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Gaza: Israeli advance on Rafah would have ‘dire humanitarian consequences’

Over one million internally displaced Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah in southern Gaza Strip.
© UNICEF/Eyad El Baba
Over one million internally displaced Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah in southern Gaza Strip.

Gaza: Israeli advance on Rafah would have ‘dire humanitarian consequences’

Peace and Security

An extension of Israel’s military operation in Rafah, where over a million internally displaced Palestinians have been forced to shelter, will have “dire humanitarian consequences”, the UN Senior Humanitarian Coordinator for Gaza said on Monday.

Sigrid Kaag reiterated Secretary-General António Guterres’s concern that such an operation at present time would be potentially disastrous for innocent civilians.

“There are more than a million people crammed in Rafah. It's not intended for a million people in shelters, in random sort of plastic sheeted constructions. Health conditions are very worrisome,” she told correspondents in Brussels after briefing European Union foreign ministers.

She also voiced deep concern over getting aid into the Gaza Strip and distributing it to those in need.

“We have to acknowledge the fact that the security conditions, separate from military operations, due to what is called self-distribution by desperate civilians, but also looting and criminalization, is hampering efforts by the humanitarian community…to deliver assistance to the people that actually need it,” she said.

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More needs to be done 

Also on Monday, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, visited the Gaza Strip, where he met with internally displaced families.

He also met with NGO and UN personnel the see the challenges they face first hand, including the breakdown of law and order which is impacting the distribution of humanitarian supplies.

“It’s clear that more needs to be done,” UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told correspondents in New York at the regular press briefing.

“The UN needs the tools to deliver on the ground, including the need for Israel to allow entry of items critical to UN operations and to improve deconfliction,” he added. 

Continued hostilities

Intense Israeli bombardment from air, land and sea continues across much of the war-torn enclave, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), resulting in further civilian casualties, displacement, and destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Widespread ground operations and heavy fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups also continue to be reported, especially in Khan Younis and Deir al Balah, OCHA said in a flash update on Monday.

Between 17 and 19 February, dozens of rockets were also reportedly fired by armed Palestinians toward Israel, it added.

Nasser hospital evacuations

Furthermore, the Israeli military operation in the Nasser Hospital complex in Khan Younis have continued, OCHA said, noting that on Sunday, the UN and the Palestine Red Crescent Society evacuated 14 patients. Negotiations are ongoing for the evacuation of the remaining patients.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), over 180 patients and 15 doctors and nurses remain inside the hospital.

“The hospital is still experiencing an acute shortage of food, basic medical supplies, and oxygen. There is no tap water and no electricity, except a backup generator maintaining some lifesaving machines,” WHO said.

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‘Steep rise’ in child malnutrition

UN agencies on Monday warned of a steep rise in malnutrition among children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, posing grave threat to health.

The situation is especially serious in north Gaza, which has been almost completely cut off from aid for weeks, and where one in six children under the age of two is acutely malnourished.

The situation is not much better in southern Gaza Strip the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WHO and the World Food Programme (WFP), said in a new report.

In Rafah, where aid has been more available, five per cent of children under two are acutely malnourished.

“This is clear evidence that access to humanitarian aid is needed and can help prevent the worst outcomes,” the agencies said, reiterating the call to protect Rafah from the threat of intensified military operations. 

West Bank violence

OCHA also reported further violent incidents in the West Bank over the weekend, claiming both Israeli and Palestinian lives.

On 16 February, two Israeli men were shot and killed in southern Israel, and four others including a child were injured, by a Palestinian man from Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian man was then shot and killed by an armed Israeli civilian.

On Sunday, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian men in Tulkarm Refugee camp, during an exchange of fire with a Palestinian man whose body was later withheld by Israeli forces from being handed over.

The second fatality was an unarmed Palestinian who was reportedly killed by an Israeli army sniper while standing on the rooftop of his house, OCHA said.

Between 7 October 2023 and 18 February, 393 Palestinians have been killed, including 100 children, and 4,511 Palestinians, including 699 children, have been injured in conflict-related incidents across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Israel.  

During the same period, 12 Israelis, including four members of Israeli forces, were killed and 80 injured in conflict-related incidents in the same areas, according to OCHA.

World court asked for legal opinion

Meanwhile, at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is holding a hearing concerning an advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences arising from the Policies and Practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

The advisory, non-binding, opinion on the occupation was requested by the General Assembly in December 2022.

The hearings will be held from 19 to 26 February, with over 50 countries, groups and the State of Palestine scheduled to speak.