UN chief ‘especially alarmed’ by potential Israel ground invasion in Rafah News
Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
UN chief ‘especially alarmed’ by potential Israel ground invasion in Rafah

UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed concern for the safety of Palestinian refugees in Rafah after Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office confirmed its plans for military action in the area, saying he was “especially alarmed” by a potential ground invasion. The plans for a full-scale ground invasion into the city in southern Gaza are drawing criticism and concern from human rights bodies and countries, including the United States.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, in an official statement on Friday, confirmed that it intends to conduct military action in Rafah, and acknowledged that this will result in further forced displacement of civilians. It says that the action is necessary to eliminate Hamas, as it believes there are four Hamas battalions located in the city. Therefore, the statement says that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the IDF and the security establishment to submit to the Cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated his concerns, on X (Formerly Twitter), saying that the plans are “alarming.” He says that “such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.” The UN reported that an estimated 1.4 million civilians currently shelter in Rafah. UN relief chief Martin Griffiths expresses “extreme concern” for the safety of civilians.

Stéphane Dujarric, UN spokesperson for the Secretary-General, expressed that military action in Rafah would be “almost too catastrophic to imagine.”  In a press conference on Friday, he confirmed that the UN does “not support any forced displacement which goes against international law”.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) also expressed concern, warning that military operations in Rafah will result in further civilian death and “the aid system in Gaza coming to a halt.” Rafah currently holds two-thirds of Gaza’s population, making it extremely overcrowded.  According to the NRC, there are current humanitarian concerns as nine shelters have no drinking water, showers, or personal hygiene items. Further, there are widespread diseases reported in the shelters, including hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, smallpox, lice and influenza.

NRC regional director Angelita Caredda said:

“An expansion of hostilities could turn Rafah into a zone of bloodshed and destruction that people won’t be able to escape. There is nowhere left for people to flee. Conditions in Rafah are already dire, and a full-scale Israeli military operation will lead to even more loss of civilian life. Aid workers have been grappling with insecurity and insufficient aid for months. Attacks in areas where they provide food, water and shelter means this life-saving support will be impeded, if not entirely stopped.”

Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, says that the US’s clear position is that it would not support a military operation in Rafah “without serious and credible planning as it relates to more than a million people who are sheltering there” and that military operations would consequentially harm humanitarian aid efforts. He says that this stance has been made clear by the US Secretary of State to the Israeli Prime Minister.

Human Rights Watch urged the international community to take action to prevent the further forced displacement of civilians, disruption to humanitarian aid, and death. It says that Israel’s evacuation plan is unlawful under international law and the Geneva Convention, which prohibits forced displacement of civilians.

Israel has started conducting airstrikes in Rafah. The latest reports say that this weekend’s airstrikes killed 44 people, including children. Egypt is reportedly reinforcing its borders at the Rafah crossing in response to the threat of ground-invasion and said that an invasion of Rafah could threaten the country’s decades-old peace treaty with Israel.