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Home / News / Heavy fighting as Israel tanks advance further in Rafah

Heavy fighting as Israel tanks advance further in Rafah

Israeli forces stepped up military strikes on Gaza, with heavy fighting reported in Jabalia in the north and tanks pushing further into Rafah in the south.

Medics in Gaza said at least five people were killed when houses were hit in Jabalia and more were believed to be trapped under rubble, but that the area could not be reached due to the intensity of the bombardment.

In the southern city of Rafah bordering Egypt, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge, residents reported explosions and smoke rising in the distance as tanks advanced further into the eastern district of Jneina.

The Israeli military has said its forces had retrieved the bodies of three hostages in an overnight operation in northern Gaza.

The bodies of Israeli hostage Chanan Yablonka, Brazilian-Israeli Michel Nisenbaum and French-Mexican Orion Hernandez Radoux “were rescued overnight” and their families were notified after forensic identification, the military said in a statement.

Both Mr Yablonka, 42, and Mr Hernandez Radoux, 32, were abducted from a music festival when Hamas militants stormed southern Israel from Gaza on 7 October, triggering the ongoing war.

Mr Nisenbaum, a 59-year-old resident of the Israeli town of Sderot near Gaza, was last contacted on his way to an army base on the border to pick up his granddaughter on the day of the attack.

An image of Orion Hernandez Radoux is seen at the Nova festival site

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under increasing domestic pressure to secure the release of remaining hostages, said in a statement this morning that “together with the Israeli people, my wife Sara and I bow our heads in deep sorrow and embrace the grieving families in their difficult time”.

Military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israel was determined to bring back the remaining hostages still held in Gaza.

“We will not stop fighting for their freedom,” he said in televised statement, announcing the recovery of the three bodies. “Every decent country would do the same.”

Mr Hernandez Radoux’s girlfriend, Shani Louk, was also killed at the Nova festival.

Her body was recovered with two others last week.

Mourners attend the funeral of Shani Louk in the central Israeli settlement of Srigim on 19 May

Mr Hernandez Radoux held French nationality. President Emmanuel Macron said on X he had learned of the death withsadness.

“I think of his family and those close to him. We are at their side. France remains more than ever committed to the release of all the hostages.”

The bodies were identified by medical officials at the Israeli National Forensic Institute and the Israeli police, the military said.

The Families Forum, a group that represents families of the hostages, called on the government to increase efforts for an agreement to get back the remaining hostages still held in Gaza.

“The recovery of their bodies is a silent but resolute reminder that the state of Israel is obligated to immediately dispatch negotiation teams with a clear demand to bring about a deal that will swiftly return all the hostages home: the living for rehabilitation and the murdered for burial,” it said in a statement.

Talks brokered by Qatar and Egypt to secure a ceasefire and hostage deal have stalled.

Israel says it is willing to negotiate only a temporary pause to the fighting, while Hamas says it will release hostages only as part of a deal that would end the war with Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Israel launched its assault on Gaza following a Hamas-led attack on southern Israeli communities on 7 October that killed 1,200 people and saw more than 250 hostages seized, according to Israeli tallies.

Since then, Israel’s incursion has killed more than 35,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities.

Simultaneous Israeli assaults on the northern and southern edges of Gaza this month have caused a new exodus of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing their homes, and have cut off the main access routes for aid, raising the risk of famine.

Smoke is seen rising in the distance as displaced people shelter in Khan Yunis

Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, months earlier in the war.

But it returned there this month saying it needed to prevent Islamist militants regrouping, and the area has seen intense fighting in recent weeks.

Residents said that tanks had destroyed the local market and bulldozers continued to raze shops and property in Jabalia’s narrow alleys. Hamas’s armed wing said its fighters had engaged three tanks there.

Tanks also advanced close to the nearby Kamal Adwan Hospital, where medics said Israeli fire had caused the suspension of operations at the last functioning medical facility in northern Gaza.

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Separately, Mr Netanyahu will address the US Congress, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has said.

“We will soon be hosting Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Capitol for a joint session of Congress,” Mr Johnson said, adding that the visit would mark “a very strong show of support to the Israeli government.”

The invitation comes after a three setbacks suffered by Israel this week: the International Court of Justice ordering the “immediate halt” of its military operation in Rafah, the recognition by three European countries of a Palestinian state and the announcement by the International Criminal Court prosecutor that he would seek arrest warrants for Mr Netanyahu as well as Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes during the Gaza conflict.

The United States has been a steadfast supporter of Israel, but Democratic President Joe Biden has increasingly been pushing Mr Netanyahu to tame his operation in Gaza amid a mounting civilian death toll and threatened to halt arms supplies, a line opposed by Republicans.

The White House has voiced frustration with Israel in particular over its military operations in the Gaza city of Rafah, where more than one million people are sheltering.

Republicans have assailed Mr Biden over his arms supply threat and Mr Johnson has accused President Biden of “carrying water” for Hamas.

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