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‘There must be no large-scale Rafah offensive’

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German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has once again called on Israel not to launch a ground offensive in the Palestinian city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, while on yet another trip to the Middle East to hold crisis talks.

“There must be no large-scale offensive on Rafah,” she said in Cairo on Monday after a meeting with her Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.

“People cannot disappear into thin air,” she said after another round of crisis talks amid the increasingly catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Palestinian coastal strip.

According to estimates, 1.5 million of the 2.2 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are currently seeking shelter in Rafah from the Israeli attacks on the coastal enclave.

The number of Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks surpassed 30,000 last month, with many more thousands injured, the Palestinian Health Ministry reported. The actual number of dead is likely to be much higher.

Baerbock also emphasized on Monday that aid deliveries by air and sea could only make a small contribution to the dire situation in Gaza. “What we need is to open up the land route.”

The Israeli government has a responsibility to guarantee access to food and water as well as safe escape routes, she said. The minister accused Israel of not making a strong enough distinction between military and civilian targets.

According to Baerbock, this and the terrible humanitarian situation are further fuelling terror in the Gaza Strip. “Hostages will not be freed while children in Gaza are currently starving to death.”

The United Nations has warned of an imminent famine, with around 1.1 million people in the Palestinian region in a desperate situation.

Later on Monday, Baerbock is scheduled to fly on to Israel in what will be her sixth visit to the country since the Hamas-led attacks of October 7, in which abut 1,200 people were killed.

In the evening, she is expected to visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank and meet the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah. PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki is also expected to join.

A meeting between Baerbock and Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz is scheduled for Tuesday.

On Sunday, the German minister demanded that Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas make concessions in ongoing negotiations in Qatar regarding the Gaza war and agree to an immediate ceasefire.

“Only an immediate humanitarian ceasefire that leads to a permanent ceasefire will keep the hope for peace alive – for Palestinians and Israelis alike,” Baerbock said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Katz replied on X: “We expect our friends to continue to support Israel in these challenging times and not to weaken it against the terrorist organisation Hamas.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to move forward with the assault on Rafah despite international concerns.

While firmly continuing to back Israel’s “right to self-defence” after the October 7 attacks, Berlin has slowly grown more critical of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, in particular regarding the lack of aid reaching the civilian population.

Baerbock has been calling for a humanitarian ceasefire for weeks, in order to facilitate the release of the remaining hostages taken to Gaza on October 7 and increase the number of aid deliveries into the coastal area.

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