Israel progress on aid access no justification for Rafah assault – UN

The site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. /Hatem Khaled/Reuters

The site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday. /Hatem Khaled/Reuters

An Israeli assault on Rafah in the Gaza Strip was “on the immediate horizon” and that “incremental” progress by Israel on aid access to the enclave could not be used to prepare for or justify an operation, the UN has warned.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for states with influence over Israel “to do everything in their power” to prevent an Israeli assault on Rafah in southern Gaza, where more than 1.2 million displaced Gazan Palestinians are sheltering.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday to go ahead with a long-promised assault, whatever the response by Hamas to latest proposals for a halt to fighting in the nearly seven-month-long war and a return of Israeli hostages.

“The world has been appealing to the Israeli authorities for weeks to spare Rafah, but a ground operation there is on the immediate horizon,” said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths. “The simplest truth is that a ground operation in Rafah will be nothing short of a tragedy beyond words.”

Although Guterres stated there had been “incremental progress” toward averting “an entirely preventable, human-made famine” in northern Gaza, Griffiths was insistent this should not be used as a backdrop for further action by the Israeli army.

“These improvements in bringing more aid into Gaza cannot be used to prepare for or justify a full-blown military assault on Rafah,” Griffiths added.

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Israel pledged nearly a month ago to improve aid access to the enclave of 2.3 million people after U.S. President Joe Biden demanded steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, saying the U.S. could place conditions on support if Israel did not act.

A UN-backed report in March said famine was imminent and likely by May in northern Gaza, and could spread across the enclave by July. Guterres said the most vulnerable in the north “are already dying of hunger and disease.”

When asked what leverage the U.S. could use over its ally Israel to boost aid access and avert a Rafah assault, Guterres said: “It is very important to put all possible pressure in order to avoid what would be an absolutely devastating tragedy.”

On his latest visit to the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to to discuss with Netanyahu on Wednesday measures that Israel still needs to take to increase the flow of aid into Gaza.

“I strongly encourage the government of Israel and the Hamas leadership to reach now an agreement,” Guterres said. “Without that, I fear the war, with all its consequences both in Gaza and across the region, will worsen exponentially.”

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Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said on Wednesday that Blinken was blaming the delay of a Gaza ceasefire agreement on the Palestinian group unfairly.

Blinken has repeatedly urged Hamas to accept an offer from Israel that will release hostages and achieve a ceasefire, describing it as “extraordinarily generous.”

“Blinken’s comments contradict reality. It is not strange for Blinken, who is known as the foreign minister of Israel, not America, to make such a statement,” Abu Zuhri said. “Even the Israeli negotiating team admitted Netanyahu was the one who was hindering reaching an agreement.”

Abu Zuhri said that the group was still studying the recent ceasefire offer. 

Hamas is seeking a permanent ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while Netanyahu says Israel needs to destroy the remaining Hamas formations in Rafah in southern Gaza for its own security, with or without a deal with Hamas.

 

Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan call for ceasefire

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah urged all sides to reach an immediate and sustainable ceasefire – as did King Abdullah II of Jordan.

During a meeting in the Egyptian capital Cairo, Egypt’s Sisi and Kuwait’s Mishal stressed the necessity of facilitating safe, adequate and sustainable access for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in the occupied territory and implementing the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, according to a statement by the Egyptian Presidency.

They also called for the establishment of a UN mechanism within the Gaza Strip to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into the enclave, affirming their rejection of Israel’s continuation of its military operations, including a possible military operation in Rafah.

Jordan’s Abdullah stressed the necessity of an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip during a meeting with Blinken, highlighting the need for urgent action to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and calling for protecting innocent civilians, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

Meanwhile, the king underscored the significance of supporting the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, considering it the lifeline for around 2 million Palestinians in Gaza.

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Source(s): Reuters ,Xinhua News Agency