Street battles, Israeli strikes rock Gaza's Rafah

Street battles, Israeli strikes rock Gaza's Rafah


Street fighting and Israeli bombardment rocked Gaza's far-southern Rafah on Wednesday.

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RAFAH (AFP) - Street fighting and Israeli bombardment rocked Gaza's far-southern Rafah on Wednesday (May 29), Palestinian residents and officials said, a day after Israeli tanks rolled into the centre of the city near the Egyptian border.

The army pushed on with its mission to defeat Hamas in the war raging since Oct 7, despite a global outcry that intensified after a deadly strike set ablaze a crowded camp on Sunday night.

The UN Security Council was set to meet for a second day of emergency talks in New York after that night's strike sparked a raging fire that Gaza officials said killed 45 people and wounded about 250.

UN chief Antonio Guterres was among the many leaders to voice his revulsion at the deaths and carnage, demanding that "this horror must stop".

But fighting again flared in Rafah, where an AFP reporter said street battles raged and an Israeli helicopter fired guns and missiles at targets in the city centre.

Hamas's military wing said it was firing rockets at Israeli troops.

"People are currently inside their homes because anyone who moves is being shot at by Israeli drones," said one Rafah resident, Abdel Khatib.

The army said three soldiers were killed in Rafah on Tuesday, raising to 292 the death toll in the Gaza military campaign since the ground offensive started on Oct 27.

The United States has been among the countries urging Israel to refrain from a full-scale offensive into Rafah, the last Gaza city to see ground fighting, because of the risk to civilians.

But the White House said Tuesday that so far it had not seen Israel cross President Joe Biden's "red lines", with National Security Council spokesman John Kirby saying: "We have not seen them smash into Rafah.

"We have not seen them go in with large units, large numbers of troops, in columns and formations in some sort of coordinated manoeuvre against multiple targets on the ground," Kirby told a media briefing.


A steady stream of civilians has been fleeing Rafah, the new hotspot in the gruelling war, many carrying their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carriages.

Before the Rafah offensive began on May 7, the United Nations had warned that up to 1.4 million people were sheltering in the city. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Sunday's strike and raging fire a "tragic accident", while the army said it had targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members of the group.

Israel's military said it was investigating the strike, and its spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that "our munition alone could not have ignited a fire of this size".

Gaza civil defence agency official Mohammad al-Mughayyir said that 21 more people were killed in a similar strike Tuesday, "targeting the tents of displaced people" in western Rafah.

The army denied this and said it "did not strike in the humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi," referring to an area it had designated for displaced people from Rafah to shelter.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas's Oct 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

New bombing and combat also hit other areas of Gaza, a besieged territory of 2.4 million people.

In the north, Israeli military vehicles unleashed intense gunfire east of Gaza City, an AFP reporter said, while residents reported air strikes on parts of Jabalia.

Three bodies were recovered from a family house in the southern city of Khan Younis after it was hit by shelling, the civil defence agency said.


Nearly eight months into the deadliest Gaza war, Israel has faced ever louder opposition, as well as cases before two Netherlands-based international courts.

At the UN Security Council, Algeria has presented a draft resolution that "demands an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties" and the release of all hostages.

Algeria's ambassador to the United Nations, Amar Bendjama, has not specified when he hopes to put the draft to a vote.

Chinese ambassador Fu Cong expressed hope for a vote this week "because life is in the balance".

French ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said "it's high time for this council to take action. This is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of emergency".

US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, when asked about the draft resolution, said: "We're waiting to see it and then we'll react to it."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile hit out at the United Nations after the latest deadly Israeli strikes in Rafah.

"The UN cannot even protect its own staff," Erdogan told lawmakers from his AKP party. "What are you waiting for to act? The spirit of the United Nations is dead in Gaza."