UN agencies prepare for raid on Rafah and warn of “carnage”

GENEVA –

An Israeli raid on Rafah would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of Gazans at risk and would be a serious blow to aid operations across the enclave, the UN humanitarian office said on Friday, as the World Health Organization announced contingency plans for an incursion. .

Israel has repeatedly warned of an operation against Hamas in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where around a million displaced people are crowded, after having fled months of Israeli bombardment triggered by the fighters’ deadly cross-border attack. of Hamas on October 7.

“It could be a massacre of civilians and an incredible blow to the humanitarian operation in the entire strip because it is carried out mainly from Rafah,” said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN Humanitarian Office (OCHA), at a press conference in Geneva. .

Israel has said it will work to ensure the safe evacuation of civilians from Rafah. The United States has long said it cannot support an attack on Rafah by its ally Israel unless there is a comprehensive plan to protect civilians.

Israel has given Washington some preliminary information, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity, but “we haven’t seen a complete plan, nothing that gives us the confidence we’re looking for.”

A second U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Israeli proposal outlining the provision of shelter, food and evacuation routes “needs more work.”

Aid operations in Rafah include medical clinics, warehouses stocked with humanitarian supplies, food distribution points and 50 centers for acutely malnourished children, Laerke said.

OCHA will do everything possible to ensure that aid operations continue, even in the event of an incursion, and is studying how to do so, he added.

A World Health Organization official said at the same briefing that a contingency plan had been prepared for Rafah, including a new field hospital, but said it would not be enough to prevent a substantial rise in the death toll. .

According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, more than 34,000 Palestinians have already died in almost seven months of conflict.

“I really want to say that this contingency plan is a Band-Aid,” Rik Peeperkorn, WHO representative for the occupied Palestinian territory, said by videoconference. “It will in no way prevent the expected substantial additional mortality and morbidity caused by a military operation.”

Other preparations include pre-positioning medical supplies in hospitals further north in case Rafah’s three hospitals stop functioning, as has happened several times during the seven-month conflict due to Israeli raids and bombing.

WHO data shows that only a third of the Strip’s 36 pre-war hospitals are partially operational. Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals for military purposes and says its operations against them have been justified by the presence of fighters. Hamas and medical personnel deny the accusations.

Peeperkorn added that he was “extremely concerned” that any incursion would close the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, which is currently used to import medical supplies.

“We are pushing and pushing so that, whatever happens, it remains open,” he added, stating that the WHO had raised this issue with the Israeli authorities.


(Reporting by Emma Farge, additional reporting by Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by Rachel More, Alex Richardson and Cynthia Osterman)

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