Fighting rages in Gaza's Rafah after first aid delivery via pier

AFP , Saturday 18 May 2024

Heavy clashes and bombardment Saturday rocked Gaza's southern city of Rafah, witnesses said, as the Israeli military announced the first 310 pallets of humanitarian aid had entered the besieged territory via a US-built pier.

Monica Johnston RN, Burn and wound care nurse from Portland Oregon with the PAMA Palestinian American Medical Association, monitors a patient who sustained major burns on May 8, 2024, Khan Younis, Gaza.


More than 10 days into what the Israeli military called a "limited" operation in Palestinian Rafah near the border between Gaza and Egypt fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants has also flared again in Gaza's north.

The Kuwaiti hospital said an overnight Israeli strike killed two people in a displacement camp in Rafah, with witnesses reporting heavy gunfire and shelling in the city's southeast and jets bombarding its eastern areas.

AFP correspondents, witnesses and medics said there were intense battles overnight in the northern Jabalia refugee camp after the Israeli army reported on Friday "perhaps the fiercest" violence in the town in more than seven months of the Israeli war on Gaza.

Israel in early January claimed it had dismantled Hamas's command structure in northern Gaza, but the army said the Palestinian group "was in complete control here in Jabalia until we arrived a few days ago".

The Israeli incursion into Rafah, launched despite overwhelming international opposition and as mediators were hoping for a breakthrough in stalled truce talks, has worsened an already dire humanitarian crisis, aid groups say.

With key land crossings closed or operating at limited capacity due to the fighting, some relief supplies began flowing into war-ravaged Gaza via a temporary, floating pier constructed by the United States.

The 310 pallets began moving ashore in "the first entry of humanitarian aid through the floating pier", the Israeli army said in a statement.

In the coming days, around 500 tonnes of aid are expected to be delivered to Gaza through the pier, according to US Central Command.

But UN agencies and humanitarian aid groups have warned that the so-called maritime corridor, and ongoing airdrops from planes, cannot replace far more efficient truck convoys into Gaza, where the United Nations has repeatedly warned of looming famine.

Rafah operation hampers aid

The European Union welcomed the first shipment from Cyprus to the Gaza pier, but called on Israel to "expand deliveries by land and to immediately open additional crossings".

Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2006, stressed that the floating pier "is not an alternative to opening all land crossings".

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 35,303 people and wounded nearly 80,000, mostly women and children.

The Israeli army said troops in Gaza had recovered late Thursday the bodies of three captives who had been "murdered" on 7 October by Palestinian militants.

Amid the aid shortages, the Israeli army said "dozens of Israeli civilians" set fire to a Gaza-bound aid truck in the occupied West Bank on Thursday night, in the second such attack in a week.

It came after right-wing activists ransacked at least seven aid trucks from Jordan near the Tarqumya crossing with the West Bank on Monday.

Aid groups have said the Rafah incursion has further hampered aid deliveries, with the southern city's crossing on the Egypt border -- a vital conduit for humanitarian assistance -- now shut.

Egypt has accused Israel of denying responsibility for a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and says that truck drivers and aid workers do not feel safe crossing through an Israeli checkpoint into Gaza.

West Bank commander killed


On Friday, 13 Western governments, including many traditionally supportive of Israel, appealed to it not to launch a large-scale Rafah offensive, warning it would have "catastrophic consequences" for civilians.

The looming Israeli assault on Rafah has prompted nearly 640,000 of the 1.4 million people who had been sheltering in Rafah to flee to other areas, the UN humanitarian office said.

In northern Gaza's Beit Lahia, witnesses reported air strikes near Kamal Adwan hospital on Saturday.

The hospital's director Hussam Abu Safiya told AFP on Friday that the facility, which has received "large numbers of injured and killed" from fighting in nearby Jabalia, was running low on medical supplies and fuel to power generators.

The fuel aid that had reached the hospital was "barely enough for a few days", Abu Safiya said.

The World Health Organization has received no medical supplies in Gaza since the Rafah operation began on May 6, spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said Friday, adding that the closure of the crossing caused "a difficult situation".

On the diplomatic front, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was headed to the region for weekend talks.

Sullivan will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Saturday and Israel's Netanyahu on Sunday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces killed a senior Palestinian militant in the occupied West Bank, where violence has flared during the war in Gaza.

Al-Quds Brigade, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad militant group, said local commander Islam Khamayseh was killed in an Israeli air strike late Friday on Jenin refugee camp.

The Israeli military said he was responsible for a series of attacks.

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