Israel’s defense minister said the army would next target Rafah, the southern area it has designated as a “safe zone” for Palestinian civilians.
The Israeli army plans to expand its ground attack to Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where most Palestinians in the besieged enclave have been forced to seek refuge amid intense bombardment on the rest of the enclave.
This has sowed fear among the displaced and concerns among global humanitarian organizations, as the last place designated as a “safe zone” by the Israeli army in Gaza is under threat as Israel continues to hamper the flow of aid.
“The Khan Younis Brigade of the Hamas organization is disbanded, we will finish the mission there and continue towards Rafah,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement. job on social media platform X on Thursday evening. “We will continue until the end, there is no other way.”
Around 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are crowded in Rafah near the border with Egypt, living in residential buildings or sleeping on the streets without protection or basic infrastructure.
Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud, reporting from Rafah on Friday, said the displaced population there lacks basic necessities, including toilets and sufficient drinking water. They are also not “prepared for winter,” without blankets or appropriate clothing, putting them at risk of getting sick, he said.
Mahmoud said Gallant’s statement “demonstrates a complete lack of attention” to the residents of Rafah, who are already facing desperate conditions.
“For many, this has increased the level of panic. They have nowhere to go. It is the last refuge of Palestinians in Gaza. Beyond that, there is only the Egyptian border,” he said.
Emad, 55, a businessman and father of six in Rafah, told the Reuters news agency that if Israeli tanks continue to arrive, “we will be left with two choices: stay and die or climb the walls in Egypt “.
“Most of Gaza’s population is in Rafah. If the tanks break in, it will be a massacre like never before in this war,” he said.
According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, the Israeli army has killed more than 27,000 people, mostly women and children, since the war began on October 7, and Palestinians believe the latest war plan of Israel will lead to more death and destruction.
“Gallant says ‘victory will not be complete unless the army expands into Rafah,’ a city declared a ‘safe zone.’ For Palestinians, this means another genocide,” Mahmoud said.
“Pressure Cooker of Despair”
The United Nations and international human rights organizations have sounded the alarm as the Israeli army gradually expands its ground operations in southern Gaza.
In recent weeks, Israeli soldiers and tanks have “surrounded” Khan Younis, killing thousands of Palestinians and forcing hundreds of thousands more to flee further south toward Rafah.
Nasser hospital and al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis have was subjected to a heavy siege by Israeli snipers, tanks and bombs while patients, medical staff and displaced Palestinians are trapped inside.
The UN humanitarian office has expressed concern over the hostilities in Khan Younis.
“I would like to emphasize our deep concern over the escalation of hostilities in Khan Younis, which has led to an increase in the number of displaced people seeking refuge in Rafah in recent days,” said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN Office United for peace. Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“Thousands of Palestinians continued to flee to the south, already home to more than half of the population of some 2.3 million. … Rafah is a pressure cooker of despair, and we fear for what comes next.”
from Israel attacks on Khan Younis and its planned expansion to Rafah come after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an interim ruling last week on measures sought by South Africa in its genocide case against Israel. The ICJ ordered Israel to take steps to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza and to allow more humanitarian aid into the Strip.
Talks aimed at stopping the war – at least temporarily – are being conducted between Israel and Hamas with mediation by the United States, Qatar and Egypt. But it seems unlikely that a potentially imminent deal could stop Israel’s ground incursion into Rafah.