Israel plans ground operation in ‘last refuge’ for Gaza’s displaced

The Israeli military plans to expand its ground assault into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where most Palestinians in the besieged enclave have been forced to seek shelter amid heavy bombardment of the rest of the enclave.

This has spread fear among the displaced and concerns from global aid organisations as the last place designated as a “safe zone” by the Israeli army in Gaza comes under threat while Israel continues to hamper the flow of aid.

“The Khan Younis Brigade of the Hamas organisation is disbanded, we will complete the mission there and continue to Rafah,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said in a post on the social media platform X late on Thursday.

“We will continue until the end, there is no other way.”

About 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into Rafah near the border with Egypt, staying in residential buildings or sleeping in the streets without protection or basic infrastructure.

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, the Israeli army has killed more than 27,000 people, mostly women and children, since the war began on October 7, and Palestinians believe Israel’s latest war plan will mean more death and destruction.

The United Nations and international human rights organisations have been raising alarms as the Israeli military gradually expands its ground operations in southern Gaza.

In the past few weeks, Israeli soldiers and tanks have been “encircling” Khan Younis, killing thousands of Palestinians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee farther south towards Rafah.

Nasser Hospital and al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis have been under heavy siege by Israeli snipers, tanks and bombs as patients, medical staff and displaced Palestinians are trapped inside.

The UN’s humanitarian office has voiced concern about the hostilities in Khan Younis.

“I want to emphasise our deep concern about the escalation of hostilities in Khan Younis, which has resulted in an increase in the number of internally displaced people seeking refuge in Rafah in recent days,” stated Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Thousands of Palestinians have continued to flee to the south, which is already hosting over half the population of some 2.3 million people. … Rafah is a pressure cooker of despair, and we fear for what comes next.”

Israel’s attacks on Khan Younis and its planned expansion into Rafah come after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made a provisional ruling last week on measures requested by South Africa in its genocide case against Israel. The ICJ directed Israel to take measures to prevent genocidal acts in Gaza and to allow more humanitarian aid into the strip.

Talks to stop the war – at least temporarily – are being conducted between Israel and Hamas with mediation from the United States, Qatar and Egypt. But it appears unlikely that a potentially imminent agreement could stop Israel’s ground incursion into Rafah.

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