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Israel prepares attack on Rafah as truce talks resume in Egypt

 An Israeli tank holds a position, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border, in Israel, March 26, 2024. [Reuters]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that Israel's military was preparing to launch an attack on Rafah, as truce negotiations resumed in Egypt.

Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city, has become a refuge for over one million displaced Palestinians seeking shelter from bombardments. United Nations experts and several countries have warned that any ground operation in the city would lead to catastrophic consequences for civilians.

In a press conference, Netanyahu said that following his approval of the military's plan for a ground attack in Rafah earlier in March, the army is now preparing to evacuate the population before attacking the city.

"It will take time, but it will be done," he said. "We will get into Rafah and kill Hamas battalions there. There is no victory without entering Rafah and eliminating Hamas battalions there."

In northern Gaza, where the UN said famine was imminent, Israeli forces continued the raid on the Al-Shifa Hospital, the enclave's largest medical center before the conflict. According to Netanyahu, at least 200 militants have been killed in the medical complex. According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, dozens of people were killed at the hospital, where about 3,000 patients and refugees were seeking shelter.

In the afternoon, an Israeli delegation of security officials departed for a new round of talks with negotiators in Cairo.

Meanwhile,  Israel has continued to carry out heavy strikes in the Palestinian enclave. The military said that its warplanes targeted an operational Islamic Jihad command center and militants in the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in the central Gaza Strip. The statement did not mention the names of the militants.

The Hamas-run media office in Gaza said in a statement that the airstrikes hit a tent housing journalists and displaced people within the hospital compound. Palestinian medical sources said the attack killed four people and injured 17 others with varying injuries, including two journalists.

Over the past day, Israeli attacks killed at least 77 Palestinians and wounded 108 others, the Health Ministry in Gaza said in a press statement. Overall, at least 32,782 Palestinians have been killed and 75,298 wounded since Israel launched its retaliatory attack against Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023. The Israeli death toll from Hamas's surprise attack stands at 1,139, with about 100 still held hostage in Gaza. 

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