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Eight Israeli soldiers killed as fighting continues in Rafah

The armed wing of Hamas said the vehicle had been trapped in a prepared minefield that set off the explosion.

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Eight Israeli soldiers were killed in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, the military said, as forces continued to push in and around the southern city of Rafah and strikes hit several areas of Gaza, killing at least 19 Palestinians.

The soldiers, all members of a combat engineering unit, were in an armoured carrier that was hit by an explosion that detonated engineering materials being carried on the vehicle, apparently in contravention of standard practice, the military said. It said the early morning incident, in the Tel al-Sultan area in the west of Rafah, was being investigated, Reuters reported.

The armed wing of Hamas said the vehicle had been trapped in a prepared minefield that set off the explosion.

Israeli tanks advanced in Tel al-Sultan and shells landed in the coastal area, where thousands of Palestinians, many of them displaced several times already, have sought refuge.

Despite growing international pressure for a ceasefire, an agreement to halt the fighting still appears distant, more than eight months since the start of the war in October, with the near-daily cross-border exchanges of fire with Hezbollah militia fighters in southern Lebanon intensifying.

In Israeli airstrikes on two houses in Gaza City suburbs, residents said at least 15 people were killed. Four others were killed in separate attacks in the south, medics said.

The Israeli military on Saturday said its forces in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, close to the border with Egypt, had captured large quantities of weapons, both above ground and concealed in the extensive tunnel network built by Hamas.

It said militants had on Friday fired five rockets from the humanitarian area in central Gaza, two of which fell in open areas in Israel and three fell short in Gaza.

“This is a further example of the cynical exploitation of humanitarian infrastructure and the civilian population as human shields by terror organizations in the Gaza Strip for their terrorist attacks,” the military said.

PROTESTS

The deaths of the soldiers may complicate the political situation facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a week after centrist former general Benny Gantz quit the government, accusing Netanyahu of having no proper strategy for Gaza.

Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday in the latest of the now weekly protests by families and supporters of hostages still held by Hamas, demanding an agreement to bring them home.

In a video statement issued late on Saturday, Netanyahu said there was no alternative but to stick to the goals of the war to defeat Hamas and bring the hostages back.

Although surveys show solid support among the Israeli public for continuing the war against Hamas, the protests underscore the divisions in Israeli society that have reopened following a period of unity at the start of the war.

The Islamic Jihad armed wing, Al-Quds Brigades, said on Saturday Israel could only regain its hostages in Gaza if it ended the war and pulled out forces from the enclave.

Islamic Jihad is a smaller ally of Hamas, which led a rampage in southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. More than 100 hostages are believed to remain captive in Gaza, although at least 40 have been declared dead in absentia by Israeli authorities.

Since a week-long truce in November, repeated attempts to arrange a ceasefire have failed, with Hamas insisting on a permanent end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Netanyahu refuses to end the war before Hamas is eradicated.

At least 37,296 Palestinians, at least 30 of them in the past 24 hours, have been killed in Israel’s military campaign to eliminate Hamas, according to the Gaza health ministry.

 

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Biden says Israel-Gaza war should end now and Israel must not occupy Gaza

A dozen U.S. administration officials have quit, citing opposition to Biden’s Gaza policy. Rights advocates also note a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in the U.S. amid the war, Reuters reported.

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U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday the Israel-Gaza war must end now and Israel must not occupy the enclave after the war, telling reporters his ceasefire framework had been agreed on by both Israel and Hamas but there were still gaps to close, Reuters reported.

“That framework is now agreed on by both Israel and Hamas. So I sent my team to the region to hammer out the details,” Biden said in a news conference.

Biden in late May detailed a proposal of three phases aimed at achieving a ceasefire, the release of hostages in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and the rebuilding of the coastal enclave.

CIA Director Bill Burns and U.S. Middle East envoy Brett McGurk were in the Middle East this week meeting with regional counterparts to discuss the ceasefire deal.

“These are difficult, complex issues. There are still gaps to close. We’re making progress. The trend is positive. I’m determined to get this deal done and bring an end to this war, which should end now,” Biden said in the press conference.

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has accepted a key part of a U.S. plan, dropping a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing the agreement, read the report.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the deal must not prevent Israel from resuming fighting until its war objectives are met. At the outset of the war, he pledged to annihilate Hamas.

Netanyahu’s office said on Wednesday he was committed to securing a Gaza ceasefire deal provided Israel’s red lines were respected.

Biden told reporters on Thursday that Israel must not occupy Gaza while also offering some criticism of Israel’s war cabinet, saying “Israel occasionally was less than cooperative”.

Biden also expressed disappointment at some of his steps not having succeeded in Gaza, citing the planned winding down of the U.S. military’s humanitarian pier off the coast of Gaza as an example. “I was hopeful that would be more successful,” he said.

The Biden administration has faced international criticism for its continuing support of Israel in the face of growing civilian casualties.

The United States, Israel’s important ally, has seen months of protests around the country in opposition to the war and to U.S. support for Israel.

A dozen U.S. administration officials have quit, citing opposition to Biden’s Gaza policy. Rights advocates also note a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in the U.S. amid the war, Reuters reported.

The latest bloodshed in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict was triggered on Oct. 7 when fighters led by Hamas, which controlled Gaza, attacked southern Israel. They killed 1,200 people and took around 250 hostages, according to Israeli figures.

The Gaza health ministry says that since then over 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s assault on the coastal enclave, which has displaced nearly all its 2.3 million population, caused a hunger crisis and led to genocide allegations that Israel denies.

 

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NATO slams China over Russia support, backs full integration of Ukraine, draft communique says

NATO countries are meeting Tuesday through Thursday in Washington to mark the 75th anniversary of the alliance, read the report.

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NATO allies will pledge to support Ukraine on an “irreversible path” to integration and call on China to cease all support for Russia’s war effort against Kyiv, according to a draft joint communique seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

China has become a decisive enabler of Russia’s war effort in Ukraine and Beijing continues to pose systemic challenges to Europe and to security, according to the draft communique being developed at the NATO summit in Washington.

NATO countries intend to provide Ukraine with minimum funding of 40 billion euros within the next year and establish a mechanism to coordinate the provision of military equipment and training for Ukraine, according to the draft communique.

The allies will pledge to support Ukraine on its path to full Euro-Atlantic integration including NATO membership, it said. An invitation to join the alliance will be extended to Kyiv when allies agree and conditions are met, the draft said.

The draft also discusses the importance of the Indo-Pacific to NATO, as developments there directly affect Euro-Atlantic security, and the alliance welcomes enhanced cooperation with Asia-Pacific partners to support Ukraine, it said.

The alliance is also concerned by developments in China’s space capabilities and activities and urges Beijing to engage in strategic risk reduction discussions, the draft said.

NATO allies are willing to maintain channels of communication with Moscow to mitigate risk and prevent escalation, it said.

NATO countries are meeting Tuesday through Thursday in Washington to mark the 75th anniversary of the alliance, read the report.

 

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Russian missile attacks kill at least 41, hit children’s hospital, Ukraine says

Zelenskiy, addressing a news conference in Warsaw alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, called on Kyiv’s Western allies to give a firm response to the attack.

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Russia blasted the main children’s hospital in Kyiv with a missile in broad daylight on Monday and rained missiles down on other cities across Ukraine, killing at least 41 civilians in the deadliest wave of air strikes for months, Reuters reported.

Parents holding babies walked in the street outside the hospital, dazed and sobbing after the rare daylight aerial attack. Windows had been smashed and panels ripped off, and hundreds of Kyiv residents were helping to clear debris.

“It was scary. I couldn’t breathe, I was trying to cover (my baby). I was trying to cover him with this cloth so that he could breathe,” Svitlana Kravchenko, 33, told Reuters.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who stopped in Poland before heading off to Washington for a NATO summit, put the death toll at 37, including three children. More than 170 were injured.

But tallies of casualties from the sites of attacks in different regions totalled at least 41.

Writing on the Telegram messaging app, Zelenskiy said more than 100 buildings had been damaged, including the children’s hospital and a maternity centre in Kyiv, children’s nurseries and a business centre and homes.

“The Russian terrorists must answer for this,” he wrote. “Being concerned does not stop terror. Condolences are not a weapon.”

The Interior Ministry said there had also been damage in the central cities of Kryvyi Rih and Dnipro and two eastern cities.

The government proclaimed a day of mourning on Tuesday for one of the worst air attacks of the war, which it said demonstrated that Ukraine urgently needed an upgrade of its air defences from its Western allies, read the report.

Air defences shot down 30 of 38 missiles, the air force said.

An online video obtained by Reuters showed a missile falling towards the children’s hospital followed by a large explosion. The location of the video was verified from visible landmarks.

The Security Service of Ukraine identified the missile as a Kh-101 cruise missile.

Kyiv’s military authorities said 27 people had died in the capital, including three children, and 82 were wounded in the main missile volley and a strike that came two hours later.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the attack was one of the largest of the war, causing damage in seven city districts. The Health Minister said five units of the children’s hospital were damaged and children were evacuated to other facilities, Reuters reported.

Eleven were confirmed dead in the Dnipropetrovsk region and 68 were wounded, regional officials said. Three people were killed in the eastern town of Pokrovsk where missiles hit an industrial facility, the governor said.

Zelenskiy, addressing a news conference in Warsaw alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, called on Kyiv’s Western allies to give a firm response to the attack.

“We will retaliate against these people, we will deliver a powerful response from our side to Russia, for sure. The question to our partners is: can they respond?” Zelenskiy said.

The attack came a day before leaders of NATO countries were due to begin a three-day summit, with the war in Ukraine one of the focuses, read the report.

U.S. President Joe Biden said that Moscow’s deadly missile strikes in Ukraine, including on the children’s hospital in Kyiv, were “a horrific reminder of Russia’s brutality”.

In a statement released by the White House, Biden added that Washington and its NATO allies would be announcing new measures to strengthen Ukraine’s air defences.

Diplomats said the United Nations Security Council would meet on Tuesday at the request of Britain, France, Ecuador, Slovenia and the United States.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, deplored the attacks, saying: “Among the victims were Ukraine’s sickest children.”

Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces had launched strikes on defence industry targets and aviation bases.

Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, although its attacks have killed thousands of civilians since it launched its invasion in February 2022.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General said he discussed the attacks with International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan, adding that his office would be sharing evidence with the ICC.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov said Ukraine still lacked enough air defences and urged Kyiv’s allies to supply more systems promptly to protect cities from Russian attacks.

Air Force representative Colonel Yuri Ignat said it became more difficult to repel Russian attacks as Moscow’s forces kept enhancing their bombardment tactics.

“Enemy missiles are equipped with additional means, including radar and thermal traps,” Ignat wrote on Facebook.

The missiles flew at extremely low altitudes during Monday’s attacks, he said.

DTEK, the largest private power producer, said three electricity substations and networks had been damaged in Kyiv.

The power system has already sustained so much damage from targeted Russian air strikes that began in March that electricity cuts have become widespread.

 

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