RAFAH, (Palestinian Territories): Israel sent tanks into Rafah in southern Gaza, seizing control of the border crossing with Egypt Tuesday, an operation the UN said denied it access to the key humanitarian passage.

The thrust into the eastern sector of Rafah, packed with displaced civilians, came with negotiators and mediators due in Cairo in the latest effort towards a hostage release and ceasefire in the seven-month-old war.

A senior Hamas official, requesting anonymity, warned this would be Israel’s “last chance” to free the estimated 128 captives still held in the Palestinian territory, including 35 the military says are dead.

Rafah residents flee strikes after Israeli evacuation order

A Hamas delegation was headed “shortly” to Egypt, the official said, and mediator Qatar announced it was also dispatching a team.

An Israeli delegation was already in Cairo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, after weekend talks took place with no Israeli representatives present.

In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said he had told negotiators to “stand firm” on conditions for hostage release and “essential requirements” for Israel’s security.

Israel’s close ally the United States said it was hopeful the two sides can “close the remaining gaps”.

“We’re going to do everything we can to support that process,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

He also said CIA chief Bill Burns would attend the Cairo talks.

“Everybody’s coming to the table,” Kirby told reporters. “That’s not insignificant.”

The long-threatened Rafah operation began hours after Hamas announced late Monday it had accepted a truce proposal, prompting cheering crowds to take to the streets despite Israel saying it was “far” from plans it had previously agreed to.

Netanyahu said that “within hours” of approving the Rafah operation, “our forces raised the Israeli flags at the Rafah crossing and took down the Hamas flags”.

He called it “a very important step” in denying Hamas “a passage that was essential for establishing its reign of terror”.

Rafah resident Abu Aoun al-Najjar said the “indescribable joy” following the Hamas statement was short-lived.

“It turned out to be a bloody night,” he told AFP, as more Israeli strikes and bombardment “stole our joy”. Army footage showed tanks taking “operational control” of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, the military said, in a deployment that had a “very limited scope against very specific targets”.

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Tariq Qurashi May 08, 2024 10:09am
The killing goes on and on, day after day, and the world just watches and does nothing!
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