Warnings Over Israel’s Plans for Rafah Come From All Corners

Warnings Over Israel’s Plans for Rafah Come From All Corners


International alarm over Israel’s plans for a ground offensive in Rafah, in southern Gaza, has intensified in recent days, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to press ahead with plans to invade the city near the Egyptian border.

Over half of the Gaza Strip’s entire population of more than two million is sheltering in Rafah, according to the United Nations, an area of about 25 square miles. Many of them were repeatedly pushed southward by Israeli military orders to move into so-called safe zones. They are now trapped against Gaza’s southernmost edge, largely living in makeshift tents with little food or clean water, under aerial bombardment and awaiting the terrifying prospect of soldiers advancing on them once again.

Mr. Netanyahu has ordered the Israeli military to draw up plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah before the offensive, though human rights groups say there is little chance that an evacuation of such scale could be carried out in compliance with international law. They also say that because Rafah is the primary portal for aid to Gaza, any military operations there would have disastrous consequences on the entire enclave.

Warnings against the offensive have come from nearly every part of the world, including from Israel’s most powerful allies.

Here are some of the most notable.

  • The United States: A ground invasion of Rafah should not proceed “without a credible and executable plan” for ensuring the safety of displaced civilians, President Biden told Mr. Netanyahu in a phone call on Sunday, according to the White House.

    The U.S. is a top financial backer of the Israeli military, and its most steadfast diplomatic ally. On Tuesday, John F. Kirby, Mr. Biden’s national security communications adviser, declined to answer questions about what the United States would do if Israel moved on Rafah without such a plan, saying, “Let’s see what they come up with.”

  • South Africa: The government has asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the U.N.’s top court, to consider further emergency measures against Israel in light of the looming offensive, saying it would breach the court’s order in January that Israel take proactive steps to prevent a genocide.

  • Britain: The British foreign secretary, David Cameron, said his country was “very concerned about what is happening in Rafah” and wanted Israel to “stop and think very seriously before it takes any further action” there. “It’s impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people,” he added. “There is nowhere for them to go.”

  • Other major European nations and the European Union: France is firmly opposed to an offensive in Rafah, President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he told Mr. Netanyahu in a phone call. Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, has said the offensive would be a “humanitarian catastrophe,” and Norway’s foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, warned that it would “render humanitarian support practically impossible.”

    The E.U.’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, denounced the notion that Israel could successfully evacuate all civilians from Rafah before a ground offensive, saying this week, “They’re going to evacuate? Where? To the moon?”

  • Major Middle Eastern nations: Egypt, which borders Gaza and is hosting the current cease-fire negotiations in Cairo, has categorically refused to allow large numbers of Palestinians to enter the country from Rafah over fears that their displacement could be permanent. Qatar, another key mediator, as well as Jordan and Saudi Arabia have also warned Israel against pushing into Rafah.

  • Australia, Canada, New Zealand: The prime ministers of the three nations issued a joint statement calling for an “immediate humanitarian cease-fire” in light of Israel’s plans for Rafah, adding that international consensus against the offensive was growing. “Israel must listen to its friends and it must listen to the international community,” the statement said. “The protection of civilians is paramount and a requirement under international humanitarian law.”

  • The United Nations: The U.N.’s aid chief, Martin Griffiths, said that Palestinians in Rafah are “staring death in the face” and military operations there “could lead to a slaughter.” He added, “The government of Israel cannot continue to ignore these calls. History will not be kind.”

    The U.N.’s human rights chief, Volker Türk, said that “beyond the pain and suffering of the bombs and bullets,” an invasion of Rafah could end the “meager” humanitarian aid that has been entering the enclave, with “huge implications for all of Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in the north.”

    Answering a question about whether the U.N. would help with evacuation efforts, Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N.’s secretary general, said it “will not be party to forced displacement.”

  • The International Criminal Court: Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor for the court at The Hague, said that he was “deeply concerned” about a potential Israeli offensive in Rafah and stressed that he had “not seen any discernible change in conduct by Israel” during his office’s investigation into possible war crimes. “Those who do not comply with the law should not complain later when my office takes action pursuant to its mandate,” he said.

  • International Committee of the Red Cross: “Countless lives are hanging in the balance,” the I.C.R.C. said, adding that international humanitarian law “protects all civilians from the effects of hostilities, including those who may not be able to depart Rafah.”

  • Doctors Without Borders: Israel’s ground offensive in Rafah “must not proceed,” said Meinie Nicolai, the leader of the charity, and called on the U.S. and other governments supporting Israel “to take concrete action to bring about a complete and sustained cease-fire. Political rhetoric is not enough.”

  • Save the Children: “Much of the international community has failed tests of their commitment to protect children so far,” the organization said, warning that 610,000 Palestinian children are in Rafah. “This is the gravest test of all.”


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