Hamas says it’s waiting for Israeli response on ceasefire proposal

RAFAH: Two months ago, before Israeli troops invaded Rafah, the city housed most of Gaza’s more than 2 million people. Today it is a ghost town covered in dust.
Abandoned apartment buildings, riddled with bullets, destroyed walls and windows. Bedrooms and kitchens are visible from the rubble-strewn roads towering over passing Israeli military vehicles. Very few civilians remained.
Israel says it has nearly defeated Hamas forces in Rafah – an area identified earlier this year as the militant group’s last stronghold in Gaza.
The Israeli military invited reporters to Rafah on Wednesday, the first time international media have visited Gaza’s southernmost city since it was invaded on May 6. Israel has banned international journalists from entering Gaza independently since October 7.
Before invading Rafah, Israel said the four remaining battalions of Hamas had withdrawn there, an area of ​​about 25 square miles that borders Egypt. Israel says hundreds of militants have been killed in its Rafah offensive and thousands of women and children have been killed in Israeli airstrikes and ground operations.
The army says it was necessary to operate with such intensity because Hamas had turned civilian areas into treacherous traps.
“Some of these tunnels have traps,” military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said during the tour Wednesday, standing atop a shaft leading underground. “Hamas built everything in a civilian neighborhood among the houses, among the mosques, among the population, to create its terrorist ecosystem.”
An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians have flocked to Rafah after fleeing fighting elsewhere in Gaza. The UN estimates that about 50,000 people remain in Rafah, which was previously home to about 275,000 people.
Most have moved to a nearby “humanitarian zone” declared by Israel, where conditions are dire. Many gather in squalid tent camps along the beach with limited access to clean water, food, bathrooms and medical care.
Efforts to bring aid to southern Gaza have stalled. Israel’s incursion into Rafah closed one of the two major crossings into southern Gaza. The UN says little aid can come in from the other main crossing – Kerem Shalom – because the route is too dangerous and convoys are vulnerable to attacks by armed groups looking for smuggled cigarettes.
On Wednesday, a line of trucks was visible on the Gaza side of Kerem Shalom, but the trucks were barely moving — a sign of how Israel’s commitment to keeping the route safe to facilitate the delivery of aid inside Gaza has fallen.
UN officials say some commercial trucks have braved the route to Rafah, but not without armed guards mounted on their convoys.
Israel says it is close to disbanding the group as an organized military force in Rafah. As a reflection of this trust, soldiers brought journalists in open-air military vehicles on the road leading into the heart of the city.
Along the way, roadside debris made clear the dangers of delivering aid: truck bodies baking in the hot sun; dashboards covered with fences designed to protect drivers; aid pallets lying empty.
The longer aid delivery is frozen, aid groups say, the closer Gaza is to running out of fuel, which is needed for hospitals, water desalination plants and vehicles.
“Hospitals are once again running short of fuel, risking the disruption of critical services,” said Dr Hanan Balkhy, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “Injured people die as ambulance services face delays due to fuel shortage.”
As the humanitarian situation worsens, Israel continues its offensive. The fight in Rafah is ongoing.
After journalists heard gunfire nearby on Wednesday, soldiers told the group they would not visit the beach as planned.
The group left the city shortly after, clouds of dust kicked up by the vehicles temporarily hiding the mass of destruction behind them.

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