Rafah assault ‘could lead to a bloodbath’ — WHO chief

Palestinians line up for a meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
Palestinians line up for a meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

An Israeli military ground assault into Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where humanitarian aid groups estimate 1.2 million Palestinians are sheltering, could end in a “bloodbath”, the WHO warms.

The World Health Organization’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warns of possible dire implications.

“WHO is deeply concerned that a full-scale military operation in Rafah, Gaza, could lead to a bloodbath, and further weaken an already broken health system,” Tedros tweets.

In a statement, the WHO says a Rafah incursion would substantially increase mortality and morbidity.

“A new wave of displacement would exacerbate overcrowding, further limiting access to food, water, health and sanitation services, leading to increased disease outbreaks, worsening levels of hunger, and additional loss of lives,” the UN health agency says.

“The broken health system would not be able to cope with a surge in casualties and deaths that a Rafah incursion would cause.”

It says the three hospitals currently partially operational in Rafah would become unsafe to be reached by patients, staff, ambulances, and humanitarians when hostilities intensify in their vicinity and as a result quickly become non-functional.

“WHO calls for an immediate and lasting ceasefire and the removal of the obstacles to the delivery of urgent humanitarian assistance into and across Gaza, at the scale that is required,” it says.

Earlier today, Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, said the United Nations had warned that a military operation in Rafah “could lead to a slaughter.”

“For agencies already struggling to provide humanitarian aid in Gaza, a ground invasion would strike a disastrous blow,” he told a media briefing.

“Any ground operation would mean more suffering and death.”

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