News Al-Azhar, Arab Parliament condemn Israeli incursion into Rafah

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Israel bombarded the overcrowded Gaza city of Rafah, where it has launched a ground incursion, as talks resumed Wednesday in Cairo aimed at agreeing the terms of a truce in the seven-month war.

Despite international objections, Israel sent tanks into Rafah on Tuesday and seized the nearby crossing into Egypt that is the main conduit for aid into the besieged Palestinian territory.

The White House condemned the interruption to humanitarian deliveries, with a senior US official later revealing Washington had paused a shipment of bombs last week after Israel failed to address US concerns over its Rafah plans.

The Israeli military said hours later it was reopening another major aid crossing into Gaza, Kerem Shalom, as well as the Erez crossing.

But the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said the Kerem Shalom crossing — which Israel shut after a rocket attack killed four soldiers on Sunday — remained closed.

It came after a night of heavy Israeli strikes and shelling across Gaza. AFPTV footage showed Palestinians scrambling in the dark to pull survivors, bloodied and caked in dust, out from under the rubble of a Rafah building.

Russia said on Wednesday that the war in Gaza was escalating due to Israel’s incursion into Rafah and that Moscow so far saw no prospect for a peace settlement in Gaza or the wider Middle East.

“An additional destabilizing factor, including for the entire region, was the launch of an Israeli military ground operation in Rafah,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

“About one and a half million Palestinian civilians are concentrated there. In this regard, we demand strict compliance with the provisions of international humanitarian law.”

Speaking more broadly about efforts to find a lasting settlement in the Middle East, Zakharova said: “I would like to call it a settlement, but, alas, it is far from a settlement.”

“There are no prospects for resolving the situation in the Gaza Strip. On the contrary, the situation in the conflict zone is escalating daily.”

“We are living in Rafah in extreme fear and endless anxiety as the occupation army keeps firing artillery shells indiscriminately,” said Muhanad Ahmad Qishta, 29.

“Rafah is a witnessing a very large displacement, as places the Israeli army claims to be safe are also being bombed,” he said.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel in response vowed to crush Hamas and launched a military offensive that has killed at least 34,789 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Militants also took around 250 people hostage, of whom Israel estimates 128 remain in Gaza, including 36 who are believed to be dead.

Talks aimed at agreeing a ceasefire resumed in Cairo on Wednesday “in the presence of all parties,” Egyptian media reported.

A senior Hamas official said the latest round of negotiations would be “decisive.”

“The resistance insists on the rightful demands of its people and will not give up any of our people’s rights,” he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations.

The official had previously warned it would be Israel’s “last chance” to free the scores of hostages still in militants’ hands.

Mediators have failed to broker a new truce since a week-long ceasefire in November saw 105 hostages freed, the Israelis among them in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

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