Israel’s planned Rafah offensive faces rising global opposition

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Global opposition is mounting to Israel’s call for a “massive operation” in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1 million people have fled in search of refuge as Israel continues its bombardment of the Strip.

“Deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Saturday in a social media statement, adding that the priority should be an immediate pause in fighting “to get aid in and hostages out” before working toward a permanent cease-fire.

In a statement the same day, Saudi Arabia said a U.N. Security Council meeting was urgently needed to “prevent Israel from causing an imminent humanitarian disaster” in Rafah.

Young Israelis block aid to Gaza while IDF soldiers stand and watch

E.U. foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf and Germany’s Foreign Ministry all warned that Israel’s threatened action in Rafah would be catastrophic for those sheltering in the border city who have nowhere to go.

In an ABC interview set to air Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated the country’s plans for an offensive in Rafah. “We’re going to do it,” he said, adding that Israel was working on a “detailed plan” for the removal of civilians.

Netanyahu’s office announced Friday that the Israeli military is devising plans to destroy Hamas battalions in Rafah and remove civilians from the area. Biden administration officials have said they oppose any Israeli operation in Rafah under the current circumstances, and President Biden said Thursday that Israel’s military campaign in Gaza was “over the top” — his sharpest rebuke yet.

Concerns are mounting in Cairo that an Israeli offensive in Rafah would add to pressure on Egypt to open its border to Palestinian refugees — an outcome it has sought to avoid since the start of the war, fearing insecurity in Sinai, a sensitive military zone, and not wanting to be seen by its staunchly pro-Palestinian public as complicit in the displacement of Palestinians.

Reacting to Biden’s comments on Thursday that Egypt was initially reluctant to open the Rafah border crossing for aid until Biden persuaded Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi to do so, Sisi stressed that Egypt has “mobilized massive humanitarian aid and relief” and kept the crossing open.

“Egypt also emphasizes that any attempts or endeavors that seek to forcibly displace the Palestinians from their land are doomed to fail, as the only solution to the current situation is embodied in the two-state solution and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Sisi said in a statement Friday.

Aid groups say a ground operation in Rafah will drastically worsen the desperate humanitarian situation. Amnesty International has said that if Israel’s removal order is enacted, it “may amount to the crime of forcible transfer.”

“Not only will more civilians die but access to essential services like food distribution, health clinics, and mental health support would be brought to a standstill,” Chessa Latifi, the deputy director of emergency preparedness and response for Project Hope, said in a statement.

Here’s what else to know

Israel targeted a senior Hamas figure deep inside Lebanese territory in a strike on Saturday, according to an Israeli security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the operation. The target, Hamas recruiter Basel Saleh, survived the attack, but at least two others were killed, the official said.

The Israeli military said it had uncovered a tunnel used by Hamas that passes beneath the main Gaza City headquarters of UNRWA. The head of the aid group, Philippe Lazzarini, said in a statement that Israel had not formally notified the agency about the discovery and that UNRWA was not aware of any tunnel infrastructure under the compound, which was evacuated on Oct. 12. The organization has been in crisis since Israel’s accusation that about a dozen of its employees played a role in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks.

One in every 100 people in Gaza was killed in the first 100 days of the war, a rate higher than any other armed conflict in the 21st century, according to a U.N. commission. “The ongoing war stands out as unprecedented in the scale of death, destruction, and suffering, with repercussions that will echo for generations to come,” said the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

The body of Hind Rajab, the 6-year-old missing for 12 days since losing touch with rescue workers after her family car was fired on in Gaza, has been found, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said Saturday. The ambulance dispatched to reach her was also shelled, and the two paramedics inside were killed. Hind, the sole survivor of the attack in Gaza City, reached emergency dispatchers by phone on Jan. 29 and begged for hours to be rescued.

At least 28,176 people have been killed and 67,784 injured in Gaza since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.

Claire Parker contributed to this report





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