Israel said to bomb Rafah crossing to Egypt after telling Gazans to flee through it

Army distances itself from comments by military spokesman, says it hit underground tunnel in area; exit was briefly open Tuesday, but only for those with prior authorization

The Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip came under Israeli fire on Tuesday morning, blocking the only land exit from the coastal enclave to Egypt, according to The Washington Post.

Hamas also said Tuesday that Israeli airstrikes had made the Rafah crossing into Egypt — the only way out with the Israeli side sealed — impassable. The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday afternoon that it hit an underground tunnel for smuggling weapons and equipment in the Rafah area, on the Egypt-Gaza border, but did not confirm or deny hitting the crossing itself.

The bombing occurred a few minutes after a warning was conveyed by the Israeli military to Gazan officials operating it.

According to the Associated Press, the Egyptians administering the crossing warned the crews on the Palestinian side to evacuate immediately due to threats of airstrikes, spokesperson for the Hamas Ministry of Interior and National Security Iyad Al-Bazm said Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, a senior IDF spokesman advised Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to flee to Egypt, but the military issued a clarification shortly afterward.

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“In recent days, the IDF has been instructing the population inside of the Gaza Strip to distance themselves from designated areas. We emphasize that there is no official call by Israel for residents of the Gaza Strip to exit into Egypt,” the IDF said in an English-language statement.

A ambulance crosses into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 15, 2021. (AFP)

The IDF’s international media spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, had advised Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip for Egypt, saying: “Rafah crossing is still open. Anyone who can get out, I would advise them to get out.”

On Monday, Egyptian officials warned against pushing Gazan civilians toward the Egyptian borders and denounced Israeli calls for mass displacement, according to Egyptian media sources.

The Rafah crossing was open for periods Tuesday morning, but Egypt only allowed through Palestinians who’d already gotten authorization to leave the Strip.

On the Rafah crossing’s Facebook page, Gazans lamented the decision to not open the crossing for anyone wishing to leave, with one user writing: “Interior Ministry, this is not the time to put someone in danger who survived a bombing and miraculously reached the crossing. We cannot return to death.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations and other aid agencies were talking with Egypt about sending humanitarian aid to the Strip through the Rafah crossing, an Egyptian official and aid worker said Tuesday. They said Egyptian authorities have contacted Israel and the United States to secure humanitarian corridors in Gaza amid Israel’s bombardment.

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