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‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ Day 165: Israeli Attacks Escalate On Rafah

Above photo: A Palestinian man inspects a destroyed building following an Israeli air strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, March 19, 2024. Abed Rahim Khatib/DPA via Zuma Press APA Images.

Al-Shifa Hospital Invasion Enters Second Day.

After a night of heavy bombardment the PA warns Israel’s Rafah offensive has begun. Meanwhile, the invasion of al-Shifa hospital continues; all communication with medical staff trapped inside the hospital has been silent since Monday evening.

Casualties

  • 31,819 + killed* and at least 73,934 wounded in the Gaza Strip.
  • 435+ Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.**
  • Israel revises its estimated October 7 death toll down from 1,400 to 1,147.
  • 594 Israeli soldiers killed since October 7, and at least 3,221 injured.***

*Gaza’s Ministry of Health confirmed this figure on Telegram channel. Some rights groups put the death toll number at more than 40,000 when accounting for those presumed dead.

** The death toll in West Bank and Jerusalem is not updated regularly. According to PA’s Ministry of Health on March 17, this is the latest figure.

*** This figure is released by the Israeli military, showing the soldiers whose names “were allowed to be published.”

Key Developments

  • Palestinian Authority warns that Israel started offensive on Rafah without official announcement to avoid international pressure.
  • Majed Al-Ansari, spokesperson for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, says Israeli attack on Rafah will negatively affect the ceasefire talks in Doha.
  • Ansari says “it is still too early to talk about any breakthrough in the negotiations” between Israel and Hamas, but mediators remain “optimistic.”
  • All communication with Palestinian medical staff trapped inside al-Shifa Hospital went silent on Monday evening
  • Israel arrests Al-Jazeera correspondent Ismail Al-Ghoul in al-Shifa Hospital. He says Israeli forces detained them for 12 hours, destroyed media tent, and seized smartphones, cameras, and laptops from journalists.
  • WHO chief says, “hospitals should never be battlegrounds. We are terribly worried about the situation at al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza, which is endangering health workers, patients, and civilians.”
  • Israel bombs several houses on Al-Jalaa Street in north Gaza, close to al-Shifa Hospital, killing and injuring several Palestinians and causing immense damage.
  • Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA chief, was barred entry by Israel to Rafah, while Tel Aviv says he did not follow “proper procedure.”
  • Lazzarini says his visit “was supposed to coordinate and improve the humanitarian response. This man-made starvation under our watch is a stain on our collective humanity.”
  • Israeli settlers vandalize UNRWA’s headquarters in occupied Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and affix posters on main gate calling for its closure.
  • In Jerusalem, only 25,000 Palestinians were allowed by Israeli forces to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque to perform Ramadan’s prayer on the ninth night.
  • Ahmed Al-Tibi, Palestinian Knesset member, warns that the life of national figure and Fatah leader Marwan Al-Barghouti is at risk inside Israeli prison.

PA Warns That “Israel Began To Destroy Rafah”

The Palestinian Authority (PA) warned that Israel has started an offensive on Rafah without an official announcement to avoid international pressure.

Overnight, Israel heavily bombed Rafah, killing at least 14 Palestinians in the area where more than one million people are displaced, the majority of them living in tents.

“Israel began to destroy Rafah on a daily basis and in a systematic manner through repeated attacks on homes, bombing them, and killing and wounding dozens of civilians,” the PA’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday.

It added that to avoid condemnation and international pressure to halt such attacks, “Israel… did not wait for permission from anyone, and did not announce” the operation publicly.

The escalation of Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling in Rafah comes as the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting the region where talks between Israel and Hamas continue in Qatar, but has not seen any breakthrough to reach a ceasefire and hostages’ exchange deal.

Israel has bombed several areas in Rafah overnight, targeting mainly Palestinian homes and residential blocks, according to Wafa, including the neighborhoods of Musabah, Khirbet Al-Adas, and Al-Jeneina.

On Tuesday, Majed Al-Ansari, the spokesperson for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry, said that an attack on Rafah would negatively affect the ceasefire talks in Doha.

“Any attack on Rafah will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and will negatively affect the progress of the talks,” he said. Ansari added that mediators are working on a temporary ceasefire deal to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

“It is still too early to talk about any breakthrough in the negotiations, but we are optimistic about that,” he said, according to Al-Jazeera Arabic.

Al-Shifa Hospital Under Israeli Control For Second Day

In north Gaza, Israel forces storming of the al-Shifa Hospital has been ongoing since late on Sunday.

All communication with medical staff trapped inside the hospital went silent on Monday evening. This is the second time Israeli forces stormed the al-Shifa Hospital since October, this time claiming that there were Hamas figures inside it, but has yet to provide evidence.

A fire broke out in the al-Shifa’s specialized surgery building after the Israeli assault began. Around 25,000 Palestinians were sheltering in the medical complex, and Israel arrested 90 Palestinians, including journalists from inside al-Shifa. Among them was Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in north Gaza, Ismail al-Ghoul, who was released after 12 hours of detention.

Al-Ghoul later said that Israeli forces destroyed the media tent inside the al-Shifa Hospital and seized smartphones, cameras, and laptops from journalists who were arrested and stripped of their clothes.

“The [Israeli] occupation forces handcuffed and blindfolded us and interrogated all the journalists present in the place,” he told Al-Jazeera Arabic in a phone call on Monday.

Al-Ghoul is one of the few journalists who report from north Gaza to a mainstream TV channel. He recently reported Israeli forces killing hundreds of Palestinians who gathered to get flour, aid and food near the Al-Nabulsi roundabout and Al-Rashid Street in Gaza City.

“Hospitals Should Never Be Battlegrounds”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chief of World Health Organization (WHO), said that “hospitals should never be battlegrounds. We are terribly worried about the situation at al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza, which is endangering health workers, patients, and civilians.”

Ghebreyesus added that the al-Shifa Hospital is partially operating. In November, Israeli forces stormed the complex following days of siege, claiming that Hamas hosted a “command center” underneath the facility and has yet to present a proof.

Israel also bombed several houses on Al-Jalaa Street in north Gaza, which is close to the al-Shifa Hospital, killing and injuring several Palestinians and causing immense damage to the area.

Some Palestinians were walking on Al-Jalaa Street at the time of the air raids, others came back from getting flour to find their apartments bombed while their families were inside.

In the past 24 hours, Israeli forces committed several massacres in various areas of the Gaza Strip, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health on Telegram, killing at least 93 people and injuring 142. Thousands remain under the rubble of bombed buildings.

Israeli bombing killed 16 Palestinians in north Gaza overnight. At least 15 people were killed in an Israeli air raid on a house of the Muqbel family in central Gaza City. The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said that 14 members have been killed since the Israeli aggression started on Gaza in October.

In north Gaza, Israel bombed the house of the Al-Banna family in Jabalia, killing at least eight people, Wafa reported. Hundreds of Palestinians saw their tents sink or blown away as a result of strong wind and torrential rain in Deir al-Balah, Rafah, and the Al-Mawasi area in Khan Younis overnight, Wafa reported.

Israel Denies Entry For UNRWA Chief To Rafah

Philippe Lazzarini, the chief of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), was barred entry to Rafah by Israel, as Tel Aviv claimed he did not follow “proper procedure.”

Last month, Lazzarini accused Israel of aiming to destroy UNRWA and defended the organization’s relentless work in offering humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“I intended to go to Rafah today, but I have been informed an hour ago that my entry into Rafah is declined,” Lazzarini said during a press conference in Cairo on Monday alongside the Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry.

Shoukry said that Lazzarini was barred by Israel. “You were declined by the Israeli government, refused the entry, which is an unprecedented move for a representative at this high position,” he said.

Although the Rafah crossing is an entry point between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, Israel is in charge of who can enter or leave the enclave, according to the Israeli-Egyptian agreement.

Lazzarini also accused Israel of creating a man-made famine in Gaza and said that UNRWA was “engaged in a race against the clock to try to reverse the impact of the spreading hunger and the looming famine in the Gaza Strip.”

He added that his visit “was supposed to coordinate and improve the humanitarian response. This man-made starvation under our watch is a stain on our collective humanity.”

“Too much time was wasted, all land crossings must open now. Famine can be averted with political will,” Lazzarini said.

Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur for Palestine, wrote on X platform that “Israel wants no witnesses, no truth-tellers”, in a comment on Lazzarini’s entry denial.

On Monday, Israeli settlers vandalized the headquarters of UNRWA in occupied Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They have affixed posters on the main gate calling for the shutdown of UNRWA agency, which also provides humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Jerusalem’s refugee camps, and operate in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

Israeli Settlers Attack Deir Istiya Village

Overnight, Israeli forces arrested several Palestinians from the occupied West Bank towns of Hebron, Jenin, Qalqilya, Nablus, and the Balata refugee camp.

In Jerusalem, only 25,000 Palestinians were allowed by Israeli forces to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque to perform Ramadan’s Al-Tarawih prayer on the ninth night. This is a sharp drop from the 60,000 Palestinians who performed Al-Tarawih on Saturday night.

Israeli authorities are still limiting the number of Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Jerusalem. Last week, Israeli forces set up at least 30 makeshift checkpoints on the outskirts of the Old City, at the city’s gates and the entrances of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Since October, Israel has issued 100 deportation orders against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Palestinian citizens of Israel, barring 55 of them from entry to Jerusalem and 45 to Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Wadi Hilweh Human Rights Information Center.

Wadi Hilweh added that this has become a routine policy “to deprive Palestinians of their right to worship and visit Al-Aqsa,” especially around religious occasions such as Ramadan.

In the north of the West Bank, Israeli settlers attacked Deir Istiya village near Salfit, stole contents from an agricultural room owned by Youssef Salman, and destroyed the solar panels, Wafa reported.

Marwan Al-Barghouti’s Life Is In Danger Inside Israeli Prison

Ahmed Al-Tibi, the Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, warned that the life of Marwan Al-Barghouti is at risk inside Israeli prison.

Barghouti, a popular national figure and Fatah leader was put in solitary confinement in Megiddo prison. Since October, he has moved between several detention centers, including Ofer, Ramla, and Rimonim.

“Marwan Al-Barghouti’s life is in danger inside the prison due to the assault on him and other detainees. I hold Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responsible for any harm caused to him, his life, or the lives of the prisoners,” Al-Tibi said in a video post on the X platform.

He added that Barghouti was assaulted and bled as a result, and warned that since October, 13 Palestinians died inside Israeli jail, “some of them were found murdered, according to families and judges, due to violence and torture.”

Barghouti is seen by Palestinians as a national figure who could bridge the schism between Fatah and Hamas and lead a future Palestinian state. Hamas insisted that Barghouti will be among the prisoners that will be released in any exchange deal with Israel.

Last month, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the National Security Minister, said that he ordered the transfer of Barghouti to solitary confinement in prison “following information about a planned uprising” in the occupied West Bank.

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