Children receive malnourishment treatment in Gaza

Children receive malnourishment treatment at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on May 30, 2024, amid Israel's ongoing assault on the besieged enclave.

(Photo by Bashar Taleb/AFP via Getty Images)

Experts Warned the Israeli Assault on Rafah Would Unleash a Nightmare. They Were Right

Humanitarians warned a military assault of this kind by the Israelis would lead to "a slaughter of civilians." It did. They also predicted it would result in a "tragedy beyond words." It has.

Despite street protests worldwide, desperate pleas from humanitarian organizations, persistent demands from United Nations agencies and leaders, and standing orders from the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the military onslaught being carried out by Israel in the Gaza Strip continued on Thursday with fresh reports of innocent civilians being killed and a situation on the ground that has become synonymous with "hell on earth."

The carnage and devastation was all predicted and warned against and yet the United States and other Israeli allies have stood aside as the death toll mounts and the situation on the ground results in the slaughter of civilians in their tents, the ongoing malnutrition of children and babies, targeting of medical personnel and aid workers, and unimaginable images of carnage this week in Rafah and across Gaza for all the world to see.

The World Food Programme on Thursday said that Israel's ongoing assault on Rafah—which U.S. President Joe Biden said would be a "red line" but has continued to support—"is having a devastating impact on civilians and humanitarian operations. Adults and children are beyond exhausted from constant displacement, hunger, and fear."

On Thursday, new photos (warning: graphic) were published of a 7-month-old baby, Fayiz Abu Ataya, who died of malnutrition after he could not be saved at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al Balah, Gaza.

The people who live in Gaza, said the WFP, "are desperate for the war to end—as are humanitarian workers on the ground, who are largely displaced and dispersed along with the people they are meant to serve. There is little [our agency] can currently do in Rafah, with stocks very low and mobility severely restricted."

"Further escalation in the conflict in Gaza," said the agency, "could deepen a humanitarian catastrophe and bring aid operations to a standstill."

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Wednesday warned that humanitarian facilities in Rafah have been “forced to close one after another” with only one hospital in the area functional and that one only “partially.”

The flow of humanitarian aid supplies into all of Gaza—”already insufficient to meet the soaring needs” of its people, said OCHA—has fallen by 67% since May 7.

It was OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke, speaking in Geneva on May 3, who warned that a full-scale assault on Rafah like the one now being witnessed would "mean more suffering and death" for the people trapped there.

As Common Dreamsreported at the time, not only did Laerke say the operation would unleash "a slaughter of civilians"—which has now come to pass—but also land an "incredible blow to the humanitarian operation in the entire strip, because it is run primarily out of Rafah."

Earlier that same week, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths offered this prediction: "The simplest truth is that a ground operation in Rafah will be nothing short of a tragedy beyond words. No humanitarian plan can counter that. The rest is detail."

And those dire predictions have now come to pass.

In its Thursday statement, WFP reiterated the call by many within the United Nations, including Secretary-General António Guterres, demanding an immediate cease-fire and an end to the restriction and blocking of aid by the Israeli government. "We need all border crossings and crossing points within Gaza to be open," the agency said.

The United States government has done nothing to stop the ongoing catastrophe, say critics, but continues to provide plenty of weapons and ongoing political cover.

Late Wednesday night, USAID administrator Samantha Power acknowledged publicly, that "humanitarian partners" of the U.S. "working in Gaza tell us that conditions are worse now than ever before" and that "Israeli military operations and closed crossings are making it extremely difficult to distribute aid."

Despite that, the Biden administration continues to stand aside and allow Israel to have its way in Gaza, even after a Sunday bombing of a tent encampment by Israel killed an estimated 45 people and wounded hundreds more in what analyses showed were weapons supplied by the U.S. government.

According to new figures released by the Gaza Health Ministry on Thursday, at least 36,224 Palestinians have been killed and 81,777 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7. In the last 24 hours, the ministry said, 53 people were killed and over 350 injured due to the Israeli assault.

Also on Thursday, funerals were held for some of those killed on the previous day, including two medics with the Palestine Red Crescent, Haitham Tubasi and Suhail Hassouna. PRCS said the pair were targeted by the IDF in their ambulance while in the line of duty trying to save others:

"The Israeli occupation forces deliberately bombed the ambulance vehicle despite it bearing the internationally protected Red Crescent emblem," said the PRCS. "With the martyrdom of paramedics Haitham Tubasi and Suhail Hassouna, the number of PRCS staff members killed since the beginning of the aggression on Gaza has risen to 19, all targeted by the occupation while performing their humanitarian duties."

According to the latest figures from OCHA and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, the Israeli attack on Gaza—coupled with evacuation orders from the Israel Defense Force (IDF)—has displaced more than 940,000 people from Rafah over the last three weeks, with an additional 100,000 people forced to flee for safer conditions in northern Gaza.

"We are way past the red line," said U.S. Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, a Democrat from New Jersey, on Wednesday.

"The recent strikes on a Palestinian refugee camp, which killed dozens—including children burned alive in their tents—are unconscionable," Coleman continued, echoing human rights voices from around the world. "We cannot continue supporting this. Nobody is safer because of this."

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