Israeli strikes pound Rafah, destroy large mosque: Reports

Israeli strikes pound Rafah, destroy large mosque: Reports

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 22 (APP): Deadly Israeli strikes hit several homes and flattened a mosque in Rafah, delivering more misery to Gaza’s southernmost city, which Israel has said is the next target of its ground invasion, according to U.S media reports just coming in

“It was a very hard night,” Akram al-Satri, who is sheltering in Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population has sought refuge amid heavy fighting elsewhere, was quoted as saying by the New York Times. “They destroyed Al-Farouk mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in the area,” he added in a voice message on Thursday.

Video published by the Reuters news agency shows a large pile of debris at the site of the mosque and extensive damage to several surrounding buildings.

The New York Times said its analysis of the video indicates that the mosque was brought down in a structural collapse that is consistent with an airstrike. Only Israel carries out airstrikes in Gaza, but the paper said the Israeli military did not comment on the strikes in Rafah.

The bombardment heightened fears among residents who said it was the heaviest since 10 days ago, when Israeli forces raided Rafah to free two hostages and launched a wave of attacks that health authorities said had killed dozens of Palestinians.

Wafa, the Palestinian news agency, reported that at least seven Palestinians were killed overnight in Rafah and dozens more wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has claimed that the city was a Hamas stronghold and says the goal of Israel’s campaign is to eliminate the movement.

International alarm has grown over the fate of civilians in Rafah if Israel presses on with its ground invasion there.

Dr. Richard Brennan, the regional emergencies director for the World Health Organization, said the agency foresaw a “massive, further degradation of the humanitarian situation if the ground offensive into Rafah proceeds in the coming weeks.”

Since the Rafah raid and Netanyahu’s announcement of the planned ground advance, some people there — many of whom had already been displaced several times — have begun packing up and moving north.

On Thursday morning, after a night of fear as drones buzzed and airstrikes boomed, more displaced families from Rafah began arriving at Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah, a city in central Gaza, said Beirut Hana, a lawyer who is sheltering there. They set up tents in and around the hospital and on empty plots of land, she said.

“Since the Israeli army announced their plans for a ground invasion of Rafah, people became scared and started moving,” Ms. Hana said in a phone interview to the New York Times. “Every day since then, large crowds of people have been arriving in Deir al Balah and Nuseirat,” another city in central Gaza.

Ms. Hana said that although some people were returning to their homes in Deir al Balah, others who were not from the city came in search of safety. But heavy bombardment has also continued in central Gaza, residents said.

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