GENEVA: The United Nations said Monday the prospect of a full Israeli incursion into the crammed Gaza town of Rafah was “terrifying” and risked an “extremely high” number of casualties.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk urged world powers to “restrain rather than enable” as fears of a looming ground incursion grew among more than one million Palestinians trapped in the territory’s far south.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to send ground troops into the crowded Rafah area as part of his goal of eliminating Hamas.

His declarations have sparked international alarm.

European Union urges US, other allies of Tel Aviv to stop sending weapons to Israel

“A potential full-fledged military incursion into Rafah — where some 1.5 million Palestinians are packed against the Egyptian border with nowhere further to flee — is terrifying, given the prospect that an extremely high number of civilians, again mostly children and women, will likely be killed and injured,” Turk said in a statement.

“Sadly, given the carnage wrought so far in Gaza it is wholly imaginable what would lie ahead in Rafah.

“Beyond the pain and suffering of the bombs and bullets, this incursion into Rafah may also mean the end of the meagre humanitarian aid that has been entering and distributed with huge implications for all of Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in the north.”

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7. About 130 of the original 250 prisoners taken by Hamas more than four months ago are still believed to be held in Gaza, although Israel believes 29 of them are dead.

Israel has responded with a relentless offensive in Gaza that the Palestinian health ministry says has killed at least 28,340 people, mostly women and children.

“My office has repeatedly warned against actions that violate the laws of war. The prospect of such an operation into Rafah, as circumstances stand, risks further atrocity crimes,” said Turk.

He said those who defy international law had been put on notice and accountability must follow.

“The world must not allow this to happen,” Turk said.

“Those with influence must restrain rather than enable. There must be an immediate ceasefire. All remaining hostages must be released. And there must be renewed collective resolve to reach a political solution.”

End to arms supply to Israeli urged

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday urged allies of Israel, primarily the United States, to stop sending it weapons as “too many people” are being killed in Gaza.

Pointing to US President Joe Biden’s comment last week that Israel’s military action was “over the top”, Borrell said: “Well, if you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide less arms in order to prevent so many people have been killed.” “Is (it) not logical?” he asked, in a Brussels news conference alongside Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA whom Israel is pressuring to resign.

“How many times have you heard the most prominent leaders and foreign ministers around the world saying too many people are being killed?” Borrell asked.

The diplomat slammed an order by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that more than one million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah need to be “evacuated” ahead of a planned Israeli military operation there. “They are going to evacuate — where? To the moon? Where are they going to evacuate these people?” Borrell asked.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2024

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