Israel says it’s gained ‘tactical control’ of Philadelphi buffer zone

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The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday that it had gained “tactical control over the Philadelphi corridor,” a boundary that separates Gaza and Egypt. The military gain represents a major ambition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had repeatedly staked it out as an aim for Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

The IDF does not have “boots on the ground” throughout the corridor, an IDF official told reporters, but added that its control means Israel can “cut off” Hamas supplies via underground tunnels in the corridor.

The corridor is a buffer zone and a no man’s land approximately nine miles long and several hundred yards wide that stretches from the southernmost tip of Gaza to the Mediterranean Sea. Israel has not had a troop presence along the border since 2005, when the country withdrew its forces from the Gaza Strip. The gain may complicate political relations with Cairo and risk undermining a landmark 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty — an accord that has led to a half-century of coexistence.

Speaking as Israel’s military expanded its offensive in the southern region of Rafah, Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s national security adviser, told Kan public radio Wednesday that he was expecting “another seven months of fighting” to destroy Hamas and other militant groups, adding that 2024 would be “a year of war.”

Asked about the comments, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that without a plan for the longer-term future of Gaza, there is a risk of “chaos, lawlessness and a vacuum” that could allow a group more dangerous than Hamas to gain power.

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Scenes of charred bodies and accounts of people burning alive prompted global condemnation of Israel’s strike on Rafah on Sunday. White House officials lamented the loss of life but said the attack did not cross President Biden’s “red line.”

Blinken called the incident “horrific,” noting that it has affected all people on a “basic human level.” He said he could not confirm reports that U.S. weapons were used in the strike.

Eyewitnesses contacted by The Washington Post on Wednesday said Israeli tanks have pushed closer into central Rafah, accompanying an intense air operation that has led to what they described as a near-constant thud of airstrikes or other explosions. Responding to questions about those reports, the Israeli military said Wednesday that it “does not share the location of its forces.”

The witnesses said tanks were near the Awda roundabout in central Rafah and had taken up positions in western parts of the city, including the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood, the site of Sunday’s strikes.

Israeli forces expanded a cordon around Rafah on Wednesday, according to Mohammad al-Mughair of the civil defense forces in Gaza. “We expect that the Tal al-Sultan camp will be stormed,” Mughair said. Residents in that western neighborhood said Israeli forces were increasing surveillance of the area using unmanned vehicles.

Nearly 1 million people have fled Rafah in the past three weeks even though there was “nowhere safe to go,” according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which aids Palestinian refugees. Aid groups also warned that Israel’s offensive in Rafah makes relief efforts nearly impossible, with World Central Kitchen announcing Wednesday that ongoing attacks had forced it to suspend its main kitchen there.

Algeria has put forward a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for a halt to Israel’s military offensive in Rafah and an immediate cease-fire. It also calls for the release of all hostages held by Hamas and an increase of humanitarian aid into the enclave. A vote is expected in the coming days. It is unclear whether the United States will use its veto power to vote down the proposal.

At least 21 people were killed in a tent encampment near Rafah’s coast Tuesday by what a spokesman for Gaza’s civil defense said was Israeli artillery fire. The Israeli military said in a statement Tuesday that it “did not strike in the humanitarian area in al-Mawasi,” referring to a zone along Gaza’s coast. Witnesses said the strikes occurred just south of the humanitarian zone.

The Pentagon announced it has suspended aid delivery to Gaza via a U.S.-built floating pier, after mishaps occurred involving beached U.S. military vessels and sections of the structure ripped free in bad weather. The damage will require the U.S. military to disassemble parts of the pier, rebuild them at the nearby Ashdod port, then transport them back to the Gaza shore and reconnect them.

A career State Department official involved in the Biden administration’s debates over Israel’s conduct in Gaza resigned this week, citing disagreements with a recently published U.S. government report that claimed Israel was not impeding humanitarian assistance to Gaza, two officials told The Post. The outgoing official, Stacy Gilbert, served in the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. Gilbert sent an email to staff explaining her view that the State Department was wrong to conclude Israel has not obstructed the assistance to Gaza, officials who read the letter said.

At least 36,171 people have been killed and 81,420 injured in Gaza since the war started, said the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 290 soldiers have been killed since the launch of its military operations in Gaza.

Lior Soroka, Kareem Fahim, Claire Parker and Hajar Harb contributed to this report.

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