UN, aid urgencies urge Israel to halt Rafah assault after crossing seized

Israeli attacks

The United Nations and aid agencies have slammed the Israeli army for cutting off an essential aid route by seizing the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza, warning that already scarce supplies will be further depleted in the enclave that is on the brink of famine.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded that Israel reopen two key land crossings to enable desperately needed aid supplies to reach Palestinians in Gaza.

“The closure of both the Rafah and Kerem Shalom [Karem Abu Salem] crossings is especially damaging to an already dire humanitarian situation. They must be reopened immediately,” he said on Tuesday.

Israel seized the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing earlier on Tuesday, as ceasefire talks with the Palestinian group Hamas remain precarious.

Hamas said late on Monday that it had accepted a Gaza ceasefire proposal put forward by Qatari and Egyptian mediators. Israel said the proposal fell short of Israeli requirements and that it would send a delegation to meet the mediators.

Guterres warned an assault on Rafah, where more than 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering, would “be a strategic mistake, a political calamity and a humanitarian nightmare”.

Amnesty International called on the international community to pressure Israel to immediately halt its ground operations in Rafah and ensure unfettered access for humanitarian aid in Gaza.

The group’s senior director of research, advocacy, policy and campaigns, Erika Guevara-Rosas, said Israel’s long-threatened, large-scale ground operation in Rafah would further compound “the unspeakable suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza”.

Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant visited troops said the Rafah operation would continue until Israel “eliminates” Hamas in Rafah and the rest of Gaza.

But he said Israel is willing to make “compromises” to bring captives home. “If that option is removed, we will go on and ‘deepen’ the operation,” he said. “This will happen all over the Strip – in the south, in the centre and in the north.”

Israeli attacks
Smoke rises after Israeli attacks as Israeli forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip [Hatem Khaled/Reuters]

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