Saturday, April 20, 2024

Leading rights experts warn Israeli invasion would turn Rafah into ‘graveyard’

An Israeli ground offensive on Rafah would turn the Gaza border town packed with refugees into a “graveyard”, the heads of leading humanitarian and human rights organisations have warned .

“The consequences of a full-scale assault on Rafah are truly unimaginable,” Avril Benoit, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the US, said at the online press briefing.

“With people in makeshift shelters that can’t even protect against the cold, carrying out a military offensive there would turn it into a graveyard.”

Benoit spoke alongside senior executives from Medico International, Amnesty International, Refugees International, and Oxfam, warning that a looming Israeli invasion of Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering in squalid conditions, could compound the already dire humanitarian situation in the war-ravaged enclave.

The executives described in gruesome detail the daily reality for aid workers and Palestinians in Gaza. Benoit stated babies have had their legs amputated before they even learn how to walk and pregnant women are giving birth in tents on the street.

Sally Abi Khalil, regional director of Oxfam, said the impeding of humanitarian aid by Israel was “starvation as a weapon of war”.

Jeremy Konyndyk, president of Refugees International, stated that the enclave is on a “very rapid path towards famine”. He blamed the inability of humanitarian groups to deliver supplies on Israel’s failure to establish a meaningful humanitarian deconfliction process, which is used in war zones to facilitate aid deliveries.

He added Israel was breaching an interim ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and called on it to refrain from impeding the delivery of aid into Gaza and improve the humanitarian situation, along with taking measures within its power to prevent acts of genocide in the besieged enclave.

The UN’s announcement came as the US vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, marking the fourth time Washington has blocked such a measure since the war began in October. Washington also vetoed in December an amendment calling for a ceasefire that Russia had tried including in a Security Council resolution.

As an alternative to the resolution on Tuesday, the US has offered its own counter-proposal that would condemn Hamas for launching the 7 October attacks on southern Israel, while calling for a ceasefire “as soon as practicable”, according to a copy of the draft document seen by Middle East Eye.

The US resolution also offers opposition to Israel’s consideration of a full-scale offensive on Rafah based on the current situation on the ground in Rafah. It is in keeping with US officials’ public statements that Israel first presents a “credible” plan to remove civilians from the town before a ground offensive begins.

Konyndyk, from Refugees International, called that demand “a mirage” providing a “fig-leaf” for a potential Israeli offensive in the future.

“They (Palestinians) are in Rafah in the first place because the rest of Gaza has been made uninhabitable,” he stressed at the press conference.

The Gaza Strip has been decimated by air strikes and roughly 85 percent of Palestinians in the enclave have been displaced from their homes. Israel says it plans to displace Palestinians in Rafah to the north of the enclave where basic infrastructure has been obliterated.

“It worries me to be hearing this from the US government because it suggests that such a thing is possible, when it really is not.”

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