16.03.2024 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Gaza Strip: the coming Rafah massacre


Israel’s imminent attack on Rafah and the full support of the US in this beating of Palestinians is an appalling and unacceptable situation that requires the immediate attention of the entire world community. In the conflict between Israel and Palestine, such barbaric acts of violence only exacerbate tensions and divide the peoples. Instead of destroying the fundamental rights and dignity of the Palestinian people, the world must seek a just and peaceful solution to this deep-rooted conflict. Israel and Palestine must find a compromise and stop attacking each other in order to create the conditions for negotiation and reconciliation. Political and diplomatic efforts must be directed towards long-term solutions, such as the establishment of an independent and viable state of Palestine alongside Israel. This will build trust between peoples and lead to long-term stability and peace in the region.

Plans to attack Rafah

Israel’s military offensive in the southernmost town of Rafah could be “somewhat delayed” if a week-long ceasefire is agreed between Israel and Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said. But he is still pressing ahead with an assault on the town and believes a total victory in Gaza is “several weeks” away after the offensive begins. Netanyahu confirmed to CBS News that a deal was in the works, without giving details. Israeli media reported that mediators had made progress on a ceasefire agreement and the release of dozens of hostages held in Gaza, as well as Palestinians detained by Israel. Several Israeli media outlets, quoting unnamed officials, reported that the war cabinet had tacitly agreed.

Talks resumed in Qatar at a technical level, Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera TV reported, quoting an Egyptian official as saying that further talks would follow in Cairo with the aim of achieving a ceasefire and release.

Meanwhile, Israel is drawing up plans to extend its offensive against Hamas to Rafah on the Gaza-Egypt border, where more than half of the besieged territory’s 2.3 million people have taken refuge. Humanitarian groups warn of a catastrophe as Rafah is the main entry point for aid, and the US and other Israeli allies will not lift a finger to stop the IDF from brutalising Palestinian civilians.

Netanyahu said he would convene the cabinet to approve operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of civilians. “Once we start the operation in Rafah, we will be weeks away from the end of the intensive phase of the fighting. Not months,” Netanyahu told CBS News. “If we don’t have an agreement, we will do it anyway. It has to be done because our goal is total victory, and total victory is within our grasp”. He said four of the six remaining Hamas battalions were concentrated in Rafah. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told NBC that President Joe Biden was unaware of Israel’s Rafah plan and said: “We believe this operation should not proceed until we see a plan to protect civilians”. As they say, this is hard to believe, especially after the US vote in the UN Security Council against the Gaza ceasefire resolution.

Heavy fighting continues in parts of northern Gaza, the first target of the offensive, where Western journalists say the destruction is staggering. Residents in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza City reported several days of fierce fighting. Starving residents have reportedly been forced to live on animal fodder and scavenge for food in destroyed buildings. Northern Gaza is largely cut off from aid, and the UN World Food Programme has suspended deliveries due to Israeli military raids on its convoys.

Details of the proposed deal

A senior official from Egypt, which along with Qatar is mediating between Israel and Hamas, said the draft ceasefire agreement includes the release of up to 40 female and elderly hostages in exchange for about 300 Palestinian prisoners, mostly women, minors and the elderly. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the talks, said the proposed six-week pause in fighting would include allowing hundreds of trucks a day to deliver needed aid to Gaza, including the north. He said both sides had agreed to continue talks during the pause to discuss further hostage releases and a permanent ceasefire. The start of Ramadan, the holy month for all Muslims, around 10 March, is seen as the unofficial deadline for the ceasefire agreement.

A Hamas spokesman said it was not involved in the latest proposal drawn up by Egypt and Qatar, but the published plan is broadly in line with its earlier proposal for the first phase of the truce. Hamas has been adamant that it will not release all remaining hostages until Israel halts its offensive and withdraws from the territory, and has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including senior militants. But these are precisely the conditions that Netanyahu has rejected and is developing detailed plans to attack Rafah.

Egypt’s sensible stance

The position of the most interested party in this matter, Egypt, has always been frank and direct. The historic, principled position remains to support the Palestinian people and their right to establish their independent State in the territory occupied since 5 June 1967: Gaza, the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem. Given that Egypt is the only country bordering Gaza, with the border passing through the city of Rafah, such irresponsible Israeli actions and threats will certainly affect the national security of the Egyptian state.

Nearly 76 years after the original nakba (Palestinian catastrophe) that led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 after the forced displacement of more than one million Palestinians, Egypt, Al-Ahram newspaper notes, will not accept or tolerate any attempt by the Israeli army to “realise long-standing Zionist ambitions”. These plans, as voiced by Netanyahu, are to advance the second phase of the nakba, the forcible transfer of Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt, and those living in their homeland in the West Bank and Jerusalem to Jordan. There is no possible Rafah invasion scenario without a massive death toll that would likely claim thousands more lives, in addition to the nearly 30,000 who have already been killed since the fighting began, including more than 12,000 children and 8,000 women.

The claim that the invasion of Rafah is the only way to defeat Hamas is patently false, as neither Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of all of Gaza nor the occupation army’s ground invasion has achieved its stated objectives. On the contrary, even after Israel announced that it had succeeded in taking control of northern and central Gaza by defeating Hamas units there, the reality on the ground proves day after day that the Palestinian resistance fighters continue to inflict extremely heavy casualties on the occupying army. This includes both personnel and modern tanks and armoured vehicles, all using very primitive weapons and locally produced explosives. Moreover, any Israeli claim that the residents of Rafah were given safe passage to move to so-called “safe zones” before the military operations is a blatant lie.

The United Nations and all international humanitarian organisations working on the ground in Gaza have confirmed that there are no safe zones in the Strip, as the Israeli occupation army continues its daily military attacks throughout the densely populated Strip, in the north, centre and south. In a secret operation to free two elderly Israeli hostages, reportedly prepared for weeks, Israeli warplanes carried out a bloody raid on Palestinian civilians in Rafah, killing around 100 residents.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement warned of ‘dire consequences’ if Israel went further and launched a military operation against Rafah. The statement stressed Cairo’s categorical rejection of statements by a number of senior government officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, confirming an intention not only to attack Rafah but also to take control of the 14-kilometre shared border with Egypt, known as Philadelphi Corridor. This would be a flagrant violation of the 1979 Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel, which forbids the presence of Israeli army troops in the area, and would put Cairo on the verge of renegotiating its relations with Tel Aviv.

Within that framework, Egypt has agreed to hold a second round of extremely important talks with top intelligence officials from Egypt, the United States and Israel, as well as the Prime Minister of Qatar. These talks are likely to discuss a deal that would end the ongoing fighting in Gaza long enough to allow for a prisoner exchange and, more importantly, a permanent ceasefire. This would be the only way to save Palestinian lives, not only in Rafah but throughout Gaza.

If such a deal is not reached, and Israel carries out its threat to invade Rafah, the world could face another scenario that could change all the arrangements that have been in place in the region since Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty more than 40 years ago.


Victor MIKHIN, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

Related articles: