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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Negotiators arrive in Cairo as Israel seizes Rafah crossing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Oct. 18, 2023 (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Isabel Kershner and Cassandra Vinograd

Delegations from Israel and Hamas arrived in Cairo on Tuesday to resume talks on a proposed deal for a cease-fire, just hours after Israeli tanks and troops went into the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah and seized control of the border crossing with Egypt, halting the flow of aid into the enclave.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under pressure from the United States and other allies to agree to a cease-fire, said that while he had sent a delegation back to the talks, “in tandem, we continue waging the war on Hamas.”

A White House spokesperson, John Kirby, said the negotiations were at a “sensitive stage” and that “there should be no reason why they can’t overcome those remaining gaps.” Analysts said Israel’s incursion into Rafah might either ratchet up the pressure on Hamas to make a deal or sabotage the talks.

The Israeli military said it had gone into the city to destroy Hamas infrastructure used in an attack that killed four Israeli soldiers over the weekend near another border crossing, this one from Israel into Gaza.

The move did not appear to be the full ground invasion of Rafah that Israel has long been threatening and its allies working to avert. The Israeli military called it “a very precise” counterterrorism operation.

Here’s what else to know:

— The head of a hospital in Rafah said 27 bodies and 150 wounded people had been brought to his facility since the start of the Israeli incursion on Tuesday, and humanitarian agencies said no aid was passing through the Rafah crossing. United Nations officials said Israeli troops had now “choked off” both the Rafah crossing with Egypt and the Kerem Shalom crossing, the two main routes for getting aid into Gaza, and warned that the humanitarian crisis in the enclave would worsen.

— International officials condemned the incursion. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry called it a “dangerous escalation” while Josep Borrell, the top European Union diplomat, said he feared it would cause “a lot of casualties.”

— U.N. officials said Tuesday that the area Israel has designated as a safe zone for Palestinians asked to evacuate Rafah was neither safe nor equipped to receive them. On Monday, Israel told more than 100,000 Palestinians in eastern Rafah to flee before airstrikes.

— Hamas’ armed wing claimed it again fired on Israeli soldiers in the Kerem Shalom area of Israel near the border with Gaza on Tuesday morning. Israel’s military said four mortar shells and two rockets had been launched toward Kerem Shalom from Rafah but that no injuries or damage were reported.

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