Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered troops to prepare for potential entry into a densely populated city, where displaced Palestinians reside, in pursuit of those responsible for the October 7 attacks in southern Israel.
The announcement has raised concerns among foreign governments, including the United States, and aid agencies dealing with an escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza due to the ongoing conflict.
In a statement, Hamas stated that any military action in Rafah would have catastrophic consequences and could lead to the loss of many lives.
The Palestinian militant group which controls the city said that it would hold the American administration, international community, and the Israeli occupation responsible for such an event.
Rafah, situated on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, has become the last refuge for civilians seeking refuge from an unrelenting Israeli bombing campaign taking place in other parts of the Gaza Strip.
Approximately half of Gaza’s 2.4 million residents, as reported by the UN, are currently sheltering in the city. Many of them are forced to sleep outdoors in tents and makeshift shelters, raising significant concerns about shortages in food, water, and sanitation.
Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), expressed on Friday that a significant Israeli offensive in Rafah “can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy.”
Netanyahu has instructed military officials to develop plans for both “evacuating” Rafah and “destroying” Hamas fighters in the city. Witnesses have reported new strikes on Rafah early Saturday, heightening concerns among Palestinians about a potential imminent ground invasion.
(With agency inputs)