With any hopes for a Israel-Hamas ceasefire now dead, overnight Israeli air strikes killed 17 people in Rafah on the Gaza border medics said on Saturday, as over a million Palestinians crammed into the city await a full-scale offensive with the rest of the enclave in ruins and nowhere left to run.
As reported yesterday, four months into the war in Gaza, Israeli PM Netanyahu's office said it ordered the army to prepare to evacuate civilians from Rafah - a city in Gaza's far south where more than one million displaced Palestinians have taken refuge, many sheltering in tents pushed up against the border with Egypt and the sea - ahead of a planned ground operation against four Hamas batallions it says are deployed in the city; on Saturday, the Israeli military said the air force killed two Hamas operatives in Rafah. The assault is set to escalate substantially, with Israeli Channel 13 news reporting that Netanyahu has requested the remobilization of reserve soldiers for the military operation.
Israeli Channel 13: Netanyahu requested the remobilization of reserve soldiers in preparation for the military operation in Rafah. https://t.co/DIcPxziAkA— EndGameWW3 🇺🇸 (@EndGameWW3) February 10, 2024
Gaza's Hamas rulers warned on Saturday that Israeli operations in Rafah could cause "tens of thousands" of casualties in the city. The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said the move "threatens security and peace in the region in the world" and is "a blatant violation of all red lines".
Meanwhile, the Israeli military has been dropping leaflets over Rafah advising the civilians of the upcoming military operation and advising them to move safe locations, although it isn't clear where the Palestinians can move to.
While in prior Israeli assaults on Gaza's cities the military ordered civilians to flee south, now that they are effectively pressing against the border with Egypt, there is no obvious place for them to go and aid agencies have said large numbers could die.
"Any Israeli incursion in Rafah means massacres, means destruction. People are filling every inch of the city and we have nowhere to go," said Rezik Salah, 35, who fled his Gaza City home with his wife and two children for Rafah early in the war.
Meanwhile, the world is warning Israel that any incursion into Rafah will have dire consequences. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia said that Israel's planned army operation in overcrowded Rafah would cause a "humanitarian catastrophe" and called for the United Nations Security Council to intervene.
The kingdom "warned of the extremely dangerous repercussions of storming and targeting" Rafah and affirmed its "categorical rejection and strong condemnation of their forced deportation", in a foreign ministry statement carried by state media.
"This continued violation of international law and international humanitarian law confirms the necessity of convening the Security Council urgently to prevent Israel from causing an imminent humanitarian catastrophe," the statement added.
While US President Joe Biden's administration has voiced optimism that Saudi-Israeli normalisation can be revived, Saudi Arabia said this week it had told Washington it would not establish ties with Israel until an independent Palestinian state is "recognised" and Israeli forces leave Gaza. Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in Islam, has never recognised Israel but had been considering to do so before the Israel-Hamas war broke out in October.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned Israel against taking any steps towards a broader war against its proxy, the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, saying that would be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “last day.”
At a news conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bou Habib in Beirut, he also said Iran saw a political solution as the only way to end the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. “Iran and Lebanon confirm that war is not the solution and that we absolutely never sought to expand it,” Amir-Abdollahian said. He also said Tehran was in talks with Saudi Arabia on a political solution to hostilities in Gaza.
Hamas this week proposed a ceasefire of four and a half months, during which remaining hostages held by Hamas would go free, Israel would withdraw its troops from Gaza, and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war. It also demands the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners serving life sentences in Israeli jails for terror attacks.
Netanyahu called the Hamas terms “delusional” and vowed to fight on. But Amir-Abdollahian said Hamas was presenting ideas based on a “realistic view,” and that they should be widely backed to end the war.