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Rafah: Israeli military operations extend from airstrikes to ground operations, satellite images show

Planet Labs, PBC

A satellite image shows the damage in Rafah, Gaza, on May 7.


The Israeli attack in the southern Gaza town of Rafah has expanded from airstrikes to ground operations, show new satellite images obtained by CNN from Planet Labs.

The images, which bear a striking resemblance to the early stages of Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza last year, show Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) active outside the immediate border area between Egypt and Gaza, which Israel took control of on Monday. evening.

The images, taken between May 5 and 7, suggest that some buildings were bulldozed and show what appear to be staging areas for IDF vehicles. Some IDF forces penetrated more than a kilometer inside the Palestinian enclave from the Rafah crossing, the images also show.

This intensification comes despite intense international pressure on Israel not to establish itself in Rafah. On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden said for the first time that he would stop some US arms deliveries if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a major invasion of the city.

These Israeli ground operations follow a series of airstrikes on Rafah that completely destroyed several buildings over the past 24 hours, and killed at least four people, according to a local hospital. Satellite images suggest these strikes are continuing, with one image showing smoke still rising from one location.


Palestinians arrive at Al Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah, Gaza, after Israeli airstrikes on May 8.

People could be seen running through the streets of Rafah following a strike on Wednesday in other footage obtained by CNN. Several of them carried children in their arms, some apparently bleeding and unconscious, to Al Kuwait Hospital.

CNN footage also showed panicked children arriving in ambulances without their parents and a barely responsive child, with a heavily bandaged arm, being carried on a stretcher. Two body bags were also visible outside the hospital.

Four people were killed and around 20 injured on Wednesday by Israeli airstrikes in the Tal Al Sultan neighborhood, west of Rafah, the hospital said.

CNN has contacted the Israeli military for comment on the incident.

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Rafah has become the focal point of Israel’s war in Gaza, as Netanyahu faces growing pressure from the extreme wing of his coalition to launch a large-scale ground operation in the city to destroy Hamas, while that the more moderate wing urged him to prioritize securitization. a ceasefire agreement for the hostages.

During nearly seven months of war, more than a million Palestinians fled to Rafah, where Hamas is believed to have regrouped after Israel destroyed much of the northern Gaza Strip. Gazans began fleeing the densely populated city on Monday after the Israeli army appealed to residents of eastern Rafah to “evacuate immediately”.

In satellite images, some areas of Rafah show telltale signs of having been razed by bulldozers and other heavy machinery – vehicle tracks and large areas of churned-up earth.

The new operations shown by satellite images resemble the first ground invasion of Gaza in October 2023, and in other parts of the enclave since then: when the IDF moved to northern Gaza, it carried out a series of airstrikes shortly before moving ground forces. Once IDF ground forces intervened, armored bulldozers worked with tanks and other military vehicles to raze and bulldoze the buildings.

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The Israeli military said in a statement Wednesday that it was carrying out a “precise counterterrorism operation in specific areas of eastern Rafah,” which included “targeted raids.” He also claimed to have “eliminated terrorists and discovered terrorist infrastructure, as well as underground wells in several locations in the eastern Rafah region.”

The Israeli military released footage of its 401st Combat Brigade carrying out “operational raids on suspicious buildings” near where it said its soldiers were targeted by Hamas militant fire.

The Israeli military said that during the operation it “eliminated approximately 30 terrorists and destroyed large amounts of terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

CNN previously confirmed through hospital sources in Rafah that at least 35 people had died in Rafah since Monday evening, including seven women and nine children.

More than 34,600 people have been killed in Gaza since October, according to Palestinian authorities in Gaza. Humanitarian agencies have warned Israel against launching a full-scale ground invasion of Rafah, saying “any ground operation would mean more suffering and death” for the 1.2 million displaced Palestinians sheltering in and around the city, OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva. .

Northern Gaza is already experiencing “widespread famine” that is spreading rapidly across the strip, the World Food Program warned over the weekend.

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