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Israeli strikes on Gaza's Rafah as US warns of potential 'disaster'
Israel conducted fresh strikes on southern Gaza's overcrowded border town of Rafah on Friday, where more than a million displaced Palestinians have sought shelter, with key backer the US warning of a looming "disaster".
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he has ordered troops to "prepare to operate" in Rafah, the last major town in the Gaza Strip that Israeli ground troops have yet to enter.
A State Department spokesman said Thursday that Washington did not support an Israeli operation in Rafah, with President Joe Biden later telling reporters he considered Israel's conduct of its war against Hamas to be "over the top".
Civilians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip need to be protected, but the United Nations does not want to see any forced mass displacement, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday as Israel planned to storm the last major city in the enclave.
The Israeli army claimed Friday evening that it destroyed a missile launcher used by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, as well a building used by Hezbollah in the southern village of Khiyam.
Footage of the destroyed building was shared online.
المنزل الذي استهدفته غارة جوية في الخيام جنوبي لبنان pic.twitter.com/CoY51Z1NWF— جريدة الأخبار - Al-Akhbar (@AlakhbarNews) February 9, 2024
Hezbollah fired a large barrage of rockets at northern Israel on Friday, as both sides have continued to clash across the border since October 8.
Iraqi armed group Kataeb Hezbollah lashed out at the United States on Friday for strikes it carried out in the country, including one that killed a senior commander in the group.
"For the blood of our commanders and fighters that was spilt, the responsibility lies with America and those who refuse or hinder the departure of its occupying forces from Iraq," Kataeb Hezbollah said in a statement.
"Let them know that our nation will not forsake the blood of its martyrs, and that its men remain determined for combat," the group added.
The area near a military airport west of Damascus came under attack on Friday, a war monitor reported, while the defence ministry said drones entered Syrian airspace from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "the area of the Mazzeh military airport west of the capital Damascus was targeted", without saying who was behind what it described as a "missile" attack.
The Observatory did not immediately report any casualties.
Israel has informed negotiators seeking to reach a ceasefire deal in Gaza that it refused Hamas' demands regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestinian prisoners, Alaraby TV cited the Israeli news site Walla as saying.
The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday that a plan announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a military escalation in Rafah at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip aims to drive Palestinians from their land.
The office of Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority that exerts partial self-rule in the Israeli occupied West Bank, said it holds both the Israeli government and the U.S. administration responsible for the plan's repercussions.
The Palestinian presidency called on the UN Security Council to take heed, "because (Israel) taking this step threatens security and peace in the region and the world. It crosses all red lines," the statement said.
Israel has imposed financial restrictions on the main U.N. agency providing aid in the Gaza Strip, a measure which prevented a shipment of food for 1.1 million Palestinians from reaching the enclave , the agency's director said Friday.
UNRWA's director, Philippe Lazzarini, said Friday that that a convoy of food donated by Turkey has been sitting for weeks in the Israeli port city of Ashdod. The agency said that the Israeli contractor they work with received a call from Israeli customs authorities "ordering them not to process any UNRWA goods."
That stoppage means 1,049 shipping containers of rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar and cooking oil — enough to feed 1.1 million people for one month — are stuck, even as an estimated 25% of families in Gaza face catastrophic hunger.
Hamas' military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, said Friday it killed seven Israeli soldiers using an explosive device in the Abasan al-Kabira area, east of Khan Younis.
Egypt has sent about 40 tanks and armoured personnel carriers to northeastern Sinai within the past two weeks as part of a series of measures to bolster security on its border with Gaza, two Egyptian security sources said.
The deployment took place ahead of the expansion of Israeli military operations around Gaza's southern city of Rafah, where much of its population has sought safety, sharpening Egyptian fears that Palestinians could be forced en masse out of the enclave.
United Nations rights experts warned Friday that killings by alleged undercover Israeli agents in a West Bank hospital last week could constitute war crimes and urging an investigation.
Israel's "apparent extrajudicial killings" of three Palestinian men in a hospital in the northern city of Jenin on January 29 may amount to "grave violations" of international law, five independent experts said in a statement.
The Israeli military has said forces entered the Ibn Sina Hospital to target a "Hamas terrorist cell".
Iran’s foreign minister vowed after arriving in Beirut on Friday to keep supporting the militant Hezbollah group, saying Lebanon’s security affects that of Iran and the region.
Hossein Amirabdollahian was welcomed by representatives of Lebanon’s Hezbollah as well as the Palestinian group Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
"Hezbollah and the resistance in Lebanon have courageously and wisely carried out their deterring and effective role," Amirabdollahian told reporters at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday he had ordered the military to develop a dual plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah in southern Gaza and to defeat the remaining Hamas battalions, as international pressure on Israel mounts.
Israeli forces on Friday raided a hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis which has been besieged for weeks, said the Palestinian Red Crescent Society which runs the facility.
"The occupation (Israeli) forces stormed Al-Amal hospital and started searching it. We're finding it difficult to communicate with our crews inside the hospital," a PRCS statement said.
We are concerned about the safety of our teams inside Al-Amal Hospital, as well as the wounded and patients, due to the continuous occupation raid on the hospital. #NotATarget ❌#Gaza #IHL #AlAmalHospital— PRCS (@PalestineRCS) February 9, 2024
Syrian air defences shot down on Friday two drones in the west of Damascus, state media reported, citing a military source as saying the drones came from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west of the capital.
The Israeli military has said it does not comment on reports in foreign media.
Syrian state media reported earlier that the air defences were responding to "hostile targets" in the vicinity of Damascus.
Major Israeli military action on Rafah, in Gaza's far south, would heap further devastation on civilians, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) warned Friday.
"Any large-scale military operation among this population can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy that's unfolding," UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Jerusalem.
"There's a sense of growing anxiety and growing panic in Rafah. People have absolutely no idea where to go after Rafah."
UNRWA operations in Gaza were "on edge", he said, adding: "I don't know how long we will be able to operate in such a high-risk environment."
Almost one in 10 of Gazan children under five are now acutely malnourished, overwhelmingly as a result of Israel's war on the territory, according to initial U.N. data from arm measurements that show physical wasting.
Measurements of thousands of young children's and infants' arm circumferences showed that 9.6% were acutely malnourished, up about 12 times from pre-war levels, according to a note from the U.N. humanitarian office, OCHA.
In northern Gaza, the rate was 16.2%, or one in six.
The charity ActionAid said some Gazans were eating grass. "Every single person in Gaza is now hungry, and people have just 1.5 to 2 litres of unsafe water per day to meet all their needs," it said.
Several Arab foreign ministers discussed Israel's war on Gaza at talks in Riyadh, Saudi state media reported on Friday, following a Middle East tour by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that stirred hopes for a long-awaited Gaza truce deal.
Thursday's meeting in Riyadh included the foreign ministers of Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates along with the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation Hussein al-Sheikh, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.
برئاسة وزير الخارجية الأمير #فيصل_بن_فرحان ..#الرياض تستضيف الاجتماع الوزاري العربي لبحث تطورات الأوضاع في غزة بحضور وزراء خارجية الإمارات وقطر ومصر والأردن وأمين سر اللجنة التنفيذية لمنظمة التحرير الفلسطينية حسين الشيخ— عبدالرحمن الروقي 🇸🇦 (@Alotaibi_2030_) February 8, 2024
The Arab ministers emphasised the need to reach an immediate and complete ceasefire in Gaza and "the importance of taking irreversible steps to implement the two-state solution," SPA added, referring to Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state.
They also expressed support for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) after 16 countries suspended their funding to the agency following Israeli claims that a dozen of its employees took part in the October 7 attack on Israel.
British Airways announced Friday that it will resume flights to Israel in April, having suspended them in October on security fears after the outbreak of the Gaza war.
The airline, which is owned by London-listed aviation conglomerate IAG, said it will "restart our flights on 1 April" to Tel Aviv.
The route will operate four times per week but with smaller aircraft than before the outbreak of hostilities, owing to expectations of weaker demand.
Many airlines stopped flying to Israel after the start of the war, but several have since announced their resumption - including Air France, Lufthansa and Ryanair.
At least five Palestinians were injured Friday in Israeli army gunfire in the village of Bayt Furik in the occupied West Bank, Alaraby TV reported.
Any Israeli military advance into southern Gaza's Rafah area could cause mass deaths among the more than a million Palestinians trapped there, with humanitarian aid in danger of collapse, aid workers said on Friday.
"No war can be allowed in a gigantic refugee camp," said Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warning of a "bloodbath" if Israeli operations expand there.
"Expanded hostilities in Rafah could collapse the humanitarian response," NRC added in a statement.
The United Arab Emirates foreign minister called for an intensification of efforts to prevent the expansion of conflict in the region during a meeting of Arab states in Riyadh, the UAE state news agency said on Thursday.
The meeting on Gaza included the foreign ministers of the host country, Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, and the Secretary-General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Hussein al-Sheikh.
The Israeli army said it intercepted an "unidentified target" off the northern coastal city of Haifa, approximately 35 kilometers south of the country's border with Lebanon.
Since the start of the Gaza war on October 7 and cross-border clashes with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, missile attacks on Haifa have been rare.
The United States is aware of reports that two Americans in Gaza were detained by Israeli forces in a raid early on Thursday and is seeking more information, the State Department said.
The department did not identify the two U.S. citizens, citing privacy concerns.
But the family of U.S.-Palestinian dual nationals Hashem Alagha, 20, and Borak Alagha, 18, said the two brothers were detained in a raid on a home west of the city of Khan Younis on Thursday morning.
Hundreds of thousands of people's lives are at risk in north and central Gaza because of a lack of food, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) warned on Thursday.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the last time the agency was allowed to deliver supplies to the area was more than two weeks ago on January 23.
"At least 300,000 people living in the area depend on our assistance for their survival," he wrote on X.
The last time @UNRWA was allowed to deliver food north or Wadi #Gaza was on 23 January.— Philippe Lazzarini (@UNLazzarini) February 8, 2024
Since the beginning of the year, half of our aid mission requests to the north were denied.
The @UN has identified deep pockets of starvation and hunger in northern #Gaza where people are… pic.twitter.com/CuzocLTLAS
About 30 rockets were fired into northern Israel from Lebanon late Thursday into early Friday, following an Israeli drone strike that seriously wounded a commander of Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, the Israeli army said.
"We can confirm that around 30 rockets were fired from Lebanon toward the areas of Ein Zeitim and Dalton in the north of Israel," an army spokesperson told AFP, adding that initial reports suggested "no one was wounded" by the strikes.
Earlier Thursday evening, an Israeli drone strike on a car in Nabatiyeh seriously wounded a Hezbollah commander, sources on both sides of the border said.
غارة من طائرة مسيرة تستهدف سيارة في منطقة النبطية وتحديدا قرب تمثال حسن كامل الصباح شارع محمود فقيه أي الشارع الرئيسي في مدينة النبطية pic.twitter.com/4YeqRgK03s— LBCI Lebanon News (@LBCI_NEWS) February 8, 2024
Israel's military response in the Gaza Strip to the October 7 attacks by Hamas has been "over the top" and has "got to stop," US President Joe Biden said Thursday.
"I'm of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top," the Democrat told reporters at the White House.
"There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it's got to stop."
The health ministry in the Gaza Strip said Friday that at least 27,947 people have been killed in the besieged territory in Israel's bombardment since October 7.
The latest toll includes 107 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, while a total of 67,459 people have been wounded.