Middle East

Israel denies hitting designated ‘safe zone’ following Palestinian news agency report

By CNN staff

CNN  —  Israel’s military denied striking a designated “safe zone” in Gaza on Thursday after the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said a region filled with refugees was hit by “land, sea and air strikes.”

Al-Mawasi, a coastal region west of Rafah previously designated by Israel as a safe zone for Palestinians was bombarded early on Thursday, including by navy boats firing heavy machine guns, WAFA said.

WAFA’s report did not give any details about whether there were any casualties.

The Israeli military denied carrying out any strikes on the safe zone or surrounding areas. “Contrary to the reports from the last few hours, the IDF did not strike in the Humanitarian Area in Al-Mawasi,” the Israel Defense Forces told CNN.

The latest report of a strike come as a ceasefire plan for the devastating eight-month war between Israel and Hamas stutters, with neither side yet publicly committing to the deal despite intense lobbying from American officials, including US President Joe Biden.

Hamas said in a statement Wednesday it “has shown the necessary positivity in all stages of negotiations” to reach a “comprehensive and acceptable agreement based on the just demands of our people.”

The statement comes after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioned whether the Palestinian militant group is “proceeding in good faith” in the ceasefire negotiations, saying Hamas had proposed a number of changes in their response to the latest deal, which “go beyond positions they had previously taken.”

On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Rafah said it had received information from Israeli authorities that fighting will continue in western Rafah. CNN video showed many Palestinians taking down shelters and packing up their belongings after warnings spread of a pending military operation.

An estimated 550,000 people are now in Al-Mawasi, according to a report from Oxfam, after the IDF ordered people in eastern Rafah to head to the “expanded humanitarian area” as it stepped up its operations in southern Gaza.

Currently just 121 toilets have been installed in the densely packed tent city, according to Oxfam, meaning every toilet is shared by more than 4,000 people.

The Al-Mawasi camp was already filled with displaced people before civilians in Rafah were ordered to move there. The United Nations has called facilities in the area unsuitable for the hundreds of thousands of Gazans uprooted by violence in Rafah and across the Gaza Strip.

More than 1 million people have fled Rafah to the nearby areas of Al-Mawasi, Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis in recent weeks, according to Oxfam. Some 1.7 million people, more than two thirds of Gaza’s population, are now estimated to be crammed into an area of 69 square kilometers (27 square miles) — less than a fifth of the strip.

The reports of strikes on Thursday follow a mass-casualty operation by Israel to rescue hostages held by Hamas over the weekend. The Israeli military rescued four hostages in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, an operation that Gazan authorities said killed 236 people and injured more than 400 others.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated.

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