31.05.2024 Author: Viktor Mikhin

The bleak future of Rafah and the entire Gaza Strip

The bleak future of Rafah

Israel brazenly carried out a massive invasion of eastern Rafah, despite global concern for the fate of the estimated 1.5 million Palestinian civilians who were unwillingly trapped in this southernmost city in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said its tanks had entered the Rafah crossing, which links the besieged Palestinian territory to Egypt, from the Gaza side and taken “operational control” of the vital border crossing. Israel claims that the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas allegedly used the crossing to attack the Israeli military. Specifically, an Israeli military spokesman said that Hamas militants fired mortars near the crossing, killing four soldiers at the Karem Abu Salem crossing, known to the Israelis as Kerem Shalom. However, the Israelis have failed to provide any hard evidence beyond verbal claims.

Israel has ordered some 100,000 Palestinians in the eastern neighbourhoods of Rafah to evacuate to the “extended humanitarian zone” in Khan Yunis and Al-Mawasi. Most of the people now in Rafah have sought refuge there from Israeli offensives elsewhere in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians live there in inhumane conditions, without shelter, food or medicine. The closure of the crossing will undoubtedly worsen the humanitarian situation and spread various diseases.

Humanitarian aid deliveries have been halted due to the brutal closure of the crossing, three UN humanitarian aid agencies told Reuters. Israel, for example, has largely restricted the entry of essential supplies such as food and medicine into Gaza since the outbreak of war in the Strip. UN experts have said repeatedly that the Israeli regime is deliberately starving Gaza’s 2.3 million people in a bid to drastically limit the Strip’s population. On this occasion, the head of the UN World Food Programme painted a grim picture of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Cindy McCain told NBC News that a “full-blown famine” has begun in northern Gaza. She added that the famine in Gaza is now spreading rapidly southwards, expanding its scope.

UN access denied

A spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the world organisation did not have access to the closed Rafah crossing. “We currently have no physical presence at the Rafah crossing as our access  has been denied by COGAT,” Jens Laerke told a news conference in Geneva, referring to the Israeli agency that has unilaterally taken control of supplies to the Palestinian territories. “We have been told that there will be no transfer of personnel or goods in or out of the country at this time. This has a huge impact on what supplies we have,” he explained.

The World Health Organisation also reacted to the closure of the crossing. The UN agency noted that Israel does not allow the transfer of sick and injured patients through Rafah. Another UN agency also warned that Israel’s military operation would disrupt all aid deliveries to Gaza. “Continued disruption of aid and fuel deliveries to the Rafah crossing will halt critical humanitarian response in the Gaza Strip”, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said in a statement on website X. An UNRWA spokesman said, “The catastrophic hunger faced by people, especially in northern Gaza, will be made much worse if these supply routes are cut off”.

EU warns of rising casualties and condemns Israeli atrocities

Under these circumstances, even the European Union was forced to criticise Israel for attacking Rafah. “The ground offensive on Rafah has started again despite all the requests of the international community, of the United States, of the member states of the European Union, of everyone asking Netanyahu not to attack Rafah”, the EU foreign policy chief said. Josep Borrell warned that an Israeli offensive could result in heavy casualties. “Despite these warnings and these requests, the attack has begun. I fear it will again lead to more civilian casualties, no matter what they say. There are 600,000 children in Gaza. They will be pushed into so-called “safe zones”, but there are no safe zones in Gaza”, he said. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s head of operations in Gaza also joined the growing criticism of Israel’s actions. “Not only is there nowhere safe to go, there is also no way for many people to get there (to safe zones)”, Suze van Meegen told CNN.

Many officials around the world condemned the Israeli offensive, with Turkey calling it a war crime. “By launching a ground attack on Rafah, just a day after Hamas endorsed a ceasefire proposal by Qatar and Egypt, Israel added another to the war crimes it has committed in the Palestinian territories since 7 October”, Turkish Vice President Cevdet Yılmaz said on website X. Egypt condemned Israel’s operation in Rafah, warning that the seizure of the checkpoint “threatens the lives of Palestinians who depend on our aid as well as many international organisations”.

It should be noted that Israel launched the Rafah offensive a day after Hamas accepted a ceasefire proposal brokered by Egypt and Qatar. The resistance movement said that Israel’s offensive confirms its intention to disrupt the mediation efforts for a ceasefire and the release of prisoners. The Hamas spokesman added that Palestinians in Gaza are “subjected to a war of extermination and systematic starvation” by Israel, which is in line with the policy of “Nazi occupation”.

A blatant failure

The Israeli invasion appears to fall short of the full-scale offensive on Rafah that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been threatening to launch for months. He has repeatedly vowed to launch a ground invasion of Rafah under his plan to achieve “total victory” over Hamas and “destroy” all resistance groups. It has been seven months since Israel declared war on all Palestinians in Gaza, but so far the Israelis have failed to defeat the weaker Hamas on the battlefield. Many observers point out that although Netanyahu realises that the Israeli army will not be able to destroy Hamas, he wants to prolong the war to cover up his regime’s military failures and to evade legal proceedings against him.

Israel has now tightly closed the Rafah crossing, which is a lifeline for the delivery of humanitarian aid to starving Palestinians. International humanitarian law prohibits the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court provides that deliberately starving civilians by “depriving them of objects necessary for their survival, including wilfully obstructing the delivery of humanitarian assistance” is a war crime. In recent months, UN agencies and human rights organisations have argued that Israel’s actions in Gaza amount to the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Israel has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza since 7 October. If Israel expands its ground offensive on Rafah in the near future, as Netanyahu says it will, more civilians will be killed in the city.

The end result was that some 1.3mn people were stranded in Rafah on Egypt’s northern Sinai border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extremist ministers, such as Security Minister Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, lied to the Israeli public in an attempt to give them the illusion that the success of this criminal military campaign between the army, which is supposedly the most advanced army in the Middle East and which has received billions of dollars worth of arms and ammunition from the United States alone since the war began, and the small, modestly funded Hamas militia, could solve all problems and, above all, the Palestinian question. Netanyahu insists that demolishing Rafah’s buildings, as the occupiers have done in other parts of Gaza, is the only way to pressure Hamas to surrender and forcibly release the remaining Israeli prisoners it has been holding since the audacious 7 October attack on Israeli army posts and nearby settlements. Arguments that four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah, along with its top leaders, and that they must be destroyed in order to declare a “victory” in the war sound ludicrous to the world, given the experience of the past seven months. Every area that the Israeli army declared clean and under its full control, whether in the north, centre or south of Gaza, such as Khan Yunis, later turned back into a battlefield where Hamas militants inflicted heavy casualties on the Israeli army despite their primitive weapons. As the Iranian newspaper Tehran Times correctly wrote, the Israelis can defeat Hamas, but they are unable to undermine the spirit of the Palestinians in their struggle for their legitimate rights, for the right to establish their own Arab state.


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

Related articles: