Israeli airstrike hits 12-storey building in Rafah, residents say


Israel struck one of the largest residential towers in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday, residents said, stepping up pressure on the last area of the enclave it has not yet invaded and where more than a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

The 12-storey building, located some 500 metres from the border with Egypt, was damaged in the strike. Dozens of families were made homeless, though no casualties were reported, according to residents.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the incident.

One of the tower’s 300 residents told Reuters that Israel gave them a 30-minute warning to flee the building at night.

“People were startled, running down the stairs, some fell, it was chaos. People left their belongings and money,” said Mohammad Al-Nabrees, adding that among those who tripped down the stairs during the panicked evacuation was a friend’s pregnant wife.

People walk through the rubble left after an airstrike on a building in Rafah, Gaza.
People walk through the rubble left after the 12-storey tower in Rafah was targeted by Israeli airstrikes on Saturday. (Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

A Rafah-based official with the Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA), said he feared that hitting the Rafah tower was a sign of an imminent Israeli invasion. The PA has limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, another Palestinian territory.

Five months into Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza, health authorities said nearly 31,000 Palestinians have been killed, with more than 72,500 wounded and thousands trapped under rubble.

The offensive has plunged the Palestinian territory, already reeling from a 17-year Israel-led blockade, into a humanitarian catastrophe. Much of it has been reduced to rubble, and most of the 2.3 million residents have been displaced, with the United Nations warning of disease and starvation.

Three Palestinian children died of dehydration and malnutrition at the northern Al-Shifa Hospital overnight, said Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra. He said this raised to 23 the number of Palestinians who had died of similar causes in nearly 10 days.

Palestinians inspect the site of an Israeli airstrike.
Palestinians inspect the ruins of the building in Rafah. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

“This brutal war has ruptured any sense of a shared humanity,” said Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

She called for an end to hostilities to allow for meaningful aid distribution in Gaza, for Hamas to release all hostages without conditions and for Israel to treat Palestinians in its custody humanely and to permit them to contact their families.

Plans for maritime aid corridor

On Friday, the European Commission said it’s hoping a maritime aid corridor could start operating between Cyprus and Gaza this weekend.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the U.S. military will set up a temporary pier on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to allow for more shipments of food and other supplies from a port in Cyprus. However, U.S. officials said it would likely take weeks before the pier is operational.

WATCH | Skepticism among Palestinians over U.S. aid-by-sea plan:

Skepticism among Palestinians over U.S. aid-by-sea plan

There is skepticism from some Palestinians over U.S. plans to get more aid into Gaza by sea as hopes fade for a ceasefire before Ramadan.

The war was triggered by an Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel, where 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Negotiations on a ceasefire and the release of 134 hostages still in Gaza seemed to stall ahead of the hoped-for deadline, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on or around March 10.

WATCH | Israeli restrictions push Gaza to the verge of famine:

Israeli restrictions push Gaza to the verge of famine

WARNING: Video contains graphic images | Humanitarian groups say Israeli restrictions on food aid coming into Gaza have put the territory on the verge of a famine, making the Palestinian people even more desperate for any source of food or water.

A Hamas source told Reuters that the group’s delegation was “unlikely” to make another visit to Cairo over the weekend for talks. The militant group blamed the lack of progress on Israel, which has so far refused to give guarantees or commitments to end the war or pull its forces from the Gaza Strip.

In a statement summarizing its operations in Gaza over the past day, the Israeli military said it conducted arrests, located weapons and killed more than 30 fighters in Khan Younis, including in the Hamad area, in central Gaza and in the area of Beit Hanoun in the north.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said at least 82 people were killed in Israeli attacks across the Gaza Strip in the last day.

In Khan Younis, medics said at least 23 people were killed in military raids on homes and in Israeli shelling of a housing project in the Hamad area of the city. In the northern Gaza Strip, Israeli fire killed a Palestinian fisherman along the beach, medics said.

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