Israel-Gaza war: Warnings mount as Israel plans Rafah offensive

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It is estimated that around 1.5 million Palestinians – including many children – now live in Rafah

Israel is facing mounting international warnings over its planned offensive in Rafah – the southern Gaza city full of Palestinian refugees.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said “more than half the population of Gaza is hiding in the area”, while Dutch Prime Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said there could be “many civilian casualties”.

Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious consequences” if Rafah was stormed.

Hamas leaders in Gaza said there could be “tens of thousands” of casualties.

Israel launched its operations in the Palestinian enclave after more than 1,200 people were killed by armed Hamas soldiers in southern Israel on October 7.

More than 27,900 people have been killed and at least 67,000 injured in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Many Gazans have ended up in Rafah after having to flee their homes elsewhere at least once.

“It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war without eliminating Hamas and leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah. “It is clear that the intense activity in Rafah requires civilians to evacuate the combat areas,” Netanyahu’s office said.

Aid agencies say it is not possible to evacuate everyone from the town on the border with Egypt.

About 1.5 million Palestinians are believed to be in Rafah, seeking refuge from Israeli combat operations in the rest of the Gaza Strip. Most of them live in tents.

In a post on social media, Cameron said he was “deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.

“The priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out, and then make progress toward a lasting, permanent ceasefire.”

Meanwhile, Ms Bruins Slot described the situation in Rafah as “very worrying”.

“Many civilians in Gaza have fled to the south. Difficult to understand how large-scale military operations in such a densely populated area would not lead to many civilian casualties and a greater humanitarian catastrophe. This is unjustifiable,” she added.

Also on Saturday, the Saudi Foreign Ministry issued a statement warning against “attacking the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, which is the last resort for hundreds of thousands of civilians forced to flee by the brutal Israeli aggression.”

The ministry also reiterated its “demand for an immediate ceasefire.”

Other developments on Saturday:

  • At least five Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Rafah, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa
  • The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said its air force killed two Hamas operatives in the southern city
  • The IDF also said it had discovered a tunnel shaft near a school run by the Palestine Refugee Aid Agency (UNRWA), which led to an “underground terrorist tunnel beneath UNRWA headquarters.”
  • UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini denied any knowledge of a Hamas tunnel near the agency’s offices — a building he said his staff vacated months ago
  • A six-year-old girl who went missing in Gaza City last month was found dead along with several of her relatives and two paramedics – after appearing to come under fire from Israeli tanks

The BBC is unable to independently verify many battlefield claims made during the course of the war.

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Watch: ‘We will never leave Gaza’ – Palestinians who fled to Rafah fear an Israeli attack

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