‘ANY military operations in Rafah – with its limited space and crowding with over 1.5 million Palestinians displaced by the Israeli army – would lead to brutal massacres unprecedented in modern history,’ Mustafa Barghouti from the Palestinian National Initiative party warned yesterday.
Barghouti’s statement came after Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant announced on Monday that Rafah is the ‘next target’ in Israel’s military operations, claiming it is the last remaining Hamas stronghold.
The Israeli offensive has left 85 per cent of Gaza’s population internally displaced amid acute shortages of food, clean water and medicine.
The United Nations said yesterday that ‘everything possible’ must be done to avoid an Israeli attack on Rafah, which would lead to a ‘large scale’ loss of life.
‘We can warn what might unfold with the ground invasion, and we can make clear what the law says,’ the UN humanitarian office warned.
‘Under international humanitarian law, indiscriminate bombing of densely populated areas may amount to war crimes,’ Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said at a briefing in Geneva yesterday.
‘So to be clear, intensified hostilities in Rafah in this situation could lead to large scale loss of civilian lives, and we must do everything possible within our power to avoid that.’
About 1.4 million people are sheltering in Rafah after being ordered there by Israeli forces, which previously described the area as a ‘safe zone’.
‘Residents of the Gaza Strip will be evacuated from Rafah before initiating military operations there,’ Israeli public broadcaster KAN quoted ‘political sources’ as saying.
Rights groups have warned against any Israeli offensive which could result in a huge loss of life.
Over the past week, some 200,000 Palestinians fled the already targeted city of Khan Younis to Rafah with the population swelling to 1.4 million.
Severe overcrowding of the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip led to more recent arrivals of displaced people to set up their tents right beside Egypt’s border wall.