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Palestinians walk along a street after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah on Friday Fatima Shbair/AP/PA

Tánaiste condemns order given to Israeli troops to 'prepare to operate' in Rafah

At least 110 people were killed in overnight attacks, including 25 in strikes in Rafah.


THE TÁNAISTE HAS said that Israel encroaching on Rafah would “entail grave violations of international humanitarian law”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah, the southern border city where thousands and thousands of displaced Palestinians have fled.

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. 

More than a million displaced Palestinians are sleeping in tents and living in dire conditions in the city.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told military officials to submit to the government Cabinet a “combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions” in Rafah.

However, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said that expanding military operations in Rafah and the orders to evacuate the civilian population “pose a grave threat” to the refugees sheltering in the area and must be condemned.

It is absolutely clear that a military operation in Rafah, which has effectively now become one of the largest and most overcrowded refugee camps in the world, would entail grave violations of international humanitarian law.

“It is also absolutely clear that ordering the evacuation of 1.5 million people, who have nowhere safe to go, risks mass forced displacement.”

Martin said that must not be allowed to happen and that all countries, including all EU member states, must demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. 

At least 110 people were killed in overnight attacks, including 25 in strikes in Rafah, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

The previous day, three children were killed in a strike in Rafah, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.  

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

“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top,” US president Joe Biden said – a sign of rising tensions between Israel and its key ally.

“There are a lot of innocent people who are starving… in trouble and dying, and it’s got to stop.”

President Michael D. Higgins issued a statement last week warning that if Israel continued to strike areas densely populated with refugees, it would “leave any respect for humanitarian law in tatters”.

President Higgins said that “what is at stake now, given the high proportion of loss of life of non-combatants, and particularly of women and children, is the potential emptying out of the entire space and discourse of human rights and international humanitarian law”.

Doctors Without Borders has said a ground invasion in Rafah would be “catastrophic and must not proceed”.

“There is no place that is safe in Gaza and no way for people to leave,” the organisation said.

Israeli forces raided Al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis yesterday after a weeks-long siege that involved “intense artillery shelling and heavy gunfire”.

MSF said said Israeli forces arrested eight of its team members at the hospital, including “four doctors, as well as four wounded individuals and five patients’ companions”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he still sees “space for agreement to be reached” on a deal to call of fighting and release hostages, even after Netanyahu rejected what he labelled Hamas’s “bizarre demands”.

Hamas negotiators left Cairo yesterday after what a Hamas source described as “positive and good discussions” with Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

Additional reporting by AFP