will continue to monitor the situation in Tel Aviv and adjust the schedule as warranted, including changes to the resumed service from New York/Newark announced today."

Before October 7, United had four direct flights daily to Tel Aviv from Newark, San Francisco, Washington and Chicago. The airline said the flights where service has not yet resumed "will be evaluated for resumption beginning in the fall."

Lufthansa, Swiss, Austrian, Aegean and Air France are among other airlines that have restarted flights to Tel Aviv.

United Airlines airplane is seen flying over Tel Aviv, Israel on December 30, 2022 [Getty]
Turkey calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20
8:41 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

 Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan called on the international community to take a more active role towards an urgent ceasefire in Gaza and a two-state solution to the conflict during talks at the G20 meeting in Brazil, a Turkish diplomatic source said.

Turkey, which has harshly criticised Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court, has repeatedly called for a ceasefire.

Fidan told a G20 foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday that the "savagery" in Gaza must be stopped, and discussed steps to achieve an urgent ceasefire and get more aid into the enclave during talks with counterparts from the United States, Germany, and Egypt, the source said.

"Steps that can be taken to achieve a full ceasefire as soon as possible were discussed," during talks between Fidan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the source said, adding Fidan also discussed "concrete steps" to stop the fighting with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

"The fact that a decision on a ceasefire did not come out of the UN Security Council once again, has shown that reform is a must," Fidan told a session at the G20 meeting, according to one of his aides, referring to a third US veto on a ceasefire call at the 15-member body.

Ankara says the UN Security Council must be reformed to be more inclusive and representative of the world.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan (R) attends the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting [Getty]
Health ministry in Gaza says war death toll at 29,410
8:30 AM
The New Arab Staff & Agencies

The health ministry in Gaza said Thursday that at least 29,410 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory during the war on the enclave.

A ministry statement said a total of 97 people died in the past 24 hours, while another 69,465 have been wounded since the war began on October 7.