Several countries including South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are pushing for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) over an expected Israeli military action in southern Gaza.
In a hard-hitting statement over the weekend, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry warned of very serious repercussions if Israel’s military stormed and targeted Gaza’s southern city of Rafah where more than 1.2 million people have fled to from war-ravaged areas in the north of the Strip.
This comes as an Israeli military operation earlier Monday freed two Israeli-Argentine hostages held by Hamas in Rafah with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing that only the continuation of military pressure would result in the release of all Israeli abductees.
The Israeli rescue operation freeing two hostages also resulted in the deaths of nearly 70 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, a region that has seen an influx of more than one million internally displaced persons who have fled Israel’s military offensive in other parts of the Gaza Strip.
UN Secretary- General’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric continues to sound the alarm.
“We are extremely worried about the fate of civilians in Rafah. I think the Secretary-General was pretty clear when he was asked about what would happen if the, you know, should we open up the gates, Rafah, which I mean, we – not the UN because it’s they’re not our gates to it to open. I think what is clear is that people need to be protected. But we also do not want to see any forced displacement, forced mass displacement of people, which is by definition against their will.”
Egypt has threatened to suspend its decades-long peace treaty with Israel if a ground offensive ensues in Rafah, Saudi Arabia has warned Israel of serious repercussions where an incursion to take place.
A White House readout of a call Sunday between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu reaffirmed the US view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there, while South Africa says any operation that continues to kill and displace Palestinians would be in contravention of the provisional orders handed down by the International Court of Justice.
As Dujarric warns that there is simply nowhere left to go in Gaza.
“The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs say the unprecedented density of Rafah population makes it nearly impossible to protect civilians in the event of ground attacks. OCHA says the congestion in Rafah has reached a point where normal routes are blocked by tents set up by families seeking any flat, clean surface available. In the last three months, the city has produced the equivalent of a year’s worth of garbage, according that’s according to what municipal authorities are telling us.”
Cracks are beginning to appear in Washington’s posture to the war as it seeks more concessions for the civilian population.
President Biden last week said, “I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.”
But Israel’s premier is standing firm against growing international criticism, arguing there are areas for Palestinian civilians to move to from Rafah.
Netanyahu said, “The areas that we’ve cleared north of Rafah, plenty of areas there but we are working out a detailed plan to do so, and that’s what we’ve done up to now. We’re not, we’re not cavalier about this. This is part of our war effort to get civilians out of harm’s way. It’s part of Hamas’s effort to keep them in harm’s way. But we’ve so far succeeded and we’re going to succeed again. Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying, lose the war, keep Hamas there.”
With calls for an immediate ceasefire, including efforts in the Security Council, going nowhere fast.
UN Chief Antonio Guterres, “We are clear in condemning the horrific attacks of Hamas. We are also clear in condemning the violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza. We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. We need also the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages. And we need real, visible, concrete steps towards a two-State solution – based on UN resolutions, international law and previous agreements.”
For its part, Hamas – responsible for the deaths of around 1200 Israelis on October 7 – pointed to the attack on Rafah as the continuation of a genocidal war and attempts at forced displacement of the Palestinian people.