A pregnant woman mourns her husband's death in an Israeli attack in Rafah, Gaza

A pregnant woman mourns her husband's death in an Israeli attack in Rafah, Gaza on May 10, 2024.

(Photo: Doaa Albaz/Anadolu via Getty Images)

'Children Are Starving': Rafah Suffers as Israel Halts All Aid and Escalates Assault

"People have been fearing this for a long, long time and it is now upon us. There is constant bombardment. There is smoke on the horizon. There are people on the move," said one humanitarian worker.

United Nations experts on Friday used U.S. President Joe Biden's own language regarding Israel's offensive in Rafah, Gaza to demand that the president follow through with his statement that an Israeli invasion of the southern city would be a "red line" and would push him to halt military support for Israel.

"States with influence over Israel have described any incursion into Rafah as a 'red line,'" said experts including Francesca Albanese, special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, and Michael Fakhri, special rapporteur on the right to food. "They must immediately put those words into practice and stop this disastrous campaign by ending the flow of arms into Israel and withholding investment and political support."

The latest call for the U.S. to end its support for Israel comes as humanitarian workers in Rafah, where 1.4 million people have been living in improvised tent encampments for weeks following the forced displacement of 90% of Gaza residents, are grappling with rapidly dwindling aid supplies.

Israel seized control of the crucial Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt this week, shutting off all humanitarian aid—which was already a fraction of what's needed—as the enclave's entire population suffers from acute food insecurity.

Along with food, said the U.N. experts, Rafah now has no access to shipments of other survival supplies and fuel, which is needed to run Gaza's remaining hospitals and water desalination plants.

As a full-scale ground assault on Rafah is threatened, Sam Rose, director of planning for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), toldAl Jazeera, people in Rafah "are petrified" of a potential "scorched earth" war on Palestinian civilians.

"People have been fearing this for a long, long time and it is now upon us. There is constant bombardment. There is smoke on the horizon. There are people on the move," Rose said. "No aid has come into Gaza now since Sunday. No aid, no fuel, no supplies, nothing. And we really are now down to our last reserves. We have a few more days of flour that we can provide. But everything else will start to shut down very soon without fuel, without water. So the situation is really desperate."

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has long demanded that Biden end unconditional military support for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), warned that the U.S. can no longer be "complicit" in Israel's starving of Palestinians, dozens of whom have already died of malnutrition due to Israel's blockade on nearly all aid since October.

Biden stopped a shipment of bombs to Israel last week, but NBC Newsreported Friday that shipments of "both offensive and defensive weaponry" have been sent to the IDF in recent days despite Israel's incursion.

UNRWA said Friday that 110,000 people have fled Rafah this week, with Israel claiming the coastal town of Al-Mawasi, about six miles from the city, is a new "expanded humanitarian area" where Palestinians will be safe. Rafah is one of many places in Gaza that have been previously designated as safe zones but were then bombarded by the IDF.

The U.N. experts said Al-Mawasi, a narrow strip of land, "cannot cope with a population influx."

The town is "already without sufficient food, water, medicine, hygiene products, electricity, shelter, and access to education for children," they said.

"In light of the grievous humanitarian situation on the ground, no evacuation order issued by Israel can be considered compliant with international humanitarian law," said the rapporteurs. "Further displacement of Gaza's population through evacuation orders or military operations contravenes binding provisional measures imposed on Israel by the International Court of Justice."

On Friday, Israeli troops were advancing in eastern Rafah as cease-fire talks brokered by the U.S., Qatar, and Egypt appeared to stall. Hamas said the "ball is now completely" in the hands of Israel, which on Monday rejected a cease-fire deal that Hamas had accepted, just as the IDF launched strikes on Rafah.

Hamas, which has governed Gaza for nearly two decades, said Israel had "raised objections" to Hamas' demands on "several central issues"; the Palestinian group has demanded a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the return of displaced Palestinians, and swapping Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called on the international community to "speak with one voice for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza."

"The long-threatened Rafah invasion must not be seen as a foregone conclusion," said the U.S. experts. "Israel must halt this assault."

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