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Middle East updates: Israel intensifies airstrikes on Rafah

Published April 25, 2024last updated April 26, 2024

Thousands of civilians have fled Rafah as Israeli bombardments continue ahead of an anticipated ground offensive into the city. Elsewhere, US-led coalition forces shot down a Houthi missile in the Red Sea. DW has more.

Palestinians inspect a house that was destroyed following an Israeli air-strike in Rafah.
Palestinians inspect a house that was destroyed following an Israeli air-strike in RafahImage: Abed Rahim Khatib/dpa/picture alliance
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • At least six killed as Israeli bombardment of Rafah continues
  • Hundreds of thousands expected to flee, many already on the move
  • US-led coalition forces shoot down Houthi missile in Red Sea


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Skip next section USC cancels main commencement ceremony amid Gaza protests
April 26, 2024

USC cancels main commencement ceremony amid Gaza protests

The University of Southern California (USC) has called off its main graduation ceremony scheduled for 10 May,  a day after more than 90 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on campus.

According to an update on USC's website, new safety measures in place this year, such as additional screening procedures, will increase the processing time for guests "substantially."

"As a result, we will not be able to host the main stage ceremony that traditionally brings 65,000 students, families, and friends to our campus all at the same time," the update said.

The decision comes after Los Angeles police arrested 93 people on the US Campus after ordering the dismantling of a campus encampment.

USC is one of many campuses across the United States that have seengrowing student protests against the Israel-Hamas war

The university also earlier this month said Muslim student Asna Tabassum would no longer be permitted to deliver a speech as valedictorian due to unspecified security threats

Skip next section US military begins construction of temporary port off Gaza coast
April 25, 2024

US military begins construction of temporary port off Gaza coast

The US military has started constructing a maritime pier that will allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, the Pentagon said, with the jetty set to become operational by early May.

"I can confirm that US military vessels, to include the USNS Benavidez, have begun to construct the initial stages of the temporary pier and causeway at sea," Pentagon spokesperson Major General Patrick Ryder said.

In March, President Joe Biden announced that the military would build a temporary port on Gaza's Mediterranean coast to receive humanitarian aid by sea.

The plan is to construct a floating platform off the coast where commercial ships carrying relief supplies could dock.  There, it will be transferred to smaller vessels that will take the assistance to a pier that is anchored to the shore.

A senior US administration official said that the US Agency for International Development "will partner with UN organizations to deliver the life-saving aid once it gets to Gaza through the maritime corridor."

The official painted a dire picture of the situation in Gaza and the urgent need for aid, saying, "The entire population of Gaza -- 2.2 million people -- is facing acute food insecurity."


Skip next section Rafah military operation would have 'absolutely devastating consequences' — UNRWA
April 25, 2024

Rafah military operation would have 'absolutely devastating consequences' — UNRWA

Sam Rose, the director of planning for the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), told DW that any form of large-scale military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah would have "absolutely devastating consequences" for the nearly 1.5 million people who have sought refuge there in recent months. 

"However it is done, we fear that the implications will be absolutely catastrophic for a population that has already gone through so much," he said. 

"We call for an immediate cease-fire, for an immediate release of hostages and for an end to this bloodshed and this hell that people have had to put up with."

UNRWA said they had not been informed by Israel of any plans to evacuate Palestinians from Rafah, but Rose added he had seen the satellite images of the tents that have gone up in the southern Gaza Strip, ostensibly to house evacuees from Rafah.

Nevertheless, he said the experience of previous evacuations from other Gaza cities does not fill him with confidence.

"People left without anything. They left at short notice. They received leaflets from the air telling them to move within a matter of hours," Rose said. This may give people time to move, but there is no safe place for them to go, he explained.

"People have been killed on their way from one spot to another, as they've been directed to by the authorities, and they've been killed on the way. It's impossible to see how this can take place without major humanitarian consequences, major suffering, major loss of life."

Schulze: 'Report shows UNRWA is not part of Hamas'

Skip next section Regional tensions remain high in Lebanon, Red Sea
April 25, 2024

Regional tensions remain high in Lebanon, Red Sea

Elsewhere in the region, Israel has continued to strike at Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, while Iranian-backed militants have stepped up retaliatory rocket fire into northern Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said this week that "half of Hezbollah's commanders in southern Lebanon have been eliminated" in the months of violence, a claim which Hezbollah denied on Thursday.

Meanwhile, US officials said Thursday that coalition forces had intercepted an anti-ship ballistic missile launched over the Red Sea by Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are also backed by Iran.

Skip next section Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Rafah
April 25, 2024

Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Rafah

The Israeli military has reportedly been making plans to relocate hundreds of thousands of civilians away from Rafah, but many refugees are already on the move.

Earlier this month, Israeli media reported that 40,000 tents had been purchased to house evacuated civilians. The Reuters news agency quoted Israeli government sources on Wednesday saying each tent could hold between 10 and 12 people.

Satellite images published by the BBC this week showed two new tent encampments outside the cities of Rafah and Khan Younis.

On Thursday, The Jerusalem Post reported that "up to 200,000" Palestinians had already left Rafah.

The Palestinian ambassador to Egypt, Diab Allouh, told the AFP news agency that between 80,000 and 100,000 Gazans have crossed into Egypt since the start of the war following Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7.

Skip next section Israeli airstrikes intensify ahead of Rafah ground offensive
April 25, 2024

Israeli airstrikes intensify ahead of Rafah ground offensive

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have continued to bomb the city of Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip ahead of a planned ground offensive against what it says are four Hamas units holding out in the city.

Israeli government spokesman David Mencer said the country's War Cabinet would be meeting on Thursday "to discuss how to destroy the last battalions of Hamas."

A senior Israeli defense official told the Reuters news agency that preparations were complete and that the IDF was ready to launch an offensive as soon as ordered.

US media have quoted Egyptian officials has saying that Israeli troops would enter Rafah in stages.

The IDF said on Thursday that its aircraft had struck more than 30 Hamas targets across Gaza over the previous day, while the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the enclave increased its death toll to at least 34,305.

Local authorities reported five airstrikes on Rafah itself early on Thursday which hit three houses and killed at least six people, including a local journalist.

"We are afraid of what will happen in Rafah," the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Khraishi, told the Reuters news agency on Thursday. "The level of alert is very high. Some are leaving, they are afraid for their families but where can they go? They are not being allowed to go to the north and so are confined to a very small area."

Among those killed in an Israeli strike on Rafah included Abdallah Nabhan, 33, who worked for Belgium's Enabel development agency. Brussels said it would summon Israel's ambassador to explain the death.

Israel’s Netanyahu vows to launch Rafah offensive