Israel turns focus of Gaza attack to Rafah, minister says 10,000 Hamas fighters dead

Israel prepared to advance its war on Gaza farther south, close to the Egyptian border, after claiming to have dismantled Hamas in Khan Younis, as diplomatic efforts in pursuit of a ceasefire accelerated.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Thursday that success in the fight against the Palestinian militants in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, where Israel launched a major ground attack last week, meant its forces could advance to Rafah on the enclave’s southern border.

The army says it has killed at least 2,000 Hamas militants in Khan Younis and destroyed a number of important tunnels in the militant group’s underground network.

“The Khan Younis Brigade boasted that it would stand strong against the Israeli military. Today it is dismantled,” Gallant told troops in Khan Younis. “We are completing the mission in Khan Younis and we will also reach Rafah and we will kill every terrorist there who tries to harm us.”

This picture taken from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, shows smoke rising over buildings in Khan Younis during Israeli bombardment. Photo: AFP

Gallant said Hamas is running out of weapons and ammunition and cannot take care of its wounded fighters.

“They have 10,000 dead, terrorists, and another 10,000 wounded who don’t function,” he said. The claims could not be independently verified.

The Wall Street Journal reported three weeks ago, citing unnamed Israeli and Egyptian sources, that Israeli officials had informed Egypt of a planned military operation along the Gaza side of the border.

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The Israeli leadership suspects that tunnels running under the border between Egypt and Gaza are still being used to smuggle goods and weapons for Hamas into the strip.

More than 1.3 million people are said to be living in Rafah and the surrounding area – more than half of the Gaza Strip’s population of around 2.3 million. They have fled their homes and have sought refuge from the fighting in the city. Before the war, Rafah had around 250,000 inhabitants.

At the same time, Qatari and Egyptian mediators hoped for a positive response from Hamas, which runs Gaza, to the first concrete proposal for an extended halt to fighting, agreed with Israel and the US at talks in Paris last week.

A Palestinian official close to the negotiations told Reuters the text envisages a first phase of 40 days, during which fighting would cease while Hamas freed remaining civilians among the more than 100 hostages it still holds.

Further phases would see the handover of Israeli soldiers and bodies of dead hostages.

Such a long pause would be a first since October 7, when Hamas fighters attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, precipitating an Israeli offensive that has laid waste to much of Gaza.

The Gaza-Egypt border as seen from Rafah camp, southern Gaza Strip. Photo: EPA-EFE

Health officials in the enclave said on Thursday the confirmed Palestinian death toll had risen above 27,000, with thousands more dead still lying under the rubble.

A Palestinian official said Hamas was unlikely to reject the proposal outright, but would demand guarantees that fighting would not resume, something Israel has not agreed to.

There was brief elation in Gaza on Thursday after remarks by a Qatari spokesman at Johns Hopkins University in Washington sparked ceasefire hopes.

But Qatari officials in the capital Doha and Taher Al-Nono, media adviser to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, said the group had not responded yet.

Reuters, Associated Press and dpa

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