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11 February 2024

UK ‘deeply concerned’ about planned Israeli offensive in Rafah

11 February 2024

Warnings against a planned Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah are mounting, with UK politicians saying it would be “catastrophic” for civilians.

Rafah, on the border with Egypt, is one of the only regions not yet targeted by an Israeli ground offensive and is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population who have fled fighting elsewhere.

It is the last remaining stronghold for Hamas fighters in Gaza, according to Israel, after more than four months of conflict triggered by the militant group’s deadly October 7 attack on Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said sending troops into Rafah is necessary to eliminate Hamas, despite growing alarm among aid agencies and the international community.

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “Deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah – over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering in the area.

“The priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out, then progress towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “There are over 1.4 million displaced Palestinians in Rafah and it is the gateway to aid for Gaza – an Israeli offensive there would be catastrophic.

“The fighting must stop now. We need a sustainable ceasefire.”

Cabinet minister Michael Gove told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg On Sunday programme: “What we want to see, as the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister have made clear, is a sustainable ceasefire and that means an opportunity both to ensure that there’s an end to Hamas terrorism, but also that the aid and support that the Palestinian people need and deserve can be delivered.”

Tensions have risen between Mr Netanyahu and ally the United States, while the EU and the UN have also raised concerns.

US President Joe Biden told the Israeli leader on Sunday 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”, according to a White House readout of their call.

A military operation in Rafah could force the closure of its crossing, cutting off the delivery of desperately needed food and medical supplies and exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in the besieged territory.

The southern town has been bombarded by airstrikes in recent days, killing dozens, including women and children.

The latest figures from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry put the overall Palestinian death toll at more than 28,100.

Mr Netanyahu announced on Friday that he had asked the military to prepare to enter Rafah and evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.

It has raised questions over where civilians could be moved to, with Israeli evacuation orders now covering two-thirds of the territory.

The Israeli premier’s pledge to enter Rafah came as he also rejected Hamas’s ceasefire proposals.

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