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Israeli tanks roll into central Rafah for first time in Gaza war

Israeli tanks were reportedly seen in the center of Rafah for the first time on Tuesday, according to witnesses, as Israel enters the third week of its ground operation in the southern Gaza city.

The tanks were spotted near Al-Awda mosque, a central Rafah landmark, the witnesses told Reuters. The Israel Defense Forces said its operations in the city continue in the Rafah area but did not comment on whether its forces advanced to the city center.

‘Overnight, IDF troops operated on the Philadelphi Corridor while conducting precise operational activity based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets in the area,’ the IDF said. The Philadelphi Corridor is an Israeli name for the 8.7 mile strip of land that comprises the border between Gaza and Egypt, including the border crossing in Rafah.

Israel pounded the city with airstrikes and tank fire, residents told Reuters, as it pressed the offensive despite international condemnation over a strike on Sunday that killed two senior Hamas terrorist leaders and dozens of civilians. The Hamas-run health ministry claimed at least 45 people died, and other outlets have quoted up to 50 deaths.

Since the strike, at least 26 more people have been killed by Israeli fire in Rafah, according to Hamas officials. 

Hamas does not differentiate between civilians and terrorists. Fox News Digital reported in March that an Ivy League statistician argued that Hamas’ death toll numbers are not trustworthy.

Israeli tanks pushed toward western neighborhoods and took positions on the Zurub hilltop in western Rafah in one of the worst nights of bombardment reported by residents. On Tuesday, witnesses reported gun battles between Israeli troops and Hamas-led fighters in the Zurub area.

‘The activity is being conducted as efforts are continuing to be made in order to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians in the area. The troops are engaging with terrorists in close-quarters combat and locating terror tunnel shafts, weapons, and additional terrorist infrastructure in the area,’ the IDF said.

Witnesses in Rafah told Reuters the Israeli military appeared to be using remote-operated armored vehicles, as there was no immediate sign of personnel in or around them. The IDF did not comment on those reports.

Israeli tanks have probed the edges of Rafah since the IDF took control of the border crossing with Egypt three weeks ago but had not yet entered the city in full force.

International leaders have condemned the Sunday strike that killed dozens of civilians. In a speech to the Israeli parliament on Monday, Netanyahu said, ‘In Rafah, we already evacuated about one million non-combatants residents and despite our upmost effort not to harm non-combatants, something unfortunately went tragically wrong. We are investigating the incident and will reach conclusions because this is our policy.’

A statement released by a spokesman for the Biden administration’s National Security Council on Monday said, ‘The devastating images following an IDF strike in Rafah last night that killed dozens of innocent Palestinians are heartbreaking.’

The statement continued, ‘Israel has a right to go after Hamas, and we understand this strike killed two senior Hamas terrorists who are responsible for attacks against Israeli civilians. But as we’ve been clear, Israel must take every precaution possible to protect civilians. We are actively engaging the IDF and partners on the ground to assess what happened, and understand that the IDF is conducting an investigation.’

Israel has continued the offensive in Gaza despite the United Nation’s International Court of Justice (IJC) ruling Friday that it must halt its military campaign. Israel has said the court’s decision leaves some scope for military action.

Spain, Ireland and Norway, meanwhile, will officially recognize a Palestinian state on Tuesday, which has outraged Israel, in an attempt to pressure for a ceasefire.

More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s military offensive, according to the Gaza health ministry. Israel began the campaign after Hamas-led terrorists infiltrated southern Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, and killed around 1,200 people, taking more than 250 captive back to Gaza.

Israel has said its goal in the war is to eradicate Hamas once and for all.

Reuters contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on FOX NEWS

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