Accessibility links

Breaking News

Israel Strikes Rafah's Tallest Building, Triggering Fears of Larger Assault

A Palestinian walks by a residential building destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on March 9, 2024.
A Palestinian walks by a residential building destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on March 9, 2024.

Dozens of families in the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip were left homeless Saturday after Israeli forces struck one of the largest residential towers there, asserting that the block is used by Hamas to plan attacks on Israel.

No casualties were reported.

Israel’s latest attack is increasing pressure on the last part of the enclave that it has not yet targeted, where upwards of 1 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

One of the 300 residents of the tower, which is located some 500 meters (1,640 feet) from the border with Egypt, told Reuters that 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. He said that among those who tripped down the stairs during the panicked evacuation was a friend's pregnant wife.

Conditions worsen

The situation in Gaza is deteriorating rapidly five months after Hamas’ terror attack on Israel triggered the war. The attack resulted in about 1,200 deaths, mostly civilians, and the taking of more than 230 Israelis and other foreign nationals as hostages, according to Israeli figures.

“There is nowhere safe for people to go,” according to a statement released Saturday by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Hamas-controlled health authorities in Gaza say nearly 31,000 Palestinians have been killed, and thousands more bodies are feared buried under rubble.

Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, decried the ongoing civilian casualties in Gaza and made an urgent call for the unconditional release of the hostages held by Hamas.

Spoljaric’s statement also called for a cessation of hostilities in Gaza to allow for meaningful assistance to reach the people in need and for the Red Cross to be allowed to visit the hostages. Additionally, it requested the humane treatment of Palestinian detainees in Israeli detention.

As a neutral intermediary, the Red Cross can provide food supplies, shelter and hygiene assistance, if there is a cessation of hostilities, the statement reads. “The ICRC’s longstanding work in Gaza’s health, electricity and water sectors would enable us to swiftly support these vital services.

The ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group is seen docked as it prepares to ferry some 200 tons of rice and flour directly to Gaza, at Larnaca harbor, Cyprus, on March 8, 2024.
The ship belonging to the Open Arms aid group is seen docked as it prepares to ferry some 200 tons of rice and flour directly to Gaza, at Larnaca harbor, Cyprus, on March 8, 2024.

Aid coming by sea

A ship carrying relief supplies such as pallets of rice, flour and protein was to depart Cyprus Saturday as part of efforts to aid a population on the brink of famine.

The Open Arms, a vessel owned by a Spanish nongovernmental organization, is expected to sail on its first mission to Gaza this weekend. The ship is usually deployed to rescue migrants at sea.

The pilot project is being run by the international charity World Central Kitchen and financed by the United Arab Emirates.

In a statement, the charity said, "WCK and partners agree more than one ship will be needed and are working toward a constant flow of aid," adding that another 500 tons of aid would follow the initial shipment.

Ceasefire negotiations

Meanwhile, negotiations on a possible cease-fire remain deadlocked.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that whether a cease-fire takes place in the near future is up to Hamas. Speaking ahead of talks in Washington with a delegation from Turkey, Blinken said the United States is continuing to work toward a cease-fire, despite reports that Hamas negotiators had left talks in Cairo.

UNRWA funding

The head of the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, Philippe Lazzarini, expressed cautious optimism that some donors would resume funding the humanitarian agency again within weeks, warning that the agency is "at risk of death, at risk of dismantlement" after Israeli allegations that 12 of its 13,000 staff took part in the October 7 Hamas terror attack on southern Israel.

Lazzarini made the comments in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS, which was aired Saturday.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, is under independent investigation by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna. The final report is expected to be released next month.

Colonna, whose work on the review began in mid-February, said Saturday she would visit Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman next week.

UNRWA, which provides aid and essential services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region, said some employees released into the enclave from Israeli detention reported having been pressured by Israeli authorities to falsely admit that staff took part in Hamas’s terror attack, according to a report by the agency dated February.

UNRWA runs schools, health care clinics and other social services in Gaza and distributes humanitarian aid. The U.N. has said some 3,000 staffers are still working to deliver aid in the enclave, where it says 576,000 people — one quarter of the population — are a step away from famine.

VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information was provided by The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters .

  • 16x9 Image

    VOA News

    The Voice of America provides news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of over 326 million people. Stories with the VOA News byline are the work of multiple VOA journalists and may contain information from wire service reports.