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Israel strikes landmark residential tower in southern Rafah

1 min

Israel struck one of the largest residential towers in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, residents said, stepping up pressure on the last area of the enclave it has not yet invaded and where over a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

View of the site of an Israeli air strike on a building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip March 9, 2024. Reuters/Mohammed Salem

Israel struck one of the largest residential towers in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, residents said, stepping up pressure on the last area of the enclave it has not yet invaded and where over a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

The 12-floor building was damaged in the strike, and residents said dozens of families were made homeless, though no casualties were reported. Israel's military said the block was being used by Hamas to plan attacks on Israelis.

One of the 300 residents of the tower, which is located some 500 metres (1,600 ft) from the border with Egypt, told Reuters Israel gave them a 30-minute warning to flee the building at night.

"People were startled, running down the stairs, some fell, it was chaos. People left their belongings and money," said Mohammad Al-Nabrees, adding that among those who tripped down the stairs during the panicked evacuation was a friend's pregnant wife.

The strike raised alarm among residents of a wider Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people are sheltering. Israel has said it plans to carry out operations in the area, which it has called Hamas's last bastion.

But its pledge to do so only after civilians have evacuated has done little to quell international concern.

Hamas on Saturday named four Israeli hostages as having died in Israeli strikes in the enclave, though it offered no evidence. The Israeli military, which did not immediately respond to the claim, has previously said such videos by Hamas were psychological warfare.

The offensive has plunged Gaza, already reeling from a 17-year Israeli-Egyptian security blockade, into a humanitarian catastrophe.

In a speech marking Martyrs' and Veterans' Day in Egypt on Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the cost of rebuilding Gaza could exceed $90 billion.

Much of the coastal enclave has been reduced to rubble and most of its population is displaced, with the U.N. warning of disease and starvation.

A ship laden with relief supplies for Gaza was preparing to depart Cyprus on Saturday. The European Commission has said a maritime aid corridor between Cyprus and Gaza could start operating as early as this weekend in a pilot project run by an international charity and financed by the United Arab Emirates.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Bassam Masoud

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