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Israel confirms its forces are in central Rafah, defying international condemnation of operation in southern Gazan city

The Israeli military is in central Rafah, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed in a statement Friday, despite international concern and anger over its military operation in Gaza’s southernmost city.

“IDF troops in central Rafah located Hamas rocket launchers, terror tunnel shafts, and weapons. The troops also dismantled a Hamas weapons storage facility in the area,” the IDF said in the statement.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military said it had established “operational control” over the Philadelphi Corridor, a 14-kilometer (8.7-mile) buffer zone on the Palestinian side of the Egypt-Gaza border.

Access to cell phone services in Rafah was interrupted on Thursday due to the ongoing Israeli offensive, Palestinian telecommunications company Jawwal said in a statement.

Israel’s incursion into Rafah earlier in May marked a new phase in its war against Hamas in Gaza, which has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in the enclave, displaced the majority of the strip’s population and sparked a humanitarian catastrophe that has appalled international agencies.

Over the weekend, Israel launched an airstrike on a displacement camp in the city, killing dozens and creating global outrage. The strike also took out two Hamas leaders, Israel said.

“The word tragic doesn’t even begin to describe it,” US Vice President Kamala Harris said of the incident on Tuesday. But neither she or President Joe Biden have said the strike crossed a red line for US support.

The confirmation of the IDF’s presence in central Rafah came as it said it had ended operations in eastern Jabalya, in the north of the Gaza Strip.

The military said in a statement that its troops had destroyed more than 10 kilometres (six miles) of tunnels and weapons production sites in the Jabalya operation, which began earlier this month and involved what the IDF described as “intense combat and close-quarters encounters” with combatants.

The statement also said the bodies of seven hostages were recovered during the operation. The hostages were killed on October 7, it said, and their remains were then taken to Gaza.

“Jabalya camp is not suitable for life, unfortunately,” Basal said. “There are no water wells, schools, or hospitals, all of which have been completely destroyed. There is nothing that would enable the life of the citizen in this area, and there are a large number of martyrs and houses that have been leveled to the ground with citizens inside them, and we cannot recover the bodies from under the rubble.”

Israel resumed fighting in northern Gaza earlier this month, despite having said it had dismantled Hamas’ command structure in the area back in January.

The renewed fighting show the challenges Israel faces in achieving its goal of destroying Hamas, with a top security official this month warning the war could last into next year.

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