ISRAEL has carried out air strikes in southern Gaza’s Rafah with dozens killed, according to health officials, as Palestinians brace for a major offensive on the city.

There have been conflicting reports of the death toll following the predawn strikes on Monday morning.

The AFP news agency reported the strikes killed 52 people, while Reuters reported the figure as 37 with both outlets quoting health officials in Gaza.

READ MORE: No ‘sanctuary’ as Rafah braces for onslaught

Strikes hit 14 houses and three mosques, according to Palestinian officials.

The Israeli military said it struck “terror targets in the area of Shaboura” – a district in Rafah.

An Associated Press journalist in Rafah said strikes hit around Kuwait Hospital, where some of those wounded in the strikes had been brought.

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have fled to Rafah to escape fighting in other areas, and they are packed into sprawling tent camps and UN-run shelters near the border.

Egypt fears a mass influx of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who may never be allowed to return.

Speaking to Fox News, Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu said there is “plenty room north of Rafah for them to go to “following Israel’s offensive elsewhere in Gaza and said Israel would direct evacuees with “flyers, with (mobile) phones and with safe corridors and others things”.

Doctors Without Borders warning

In a statement released on Twitter/X, general director of Doctors Without Borders Meinie Nicolai said that the declared ground offensive “would be catastrophic and must not proceed”.

“As aerial bombardment of the area continues, more than a million people, many living in tents and makeshift shelters, now face a dramatic escalation in this ongoing massacre,” it said.

The statement added: “Nowhere in Gaza is safe, and repeated forced displacements have pushed people to Rafah, where they are trapped in a tiny patch of land and have no options.

“Since October 7 2023, our medical teams and patients have been forced to evacuate nine different healthcare facilities in the Gaza Strip, after coming under fire from tanks, artillery, fighter jets, snipers and ground troops, or being subject to an evacuation order.

“Medical staff & patients have been arrested, abused and killed. All this has taken place in full view of world leaders.

“It’s now near impossible to work in Gaza, all our attempts to provide lifesaving care to Palestinians have been diminished by Israel’s conduct of hostilities.

“The needs are overwhelming and the situation requires a safe humanitarian response at a much larger scale.

“We call on the government of Israel to immediately halt this offensive & to all supporting governments, including the United States, to take concrete action to bring about a complete & sustained ceasefire.
“Political rhetoric is not enough.”

Return of hostages

The Israeli military has also said it has rescued two hostages from captivity in the Gaza Strip after a night of air strikes which killed at least 50 people.

It identified the freed hostages as Fernando Simon Marman, 60, and Louis Har, 70.  

Israel said that both men had been kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the October 7 cross-border attack.

The two men were rescued from a residential building in Rafah as part of a raid that killed at least seven people, according to Palestinian officials.

The National: Joe Biden (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The strikes on Rafah come despite warnings from US president Joe Biden (above) not to conduct a military operation without a plan to protect civilians.  

READ MORE: Pro-Palestine activists to march to Scottish Labour conference

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, the SNP’s Westminster leader Stephen Flynn welcomed the return of the hostages but added that “such episodes during the course of this war are the exception rather than the rule”.

It comes as Flynn has written to both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, urging them both to “change course” and back an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.