War in Gaza to last until end of year at least, says Israel, despite Rafah border control claim

Israeli military defies International Court of Justice order and moves tanks deeper into city as Palestinian death toll passes 36,000

Israel said on Wednesday it expects its war in Gaza to continue until the end of the year at least, despite also announcing it has achieved control over the border between Gaza and Egypt.

Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s national security adviser, said the country’s original war plan against the militant group Hamas had defined 2024 as a year of combat. “We’re now in the fifth month of 2024, which means that this year we are expecting another seven months of fighting,” he said in a radio interview.

Israeli tanks entered the centre of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Wednesday for the second consecutive day before pulling back to positions closer to the Egyptian border. The action took place despite an order from the International Court of Justice to end its attacks on Rafah, where many Palestinians had taken refuge from bombardment elsewhere.

The Israeli army said on Wednesday it had secured total operational control over the Philadelphi corridor, which runs along the border between Egypt and Gaza, achieving the main strategic aim of the attack on Rafah.

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Israeli forces control 82 tunnel shafts in the area which were being examined and would later be destroyed, the army said, in an effort to block Hamas cross-border weapon smuggling. Israel also destroyed dozens of rocket launchers which were placed along the border, it said.

In northern Gaza, Israeli forces withdrew from Jabalya after weeks of fierce fighting.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken described as “horrific” the weekend Israeli air strike near Rafah that killed 45 Palestinians in a tented camps for displaced people.

“This underscores the imperative of having a plan [for Gaza] for the day after [the war]. In the absence of a plan for the day after, there won’t be a day after,” he said. “That’s where we need to go as quickly as possible.”

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, more than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on October 7th last. Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 hostages seized in the surprise Hamas attack on that day. It says 125 hostages remain in Hamas captivity but it is not known how many are alive.

The International Federation of the Red Cross called on Wednesday for a ceasefire in Gaza and unimpeded humanitarian access to the war-torn enclave.

“We desperately need a political solution that will allow us to have a ceasefire to get aid in,” its president, Kate Forbes, said. “We’re ready to make a difference. We have to have access, and to have access there has to be a ceasefire,” she said.

The Gaza health ministry called on Wednesday for safe passages to ensure the immediate entry of fuel and medical aid to Rafah and northern Gaza, and for the setting up of field hospitals in these areas and the urgent entry of medical teams.

Algeria has circulated a proposed United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and for Israel to halt its military offensive in Rafah. Israel expects the US to veto such a resolution.

Hamas is considering the latest Israeli ceasefire proposal, conveyed by Qatari mediators on Tuesday, which reportedly includes concessions on the number of hostages to be released in the first, “humanitarian”, stage of the deal. According to one Israeli official this is the last opportunity to get the hostages back. Hamas still insists on an end to the war as part of a deal, a condition Israel rejects.

Hamas released a video clip on Wednesday of its fighters shooting at the central Israeli community of Bat Hefer, close to the West Bank border.

Hamas said the attack was in response to “the massacre Israel is carrying out in the Gaza Strip”. No one was hurt but residents of central Israel called on the government to act before the security threat along the West Bank border resembled that of the Gaza border.

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