As Israel threatens ground attacks on the Palestinian city of Rafah, members of the international community are urging a halt to hostilities and want more action from the US.
The city, close to Gaza’s border with Egypt, is the primary route for vital aid convoys and is home to 1.7 million Palestinians, the majority of them refugees from Israeli bombardments on Gaza following Hamas’ October 7th cross-border attack.
According to health officials, Israel conducted air strikes in the southern Gaza city overnight, resulting in the deaths of up to 67 individuals, while Palestinians are now preparing for a significant ground offensive in the densely populated urban zone.
Israel’s military reported targeting several ‘terror targets’ in Rafah’s Shaboura district. They also announced the successful rescue of two captives held by Hamas since October 7, identified as Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har, both found in good condition.
Hamas cautioned that any Israeli ground assault in Rafah would ‘blow up’ negotiations for the release of the group’s remaining captives in Gaza.
Meanwhile the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has warned against catastrophic results should Israel go ahead with the planned attack.
‘Israel is officially continuing to target civilians and transfer the war to Rafah to push the population to get displaced under bombardment,’ the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement released on X.
‘The recent massacres of the occupation are evidence of the validity of international warnings and fears of catastrophic results of the expansion of the war to Rafah,’ they added.
US President Joe Biden last week criticised the extent of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, calling it ‘over the top’.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, a Spanish national, responded by saying. ‘Even the US, the strongest supporter of Israel, President Biden himself, considers that this action is disproportionate, the toll of civilians being killed is unbearable and (is) warning Israel not to continue this way.
‘If you (President Biden) believe the toll of death is too high, maybe you can do something about it. We should do more than expressing concern.’
Belgium currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union until June 30th. The country’s Development Cooperation Minister, Caroline Gennez, spoke ahead of an informal meeting in Brussels.
She said Israel’s plans for a ground invasion of Rafah, are ‘very, very dangerous’, insisting on continuing support for Palestinians civilians.
‘We’ll be discussing UNRWA (Palestine’s United Nations Relief and Works Agency) and the situation in Gaza. We live the most dire humanitarian crisis in ages, 1.2 million people are stuck at the border with Rafah. The situation is very, very dangerous.’
Gennez said hostilities must end, adding that ‘Gazans, Palestinians and Israelis alike have the right to live in peace, to live in security and that’s why negotiations must start for a two-state solution.’
International agencies and Arab countries as well as European nations have also raised serious concern about an Israeli ground assault.
Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency, said there’s ‘a sense of growing anxiety and growing panic’ in Rafah. ‘People have absolutely no idea where to go,’ he said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned of a ‘humanitarian disaster’ and said she plans to visit Israel this week to discuss efforts toward a Gaza cease-fire and release of hostages.
Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, also condemned Israel’s declared intention to invade Rafah saying: ‘It threatens to escalate violence, destabilise the region’s security and stability, and lead to the further deterioration and suffering for the Palestinian people.’
The death toll in Gaza reached 28,340, on Monday February 12th with thousands more missing and unaccounted for – most likely trapped under collapsed buildings and rubble.
The Palestinian health authority also reported 67,984 wounded and added that the military campaign has also led to massive displacement, infrastructure destruction and critical shortages of food, water and shelter.