Sunday, May 19, 2024

EU says “no safe zones in Gaza”

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has added his voice to mounting criticism against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for ignoring international demands against an attack on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which has become a new focal point in the seven-month war.

Despite Hamas agreeing to a draft ceasefire deal, Netanyahu has vowed to go ahead with an attack on the city. Israel has also seized control of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing.

The move is short of Netanyahu’s threatened full-scale operation on Rafah, but Borrell described it as a land offensive.

“The land offensive against Rafah has started again, in spite of all of the requests of the international community — the US, the European Union member states — everybody asking Netanyahu not to attack Rafah,” the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said in a briefing Tuesday.

“In spite of these warnings and these requests, the attack started yesterday night. I am afraid that this is going to cause again a lot of casualties, civilian casualties, whatever they say. There are 600,000 children in Gaza. They will be pushed to so-called ‘safety zones’ — there are no safe zones in Gaza.”

Borrell also described the lack of agreement on a ceasefire as “sad news”, adding: “Hamas accepted, Israel rejected.”

UNICEF on Tuesday stressed the city of children, Rafah, “must not be invaded”, urging the continuation of humanitarian aid flow into Gaza.

“Our worst fear – Gazans’ nightmare – appears to be a reality. A reality that those holding power have the ability to prevent,” spokesperson James Elder told a UN press briefing in Geneva.

Elder noted that every warning and every “mind-boggling piece of data” on the number of children and mothers killed and of homes and hospitals destroyed” are all ignored.

Stressing that Rafah is a city of children as more than half of the children in Gaza live in Rafah, he stated: “This past weekend’s events in Gaza – the continued killing of children, more attacks from the warring parties, and now evacuation orders – yet again expose how parties to this conflict continue to utterly disregard the lives and protection of children and civilians.”

“That has to change. Indeed, this is the last chance for this to change,” he urged, and added: “Aid must flow. Hostages must be freed. Rafah must not be invaded. And children must no longer be killed.”

He reiterated UNICEF’s call for cessation of hostilities, saying: “For the children of Rafah, we need a cease-fire, now.”

The Israeli army issued immediate evacuation orders early Monday for Palestinians in the eastern neighborhoods of Rafah and called on them to move to the town of al-Mawasi in southern Gaza.

Rafah is home to more than 1.5 million displaced Palestinians who have taken refuge from the war launched by Israel following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that killed nearly 1,200 people.

Since then, the Israeli onslaught has killed more than 34,700 Palestinians, mostly women and children, besides causing a humanitarian catastrophe.

Nearly seven months into the Israeli war, vast swathes of Gaza lay in ruins, pushing 85% of the enclave’s population into internal displacement amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water, and medicine, according to the UN.

Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice. An interim ruling in January said it is “plausible” that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza and ordered Tel Aviv to stop such acts and take measures to guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians there.

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