GAZA STRIP: Israel conducted fresh strikes on Gaza’s overcrowded border town of Rafah on Friday with UN chief Antonio Guterres saying the Israeli action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare Israel’s key backer US warning of a looming disaster.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he has ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah, the last major town in the Gaza Strip Israeli ground troops have yet to enter.
UN chief Antonio Guterres said news of the coming push into the city was “alarming”, and warned it “would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare”.
A State Department spokesman said the US did not support an Israeli operation in Rafah, with President Joe Biden later telling reporters he considered Israel’s conduct of its war against Hamas to be “over the top”.
Israel committing war crime in Gaza, says UN rights chief Volker Turk
The Israeli military stepped up its air strikes on Rafah, with witnesses reporting more overnight.
The territory’s Hamas-run health ministry said on Friday over 100 people were killed during the night, including at least eight in Rafah.
The Palestinian Red Crescent meanwhile said three children had died in a strike on Rafah.
The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) warned any major Israeli military action on Rafah would heap further devastation on civilians UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the humanitarian situation in Rafah was increasingly desperate.
More than 1.2 million people — about half of the entire population of the Gaza Strip — were crowded into the city, sleeping on the streets in makeshift accommodation, with food and water scarce.
“Any large-scale military operation among this population can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy that’s unfolding,” he said.
Lazzarini said air strikes had hit near UNRWA’s base in Rafah, heightening tensions and fear among civilians, and putting into doubt the agency’s overall relief effort.
UN rights chief Volker Turk, meanwhile, said Israel was committing a “war crime” with its destruction of buildings to create a “buffer zone” along the border inside Gaza.
Israel’s “extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and a war crime”, he said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Egypt was set to host new talks with Qatari and Hamas negotiators in hopes of achieving “calm” in Gaza and a prisoner exchange, an Egyptian official said.
A Gaza-based Palestinian official close to Hamas later said they expected negotiations to be “difficult”, but said the group was “keen to reach a ceasefire”.
In Riyadh, the foreign ministers of Egypt, Qatar, the UAE and Jordan reiterated calls for a “immediate and complete ceasefire”, as well as “irreversible” steps towards the recognition of a Palestinian state during talks on the war in Gaza, Saudi state media reported on Friday.
Axis of resistance
Also, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, whose country backs the “axis of resistance” groups aligned against Israel, was due in Lebanon on Friday.
Stepping up attacks on Israeli forces in the Middle East, Hezbollah fired a barrage of rockets, claiming to have killed several soldiers.
Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2024