3 soldiers hurt by blast in booby-trapped tunnel shaft

IDF: 150,000 Palestinians have left east Rafah; raid uncovers 10 tunnel shafts

Army says troops also clearing Gaza City suburb of Hamas infrastructure; Israel says crossings open to humanitarian aid trucks, but UN claims none entered Strip in past 24 hours

IDF troops operate in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in a handout image released May 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops operate in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in a handout image released May 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Amid the Israel Defense Forces’ ongoing operation in the eastern part of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, some 50 gunmen have been killed by troops, while some 150,000 Palestinians have evacuated the area so far, according to estimates by the military on Thursday.

Another 10 tunnel shafts have been found in the Rafah operation, launched late Monday, and they were being prepared for demolition.

In one incident Thursday, three soldiers were moderately wounded as a result of a blast in a booby-trapped tunnel shaft in the Rafah area, the military said. The troops were taken to a hospital for treatment.

The IDF currently does not plan to expand the evacuation order to other areas of Rafah, as the ongoing operation remains relatively limited in scope amid hostage negotiations with Hamas.

The IDF also launched a new pinpoint raid in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood early Thursday. The operation was being carried out by the 99th Division and aims at “the continued dismantling of terror infrastructure and eliminating terrorists in the area,” the military said.

Troops of the Nahal, Yiftah, and Carmeli brigades entered the suburb to clear it of Hamas infrastructure.

Prior to their entry, the Israeli Air Force struck some 25 sites in the area, including buildings used by terror groups, attack tunnels, observation posts, sniper positions and other infrastructure, the IDF said.

The military first operated in Zeitoun at the start of Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza last year, weeks after Hamas’s brutal October 7 attacks sparked the war, and launched another two-week-long raid in the neighborhood in late February.

The latest raid came after the IDF identified Hamas regrouping in the area.

Meanwhile, the IDF and Shin Bet security agency announced on Wednesday that the commander of Hamas’s naval forces in Gaza City, Ahmed Ali, was killed in a recent airstrike.

According to the military, Ali was involved in managing various projects for Hamas’s naval forces and advancing attacks against Israel and troops amid the ongoing war, most recently in central Gaza’s Netzarim Corridor.

In southern Gaza, the IDF said that Israel had reopened the Kerem Shalom Crossing after days of closure, with COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, sharing a video on social media on Thursday showing trucks filled with humanitarian aid crossing into the Strip.

However, the United Nations claimed no humanitarian aid had arrived in Gaza by Thursday and that there was no one to receive the trucks on the other side of the crossing, after workers fled on Tuesday when the IDF took over the Palestinian side of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt.

That IDF operation early Tuesday led to the closure of the Rafah Crossing — one of the main paths for aid into Gaza. The nearby Kerem Shalom Crossing was shuttered after a Hamas rocket attack from Rafah on Sunday killed four IDF soldiers and wounded 10 others stationed nearby. Another IDF soldier was lightly wounded in a rocket barrage fired by Hamas from Rafah at Kerem Shalom on Wednesday.

With the seizure of the Rafah Crossing, Israel now controls all of Gaza’s crossings for the first time since it withdrew troops and settlers from the territory nearly two decades ago. The crossing has been a vital conduit for entry of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies for Gaza’s population of 2.3 million since the start of the war and is the only place where people can enter and exit, while Kerem Shalom is Gaza’s main cargo terminal.

“The Hamas terrorist organization continues to deliberately endanger Gazan civilians and carry out attacks from within civilian areas to attempt to attack Israeli civilians and IDF troops,” the IDF said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Moreover, the terrorist organization continues to carry out launches from populated zones in the area of Rafah toward the Kerem Shalom Crossing to attack IDF troops, as well as [harm] the functioning of the crossing,” the military added.

IDF troops on the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Tuesday operation did not appear to be the start of the full-scale invasion of Rafah that Israel has repeatedly said is necessary to destroy Hamas’s military and governance capabilities and free 128 hostages abducted on October 7 believed to remain in Gaza.

Aid officials warn that the prolonged closure of the two crossings could cause the collapse of aid operations, worsening the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where the UN says a “full-blown famine” is already underway in the north.

The UN World Food Program deputy executive director, Carl Skau, told The Associated Press that the agency had lost access to its Gaza food warehouse in Rafah, which he said was “communicated as a no-go zone.”

The US in recent days completed construction of a new off-shore aid pier that will be used to shuttle large amounts of aid into Gaza.

A vessel carrying aid to the pier set sail from the Cypriot port of Larnaca on Thursday morning, marine tracking websites showed.

American officials have said the United States-flagged Sagamore will be used to offload supplies onto a floating pier built to expedite aid into the enclave.

IDF troops operate in eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, in a handout image released May 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

On the Israeli side of the border, activists from a right-wing organization that opposes aid to Gaza while hostages are still held there said on Thursday morning that they had continued their attempts to block trucks on their way to Gaza overnight and in the early morning hours.

The group, which has drawn international anger, said that some 500 people, including relatives of hostages, blocked trucks near Eilat and delayed them for a few hours overnight Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, activists from the group blocked trucks near Mitzpe Ramon.

“We’re shifting gear. We want the hostages home. No aid passes until the last hostage returns,” the group said in a statement.

Israeli authorities — facing intense international pressure to facilitate aid — have been dispersing the crowds and ensuring that the shipments eventually reach their destination.

In a new crisis for Israeli-American relations, US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that Washington would not supply certain munitions to Israel if it moves ahead with a full-scale invasion of Rafah.

Smoke billows from Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (AFP)

The US, Egypt and Qatar are simultaneously ramping up efforts to close the gaps in a possible agreement for a temporary ceasefire and hostage release deal. Israel has linked the threatened Rafah operation to the fate of those negotiations. CIA chief William Burns, who has been shuttling around the region for talks on the truce deal, met Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a US official said.

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 attacks, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

The ensuing war has killed over 34,800 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, though data issued by the Hamas-run authorities cannot be independently verified, and is believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7, while 267 soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

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