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Strikes on Gaza Southern Edge Sow Fear 12/07 06:28

   Israeli forces struck the southern Gaza town of Rafah twice overnight, 
residents said Thursday, sowing fear in one of the last places where civilians 
could seek refuge after Israel widened its offensive against Hamas to areas 
already packed with displaced people.

   RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli forces struck the southern Gaza town of 
Rafah twice overnight, residents said Thursday, sowing fear in one of the last 
places where civilians could seek refuge after Israel widened its offensive 
against Hamas to areas already packed with displaced people.

   United Nations officials say there are no safe places in Gaza. Heavy 
fighting in and around the southern city of Khan Younis has displaced tens of 
thousands of people in a territory where over 80% of the population has already 
fled their homes, and cut most of Gaza off from deliveries of food, water and 
other vital aid.

   Two months into the war, the grinding offensive has set off renewed alarms 
internationally, with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres using a rarely 
exercised power to warn the Security Council of an impending "humanitarian 
catastrophe" and urging members to demand a cease-fire.

   The United States has called on Israel to limit civilian deaths and 
displacement, saying too many Palestinians were killed when it obliterated much 
of Gaza City and the north. But it has also pledged unwavering support for 
Israel and appears likely to block any such U.N. effort to halt the fighting.

   Israel says it must crush Hamas' military capabilities and remove it from 
power following the Oct. 7 attack that ignited the war. Troops have pushed into 
Khan Younis, Gaza's second-largest city, which Israeli officials have portrayed 
as Hamas' center of gravity -- something they previously said was in Gaza City 
and its Shifa Hospital.

   Israel has ordered the evacuation of some two dozen southern neighborhoods, 
rather than the entire region as it did in the north, which the military says 
shows increased concern for civilians.

   But the areas where Palestinians can seek safety are rapidly receding. With 
northern and central Gaza largely isolated and cut off from aid, Palestinians 
are heading south to Rafah and other areas along the border with Egypt, where 
family homes are packed tight and makeshift shelters are overflowing.

   Even there, safety has proven elusive, as Israel continues to strike what it 
says are Hamas targets across the coastal enclave.

   A strike late Wednesday leveled a home in Rafah, sending a wave of wounded 
streaming into a nearby hospital. Eyad al-Hobi, who witnessed the attack, said 
around 20 people were killed, including women and children. Another house was 
hit early Thursday, residents said.

   "We live in fear every moment, for our children, ourselves, our families," 
said Dalia Abu Samhadaneh, now living in Rafah with her family after fleeing 
Khan Younis. "We live with the anxiety of expulsion."

   The military meanwhile accused militants of firing rockets from open areas 
near Rafah in the humanitarian zone. It released footage of a strike Wednesday 
on what it said were launchers positioned outside the town and a few hundred 
meters (yards) from a U.N. warehouse.


   The U.N. says some 1.87 million people -- over 80% of the population of 2.3 
million -- have already fled their homes, many of them displaced multiple times.

   Israel's campaign has killed more than 16,200 people in Gaza -- most of them 
women and children -- and wounded more than 42,000, according to the 
territory's Health Ministry, which says many others are trapped under rubble. 
The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

   Doctors Without Borders, the international aid group, said another 115 
bodies arrived at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central town of Deir 
al-Balah in a 24-hour period.

   "The hospital is full, the morgue is full," the group said on X, formerly 
known as Twitter.

   The military said Thursday that it struck dozens of militant targets in Khan 
Younis, including a tunnel shaft from which fighters had launched an attack. It 
said two of the attackers were killed.

   Hamas and other militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in 
the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war, and took some 240 people hostage. An 
estimated 138 hostages remain in Gaza, mostly soldiers and civilian men, after 
105 were freed during a cease-fire in late November.

   A built-up refugee camp inside Khan Younis was the childhood home of Hamas' 
top leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar, and the group's military chief, Mohammed 
Deif, as well as other Hamas leaders -- though their current whereabouts are 

   Heavy fighting is also still underway in the Jabaliya refugee camp in 
northern Gaza, even after two months of heavy bombardment and encirclement by 
ground troops. The military said troops raided a militant compound, killing "a 
number" of fighters and uncovering a network of tunnels.

   It was not immediately possible to confirm the latest reports from the 

   Israel blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas, accusing it of using 
civilians as human shields when the militants operate in residential areas. But 
Israel has not given detailed accounts of its individual strikes, some of which 
have leveled entire city blocks.

   The military says 87 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground 
offensive. It also says some 5,000 militants have been killed, without saying 
how it arrived at its count.


   Tens of thousands of people have fled from Khan Younis and other areas to 
Rafah, on Gaza's southern border with Egypt, the U.N. said. Rafah, normally 
home to around 280,000 people, is already hosting more than 470,000 who fled 
from other parts of Gaza.

   On the other side of the border, Egypt has deployed thousands of troops and 
erected earthen barriers to prevent any mass influx of refugees. It says an 
influx would undermine its decades-old peace treaty with Israel, and it doubts 
Israel will let them back into Gaza.

   For days now, aid groups have only been able to distribute supplies in and 
around Rafah, and mainly just flour and water, the U.N.'s humanitarian aid 
office said. Access farther north has been cut off by fighting and Israeli 
forces closing roads.

   The World Food Program said a "catastrophic hunger crisis" threatens to 
"overwhelm the civilian population."

   Gaza has been without electricity since the first week of the war, and 
hospitals and water treatment plants have been forced to shut down for lack of 
fuel to operate generators. Israel allows a trickle of aid from Egypt but has 
greatly restricted imports of fuel, saying Hamas diverts it for military 

   Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel would allow 
small deliveries of fuel into the southern Gaza Strip "from time to time" to 
prevent the spread of disease. The "minimal amount" of fuel will be set by the 
war cabinet, he said.

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