‘I love Gaza’ sign is crushed under armoured vehicle as Israel takes control of Rafah crossing in ‘death sentence for Gazans’ after Netanyahu rejects ceasefire deal and sends in tanks cutting off last land route for aid into the region | DAILY MAIL

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‘I love Gaza’ sign is crushed under armoured vehicle as Israel takes control of Rafah crossing in ‘death sentence for Gazans’ after Netanyahu rejects ceasefire deal and sends in tanks cutting off last land route for aid into the region | Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in this article by By David Averre and Miriam Kuepper, Originally published in The Daily Mail.

An Israeli tank brigade this morning seized control of the Gaza Strip side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt – a move described as a ‘death sentence for Gazans’ by as it cuts off the last land route for vital aid. 

One armoured vehicle from the Israeli 401st brigade was seen trundling up to an ‘I love Gaza’ sign that took pride of place at the crossing, before surging forward and reducing the structure to rubble, crushing it underneath its tracks in symbolic footage posted to social media. 

Other clips showed several tanks and other vehicles arriving on the scene early today with Israeli flags flying at the crossing point. 

The 401st Brigade entered the Rafah crossing this morning and took ‘operational control’ of the location seen as crucial for both aid going into Gaza and refugees fleeing into Egypt, officials said, adding this morning that they had ‘eliminated approximately 20 terrorists’.

This came just hours after Israel roundly rejected a new ceasefire deal hashed out by Egyptian and Qatari negotiators that Hamas said it had accepted.

The announcement from Hamas sparked premature celebrations in Rafah yesterday as war-weary Palestinians took to the streets rejoicing news of a ceasefire deal.

But Tel Aviv later dismissed the ceasefire, describing it as a ‘softened’ version of an Egyptian proposal, which included ‘far-reaching’ conclusions that Israel could not accept.

Palestinian hopes for an end to the war were shattered late last night when Israel launched intense air strikes on Rafah, with Gaza’s crossing authority claiming that Israel’s decision to press on with its assault in spite of ongoing negotiations would see the deaths of countless more Gazans.

Sam Rose, director of planning at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), also said Israeli’s seizure of the Rafah crossing would be ‘devastating’ for Palestinians. 

‘(The crossing) has been the lifeblood for the small amounts of goods that have been coming into Gaza since October’.

‘There’s no ability for desalination plants to operate and provide safe water. There’s no electricity – it cuts off everything,’ Rose told Al Jazeera.

Sources in the Red Crescent organisation in Egypt said aid to Gaza had completely halted at Rafah this morning. 

Professor John Strawson, an expert in Middle East Studies at the University of East London, said the IDF’s seizure of the border was likely part of a wider plan to achieve as great a military advantage as possible ahead of entering new ceasefire negotiations.

Hamas fighters near the Rafah crossing on Sunday fired mortars into southern Israel, killing four Israeli soldiers near the Kerem Shalom crossing close to an Israeli kibbutz of the same name.

The Israeli military used this as justification for seizing the Rafah crossing in a statement this morning, adding it had received intelligence the area around the border checkpoint was being used for ‘terrorist purposes’ – though gave no further information.

‘The IDF is currently conducting targeted strikes against Hamas terror targets in eastern Rafah in southern Gaza,’ the Israeli military said on X. 

Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority, today acknowledged Israeli forces had seized the Rafah crossing and had closed the facility for the time being. He said strikes had targeted the area around the crossing since Monday.

An Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesperson declined to immediately comment on the Israeli seizure. 

Egypt previously has warned any seizure of Rafah could see Palestinians fleeing over the border, a scenario that could threaten a 1979 peace deal with Israel that has been a linchpin for regional security.

Hamas said in a brief statement yesterday that its political leader Ismail Haniyeh had informed Egyptian and Qatari officials of his acceptance of the terms. 

The ceasefire deal Hamas said it agreed to is a three-phased agreement, and each is 42 days long, the group’s deputy chief in Gaza told Al Jazeera on Monday.

The first phase of the agreement would see a temporary cessation of hostilities and a withdrawal of Israeli troops away from major population centres. In return, Hamas would gradually release 33 captives – some alive, some dead – back to Israel.

These captives would be women, those aged over 50, those who are ill, and non-soldiers under the age of 19. 

Hamas deputy Khalil Al-Hayya also said the second stage of the agreement stipulates a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on social media platform X that Haniyeh had also informed him of the ceasefire deal and told him: ‘We are sincere in our intentions.’

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu however said the ceasefire agreement was ‘far from Israel’s basic requirements’ and rejected the reported terms.

He later added he would send a delegation to Cairo to continue negotiations on a new ceasefire deal today.

Meanwhile, IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari confirmed during a press conference last night that his forces would continue their operations in Rafah while a new ceasefire is being hashed out.

‘We are exhausting the potential about negotiations and bringing back the hostages and that is our main mission, to bring them home as quickly as possible, but in parallel we are continuing to act in an operational manner in the Gaza Strip and we will continue to do so.’

A statement from Netanyahu’s office last night read: ‘The war cabinet has unanimously decided that Israel is continuing the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to advance the release of our hostages and the other objectives of the war.’ 

According to former Israeli intelligence official and regional analyst Avi Melamed, the clock is ticking towards the moment of truth for both Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and Netanyahu to choose a hostage deal or initiate Israel’s long-promised Rafah intensive.

‘Neither Sinwar nor Netanyahu have significant manoeuvering space.

‘Reports have emerged that Israel earlier in the week issued an ultimatum to Hamas to respond on the latest round of negotiations, and with the looming intensive Israeli operation against Rafah, Hamas will likely respond in a manner that is closer to what Israel is willing to agree to, yet something that will require additional negotiation before signing.

‘For Hamas, showing itself as a willing party to the negotiations, but not signing yet, is the only option to continue to delay the Israeli operation in Rafah, which has led to Israeli frustration focused on the country’s own government. 

‘Regardless of political alignment, the Israeli population has grown frustrated with its leadership’s lack of resolve to either complete the operation in Rafah or sign a deal.’

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, said the assault on Rafah would be deadly for civilians.

‘The Rafah offensive has started again, in spite all the requests of the international community, the US, the European Union member states, everybody asking Netanyahu not to attack,’ Borrell told reporters.

‘I am afraid that this is going to cause again a lot of casualties, civilian casualties. he said. ‘There are no safe zones in Gaza.’

US state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the US was ‘reviewing Hamas’ response’ to the ceasefire deal and will be discussing it ‘with others in the region’.

‘We will be discussing this response with our partners in the coming hours. We continue to believe a hostage deal is in the best interests of the Israeli people and Palestinian people,’ Miller added.

‘We continue to believe that a hostage deal is in the best interests of the Israeli people; it’s in the best interests of the Palestinian people.’ 

The agreement, should it take effect, would be the first truce since a week-long pause in the fighting in November, and follows months of failed attempts at pausing the fighting to free hostages and allow more aid into Gaza.

But Israel is now pressing on with its military operation in Rafah, starting to evacuate civilians while conducting bombing raids and sending tanks to seize the border crossing. 

The city, which sits on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, has been the last sanctuary for around half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents pushed south by Israel’s seven-month-old assault.

Just hours before Hamas announced that they had accepted the agreement, Israel had ordered Palestinians to begin evacuating Rafah ahead of an Israeli military operation. 

Netanyahu said earlier Monday that seizing Rafah is vital to ensure Hamas cannot rebuild their military capabilities and repeat the attack on Israel that triggered the war. 

Over a million people in Rafah are huddled in tents and overcrowded apartments after fleeing Israel’s military offensive in other parts of the territory. 

Israel’s closest allies, including the US, have repeatedly said that Israel should not attack Rafah, and the looming operation has raised global alarm over the fate of around 1.4 million Palestinians sheltering there.

Aid agencies have warned that an offensive would worsen Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe and bring a surge of more civilian deaths in an Israeli campaign that has killed 34,000 people and devastated the territory.

US President Joe Biden spoke on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reiterated US concerns about an invasion of Rafah. 

He said a ceasefire is the best way to protect the lives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, a National Security Council spokesperson said.

Hamas and Qatar said invading Rafah would derail efforts by international mediators to broker a ceasefire.

Days earlier, Hamas had been discussing a US-backed proposal that reportedly raised the possibility of an end to the war and a withdrawal of Israeli troops in return for the release of all hostages held by the group. 

Israeli officials rejected that trade-off, vowing to continue their campaign until Hamas is destroyed.

Lieutenant Colonel Nadav Shoshani, an army spokesman, said about 100,000 people were being ordered to move from parts of Rafah to a nearby Israel-declared humanitarian zone called Muwasi, a makeshift camp on the coast. 

He said Israel has expanded the size of the zone and that it included tents, food, water and field hospitals.

Around 450,000 displaced Palestinians are already sheltering in Muwasi. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said it has been providing them with aid but conditions are squalid, with few toilets or sanitation facilities in the largely rural area.

Israeli military leaflets were dropped with maps detailing a number of eastern neighbourhoods of Rafah to evacuate, warning that an attack was imminent and anyone who stays ‘puts themselves and their family members in danger’.

UNRWA will not evacuate from Rafah so it can continue to provide aid to those who stay behind, said Scott Anderson, the agency’s director in Gaza. ‘We will provide aid to people wherever they choose to be,’ he said.

The UN says an attack on Rafah could disrupt the distribution of aid keeping Palestinians alive across Gaza. 

The Rafah crossing into Egypt, a main entry point for aid to Gaza, lies in the evacuation zone. The crossing remained open on Monday after the Israeli order.

Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, condemned the ‘forced, unlawful’ evacuation order and the idea that people should go to Muwasi.

‘The area is already overstretched and devoid of vital services,’ he said, adding that an Israeli assault could lead to ‘the deadliest phase of this war’.

Israel’s bombardment and ground offensives in Gaza have killed more than 34,700 Palestinians, around two-thirds of them children and women, according to Gaza health officials.

More than 80 per cent of the population of 2.3 million have been driven from their homes, and hundreds of thousands in the north are on the brink of famine, according to the UN.

‘I love Gaza’ sign is crushed under armoured vehicle as Israel takes control of Rafah crossing in ‘death sentence for Gazans’ after Netanyahu rejects ceasefire deal and sends in tanks cutting off last land route for aid into the region | Avi Melamed’s insights quoted in this article by By David Averre and Miriam Kuepper, Originally published in The Daily Mail.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamedhttps://insidethemiddle-east.com
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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