Friday, March 1, 2024

Calls to stave off Israel’s Rafah offensive grow

Countries and international organisations continue to express alarm over an anticipated Israeli assault on Rafah, where Israeli forces previously told hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians to seek shelter.

Israel has been bombarding Rafah from air and sea but is planning a full-scale ground invasion on the southern-most city in Gaza where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled.

Jordan’s King Abdullah lamented that his meeting with Biden comes as “one of the most devastating wars in recent history continues to unfold in Gaza”.

More than 100,000 Palestinians have been killed, injured or remain missing in Gaza and the world “cannot afford an Israeli attack on Rafah” that is “certain to produce another humanitarian catastrophe,” he said.

A spokesperson for United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has said that the international body “will not be party” to any forced displacement of Palestinian civilians in Rafah, as Israel prepares for an assault on the city where Israeli forces previously instructed displaced Palestinians to seek shelter.

“We will not be party to forced displacement of people,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “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,” Dujarric said, referring to parts of the northern and central Gaza Strip.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne says an Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are hemmed in with nowhere to flee, would be unjustified, the Reuters news agency reports.

The UN has said such an attack would be a “nightmare” for the hundreds of thousands of civilians living in tent cities near the border with Egypt, where Israel told them to evacuate from other areas of Gaza.

Karim Khan, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), says he is “deeply concerned” by Israel’s bombardment of Rafah as well as reports of an anticipated Israeli ground offensive there.

“My Office has an ongoing and active investigation into the situation in the State of Palestine. 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,” Khan said in a social media post.

“All wars have rules and the laws applicable to armed conflict cannot be interpreted so as to render them hollow or devoid of meaning. This has been my consistent message, including from Ramallah last year. Since that time, I have not seen any discernible change in conduct by Israel.”

The ICC official also reiterated his call for the immediate release of those who continue to be held captive in Gaza.

Volker Turk, the UN’s human rights chief, has expressed alarm over an anticipated Israeli ground assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering.

Turk said it is “wholly imaginable what would lie ahead” if the planned incursion is not stopped.

“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,” Turk said in a statement.

The Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, a legal think tank, has “strongly condemned” Israel’s planned military operation in overcrowded Rafah, where more than 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering.

In an “SOS Alert” statement, the institute said that the attacks on Rafah combined with the recent suspension of funding for UNRWA, the largest humanitarian agency in Gaza, have “worsened the already horrific humanitarian situation”.

The statement added that the combined attacks were “imposing acute anxiety on the residents who are scared for their uncertain future”.

This is the fifth SOS Alert issued on the situation in Gaza since October by the institute, which is named after the Jewish Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin who coined the term genocide in the 1940s and helped make it an international crime.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement “strongly” condemning “Israel’s military aggression against Rafah city in Gaza and the resulting destruction and massacre of the Palestinian people”.

Pakistan’s statement said that an offensive on Rafah would “violate the provisional measures indicated by the International Court of Justice to protect the people of Gaza from genocide

Pakistan also said that the planned incursion would “further aggravate the humanitarian disaster witnessed in Gaza” and “jeopardise the ongoing efforts for a potential ceasefire”.

Pakistan said that the UN Security Council – which is currently considering a draft ceasefire resolution – should especially “take urgent measures to bring an immediate end to Israeli aggression”.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby says Washington has told Israel “loud and clear” about its concerns over civilians in Rafah.

“We hope and expect our Israeli counterparts will factor in the safety of those civilians appropriately as they consider future operations down in Rafah,” he said.

Kirby also reiterated that while the United States had never asked Israel not to enter Rafah, the White House believes it’s not “advisable” to take such action without an “executable and effective” plan for the safety of people there.

“Israel has an obligation to protect them,” he added.

The US is Israel’s top military and diplomatic backer.

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