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Gaza war: Almost 450,000 people have fled Rafah in a week, UN says

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Palestinians meanwhile told Reuters news agency that Israeli tanks were advancing deeper into residential areas in south-eastern Rafah and had crossed the main north-south road to the nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt, which Israeli troops took control of on Tuesday.

“The tanks advanced this morning west of Salah al-Din road, into the Brazil and al-Jneineh neighbourhoods,” one resident said. “They are in the streets inside the built-up area and there are clashes,” they added.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) ordered residents to evacuate Brazil, al-Jneinah and a number of other eastern neighbourhoods last week.

It told them to head towards an “expanded humanitarian area”, which stretches north from the coastal strip of al-Mawasi to the central town of Deir al-Balah. But the UN has said the area lacks the necessary infrastructure.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the IDF said its troops had “eliminated several armed terrorist cells in close-quarters encounters on the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing” and also “eliminated a number of terrorists and located weapons” in eastern areas of Rafah.

After seven months of war in Gaza, Israel has insisted victory is impossible without taking Rafah and eliminating the last remaining Hamas battalions.

But the UN and Western powers have warned that an all-out assault could lead to mass civilian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe.

As well as the mass displacement of Palestinians in the city, the UN has warned that it is running out of supplies of fuel, food and other essential goods because the Rafah crossing is closed and the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel is inaccessible due to the hostilities in the area.

On Monday, the UN said one of its foreign staff members was killed and another was injured in a strike as they travelled in a marked vehicle to the European Gaza hospital in Khan Younis, just to the north-east of Rafah.

The UN did not blame the attack on any party, but the IDF said an initial inquiry indicated the vehicle was struck in an active combat zone and that it had not been made aware of its route.

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