UN agencies prepare for Rafah incursion, warn of ‘slaughter’

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UN agencies prepare for Rafah incursion, warn of ‘slaughter’

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A Palestinian child stands in front of a building destroyed by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 3, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement. — AFP pic

GENEVA, May 3 — An Israeli incursion in Rafah would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of Gazans at risk and be a huge blow to the aid operations of the entire enclave, the UN humanitarian office said today, as the World Health Organisation announced contingency plans for an incursion.

Israel has repeatedly warned of an operation against Hamas in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, where around a million displaced people are crowded together, having fled months of Israeli bombardments triggered by Hamas fighters’ deadly cross-border attack on October 7.

“It could be a slaughter of civilians and an incredible blow to the humanitarian operation in the entire strip because it is run primarily out of Rafah,” said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office (OCHA), at a Geneva press briefing.

Israel has said it will work to ensure the safe evacuation of civilians from Rafah.

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A person stands inside a building, damaged in an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 3, 2024. — Reuters pic

A person stands inside a building, damaged in an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 3, 2024. — Reuters pic

Aid operations in Rafah include medical clinics, warehouses stocked with humanitarian supplies, food distribution points and 50 centres for acutely malnourished children, Laerke said.OCHA would do everything possible to ensure aid operations continued, even in the event of an incursion, and was studying how to do that, he added.

A World Health Organisation official said at the same briefing that a contingency plan for Rafah had been prepared, which included a new field hospital, but said it would not be enough to prevent a substantial rise in the death toll.

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Already, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in nearly seven months of conflict, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

“I want to really say that this contingency plan is a band-aid,” said Rik Peeperkorn, WHO representative for the occupied Palestinian territory via video link. “It will absolutely not prevent the expected substantial additional mortality and morbidity caused by a military operation.”

People stand next to a house damaged in an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 3, 2024. — Reuters pic

People stand next to a house damaged in an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 3, 2024. — Reuters pic

Other preparations include pre-positioning medical supplies at hospitals further north in case Rafah’s three hospitals become non-functional, as has happened multiple times in the seven-month conflict due to Israeli raids and bombings.

WHO data shows that just a third of the strip’s 36 pre-war hospital are partially operational. Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals for military purposes and says its operations against them have been justified by the presence of fighters. Hamas and medical staff deny the allegations.

Peeperkorn added that he was “extremely concerned” that any incursion would close the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt which is currently being used to import medical supplies.

“We are pushing and lobbying that, whatever happens, that it remains open,” he added, saying WHO had raised this issue with Israeli authorities. — Reuters

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