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War on Gaza: Israel sends more troops to Rafah, considers widening assault

Meanwhile, five Israeli soldiers killed in Jabalia friendly-fire and series of strikes target Lebanon's northeastern Baalbek
Smoke rises from an explosion following an Israeli strike on southern Gaza on 15 May 2024 (Jack Guez/AFP)
Smoke rises from an explosion following an Israeli strike on southern Gaza on 15 May 2024 (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Israeli army announced on Thursday that it was sending an additional brigade to Rafah, as the government mulls widening its assault on southern Gaza.

The Times of Israel reported that the Commando Brigade joined the 162nd Division, which is already deployed in eastern Rafah.

According to the newspaper, the move came as the Israeli government is expected to approve widening the offensive there despite mounting international condemnation.

At least 600,000 Palestinians have already fled Rafah to other areas in the strip after Israel intensified its military operations there last week.

On 6 May, the Israeli military took "operational control" of the Palestinian side of the crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt, essentially cutting off aid into the coastal enclave.

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Countries around the world, including Israel's western allies, have warned an assault on Rafah would exacerbate the situation inside the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it was "nearly impossible" to distribute aid within Gaza, adding that crossings were either "closed, unsafe to access, or not logistically viable."

Map of displacement of Palestinians in Gaza from Rafah to al-Mawasi and elsewhere

Israel had previously asserted that a ground operation on Rafah was necessary to eliminate Hamas, a stated goal of the war following the 7 October attack on southern Israel.

According to the Palestinian health ministry, at least 60 Palestinians have been killed over the past 48 hours, raising the Palestinian death toll since 7 October to 35,233.

More than 79,000 Palestinians have also been wounded, according to health officials. The figures exclude the tens of thousands of dead who are believed to be buried in the bombed-out ruins of homes, shops, shelters and other buildings.

Later on Thursday, the International Court of Justice is expected to hold hearings on South Africa's request for more provisional measures in its genocide case against Israel due to the current operations.

Israeli soldiers killed in friendly fire

Meanwhile, Israel's military said that five of its soldiers were killed and at least seven injured when an Israeli tank fired on a building being used by its soldiers, in what seemed to be a friendly-fire incident in northern Gaza.

An initial probe by the military said that a tank operating alongside paratroopers in Jabalia refugee camp fired two shells at a building where the soldiers were gathered.

The Israeli army added that two groups of paratroopers were in the area, one with the tank forces and another that arrived hours later, notifying two of the tanks.

The tank forces identified a gun barrel from one of the buildings, reportedly believing they were Palestinian fighters, and fired two tank shells.

Israel launches air strikes on north-eastern Lebanon

War on Gaza: Palestinian fighters battle Israeli army in Gaza refugee camp on Nakba day
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Elsewhere on Thursday, Israel  conducted an intense series of air strikes near Baalbek, north-eastern Lebanon, in what seemed to be the strongest attack on the area since the start of the war in Gaza.

Israel's army radio said that the military conducted around 15 attacks on the area, with the bombings being heard in several areas of northern Lebanon.

Israeli military assessments say the strikes hit a Hezbollah weapons manufacturing plant, although this has not been independently confirmed.

The strikes came hours after Hezbollah launched a drone attack on military bases in northern Israel. The Israeli army said one of the explosive-laden drones hit a sensitive military facility near the Golani Junction in the Lower Galilee.

Hezbollah’s attack is itself a retaliation for the assassination of Hussein Makki, whom Israel claims was a top field commander for the group.

Three Palestinians killed in West Bank raid

Meanwhile, three Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli forces during a raid on Tulkarem in the West Bank, the Wafa news agency reported.

The agency says that a large military force entered the city from several areas and was firing at “anything that moves” in the streets.

Israeli forces reportedly stormed several money exchange shops in the city, vandalised and stole from some of them, and arrested at least one of the shop owners.

Several raids were also reported in other cities in the West Bank, with Israeli forces distributing leaflets to money exchange shops accusing them of financing "terrorism."

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