Israel should “stop and think seriously” before taking further action in Rafah in the south of Gaza, the foreign secretary has said.
The town was pounded by airstrikes overnight, with the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalling his intention to carry out a ground offensive on the city, now home to 1.4 million Palestinian refugees.
David Cameron warned that many of the people in Rafah had already fled from other areas and said it is “impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people, there is nowhere for them to go”.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson has also said they were “deeply concerned” about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.
“Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there and that crossing is vital to ensuring aid can reach the people who desperately need it,” they said.
“The priority in Gaza must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out, such that we can then make progress towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire.”
Lord Cameron’s remarks came as two Israeli hostages were rescued from Rafah overnight following a raid on a heavily guarded apartment which killed at least 67 people, according to a spokesman for the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
The hostages, 60-year-old Fernando Simon Marman and 70-year-old Louis Har, had spent 128 days in captivity.
Rafah, a town on the border with Egypt, is one of the few regions not yet targeted by an Israeli ground offensive and is providing refuge to more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population who have fled fighting elsewhere.
Announcing the sanctions, the foreign office said Israel’s “failure to act” had led to “an environment of near total impunity for settler extremists”.
Speaking to reporters in Scotland, Lord Cameron said: “We are very concerned about what is happening in Rafah because, let’s be clear, the people there, many of whom have moved four, five, six times before getting there.
“It really, we think, is impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people, there is nowhere for them to go. They can’t go south into Egypt, they can’t go north and back to their homes because many have been destroyed.
“So we are very concerned about the situation and we want Israel to stop and think seriously before it takes any further action.
He added: “But above all, what we want is an immediate pause in the fighting. We want that pause to lead to a ceasefire, a sustainable ceasefire without a return to further fighting. That is what should happen now.
“We need to get those hostages out, including the British nationals. We need to get the aid in. The best way to do that is to stop the fighting now and turn that into a permanent, sustainable ceasefire.”
The prime minister’s official spokesperson added: “We are obviously deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah.
“Over half of Gaza’s population are sheltering there and that crossing is vital to ensuring aid can reach the people who desperately need it.”
The Israeli prime minister has said sending troops into Rafah is necessary to eliminate Hamas and announced on Friday that he had asked the military to prepare to enter Rafah and evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.
The White House has said President Joe Biden told the Israeli prime minister there should be no military operation in the densely populated Gaza border town without a “credible” plan to protect civilians.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Independent he worried about Israel’s campaign in Rafah and the number of innocent Palestinians being killed.
“I hope that Netanyahu government comes forward with the plan,” he said.
Mr Warner said the aid package included provisions to protect innocent Palestinians and cited actions taken by the Biden administration to insure that human rights are respected.
On Thursday, the Biden administration released a memorandum that described conditions countries must meet to receive aid from the United States.
The memo articulated that countries must follow humanitarian guidelines including providing “credible and reliable written assurances” that they are complying with international law and humanitarian standards.
But the White House said on Friday that the memo did not signify any significant policy changes. “There are no new standards in this memo,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday. “We are not imposing new standards for military aid.”
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is Jewish and lived on a Kibbutz in his youth, criticised the humanitarian crisis in Rafah.
“You’re looking at a massive humanitarian disaster,” he told The Independent. “You’re looking at the possibility of hundreds of 1000s of children starving to death. You’re looking at the United States Congress prepared to give Netanyahu $10 billion more continuous happens, but it’s outrageous. So am I concerned? That is an understatement.”
Downing Street declined to say whether Mr Netanyahu’s claim that “total victory” over Hamas in months is realistic.
Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson said: “That’s the prime minister of Israel’s language. From the PM’s perspective, what we want to see is a pause in this fighting so we can get aid in and hostages out, and obviously what we all want to see is a sustainable ceasefire.”
They added: “Clearly, in order to reach that, as we’ve said before, we need to see measures taken including Hamas no longer in charge of Gaza and an arrangement that ensures the sustainable security of Israel, as well as aid in to support the people living in Gaza.”