TOPSHOT - Palestinians flee with their belongings as smoke rises in the background, in the area of Tel al-Sultan in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 30, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP) Image Credit: AFP

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Intense shelling and gunfire rocked Rafah in southern Gaza on Thursday, residents said, after Israel declared it had seized a strategic corridor along the Palestinian territory’s border with Egypt.

The Israeli military launched its incursion into Rafah in early May despite international objections over the safety of Palestinian civilians sheltering in the city.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

A strike that sparked a fire and killed dozens in a displacement camp at the weekend drew a wave of fresh condemnation, including a social media campaign with the slogan “All eyes on Rafah” that has been shared by tens of millions of users.

Israel, which has repeatedly vowed to destroy Hamas after the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7, said on Wednesday its forces had taken over the 14-kilometre (8.5-mile) Philadelphi corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border, which it alleges was used for weapons smuggling.

Also read

Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced Israel had taken “operational control” of the narrow border area, where he said troops had “discovered around 20 tunnels”.

Egypt, a longtime mediator in the conflict, has rejected claims of smuggling tunnels running beneath the buffer zone.

“Israel is using these allegations to justify continuing the operation on the Palestinian city of Rafah and prolonging the war for political purposes,” a high-level Egyptian source was quoted as saying by state-linked Al-Qahera News.

Egyptian officials have said a potential Israeli takeover of Philadelphi could violate the two countries’ 1979 peace deal, though there has been no official comment from Cairo since the military’s announcement.

Civilians flee Rafah

On a visit to Beijing, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi called for increased humanitarian assistance to besieged Gaza, and reiterated his country’s longstanding opposition to “any attempt at forcing Palestinians to flee their land”.

His host, Chinese leader Xi Jinping, called for a “broad-based, authoritative and effective international peace conference” to address the war.

In Gaza, witnesses reported fighting in central and western Rafah. Others told AFP at least five people were killed in a bombardment near an aid warehouse in east Rafah.

Nasser Hospital in nearby Khan Yunis said at least “four martyrs were brought to the facility following a bombing” in west Rafah.

Witnesses said Israeli forces had also demolished several buildings in the city’s eastern areas where the Israeli incursion began on May 7, initially focusing on the vital Rafah border crossing, a key entry point for humanitarian aid.

An AFP correspondent reported shelling and gunfire in Gaza City’s Zeitun neighbourhood, in the territory’s north, where witnesses saw thick plumes of smoke rising over Jabalia refugee camp and Beit Lahia.

A steady stream of civilians have fled Rafah, transporting their belongings on their shoulders, in cars or on donkey-drawn carts.

Before the Rafah offensive began, the United Nations said up to 1.4 million people were sheltering in the city. Since then, one million have fled the area, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, has said.

all eyes-1717085319697
The image shows tents at a camp arranged to form the words “All Eyes on Rafah”, urging people not to turn a blind eye to the situation in Gaza’s southernmost city, where approximately 1.5 million people have sought shelter after fleeing Israeli bombings.


As visuals of charred bodies and those with severe injuries emerged on social media, an image with text, “All Eyes on Rafah”, started trending. The campaign, spearheaded by activists and humanitarian groups, aims to draw attention to the southern city of the Gaza Strip, where people have been forced to live in cramped refugee camps with no humanitarian aid.

The image shows tents at a camp arranged to form the words “All Eyes on Rafah”, urging people not to turn a blind eye to the situation in Gaza’s southernmost city, where approximately 1.5 million people have sought shelter after fleeing Israeli bombings.

Is the image real?

The image might be one of the first artificial intelligence-generated viral activism pictures. According to Marc Owen Jones, who studies misinformation, the image “looks” like it was created by AI. Not looking very real, having odd shadows, and the tent camp being unnaturally symmetrical are some of the signs that it’s an AI-generated image, NBC reported.

Support groups like Save the Children, Oxfam, Americans for Justice in Palestine Action, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have also adopted the slogan. On social media, the hashtag #AllEyesOnRafah has garnered over 1,95,000 posts with millions of views.

UN resolution

The Israeli military said on Thursday its forces had struck more than 50 targets across Gaza the previous day. Troops found weapons, explosives and tunnel shafts in Rafah, and battled militants in Jabalia, it added.

The weekend Israeli strike and ensuing blaze, which tore through the camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, killed 45 people, according to Gaza officials and has prompted two days of discussions at the UN Security Council.

Israel has said it targeted a Hamas compound and killed two senior members.

Following the strike, Algeria presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council that “demands an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties” and the release of all hostages, though it was unclear when it would be put to a vote.

In a phone call with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday, France’s Emmanuel Macron said Paris was “determined to work with Algeria” to ensure the council “makes a strong statement on Rafah”.

The French president also called on Abbas to “implement necessary reforms”, offering the “prospect of recognition of the State of Palestine”.

Decisions by Spain, Norway and Ireland to formally recognise Palestinian statehood this week have sparked a debate over the issue, and Macron said recognition should take place at a “useful moment”.

The speaker of the Slovenian parliament said lawmakers there would vote next Tuesday on whether to join the recognition moves.

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,224 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Israel’s National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said the war could go on until the year’s end.

“We may have another seven months of fighting to consolidate our success and achieve what we have defined as the destruction of Hamas’s power and military capabilities,” Hanegbi said.