Mideast countries warn Israel of humanitarian disaster if Gaza's Rafah city invaded
CAIRO, Feb 12, 2024 (BSS/XINHUA) - Israel is facing mounting regional and international pressure over its planned ground offensive against Rafah, a southernmost city in the war-torn Gaza Strip.
Over the past few days, regional countries have warned Israel against a humanitarian meltdown in Rafah if Israeli forces insist on carrying out the ground assault on Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians living, including 1.3 million people fled from the northern regions.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he has directed the military to prepare to evacuate civilians from overcrowded Rafah ahead of an expanded offensive against Hamas.
The remarks sparked great alarm among regional countries that the plan would further worsen the humanitarian situation already deteriorated since the Israel-Hamas conflict started on Oct. 7 last year in the besieged enclave.
Qatar, which was engaging in diplomatic efforts along with the United States and Egypt to push for a ceasefire in Gaza between Hamas and Israel, "condemns in the strongest terms the Israeli threats to storm the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip."
It "warns of a humanitarian catastrophe in the city that has become a last refuge for hundreds of thousands of displaced people," said its Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement on Saturday.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, both signed peace treaties with Israel in 2020, also expressed deep concern.
Saudi Arabia warned of "very serious repercussions" of storming and targeting the city of Rafah, "the last resort" for hundreds of thousands of civilians who had fled from intensive Israeli strikes on northern Gaza.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry affirmed the country's rejection of forced displacement of Palestinians, warning against what he called Israel's "systematic policy" to force Palestinians out of their land.
Jordan voiced its categorical rejection of the displacement of Palestinians inside or outside their land, stressing the need to end the war and protect civilians.
Meanwhile, Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul-Gheit warned that Israel's intentions to impose the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are "serious threats to regional stability."
On Sunday, in an apparent move to ease external concerns, Netanyahu said in a televised interview with ABC News that a "detailed plan" was being worked out on "providing safe passage for the civilian population, so they can leave" the Rafah city.
But Hamas warned against any Israeli ground operation in the southernmost Gazan city of Rafah, saying that it would "blow up" the hostage exchange negotiations, the Hamas-run al-Aqsa TV quoted an unnamed senior Hamas leader as saying.
On the same day, Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden discussed over the phone the ongoing efforts to free hostages held in Gaza and to facilitate more aid into the Palestinian enclave.
An Israeli government official told Xinhua that the conversation focused on the hostages, approximately 100 of them are still in Gaza after being kidnapped during Hamas's attack on Oct. 7, 2023.
According to a readout released by the White House, Biden told Netanyahu that Israel should not proceed with a military campaign in Rafah without a plan that ensures the safety of the about one million people sheltering there.
Biden reaffirmed the "shared goal to see Hamas defeated," according to the statement. He also called for urgent steps to increase the humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.
The death toll of Palestinians from Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip has risen to 28,176 since Oct. 7, 2023, with 67,784 others being injured, the Gaza-based Health Ministry said in a statement on Sunday.