Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes with their families due to Israeli raids, walk next to the border fence with Egypt, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on 30 March 2024. Image: EPA

Leading NGO’s Urge Action Over Israel’s Rafah offensive Plans


As apprehensions intensify over an impending Israeli military incursion in the southern Gaza enclave of Rafah, a coalition of humanitarian and rights organizations are sounding the alarm on the looming atrocities and urged for urgent political intervention to prevent the catastrophic human loss.

“Time is running out for international action to protect civilians and prevent atrocity crimes in Rafah,” a statement by thirteen prominent humanitarian organizations said adding that despite a recent UN Security Council resolution and additional provisional measures from the International Court of Justice, the situation in Rafah remains dire as attacks intensify and the Israeli government disregards international mandates.

Rafah, which borders Egypt, is hosting about 1.4 million people, the UN estimates, including many who have fled other parts of the Palestinian enclave due to Israeli military operations.

The appeal comes amidst the ongoing talks between the US and Israel about a possible Israeli military incursion into Rafah. The conversation comes as the US has pushed its ally Israel to commit to staying out of Rafah until it has a viable plan to protect the more than one million civilians sheltering there.

The United Nation has already voiced concerns over Israel plans for a military operation in Rafah, stressing that the consequences of a ground operation in the city would be catastrophic for the people of Gaza, for the Palestinians. “If the assault takes place, the question is, ‘Where will the civilians go?’ There is absolutely no safe place in Rafah anymore, and the fear is that the number of people killed and injured might again significantly increase,” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA – the UN aid agency for Palestinians, said, adding that those in the enclave remain deeply traumatized by the war with Israel and afraid of a full-scale assault on Rafah in the south.

Dire Humanitarian Situation

The statement further noted that escalation of Israeli military operations in Rafah would have “catastrophic consequences” for an already strained humanitarian response across Gaza, with most aid coordination and infrastructure set up since October 2023 based in Rafah. Emphasizing the grave risks faced by civilians, the aid organizations underlined that the planned Israeli operation poses a significant threat to the lives of more than 1.3 million civilians, including over 600,000 children. They added that despite international legal obligations to protect civilians, there is currently no feasible evacuation plan or adequate conditions to ensure their safety.

The humanitarian crisis is exacerbated by the lack of safe havens for civilians. Israeli forces have repeatedly attacked areas designated as “safe zones,” and humanitarian aid operations and personnel have also come under fire. Proposed “humanitarian islands” offer little respite, potentially exposing civilians to further harm in contained and under-resourced areas. “Aid workers have been killed, aid convoys have come under Israeli fire, and shelters and hospitals supported by the humanitarian community are being damaged or destroyed under Israeli bombardment,” the statement noted.

Seven aid workers, including foreign nationals, from the non-profit World Central Kitchen (WCK) were killed in an Israeli military strike as they were delivering food to starving civilians in Gaza. The WCK said its aid workers were traveling in a “deconflicted zone” in armored cars branded with the charity’s logo as well as “a soft skin vehicle.”

Source: UN

Call to Action

The statement said that all states have a legal and moral obligation to protect populations from atrocity crimes. Noting that international diplomatic efforts have thus far failed to avert the planned incursion, the aid agencies said that urgent action was needed to implement a permanent ceasefire and ensure the protection of civilians in line with international humanitarian and human rights law.

“States must now take urgent action to ensure the immediate implementation of a permanent ceasefire and explore all available options to protect civilians, in line with their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law,” the statement added. “Anything less fails to fulfil moral, humanitarian, and legal imperatives.”

The organization which issued the statement include Save the Children, International Federation for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Doctors of the World/Médecins du Monde (France, Spain, and Switzerland), ActionAid International, Oxfam International, Norwegian Refugee Council, Plan International, Handicap International – Humanity & Inclusion, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Danish Refugee Council and DanChurch Aid.

More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s six-month military offensive in Gaza, according to the Palestinian health authorities.

Mariya Nadeem Khan

Mariya is a researcher within the Urban Socio-Spatial Development department at Erasmus University Rotterdam. She has an MA in Development Studies from Erasmus University and a Bachelor’s in International Relations from Leiden University. Her research builds on violence, nationalism, and social movements in South Asia and the GCC. Her other areas of interest include non-Western historiography, alternatives to the capitalist world economy, and Urdu literature.

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