Gaza’s sole border crossing with Egypt, the only entry point not controlled by Israel, has been hit again by an Israeli air raid, reports say.
The third attack on the Rafah crossing in 24 hours consisted of “four missiles” that targeted the Palestinian side of the crossing, local Egyptian group Sinai for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
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Witnesses had said the second attack hit the no-man’s land between the Egyptian and Palestinian gates, damaging the hall on the Palestinian side. The Israel military said it could “neither confirm or deny” any attack on the crossing “at this point”, the AFP news agency reported.
NGO Sinai for Human Rights said Tuesday’s attacks prompted the closure of the crossing, but there was no immediate confirmation from either side.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Israeli military revised a recommendation by one of its spokespeople that Palestinians fleeing its air raids in Gaza head to Egypt.
Rafah is the sole possible crossing point into Sinai for Gaza’s 2.3 million residents. The rest of the 40km-long (25-mile-long) strip of land is surrounded by Israel and the sea. The passage of people and goods is strictly controlled under a blockade of Gaza enforced by Egypt and Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel’s assault on Gaza has reportedly caused alarm in Egypt, which has urged Israel to provide safe passage for civilians from the besieged enclave rather than encouraging them to flee southwest towards Sinai, two Egyptian security sources told the Reuters news agency on Tuesday.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Tuesday said the escalation in Gaza was “highly dangerous” and that Egypt was pushing with regional and international partners for a negotiated solution to the violence.
Egypt would not allow the issue to be settled at the expense of others, el-Sisi said in comments reported by state news agency MENA, an apparent reference to the risk that Palestinians could be pushed into Sinai.
Egypt, the first Arab country to normalise relations with Israel, has mediated between Israel and Palestinian factions during previous conflicts in Gaza and has pressed to prevent further escalation in the current fighting.
Israel has been pounding Gaza with the fiercest attacks in the 75-year history of its conflict with the Palestinians, after Hamas launched a deadly and unprecedented incursion into Israel on Saturday.
On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “total blockade” of Gaza, cutting access to water, food, fuel and electricity. Such a siege of Gaza by the Israeli army, with the intent to starve a population, is a war crime under United Nations statutes.
“What it seems to me is that the measures taken, including the bombing of the Rafah crossing, hints to an intention to really starve and kill the people who are innocent inside the Gaza Strip,” UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese told Al Jazeera, adding that Palestinians in Gaza are concerned that they could experience something akin to a “second Nakba” in the days ahead.
Gaza’s health ministry on Tuesday said at least 830 people, including women and children, have been killed and more than 4,250 wounded since Saturday. At least 900 Israelis have also been killed since the unprecedented attack by Hamas.
The siege of Gaza has also raised fears that Palestinian civilians could find themselves facing an enormous onslaught, or even an Israeli ground invasion, with nowhere to flee.
Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said Israeli bombardments on Monday and Tuesday hit an entry gate on the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing. The crossing was also closed from the Egyptian side and Palestinians planning to travel to Gaza retreated to north Sinai’s main city of Al Arish, Egyptian sources said.
The latest attack on Rafah follows a similar incident on Monday that partially disrupted operations at the border, though Egyptian security sources said access for registered travellers and humanitarian activity had been restored by Tuesday morning.
On Monday, about 800 people left Gaza through the Rafah crossing and about 500 people entered, though the crossing was closed for the movement of goods, according to the United Nations humanitarian office.