Israel forces say they have taken control of key Gaza crossing as ceasefire talks to resume

Israel forces say they have taken control of key Gaza crossing as ceasefire talks to resume

An Israeli tank brigade seized control Tuesday of the Gaza Strip side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, authorities said.

The Israeli 401st Brigade entered the Rafah crossing early Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said, taking “operational control” of the crucial crossing. It's the main route for aid entering the besieged enclave and exit for those able to flee into Egypt. Israel fully controls all access in and out of Gaza since the war began.

Footage released by the Israeli military showed a tank entering the crossing. Details of the video matched known features of the crossing and showed Israeli flags flying from tanks that seized the area.

The Israeli military said it seized the crossing after receiving intelligence it was “being used for terrorist purposes.” The military did not provide evidence to immediately support the assertion, though it alleged the area around the crossing had been used to launch a mortar attack that killed four Israeli troops and wounded others near the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

The military also said that ground troops and airstrikes targeted suspected Hamas positions in Rafah.

The offensive again raised the risks of an all-out Israeli assault on Rafah, a move the United States strongly opposes and that aid groups warn will be disastrous for some 1.4 million Palestinians taking refuge there.

Earlier in the day, the IDF ordered 100 thousand Palestinians to evacuate to a 'humanitarian zone' in the coastal municipality of al-Mawasi.

Israel’s war cabinet suggested it was determined to proceed with a full-scale ground offensive into Rafah to eliminate the Hamas battalions reportedly based there. But those plans have been heavily criticised by aid agencies and global leaders, with the World Health Organization warning it could lead to a ‘bloodbath’.

"I made today a very strong appeal to the government of Israel and to the leadership of Hamas in order to go an extra mile, to materialise an agreement that is absolutely vital," said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

"This is an opportunity that cannot be missed, and a ground invasion in Rafah would be intolerable because of its devastating humanitarian consequences and because of its destabilising impact in the region."

Ceasefire talks to resume

As Israel moves forward with its offensive, cease-fire negotiations with Hamas remain on a knife’s edge.

The militant group on Monday said it accepted an Egyptian-Qatari mediated cease-fire proposal. Israel, meanwhile, insisted the deal did not meet its core demands. The high-stakes diplomatic moves and military brinkmanship left a glimmer of hope alive, but only barely, for an accord that could bring at least a pause in the 7-month-old war that has devastated the Gaza Strip.

Details of what was outlined in the proposal have been scarce but it is believed to have included a phased exchange of Israeli hostages in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. It was also thought to include provisions for displaced Palestinians to return to their homes in Gaza.

Despite the rejection, news that Hamas had agreed a deal was met with jubilation on the streets of Gaza among the strip’s war-weary population.

Palestinians celebrate in the streets of Deir al-Balah following Hamas's announcement that it accepted a ceasefire proposal, May 6, 2024
Palestinians celebrate in the streets of Deir al-Balah following Hamas's announcement that it accepted a ceasefire proposal, May 6, 2024 - Abdel Kareem Hana/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.

"Frankly, we did not believe the news. The joy is unnatural. I do not know how to describe my feelings," said Mostafa Eliyan.

Egyptian officials said the proposal called for a cease-fire of multiple stages starting with a limited hostage release and partial Israeli troop pullbacks within Gaza. The two sides would also negotiate a “permanent calm” that would lead to a full hostage release and greater Israeli withdrawal out of the territory, they said.

Hamas sought clearer guarantees for its key demand of an end to the war and complete Israeli withdrawal in return for the release of all hostages, but it wasn’t clear if any changes were made.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly rejected that trade-off, vowing to keep up their campaign until Hamas is destroyed after its October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would send a delegation to meet with negotiators to try to hammer out an agreement acceptable to both sides.

Meanwhile, protests have continued in Tel Aviv with demonstrators rallying in a bid to push the government to agree to a truce and bring home their friends and relatives from Gaza.

"We are here to tell our government that we won’t stop until they bring everybody home now. We need to bring them home in a deal and end all this suffering and agony that the hostages in Gaza are suffering. Now, before it’s too late," said demonstrator Einav Liel.