Selangor Journal
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, take shelter in a tent camp, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, at the border with Egypt, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 8, 2024. — Picture by REUTERS

Palestinians brace for Rafah evacuation, Israeli assault plan

DOHA, Feb 10 — Trapped in and around Rafah, more than 1 million Palestinians braced for Israel to complete a plan to evacuate them and launch a ground assault against Hamas fighters in the southern Gaza city.

Aid agencies warned that large numbers of civilians could die in the Israeli offensive and the UN Palestinian refugee agency said it did not know how long it could work “in such a high risk operation.”

“There is a sense of growing anxiety, growing panic in Rafah,” said Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UNRWA agency. “People have no idea where to go.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Friday announced that the military was ordered to develop a plan “for evacuating the population and destroying” four Hamas battalions that it said were deployed in Rafah.

Israel cannot achieve its goal of eliminating the Islamist militants who rule Gaza while those units remain, it said.

The statement, issued two days after Netanyahu rejected a Hamas ceasefire proposal that included the release of hostages held by the Palestinian militants, gave no further details.

Washington, Israel’s main supporter, said it would not back an assault that did not protect civilians, and had briefed Israel on a new U.S. national security memorandum reminding countries receiving U.S. arms to adhere to international law.

“There are no new standards in this memo. We are not imposing new standards for military aid,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters. 

“They (the Israelis) reiterated their willingness to provide these types of assurances.”

More than a million people driven southwards by more than four months of Israeli bombing of Gaza are packed into Rafah and surrounding areas on the coastal enclave’s border with Egypt, which has reinforced the frontier, fearing an exodus.

Doctors and aid workers are struggling to supply even basic aid to Palestinians sheltering around Rafah. Many are trapped against a border fence with Egypt and living in makeshift tents.

Israeli forces have been moving southwards towards the city after first storming northern Gaza on October 7. 

The United Nations said Palestinian civilians in Rafah require protection, but there should be no forced mass displacement, which is barred by international law.

“No war can be allowed in a gigantic refugee camp,” said Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warning of a “bloodbath” if Israeli troops move into Rafah.

The Palestinian Presidency said Netanyahu’s plans aimed to displace the Palestinian people from their land.

“Taking this step threatens security and peace in the region and the world. It crosses all red lines,” said the office of Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority that exerts partial self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

An Israeli official who declined to be named said that Israel would try to organise for people in Rafah, most of whom fled there from the north, to be moved back northwards ahead of any assault.

Gaza’s health ministry said at least 27,947 Palestinians had been confirmed killed in the conflict and 67,459 injured. More could be buried under rubble.

Almost one in 10 Gazans under the age of five are now acutely malnourished, according to initial U.N. data from arm measurements showing physical wasting.

The charity ActionAid said some Gazans were eating grass.

“Every single person in Gaza is now hungry, and people have just 1.5 to 2 litres of unsafe water per day to meet all their needs,” it said.

— Reuters

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