US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he has voiced "concerns" to Prime Minister Netanyahu regarding the Israeli Defense Forces' (IDF) impending ground operation against the far southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip.
Hundreds of thousands of civilian refugees have until this point sought out the greater 'safety' of Rafah. But Al Jazeera observes that "Panic is growing in Rafah over an imminent ground invasion after Israel’s prime minister ordered his military to prepare to enter the city in the southern Gaza Strip that is sheltering 1.2 million people with nowhere else to go as he rejected Hamas’s truce plan and rebuffed US efforts to reach a deal."
Initially almost the entire population of the northern half of the Strip moved south to the Khan Younis area, but after in past weeks it came under massive assault - as the IDF has sought to root out Hamas' command structure from there - throngs of Palestinian refugees were forced further south, to the border with Egypt.
According to Axios, "Blinken also expressed concerns about the failures of communication between the IDF and international organizations and insufficient deconfliction, which led to the targeting of UN personnel who were delivering aid, the sources said."
The report further indicates Blinken communicated the following to the Israelis:
- The U.S. is concerned that an Israeli Defense Forces operation in the city without evacuating the civilian population to safe areas will lead to mass casualties.
- It also fears that such an operation will push tens of thousands of Palestinians into Egypt. The Egyptian government has already warned the displacement of Palestinians to Egypt would lead to a rupture in its relations with Israel.
Of course, Israel has accused some of these organizations, especially the largest - the UNRWA - of being compromised by Hamas members and alleged associations with terrorists.
The White House on Thursday also issued statements saying truce negotiations are still "ongoing" - but the reality is that PM Netanyahu fully rejected the "delusional" Hamas demands, in particular the condition that Israeli troops must first completely withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
Both sides are still offering the other 'non-starters' which means the process in reality hasn't gone anywhere. And from Hamas' perspective, Israel is now only widening the war by bringing it to Rafah. According to the latest words of Netanyahu via the NY Times:
Israel’s prime minister said the military would soon go into to an area of Gaza near the border with Egypt where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have fled, something the United Nations has said would be catastrophic.
Gazan health officials say that more than 27,000 people — many of them women and children — have been killed in Israel’s bombardment and ground assault of Gaza since the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that Israeli troops had been directed to deploy in Rafah, near the southern border, and in camps in central Gaza, calling the areas “Hamas’s last remaining strongholds.”
Below: Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council...
An Israeli ground offensive on overcrowded Rafah in #Gaza would be a bloodbath, and a stain on both Israel and those nations providing arms.— Jan Egeland (@NRC_Egeland) February 8, 2024
We need an immediate ceasefire to reach the women, children, families who are at breaking point, with lifesaving aid. pic.twitter.com/XHsL2NdgLE
The United Nations is still pressing for urgent ceasefire. "It is time for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages," UN Secretary General António Guterres said.
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, warned against a Rafah assault: "We can make clear what the law says. Under international humanitarian law, indiscriminate bombing of densely populated areas may amount to war crimes," he told reporters in Geneva.