[MAP] : Israeli tanks encircle eastern half of Rafah

Israeli tanks captured the main road dividing the eastern and western halves of Rafah on Friday, effectively encircling the entire eastern side of the city in the southern Gaza Strip.

Residents described almost constant explosions and gunfire east and northeast of the city on Friday, with intense fighting between Israeli forces and militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Hamas said it ambushed Israeli tanks near a mosque in the east of the city, a sign the Israelis had penetrated several kilometers from the east to the outskirts of the built-up area.

Israel has ordered civilians out of the eastern half of Rafah, forcing tens of thousands of people to seek shelter outside the city, previously the last refuge of more than a million who fled other parts of the enclave during the war.

Israel says it cannot win the war without assaulting Rafah to root out thousands of Hamas fighters it believes are sheltering there. Hamas says it will fight to defend it. Aid agencies say the battle puts hundreds of thousands of already displaced civilians in harm’s way

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