A Palestinian man consoles a girl near a damaged building

A Palestinian man consoles a girl near a damaged building after an Israeli attack in Rafah, Gaza on February 8, 2024.

(Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Expanded Rafah Assault Would Be 'Stain on Israel' and Its Backers: Refugee Group

The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council called for "an immediate cease-fire to reach the women, children, families who are at breaking point, with lifesaving aid."

Accusing Israel of waging war on a "gigantic refugee camp" where more than 1 million Palestinians have moved to escape air and ground attacks over the last four months, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council on Thursday called on the Israel Defense Forces to stop its shelling of the southern Gaza city of Rafah and halt further plans for an intensified assault.

With Israeli military officials reporting that they have not devised a plan to protect civilian lives in Rafah, NRC Secretary-General Jan Egeland said that a ground offensive in the city—previously designated a "safe zone" where more than 1 million Palestinians were told to go as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched air and ground attacks across the enclave—would be a "stain on both Israel and those nations providing arms," including the United States.

"It would be a bloodbath, and among children and women, among the innocent," Egeland told CNN, adding that reports of Hamas' tactic of "blending in with civilians... does not in any way justify indiscriminate attacks."

Egeland repeated the NRC's call for "an immediate cease-fire to reach the women, children, families who are at breaking point, with lifesaving aid."

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs earlier this week warned that Israel would likely commit "war crimes" if it launched expanded attacks on Rafah, which Netanyahu ordered on Wednesday after rejecting a cease-fire agreement proposed by Hamas.

Two-thirds of Gaza's population is now crammed into Rafah, where shelters are at 150% capacity and displaced people are struggling with a lack of safe drinking water, hygiene products, or showers. In the NRC's assessment of nine shelters—where 27,400 displaced people are staying—"diseases, including hepatitis A, gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, smallpox, lice, influenza, were reported in every location assessed."

"Conditions in Rafah are already dire, and a full-scale Israeli military operation will lead to even more loss of civilian life. Aid workers have been grappling with insecurity and insufficient aid for months. Attacks in areas where they provide food, water and shelter means this life-saving support will be impeded, if not entirely stopped," said Angelita Caredda, Middle East and North Africa regional director for the NRC.

"Further deterioration of humanitarian conditions in Rafah would be catastrophic as disease and starvation already persist among the displaced population," Caredda continued.

Overnight air strikes on Wednesday into Thursday in Rafah killed 14 people, including five children, and Al Jazeera's Hani Mahmoud reported that displaced people in the town are facing "a surge in attacks from air, land, and sea."

At one shelter, a children's entertainment event—which humanitarian aid workers have continued to provide to give Gaza's youngest residents a sense of normalcy—was interrupted by a bombing "just meters away," reported Al Jazeera.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said the reports of intensified shelling in Rafah were "deeply alarming."

"Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, and Rafah is now the most densely populated place in Gaza," Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, toldAl Jazeera. "Any sort of military campaign or air strike would amplify risks of disproportionate attacks."

Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, called for all efforts to be accelerated to secure a cease-fire "to save the thousands of people who have found refuge in Rafah."

Representatives of Hamas arrived in Cairo on Thursday for discussions with Israel regarding a new potential cease-fire deal. Egyptian officials told Al Jazeera that talks could take at least 10 days before a possible truce begins. Over the past 10 days, more than 1,200 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza.

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