Germany, France fear ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Rafah; PM vows to press ahead

German FM, in Israel, expresses concern over 1.3 million Gazans sheltering in southern city; Macron fears population will be displaced; Netanyahu says civilians will be able to leave

Displaced Palestinians stand outside their tents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 14, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Displaced Palestinians stand outside their tents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 14, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Germany and France on Wednesday expressed opposition to a planned Israeli offensive on Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where over half of the enclave’s population has sought refuge, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the push amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Speaking at a news conference in Jerusalem, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said: “One point three million people are waiting there in a very small space. They don’t really have anywhere else to go right now… If the Israeli army were to launch an offensive on Rafah under these conditions, it would be a humanitarian catastrophe.”

French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in a statement that Macron, in a phone call with Netanyahu, had expressed his firm opposition to a Rafah campaign

“This could only lead to a humanitarian catastrophe of a new magnitude and to forced displacement of populations, which would constitute violations of international human rights and bring additional risk of regional escalation,” it said.

Israeli leaders have said that the goal of dismantling Hamas cannot be completed without clearing Rafah of terrorists and destroying suspected smuggling tunnels under the border with Egypt.

“We will fight until complete victory and this includes a powerful action in Rafah as well, after we allow the civilian population to leave the battle zones,” Netanyahu said in a Hebrew statement on Telegram.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem during her two day visit, Feb. 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Amid growing international concern over the plans to enter Rafah, Israel has drawn up an evacuation plan for civilians along the coast, according to a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday.

The report said the plan — which has been presented to Egypt — envisions 15 sites containing 25,000 tents each across Gaza, running from the southern edge of Gaza City down to the Al Mawasi area north of Rafah.

Some Gazans have begun packing their belongings in readiness to move but others have vowed to stay put, fearing even greater misery and starvation in the bombed-out hometowns they fled.

Ahlam Abu Assi said she “would rather die” in Rafah than return to the famine-like conditions facing relatives who stayed in Gaza City.

“My son and his children have nothing to eat. They cook a handful of rice and save it for the next day,” she said. “My grandson cries from hunger.”

Palestinians inspect the rubble of the Hasouna family house, which was struck by an Israeli airstrike during an operation to rescue two hostages in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, February 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

But Nahla Jarwan, who fled her home in central Gaza to seek refuge in Rafah, said she would be returning.

“I fled Al-Maghazi, came to Rafah, and here I am, returning to Al-Maghazi,” said Jarwan, referring to the town from which she fled earlier in the war.

“Last night in Rafah was very tough. We’re going back to Al-Maghazi out of fear — displaced from one area to another; hopefully Al-Maghazi area would be safe, God willing.”

“Wherever we go, there is no safety,” she said.

Israel launched its massive offensive against the Hamas terror group after thousands of terrorists rampaged through southern communities on October 7, slaughtering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253 people to Gaza.

For Palestinians, Rafah, at the southern end of Gaza, has provided sanctuary from an Israeli offensive that has killed more than 28,000 people, according to figures by Hamas health authorities in the Strip. The figures cannot be independently verified, and Israel says they include at least 10,000 terror operatives, as well as those killed by failed rocket launches by terror groups.

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