Israel assault on Rafah would be nail in coffin of Gaza aid, UN warns

Palestinians sheltering in a tent camp in Rafah (Reuters)
Palestinians sheltering in a tent camp in Rafah (Reuters)

An Israeli assault on Rafah would be “the nail in the coffin” of aid deliveries into the besieged territory, the UN has warned.

The secretary-general of the UN, Antonio Guterres, said that a long-threatened, all-out offensive in Gaza’s southernmost city – where up to 1.5 million of the enclave’s 2.3 million residents are currently sheltering – would “not only be terrifying” for those inside the city but it “would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programmes”.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mr Guterres said that Rafah was at the “core of humanitarian aid operation” for Palestinians inside Gaza, with residents having faced aerial bombardment, ground operations and a blockade that has left supplies of water, power, food and medicine running extremely low.

Israel’s war inside Gaza began in the wake of a bloody attack by Hamas on southern Israel during which around 1,200 people were killed and another 250 taken hostage. Health officials in Hamas-run Gaza have said almost 30,000 people have been killed by the Israeli response.

The Israeli army has presented to Israel’s war cabinet its dual invasion and evacuation plan for Rafah, according to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Monday.

The presentation of the plan, which has not been made public, signalled Israel’s intent to push ahead with operations in the southern city, despite protests from its closest ally the US and the wider international community.

Conditions in Rafah are severe, with many living in schools, mosques, hospitals or densely packed makeshift encampments, where disease, lack of food and dehydration is rife. Rafah is normally home to around 280,000, but now houses up to 1.5 million people.

Aid is air-dropped in to Rafah (Reuters)
Aid is air-dropped in to Rafah (Reuters)

The amount of aid reaching Gaza fell 50 per cent in February compared to the previous month, Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said in a statement on Twitter/X. “Aid was supposed to increase not decrease to address the huge needs of 2 million Palestinians in desperate living conditions,” he said.

Israel’s Rafah preparations continued as it was accused of ignoring an order by the United Nation’s top court to provide urgent aid to the people of Gaza, one month on from the landmark ruling ordering Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza. The ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) came in a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza. Israel vehemently denies all such accusations.

Human Rights Watch said that Israel had violated the UN’s court order, and was blocking “lifesaving aid” and “starving” Palestinians. Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organisations operating inside Gaza, saying hundreds of trucks filled with aid sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The UN says it can’t always reach the trucks at the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.

Meanwhile, the Israeli air force carried out a series of strikes “deep inside Lebanon” on reported Hezbollah targets. Explosions were reportedly heard by residents near the city of Baalbek in the Beqaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold. At least two people were killed in the strikes, according to a Hezbollah official. In the afternoon, Hezbollah said it retaliated for the airstrikes near Baalbek by firing 60 Katyusha rockets toward an Israeli army division command in Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Israeli military confirmed that dozens of rockets were launched from Lebanon towards Israel on Monday afternoon.

The airstrikes near Baalbek occurred less than two hours after Hezbollah said its fighters on Monday shot down an Israeli Elbit Hermes 450 drone over its stronghold in a province in southern Lebanon. Another missile fired by Hezbollah toward the drone was intercepted by Israel, and landed near a synagogue in a town close to Nazareth in northern Israel. There were no injuries or damage.

To date, the majority of Israeli strikes on Lebanon have been focused on the two countries' shared border area. Hezbollah, which is an ally of Hamas, has said it will halt its near-daily attacks on Israel if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza.

The strikes came following comments on Sunday by Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant during a visit to the Northern Command, in which he said operations against Hezbollah would ramp up even if a ceasefire is reached with Hamas in Gaza.

In a significant development in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said he was submitting his government’s resignation, saying “new political measures” were needed as a result of the deteriorating situation in Gaza.

The resignation comes as the international community mulls over future plans for when Israel’s war on Hamas ends. The United States, most notably, has called for a reformed version of the Palestinian Authority that would govern both Gaza and the West Bank after the war ends.

“I submit the government’s resignation to Mr President [Mahmoud Abbas],” Mr Shtayyeh said, continuing that it comes as a result of “developments related to the aggression against the Gaza Strip and the escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

“The next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political measures that take into account the new reality in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

President Abbas – who is still required to accept the resignation – has been heavily criticised by many Palestinians for a perceived lack of effective action or rhetoric against Israel’s operations since the war began. Though Mr Abbas has spoken out on multiple occasions, many view his interventions as hollow or ineffective.