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Palestinians inspect the damage to residential buildings in Rafah Alamy Stock Photo

UN describes prospect of Israeli ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza as 'terrifying'

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he is in “no doubt” that the continued bombing of Rafah will ‘constitute a war crime’.


THE PROSPECT OF a full-scale Israeli ground invasion of the southern Palestinian city of Rafa is “terrifying”, the UN’s high commissioner for human rights Volker Turk has said.

Rafah is the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip and has become the latest target in Israel’s military campaign. Turk’s comments come as a number of Israel’s allies have expressed fears that a ground invasion would result in too many civilian casualties.

The Israeli army is preparing for a ground incursion into the teeming city along the border with Egypt, where displaced Palestinians have sought refuge from fighting further north.

About 1.5 million Palestinians have fled to Rafah, with many living in tents, while food, water and medicine are becoming increasingly scarce. 

In a statement today, Turk said that “those with influence must restrain rather than enable” Israel. 

“A potential full-fledged military incursion into Rafah – where some 1.5 million Palestinians are packed against the Egyptian border with nowhere further to flee – is terrifying, given the prospect that an extremely high number of civilians, again mostly children and women, will likely be killed and injured,” he said.

“Given the carnage wrought so far in Gaza it is wholly imaginable what would lie ahead in Rafah.”

“Around 100 people” were killed today in predawn Israeli strikes on Rafah, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Three mosques were also hit. 

Israel announced that it recovered two hostages in the city during the strikes.  

Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, today said he is “deeply concerned” by the reported bombing and potential ground incursion of Rafah.

Khan said his office has an “ongoing and active investigation” into the Gaza situation.

“This is being taken forward as a matter of the utmost urgency, with a view to bringing to justice those responsible for Rome Statute crimes,” he said.

Speaking to reporters in Cork this morning, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he is in “no doubt” that the continued bombing of Rafah will “constitute a war crime”. 

He added that, in his view, it “gravely violates international humanitarian law”. 

“To bomb and to mount a military operation in such a confined area, with so many people, is absolutely inhumane, unacceptable, and the international community must do everything it possibly can to put the pressure on Israel not to proceed with this invasion,” Martin said. 

He said the attacks will “create catastrophic conditions”. 

The United Nations “will not be party” to any forced displacement of Palestinians currently living in Rafah, the spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said today, saying there was nowhere safe in Gaza for them to go.

“We will not be party to forced displacement of people,” Dujarric said. “As it is, there is no place that is currently safe in Gaza.”

“You can’t send people back to areas that are littered with unexploded ordnance, not to mention a lack of shelter,” the UN spokesman said, referring to parts of the northern and central Gaza Strip.

He reiterated that humanitarian aid entering Gaza is still insufficient, warning that the available supplies “may last us just days.”

Israeli Ambassador to Ireland Dana Erlich, however, has said the military operation in Rafah is “necessary” to continue the release of hostages and “eliminate” Hamas.

Erlich told RTÉ’s News at One that what is happening in Gaza is “tragic” and Israel needs to “make sure that we hold the correct people accountable for that”.

“The tragedy of this war that started on October 7 by Hamas, is this cynical playbook by this genocidal terrorist organisation who are not just terrorists, they are cowards,” Erlich said. 

She said Israel is “committed to international law”. 

Erlich said that Israel has targeted other areas of Gaza in a “very calculated way” and provided citizens with “announcements beforehand”.

When asked where is left for those displaced to evacuate to, she said: ”What we’ve seen is that we’re damned when we do and damned when we don’t when we tell them where to evacuate, then we are condemned for telling them to evacuate.

“We don’t want to see any more civilians get hurt. There’s no need for anyone else to die. This can all end if all of the kidnapped will be released by Hamas.”

The Palestinian foreign ministry has condemned what it called a “massacre” in Rafah last night and accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “a mentality of revenge”.  

US President Joe Biden told Netanyahu yesterday that a Rafah advance should not go ahead without a “credible” plan to ensure “the safety” of people sheltering there, the White House said. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller reiterated that position today.

“Without such a plan that is credible, and that they can execute, we do not support a full-scale military operation,” Miller told reporters.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has today urged allies of Israel – primarily the US – to stop sending it weapons as “too many people” are being killed in Gaza.

Pointing to Biden’s comment last week that Israel’s military action was “over the top”, Borrell said: “Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people have been killed.”

Netanyahu had told US broadcaster ABC News the Rafah operation would go ahead and continue until Hamas is eliminated, adding that Israel would provide “safe passage” to civilians trying to leave. 

Borrell slammed an order by Netanyahu that the more than one million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah need to be “evacuated” ahead of the military operation,

“They are going to evacuate – where? To the moon? Where are they going to evacuate these people?” Borrell asked.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron has said Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah.

Cameron said many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and said it is “impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people, there is nowhere for them to go”.

The British Prime Minister’s official spokesman said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

About 130 of the original 250 captives taken by Hamas more than four months ago are still believed to be held in Gaza, although Israel presumes 29 of them are dead.

At least 28,340 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza since 7 October, according to the territory’s health ministry. 

Additional reporting by Press Association and © AFP 2024