Advertisement
Palestinians mourn after identifying the bodies of relatives killed by Israeli strikes in Rafah. 9 February 2024 Ismael Mohamad/UPI/Alamy
Gaza

World leaders and Hamas warn Israel to call off plans to stage ground offensive in Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah.

HAMAS AND INTERNATIONAL governments have warned Israel against launching a ground invasion in Rafah, the southern border city where around half of Gaza’s displaced population has fled to as they try to escape Israel’s attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah, where it claims Hamas’ remaining strongholds are located.

Israel initially focused its attacks on Gaza since October in northern areas, telling civilians to evacuate towards the south, but has turned to bombing southern cities like Khan Younis and Rafah, killing refugees who had fled from the north.

Around half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population are now refugees in Rafah, which has a border crossing with Egypt. The displaced Palestinians are living in dire conditions, with humanitarian organisations urgently emphasising the lack of access to food, water, healthcare and sanitation.

A Hamas spokesperson has today said that “any attack by the occupation army on the city of Rafah would undermine the exchange negotiations”.

Many other countries, including Ireland but also the United States, a key ally for Israel, have spoken out against Israel’s plans to move into Rafah.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said yesterday that plans to expand operations in Rafah and evacuate the civilian population “pose a grave threat” to the refugees sheltering in the area and must be condemned.

He said a military operation in Rafah would entail “grave violations” of international humanitarian law and that it is “absolutely clear that ordering the evacuation of 1.5 million people, who have nowhere safe to go, risks mass forced displacement”. 

The US State Department said it does not support a ground operation in Rafah and that such an operation risks “disaster”.

The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have all publicly condemned the plan, with the 57-country OIC saying Israel’s actions are “part of rejected attempts to forcibly expel the Palestinian people from their land”. 

Saudi Arabia has called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting while German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on social media that “the people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air”. 

Talks for a pause in the fighting were held recently in Cairo. Hamas has indicated it is open to a ceasefire and is seeking the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in exchange for freeing hostages in Gaza.

Egypt has been a key site in facilitating mediation between the two sides. Its foreign minister Sameh Shoukry said that a ground offensive in Rafah would have “disastrous consequences” – and, fearing Israel will try to force Palestinians out of Gaza and into Egypt, that any such movement would threaten the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, three air strikes on homes in Rafah killed 28 people, according to a health official and Associated Press journalists who saw the bodies being brought to hospitals. 10 of the deceased were children. The youngest was three months old.

Later yesterday, an Israeli air strike on a home in Rafah killed at least 11 people, including three children, according to Ahmed al-Sawaf, the head of the Rafah municipality. 

Netanyahu’s government is facing protests within Israel over his failure to secure the return of hostages and accusations that he is elongating the duration of the war.

“It’s clear Netanyahu is dragging out the war. He has no idea what to do on the day after,” one protester, Gil Gordon, said in Tel Aviv.

“We know the people are with us, but we don’t feel the government is,” said Efrat Machikwa, the niece of one of the hostages, Gadi Mozes.

“The army makes pressure, but unfortunately this doesn’t bring the hostages back alive,” said Einav Peretz, 34.

Additional reporting by AFP and Press Association