World reacts to Israel’s Rafah evacuation order

UN agencies, aid groups warn of devastating consequences of any military assault on Rafah after Israel orders tens of thousands to evacuate city in southern Gaza.

Displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip carry their belongings as they await transportation after an evacuation order by the Israeli army [AFP]Published On 6 May 20246 May 2024

The Israeli army has ordered tens of thousands of Palestinians to leave Rafah amid growing fears of a ground assault on the southern Gaza city, where 1.4 million people displaced by Israel’s war on Gaza have sought shelter.

An Israeli military spokesperson told journalists about 100,000 people in eastern Rafah should evacuate to “an expanded humanitarian area” on the coast.

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The order came on Monday as indirect talks between Israel and Hamas over a potential ceasefire in Israel’s war on Gaza appeared to stall.

Here’s how the world reacted to Israel’s evacuation order:

Hamas

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told the Reuters news agency that Israel’s evacuation order and expected offensive is a “dangerous escalation that will have consequences”.

“We confirm that any military offensive in Rafah will not be a picnic to the fascist occupation army. Our brave resistance on top of them, the Qassam Brigades, is fully prepared to defend our people and defeat this enemy,” Hamas said in a statement.

Israel

Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the country’s war goals remain the same.

“Our just war in Gaza continues with the exact same goals: the release of all hostages and the defeat of Hamas,” he said.

Palestinian Authority

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh said: “The occupation authorities have actually begun preparing to commit the greatest crime of genocide by invading Rafah.”

“The American administration, which provides financial and military support to the occupation and stands against the international community to prevent the implementation of international legitimacy resolutions and the cessation of aggression, is the [one] that encourages Netanyahu and his leaders to continue their massacres against the Palestinian people,” he said in a statement.

People in Rafah

Mohammad Al Najar, 23, who lives in western Rafah, told Reuters that people have nowhere to go.

“No area is safe. All that remains in Gaza is death. I wish I could erase these last seven months from my memory. So many of our dreams and hopes have faded,” he said.

Aminah Adwan told Reuters: “The biggest genocide will take place, the biggest catastrophe will take place in Rafah.”

“I call on the whole Arab world to interfere for a ceasefire. Let them interfere and save us from what we are in.”

Egypt

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement urged Israel to exercise the “highest levels of self-restraint” and to avoid any more escalation at this “very sensitive time” with negotiations for a truce and captive release ongoing.

The Egyptian statement said an Israeli attack on Rafah would create “extreme humanitarian dangers that threaten more than a million Palestinians in that area”.

Jordan

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said in a statement that “another massacre of the Palestinians is in the making.”

“Failure to prevent the massacre will be an indelible stain on Int’l Cmyt [international community]. Too many massacres have been allowed. Enough.”

European Union

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said: “Israel’s evacuation orders to civilians in Rafah portend the worst: more war and famine.”

“It is unacceptable. Israel must renounce to a ground offensive and implement UNSCR [UN Security Council Resolution] 2728. The EU, with the International Community, can and must act to prevent such scenario,” Borrell said on the social media platform X.

France

The French embassy in Israel issued a statement saying President Emmanuel Macron spoke on Sunday with Netanyahu by phone.

Macron reiterated his firm opposition to the planned Israeli offensive on Rafah and the urgent need to ensure a massive entry of humanitarian aid through all access points to the Gaza Strip, the embassy said.

The French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs said the country “also recalls that the forced displacement of a civilian population constitutes a war crime under international law”.

United States

In a statement, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said on Monday that the US “can’t speak for [Israeli military] operations”.

“We have made our views clear on a major ground invasion of Rafah to the Israeli government, and the President [Joe Biden] will speak with the Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu] today. We continue to believe that a hostage deal is the best way to preserve the lives of the hostages, and avoid an invasion of Rafah, where more than a million people are sheltering. Those talks are ongoing now.”

United Kingdom

David Lammy, the UK shadow foreign secretary, said an Israeli ground attack on Rafah would be “catastrophic”.

“It must not go ahead,” the Labour Party politician wrote on X, calling for an immediate ceasefire, release of captives and unimpeded aid to Gaza.

United Nations agencies

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said: “An Israeli offensive in Rafah would mean more civilian suffering and deaths.”

“The consequences would be devastating for 1.4 million people. UNRWA is not evacuating: the Agency will maintain a presence in Rafah as long as possible & will continue providing lifesaving aid to people,” the agency said in a post on social media.

James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson, said a military offensive on Rafah would be “horrific”.

“As mind-boggling as this is, it seems to be happening,” he told Al Jazeera, warning that it would be “catastrophe upon catastrophe”.

“There’s nowhere to go. This idea of safe zones, which was first mooted in November, completely ignores the fact that a safe zone – it’s not just not bombing it, although safe zones are being bombed – it’s about making sure that people have access to water, sanitation and food,” Elder said.

NGOs and human rights organisations

Save the Children warned that time has run out to protect children in Rafah before the expected assault.

“We hoped this day would never come,” Inger Ashing, CEO of the aid group, said, warning that an incursion would not only risk the lives of more than 600,000 children but would also severely affect the humanitarian aid response for Gaza.

“Forcibly displacing people from Rafah while further disrupting the aid response will likely seal the fate of many children,” Ashing said, urging countries to “act now” to protect civilians and prevent atrocities.

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “Israel’s military offensive in Rafah could lead to the deadliest phase of this conflict, inflicting horrific suffering on approximately 1.4 million displaced civilians in the area.”

He noted that the the area is already overstretched and devoid of vital services.

“The absence of these fundamental guarantees of safety and return, as required by international humanitarian law, qualifies Israel’s relocation directives as forcible transfer, amounting to a serious violation of international law,” he said.

“Any Israeli military operation in Rafah – which has become the largest cluster of displacement camps in the world – will cause potential mass atrocities,” Egeland added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies