Updated May 6, 2024 - World

Israel moves to capture the Palestinian side of Rafah border crossing, sources say

Smoke billows after Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Smoke billows after an Israeli bombardment in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on May 6, 2024. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Israeli forces moved to capture the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza in the next few hours as Israel pushes forward with its military operation in the southern Gaza city, two sources with direct knowledge told Axios.

Why it matters: The Rafah crossing is a main entry point for humanitarian aid into Gaza and Israel says the eastern part of the city is a strategic site for Hamas. More than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering in the city.

The latest: Israel Defense Forces plan to control the Palestinian side of the crossing and monitor all aid coming into Gaza, a source with direct knowledge told Axios.

  • The source said Israel believes taking over the Rafah crossing will eliminate Hamas' main ability to show it is still ruling Gaza.
  • In the coming days and weeks, Israel wants Palestinians from Gaza who are not connected to Hamas to be involved in the control and distribution of aid entering the Strip from Egypt, the source said.
  • Israeli tanks and other ground forces entered the eastern outskirts of Rafah on Monday night as part of the first phase of Israel's military operation in the southern Gaza city, Israeli officials said.

The big picture: Israel decided to move ahead with the ground operation as efforts by Egyptian and Qatari mediators and CIA director Bill Burns to salvage a hostage and ceasefire deal that the parties have been negotiating for months.

  • The Biden administration and many other countries in the world are concerned an Israeli operation in Rafah will lead to mass civilian casualties and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

Driving the news: On Monday morning local time, Israel started to evacuate Palestinian civilians from the eastern parts of Rafah close to the Israel border ahead of a possible ground invasion.

  • Israeli officials said the first Israeli tanks started moving from the Israeli side of the border towards Rafah on Monday evening local time at roughly the same time Hamas said it accepted a hostage and ceasefire deal proposal brokered by Egyptian and Qatari mediators.
  • Israel Defense Forces said the first phase of the operation is limited in scope and added that IDF conducted air strikes on specific Hamas targets in the eastern neighborhoods of Rafah.

A senior Israeli official who read Hamas' response said there are big and significant gaps between the Hamas response and the previous proposals that were discussed. "Despite this, an Israeli delegation will go to Cairo with the desire and willingness to see if it is possible to close the gaps. In any case, we won't allow Hamas to play for time," the official said.

  • The Israeli war cabinet, which convened shortly after, unanimously decided Israel will move forward with its military operation in Rafah "to exert military pressure on Hamas in order to promote the release of our hostages and the other goals of the war," the prime minister's office said.

What they're saying: President Biden spoke on the phone Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and told him the U.S. opposes a major ground operation in Rafah that doesn't consider how to protect the civilian population in the city, White House spokesman John Kirby said.

  • He didn't specify whether the U.S. considers the Israeli incursion into eastern Rafah as a major operation.

This is a developing story. Please check back for details.

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