Israel and Hamas at war, day 217 | Attack on Rafah would cause colossal humanitarian catastrophe, says UN chief

(Rafah) An Israeli ground offensive on Rafah would lead to a “colossal humanitarian catastrophe”, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned on Friday, as military operations against Hamas in this overpopulated city paralyze entry to aid in the Gaza Strip.

What there is to know

  • According to the UN, around 110,000 people have fled Rafah since the call to evacuate;
  • The army indicated on Friday that it was continuing its “precision anti-terrorist operation” in certain sectors of eastern Rafah;
  • Egypt urged Hamas and Israel on Friday to show “flexibility” in order to quickly reach an agreement to “end the humanitarian tragedy”;
  • Joe Biden threatened on Wednesday to stop arms deliveries to Israel.

On Thursday, indirect talks aimed at achieving a truce between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement, after seven months of war, and avoiding a major offensive on Rafah, ended without agreement in Cairo.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, assured that Israel would fight “alone” after the threat launched for the first time by the American president, Joe Biden, to stop certain arms deliveries to its ally in the event of an offensive on the city.

Army spokesperson Daniel Hagari assured that it had enough weapons to “accomplish its mission in Rafah.”

However, such an operation would lead to a “colossal humanitarian catastrophe”, warned Mr. Guterres, adding that a famine was looming in the Palestinian territory.

“We are actively engaged with all parties concerned to resume the entry of vital supplies, including fuel, through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings,” he assured.

Early Friday, AFP correspondents reported artillery fire on Rafah, the last town in southern Gaza before the Egyptian border, where some 1.4 million Palestinians are crowded.


Thick black smoke rises above a burning building after an Israeli bombardment in Rafah on May 10.

According to the UN, around 110,000 people have fled since Israel called on the population in the east of the city to evacuate on Monday.

“Some 30,000 people are fleeing the city every day,” said in Geneva the head of the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Gaza, Georgios Petropoulos, most of whom “have already had to move five or six times » since the start of the war.

This is the case of Oum Soubhi, displaced from the city of Gaza, in the north: “At the start of the war, we went to Rafah, then we were displaced several times in the Rafah region because of threats , strikes and the frightening and terrifying situation, before coming to Nuseirat (center),” she told AFP.

“Tanks everywhere”

Some headed to Khan Yunis, a ruined town near Rafah, while others wondered where to go in the crowded Palestinian territory.

“Tanks, artillery and the sound of bombing are incessant. People are afraid and want to look for a safe place,” Abdel Rahman, a displaced person, told AFP.

Witnesses also reported airstrikes and fighting in Gaza City on Friday.


View of Rafah, May 10

For months, Benjamin Netanyahu has been threatening a major offensive on Rafah to defeat the last Hamas battalions which he claims are grouped there, raising fears of a worsening of the humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory.

Defying international warnings, the army has been carrying out incursions into eastern Rafah since Tuesday and has taken control of the border crossing with Egypt, blocking a key entry point for humanitarian aid convoys.

The army said on Friday that it was continuing its “precision anti-terrorist operation” in certain areas of eastern Rafah, and having “eliminated terrorist cells during close combat and airstrikes on the Gaza side of the border crossing”.

Despite the reopening on Wednesday of the Kerem Shalom crossing, neighboring Rafah, closed by Israel for three days after rocket fire claimed by Hamas, the delivery of aid remains “extremely difficult”, Andrea told AFP. From Domenico, the head of the office of the United Nations humanitarian agency (OCHA) in the Palestinian territories.

The Israelis “have tanks everywhere, troops on the ground, they are bombing the area east of Rafah and they want us to go get fuel or basic goods” in these war zones, while “they know that we just can’t go,” he added.

If fuel is not allowed in, “the consequences will be felt almost immediately,” UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell warned on Thursday.

“Incubators for premature babies will no longer be fed, children and families will be dehydrated or drink unsafe water, sewers will overflow, spreading diseases,” she warned.

Call for “flexibility”

The war broke out on October 7 when Hamas commandos infiltrated from Gaza carried out an unprecedented attack against Israel, which left more than 1,170 dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP report based on official Israeli data. .

More than 250 people have been kidnapped and 128 remain captive in Gaza, of whom 36 are believed to have died, according to the army.

In response, Israel promised to destroy Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2007, and launched an offensive which has so far left 34,904 dead, according to the Islamist movement’s Ministry of Health.

Egypt on Friday urged Hamas and Israel to show “flexibility” in order to quickly reach an agreement to “end the humanitarian tragedy” in Gaza.

“The ball is in Israel’s court”

After the departure of delegations from both camps from Cairo on Thursday, efforts by mediator countries (Egypt, Qatar, United States) “continue” with a view to a truce, according to the media Al-Qahera News, close to Egyptian intelligence.

Hamas sent a message to other Palestinian factions saying that “the ball was now entirely in the court” of Israel.

He gave the green light on Monday to a truce proposal in three phases of 42 days each, according to him, including an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as well as an exchange of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, with a view to a “cease -the permanent fire”.

But Israel opposes a definitive ceasefire until Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organization along with the United States and the European Union, is defeated.

The situation in Gaza is on the agenda for Friday at a special session of the General Assembly at the UN.


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