Israel says its operation in Rafah is ‘limited’. Fighting there has left parts of it unrecognizable



CNN

As our convoy of Humvees approaches Rafah, thick clouds of dirt and sand fill the air, and international reporters are allowed in for the first time since the Israeli military launched it. Ground attack Two months ago in this city.

As the dust settles, the scale of destruction is staggering. But it is very familiar.

This area of ​​Rafah became the southernmost city of Gaza last refuge More than a million Palestinians from the previous war are now unrecognizable.

Israel has repeatedly described its ground operation in Rafah as “limited”. But in this neighborhood in southern Rafah, northern Gaza, central Gaza, and the destruction I’ve seen looks almost identical. Khan Younis Through the limited prism of missions into Gaza with the Israeli military.

Some houses have been razed to the ground, while other buildings have been bombed.

“This is where the main destruction occurred because it was booby-trapped and the tunnels were booby-trapped,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the IDF’s top spokesman, tells me when I press him about how this represents a “limited” operation.

“And when you see the destruction, the houses that were caught in the eye, the houses collapsed when we demolished a tunnel, or Hamas fired from those houses and put our forces at risk, there was no other way. The forces were safe,” Hagari added.

Jeremy Diamond/CNN

CNN has seen significant destruction in Rafah, from leveled homes to bombed-out buildings.

He says the rest of Rafah was virtually untouched. But CNN cannot independently verify his claims: Israel has banned foreign journalists from freely entering Gaza, and our only access is linked to the Israeli military. It is this desolate part of Rafah that they have brought us to.

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The Israeli army brought us here not to see the destruction, but to talk about why they launched an attack here in the first place, what they say, what they discovered, what they achieved.

Before arriving at Rafah, we pass through the Gaza-Egypt border: the route as it is known The Philadelphia Corridor. The area has been seized by the Israeli military, which says it has found dozens of tunnel shafts and rocket launchers used to fire rockets into Israel. Hagari showed us a tunnel that he said extended about 90 feet (28 meters) underground.

The Israeli military says Hamas used the Philadelphia corridor to smuggle weapons from Egypt and then infiltrate deeper into the Gaza Strip. Hagari says some tunnels extend into Egypt, but he can’t yet say definitively if those tunnels are operational and used to smuggle weapons into Gaza. Egypt denies that there are any tunnels from Gaza into its territory.

“We are carefully examining those tunnels to confirm which ones are working and which ones are not, because they may have been shut down – from the Egyptian side,” says Hagari.

He would not say exactly how long Israeli forces would have to occupy the route, but said it could be weeks or months.

Jeremy Diamond/CNN

Israeli soldiers accompany CNN on a trip to Rafah in southern Gaza.

Hagari says Israeli forces have killed more than 900 Hamas fighters in Rafah and are close to defeating Hamas’ Rafah Brigade. But it’s unclear how many fighters will melt and reintegrate once Israeli forces leave the area — and because Hamas lacks a long-term strategy or alternative to rule in Gaza, Hamas has already begun to do so in other areas. Israeli forces withdrew earlier.

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As for the Rafah ground operation, Hagari could not say whether it would be the last in Gaza.

“I wouldn’t say you’ll see when we have intelligence that there might be hostages at a location in Gaza, we will act and raid. If we get intelligence that Hamas terrorists are preparing a terrorist attack against Israelis or our forces, we will raid and attack,” Hagari says. “This is what you will see.”

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