Tens of thousands of Palestinians stream into Rafah as Israel expands its offensive

Tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians have streamed into the town of Rafah in the southernmost end of Gaza in recent days, according to the United Nations, crowding into an already overwhelmed area of the embattled territory

Updated - December 29, 2023 06:58 pm IST

Published - December 29, 2023 02:24 pm IST - Jerusalem

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 29, 2023.

Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 29, 2023. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Israeli-Hamas war has already driven around 85% of Gaza's 2.3 million people from their homes, levelling the northern part of the territory and heightening fears about a similar fate for the south as Israel's air and ground offensive widened Friday.

Tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians have streamed into the town of Rafah in the southernmost end of Gaza in recent days, according to the United Nations, crowding into an already overwhelmed area of the embattled territory.

More than 20,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children, have been killed since the start of the war, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, which doesn't differentiate between civilians and combatants among the dead.

About 1,200 people were killed after Hamas raided southern Israel on October 7, with around 240 people taken hostage.

Syria's SANA news agency, citing military sources, reported Israeli airstrikes at 1:20 a.m. local time “targeting a number of points in the vicinity of Damascus,” which it said caused “some material losses.” Late Thursday night, strikes had hit “some points in the southern region,” it said.

The United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the strikes had hit the Damascus airport, a day after it returned to service after a two-month stoppage due to previous strikes. Other strikes hit Syrian air defence sites in the Damascus countryside and a military facility in the southern province of Sweida, injuring two soldiers, the monitor said.

There was no statement from Israel on the strikes. Israel has launched hundreds of strikes on sites in government-controlled Syria in recent years but rarely acknowledges them. When it does, Israel says it's targeting Iran-backed groups there that have backed the government of President Bashar Assad.

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