A camp in Rafah. Photo: WAFA News
Around 1.4 million people are stranded in Rafah where Israel has intensified its offensive. Aid agencies have warned of a disastrous death toll and the collapse of essential services
Israeli bombardment of the city of Rafah intensified on Thursday and Friday, with attacks in other parts of Gaza also continuing as the Israeli offensive entered its 126th day. Dozens of civilians have been killed and injured in the ongoing assault as fears grow of a full-scale ground invasion of Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians have taken refuge and are effectively trapped with nowhere else to go. Even Israel’s staunchest ally, the United States, has warned against an invasion of Rafah and has stated clearly that it does not support such an invasion, although it has failed to take any concrete and substantial action to prevent any such action.
Fresh airstrikes and ground attacks on Thursday and Friday killed at least 15 people in Rafah, along with at least 5 in Deir al-Balah and az-Zawayda, including several children, besides also injuring numerous others. Israeli airstrikes in these two areas reportedly targeted several homes as well as a kindergarten school where displaced people were taking shelter. Reports additionally have noted that Israeli forces are targeting both the eastern and western parts of Gaza as they step up their attacks on the southern Gazan city. Furthermore, Israeli snipers are reportedly also indiscriminately shooting at Palestinian civilians in Khan Younis. According to Palestinian health ministry statistics on Friday, in the 24 hours since Thursday afternoon, the Israeli bombardment and ground attacks killed at least 107 Palestinians and injured 142 others. The overall death toll in Gaza from the Israeli war has climbed up to 27,947, with the number of wounded rising to 67,459. A majority of the casualties and wounded are women and children.
Meanwhile, rights groups and aid agencies have once again reiterated their warnings against an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, on social media, said that such an invasion would “exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences,” and that “half of Gaza’s population is now crammed into Rafah with nowhere to go.” The UN’s children’s organization, UNICEF, has also called on Israel not to invade Rafah, with its executive director, Catherine Russell, saying such an invasion would be another “devastating turn in the war,” and that “all parties should refrain from military escalation in Rafah Governorate in Gaza where over 600,000 children and their families have been displaced – many of them more than once.” She stated that “we need Gaza’s last remaining hospitals, shelters, markets and water systems to stay functional,” noting that “without them, hunger and disease will skyrocket, taking more child lives.”
The international charity, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), warned that an Israeli offensive would lead to untold civilian casualties, with Angelita Caredda, NRC’s regional director, saying that “An expansion of hostilities could turn Rafah into a zone of bloodshed and destruction that people won’t be able to escape. There is nowhere left for people to flee to. Conditions in Rafah are already dire, and a full-scale Israeli military operation will lead to even more loss of civilian life. Aid workers have been grappling with insecurity and insufficient aid for months. Attacks in areas where they provide food, water and shelter means this life-saving support will be impeded, if not entirely stopped.”
Similarly, the International Rescue Committee (IRC)’s Bob Kitchen said, “If they aren’t killed in the fighting, Palestinian children, women and men will be at risk of dying by starvation or disease. There will no longer be a single ‘safe’ area for Palestinians to go to.” However, despite these warnings, Israeli forces are escalating their aerial bombardment and tank shelling on the ground in Rafah.