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Israel-Hamas war: Germany warns against Rafah offensive

Published February 3, 2024last updated February 3, 2024

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said expanding Israel's offensive into the Gaza border city of Rafah would be unjustifiable. Explosions have already been reported in the city.

Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli strikes, shelter in a tent camp
Rafah has been dubbed a 'pressure cooker of despair' by one UN officialImage: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • Germany says expansion into the crowded city of Rafah would 'simply not be justifiable'
  • Gaza's Hamas-run Health Ministry says at least 27,238 Palestinians killed since October 7
  • Explosions heard in Rafah, according to reports
  • US attacks Iran-backed targets in Syria and Iraq

This live blog is now closed. For the latest on the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, please click here.

Skip next section US strikes anti-ship cruise missiles in Yemen
February 3, 2024

US strikes anti-ship cruise missiles in Yemen

The US Central Command said Saturday that American forces had conducted strikes in self-defense against six Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles.

CENTCOM said in a statement that the missiles were prepared to launch and presented an imminent threat.

The statement added that the missiles were identified in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and they presented a threat to US Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region.

Meanwhile, F/A-18 fighter jets from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, along with the USS Laboon, shot down seven drones in the Red Sea overnight.

The Iran-backed Houthi rebels have frequently targeted ships in the Red Sea since the Gaza war between Israel and the Islamist militant group Hamas began in October. The Houthis claim they are attacking vessels with alleged Israeli connections in solidarity with Palestinians.

Skip next section Israel targets dozens of Hezbollah sites in Syria: IDF
February 3, 2024

Israel targets dozens of Hezbollah sites in Syria: IDF

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it has struck more than 50 targets in Syria linked to the Lebanon-based Hezbollah movement since the outbreak of the Gaza war on October 7.

"Everywhere Hezbollah is, we shall be. We will take action everywhere required in the Middle East," said chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.

His comments were a departure from Israel's usual reticence about operations in Syria.

Israeli forces have also attacked 34,000 Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, including 120 border surveillance outposts, 40 caches of missiles and other weaponry and more than 40 command centers, said Hagari.

He put the number of "terrorists and commanders" killed in Lebanon at more than 200.

Hagari said Israel had deployed three army divisions along its side of the Lebanese border in anticipation of Hezbollah getting involved in the Gaza conflict.

Hezbollah, alongside the Palestinian military group Hamas, is backed by Iran. Hezbollah's military wing is considered a terrorist group by the EU, US and several other countries. 

Skip next section Pope Francis condemns 'attacks against Jews' worldwide
February 3, 2024

Pope Francis condemns 'attacks against Jews' worldwide

In a letter to the Jewish population of Israel, Pope Francis has said he condemns all forms of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, labeling them as a "sin against God."

"Together with you, we, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world. We had hoped that 'never again' would be a refrain heard by the new generations," Francis wrote in the letter, which was dated February 2 and made public on Saturday.

The pontiff assured the Jewish community of his closeness and affection, "particularly (those) consumed by anguish, pain, fear and even anger." He repeated his call for the end of the war in Gaza.

Francis has condemned Hamas' October 7 attacks on Israel, while also saying he supports a two-state solution to put an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

"My heart is close to you, to the Holy Land, to all the peoples who inhabit it, Israelis and Palestinians, and I pray that the desire for peace may prevail in all," he said.

Skip next section US says 8 drones destroyed near Yemen
February 3, 2024

US says 8 drones destroyed near Yemen

The US said Saturday it had shot down eight drones near Yemen, and destroyed four more on the ground.

The news comes as US forces launched a wave of strikes on Iran-linked groups in Iraq and Syria, in retaliation for an attack that killed three US troops on January 28.

The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the four drones destroyed on the ground belonged to Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

But Washington did not specify which country or armed group was linked to the drones that were shot out of the air.

The US said no injuries or damage were reported from the drones downed over open water.

"These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for US Navy vessels and merchant vessels," CENTCOM said.

The Houthis have targeted ships in the Red Sea since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. They claim to be hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians.

Skip next section Gaza ministry raises death toll to over 27,200
February 3, 2024

Gaza ministry raises death toll to over 27,200

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip says at least 27,238 Palestinians, mainly women and children, have been killed, with another 66,452 injured in Israeli strikes on the territory since October 7. 

The toll includes 107 people killed in the last 24 hours, the ministry added.

Figures from the ministry are deemed largely accurate by the UN, but they do not differentiate between militants and civilians.

Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip came in response to deadly raids by Hamas on October 7 in the south of Israel in which approximately 1,200 Israelis were killed, mostly civilians, and some 240 people kidnapped.

Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, the EU, Germany and several other governments. 

Skip next section Israel says dozens of Hamas fighters killed
February 3, 2024

Israel says dozens of Hamas fighters killed

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says its soldiers have carried out attacks on Hamas targets, killing dozens of fighters from the militant group.

The IDF says its troops discovered Hamas combatants moving weapons in the al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza. It said the group was eliminated by a targeted airstrike.

Fighting in the Gaza Strip remains focused on the southern city of Khan Younis, seen as a militant stronghold for Hamas, where the IDF said Hamas fighters fired an anti-tank grenade at an army vehicle. 

The Israeli soldiers returned fire, it added, and killed the three attackers. 

Israeli soldiers stormed a building and found Hamas weapons and diving equipment. 

The Israeli military also added that its fighter jets bombed a Hamas command center linked to a tunnel entrance and a weapons depot. 

Skip next section US strikes Iran-linked targets in Syria and Iraq
February 3, 2024

US strikes Iran-linked targets in Syria and Iraq

The US has launched strikes against targets in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for a drone attack by Iranian-backed militants that killed three US soldiers at a US base in Jordan last week.

The soldiers were the first American military deaths from hostile fire in the Middle East since the start of a spike in attacks on US and allied forces in the wake of Hamas's October 7 assault on Israel.

Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the UN, the EU, Germany and others.

US strikes Iranian positions in Syria, Iraq

Skip next section Germany's Baerbock warns against Israeli plans for Rafah
February 3, 2024

Germany's Baerbock warns against Israeli plans for Rafah

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has told Israel that a military offensive in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip would be wrong.

"Taking action now in Rafah, the last and most overcrowded place, as announced by the Israeli defense minister, would simply not be justifiable," the Green Party politician told the RND media organization in remarks published on Saturday. 

The Times of Israel newspaper reported that the Israeli military was planning to expand operations into the Rafah area.

The paper quoted Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant as saying the IDF would reach the Hamas brigade in Rafah and smash it. Baerbock said she had been shocked to hear of the plans.

"The majority of the victims are women and children. Let's just imagine they are our children," Baerbock told the RND. "Together with our American partners, I have been making it clear to the Israeli government for some time that the people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air."

Israeli army to move its Gaza offensive further south

Skip next section Reports of strikes around border town of Rafah
February 3, 2024

Reports of strikes around border town of Rafah

There have been reports of blasts around the crowded Gaza Strip town of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have fled since the start of the war. 

According to the World Health Organization, the former city of some 250,000 now houses more than half of Gaza's population of over two million.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA had already voiced deep concern about the intensification of hostilities in nearby Khan Younis, Gaza's second-largest city. 

The violence has pushed more and more people south toward Rafah, on the Egyptian border, in recent days. 

"Most are living in makeshift structures, tents or out in the open," OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke told a briefing in Geneva. "Rafah is a pressure cooker of despair, and we fear for what comes next."

Powerful explosions were reported shortly after midnight on Saturday in Rafah, with the Hamas-run health ministry later reporting 14 people killed in two strikes there.

Israel-Hamas war: Living in tents on the Gaza-Egypt border

rc/dj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)