UN calls Rafah invasion war crime; Hamas responds to truce offer

Published February 7, 2024
PEOPLE gather to inspect the remains of a wrecked police vehicle that was destroyed by reported Israeli bombardment at Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.—AFP
PEOPLE gather to inspect the remains of a wrecked police vehicle that was destroyed by reported Israeli bombardment at Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Tuesday.—AFP

UNITED NATIONS: The UN aid coordination office (OCHA) warned on Tuesday that Israel’s invasion of the densely populated southern city of Rafah would constitute a war crime.

“We, as the UN and member states, can bear witness,” OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told journalists. “We can make it clear that under international humanitarian law, indiscriminate bombing of densely populated areas may amount to war crimes.”

The concerns arose as OCHA reported an “increase in strikes” in Rafah governorate, with thousands of Gazans seeking refuge in the city, including those fleeing intense fighting in Khan Yunis.

“To be clear, intensified hostilities in Rafah in this situation could lead to a large-scale loss of civilian lives, and we must do everything possible within our power to avoid that,” Laerke said. He urged the international community to make every possible effort to avoid such a scenario as continued heavy fighting in Khan Yunis forced many more to seek refuge in Rafah.

Blinken says he’d discuss the reply with Israel today

Della Longa from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reported that 8,000 Gazans had left Al Amal hospital after Israeli authorities guaranteed safe passage. The IFRC spokesperson described the situation in Gaza as “beyond catastrophic,” mourning the death of aid worker Hedaya Hamad from the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

Al Amal hospital, facing shortages of medicine, food, and water, is surrounded by heavy shelling, making access for ambulances nearly impossible. Almost 100 people, including elderly patients and those with disabilities, remain trapped inside.

“I don’t even want to think about the possibility of whether Al Amal will close in the next coming days,” said the IFRC spokesperson, noting that the same scenario had played out at another hospital, Al Quds, in Gaza City, which the PCRS declared closed on Nov 12.

“The reality is that if the situation does not change, it will be very difficult to continue the activities in the hospital.”

In an update on Tuesday, Gaza’s health ministry said 27,585 Palestinians had been confirmed dead in Israel’s bombardment over the past four months, with thousands more feared buried under vast tracts of rubble across the densely populated enclave. Israel says 226 of its soldiers have been killed in four months, Reuters and AFP add.

Israeli tanks and aircraft continued to pound and besiege areas around Khan Yunis’s two main hospitals — Nasser and Al Amal — while forces claiming to have killed 14 Palestinians in air strikes during the past 24 hours.

On the diplomatic front, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, after discussing the ceasefire proposals with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Riyadh.

The top US diplomat aims to win backing for plans for what would follow a Gaza truce: rebuilding and running the territory, and ultimately working for a Palestinian state — which Israel now rules out — and for Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel.

The ceasefire proposal, as described by sources close to the talks, envisages a 40-day truce when Hamas would free Israeli civilians among the remaining prisoners it is holding, followed by later phases to hand over soldiers and bodies, in exchange for release of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

Hamas response to truce offer

Key mediator Qatar said on Tuesday that Hamas gave a “positive” response to a truce proposal hammered out a week ago in Paris.

“We have received a reply from Hamas with regards to the general framework of the agreement with regards to hostages. The reply includes some comments, but in general it is positive,” Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told reporters after meeting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Doha.

Blinken said Hamas’s reply had been “shared” with Israel and he would discuss it with Israeli leaders on Wednesday. “We’re studying it intensely… and we will be working as hard as we possibly can to try to get an agreement,” he said.

The deal “offers the prospect of extended calm, hostages out, more assistance in. That would clearly be beneficial to everyone, and I think that offers the best path forward”, he added.

The Qatari premier said he was “optimistic”, but declined to discuss the Hamas reply in detail, citing “sensitivity of the circumstances”.

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2024

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