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Israeli forces take control of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt

Israeli forces take control of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt

JERUSALEM – An Israeli tank brigade took control of the Gaza Strip side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Tuesday, authorities said, continuing an offensive in the southern city even as ceasefire negotiations with Hamas is on the razor’s edge.

The move comes after hours of tension in the war between Israel and Hamas, with the militant group saying on Monday it had accepted a ceasefire proposal brokered by Egypt and Qatar. Israel, meanwhile, insisted the deal did not meet its core demands. The high-stakes diplomatic moves and military mismanagement left alive a glimmer of hope — but only barely — for an agreement that could at least bring a pause to the seven-month war that has devastated the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s 401st Brigade entered the Rafah crossing early Tuesday morning, the Israeli military said, taking “operational control” of the crucial border crossing. It is the main route for aid entering the besieged enclave and exiting for those who may flee to Egypt. Israel has fully controlled all access to Gaza since the start of the war.

Footage released by the Israeli army showed a tank driving into the border crossing. Details of the video matched known features of the crossing and showed Israeli flags flying from tanks occupying the area.

The Israeli military claimed it seized the border crossing after receiving intelligence that it was “being used for terrorist purposes.” The military provided no evidence to immediately support the claim, although it claimed the area around the border crossing was used to carry out a mortar attack that killed four Israeli troops and injured others near the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

The military also said ground forces and airstrikes targeted suspected Hamas positions in Rafah.

Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Transitional Authority, acknowledged that Israeli forces had seized the border crossing and closed the facility for the time being. He said strikes had targeted the area around the border crossing since Monday.

A spokesperson for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry declined to immediately comment on the Israeli seizure. Egypt has previously warned that any seizure of Rafah could lead Palestinians to flee across the border, a scenario that could threaten a 1979 peace deal with Israel that has been a linchpin for regional security.

The offensive again raised the risks of an all-out Israeli attack on Rafah, a move strongly opposed by the United States and which aid groups say will be disastrous for the approximately 1.4 million Palestinians seeking refuge there.

Egyptian officials said the proposal called for a multi-phase ceasefire, starting with a limited release of hostages and a partial withdrawal of Israeli forces in Gaza. The two sides would also negotiate a “permanent peace” that would lead to a full release of hostages and a greater Israeli withdrawal from the area, they said.

Hamas sought clearer guarantees for its main demand of an end to the war and full Israeli withdrawal in exchange for the release of all hostages, but it was not clear if any changes had been made.

Israeli leaders have repeatedly rejected this trade-off and vowed to continue their campaign until Hamas is destroyed after the October 7 attack on Israel that sparked the war.

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