Israeli defense minister stresses importance of military operation in Rafah

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said the country has concrete information regarding hostages being held in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, and stressed the importance of the military operations there.

The Israeli defense ministry said on Thursday that Gallant made the comment in an overnight phone call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

The Israeli military announced on Wednesday that its forces took control of the Philadelphi Corridor, a roughly 14-kilometer strip of land on the border between Gaza and Egypt.

Israel claims that weapons and other goods are being smuggled from Egypt to Gaza through the area. It said its troops discovered about 20 tunnels there, and is surveying and destroying them.

Meanwhile, health authorities in Gaza said on Thursday that they had confirmed 53 fatalities in the enclave over the past 24 hours. They said the death toll in Gaza since the start of the Israeli offensive on October 7 had climbed to 36,224.

The World Food Programme said on Thursday that there is little it can currently do in Rafah with stocks of humanitarian supplies very low and mobility severely restricted. The UN agency also said that in central and southern Gaza hunger levels are rising fast, and called on Israeli authorities to facilitate delivery of humanitarian supplies.