Hamas launches rocket attack at central Israel for first time in months

Hamas fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza that set off air raid sirens as far away as Tel Aviv for the first time in months yesterday in a show of resilience more than seven months into Israel’s massive air, sea and ground offensive.

There were no reports of casualties or damage in what appeared to be the first long-range rocket attack from Gaza since January. Hamas’ military wing claimed the attack.

The Israeli military said eight projectiles crossed into Israel after being launched from the area of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Israeli forces recently launched an incursion. It said some projectiles were intercepted.

Earlier yesterday, aid trucks entered Gaza from southern Israel under a new agreement to bypass the Rafah crossing with Egypt after Israeli forces seized the Palestinian side of it earlier this month. But it was not immediately clear whether humanitarian groups could get access to the aid because of fighting.

Egypt refuses to reopen its side of the Rafah crossing until control of the Gaza side is handed back to Palestinians. It agreed to temporarily divert traffic through Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing, Gaza’s main cargo terminal, after a call between US president Joe Biden and Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.

But the Kerem Shalom crossing has been largely inaccessible because of Israel’s offensive in Rafah. Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks to enter, but United Nations agencies say it is usually too dangerous to retrieve the aid.

The war between Israel and Hamas has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters in its count. The health ministry yesterday said the bodies of 81 people killed by Israeli strikes had been brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours.

Around 80pc of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes, severe hunger is widespread and UN officials say parts of the territory are experiencing famine.

Hamas triggered the war with its October 7 attack into Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized 250 hostages. Hamas still holds 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others after most of the rest were released during a ceasefire last year.

Southern Gaza has been largely cut off from aid since Israel launched what it called a limited incursion into Rafah on May 6. Since then, more than one million Palestinians have fled the city. Most had been displaced from other parts of besieged Gaza.

Northern Gaza still receives aid through two land routes that Israel opened during global outrage after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers in April.

A few dozen trucks enter Gaza daily through a US-built floating pier, but its capacity remains far below the 150 trucks a day that officials hoped for. Aid groups say 600 trucks a day are needed.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must take over Rafah to eliminate Hamas’ remaining battalions and achieve “total victory” over the militants, who recently regrouped in other parts of Gaza where the military has operated.

Mr Netanyahu faces growing pressure to make a deal with Hamas to free the remaining hostages, something Hamas has refused without guarantees for an end to the war and full withdrawal of Israeli troops. Mr Netanyahu has ruled that out.

Scuffles broke out between police and protesters in Tel Aviv at the weekend after thousands again gathered to demand the hostages’ return. They called for Mr Netanyahu’s resignation and demanded new elections.

The war also leaves Israel increasingly isolated on the world stage.

Last week, Ireland was one of three more European countries announcing they would recognise a Palestinian state. The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court requested arrest warrants for Mr Netanyahu and Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, along with three Hamas leaders.

On Friday, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to end its military offensive in Rafah. The top UN court also said Israel must give war crimes investigators access to Gaza.

Israel is unlikely to comply and has condemned the ICC’s move toward arrest warrants. Israel says it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians and blames their deaths on Hamas.

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