Israeli strikes in Rafah leaves 31 Palestinians dead ahead of planned ground invasion

At least 31 Palestinians, including 10 children, were killed in Israeli airstrikes in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip early Saturday as President Benjamin Netanyahu gears up for a ground invasion there to take out several Hamas battalions. 

Three airstrike strikes killed 28 people, including multiple members of three families, with the youngest victim being three months old, according to a health official and The Associated Press journalists who saw the bodies arriving at hospitals.

Later on Saturday, another strike killed three senior officers in the civil police, according to Rafah city officials.

Israel says that Rafah, which borders Egypt at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, is the last remaining Hamas stronghold in Gaza after more than four months of war. Israel has carried out airstrikes in Rafah almost daily.

Rafah’s population stood at 264,000 in early 2022, but since the onset of the conflict, the population has ballooned to around 1.4 million as people seek shelter there, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. More than half of Gaza’s population is now packed into the city with some of the recent arrivals living in tents. It is unclear where they would be able to flee to next.

Netanyahu’s office has ordered the military to develop a plan to evacuate the population of Rafah and destroy four Hamas battalions it says are deployed there. Netanyahu said he asked the military to plan for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from the city ahead of a ground invasion.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu vowed that Israeli forces would fight on until ‘total victory,’ including in Rafah, after cease-fire talks failed. 

A timeline for a potential ground invasion is not known. 

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia warned Israel of ‘extremely dangerous repercussions’ if it launches a military operation in Rafah and called for the United Nations Security Council to intervene.

At least 28,000 Palestinians have been killed and 67,600 others have been injured in Israeli strikes on Gaza since Oct. 7, the health ministry in Gaza said on Saturday, according to Reuters.

The conflict has been raging for four months and was sparked after a surprise terrorist attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, in which militants crossed the border from Gaza and massacred some 1,200 people. 

Saturday’s strikes come just two days after President Biden described Israel’s actions in its war against Hamas as being ‘over the top.’

‘I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,’ Biden told reporters at the White House.

He said that he has been pushing for a deal to normalize Saudi Arabia-Israel relations, increased humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians, and a temporary pause in fighting to allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

‘I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage cease-fire,’ Biden said. ‘There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop.’

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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