Israeli ops in Rafah would add to ‘endless tragedy’ in Gaza: UN agency

Prime Minister Netanyahu said he had ordered troops to prepare to go into the city as it hunts down those behind Hamas’s unprecedented attack

Major Israeli military action on Rafah, in Gaza’s far south, would heap further devastation on civilians, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) warned Friday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week said he had ordered troops to prepare to go into the city as it hunts down those behind Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel.

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But UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini, under pressure after Israel alleged 12 of the agency’s staff took part in the deadly assault, said the humanitarian situation in Rafah was increasingly desperate.

More than 1.2 million people — about half of the entire population of the Gaza Strip — were now crowded into the city, sleeping on the streets in makeshift accommodation, with food and water scarce.

“Any large-scale military operation among this population can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy that’s unfolding,” he told reporters in Jerusalem.

“There’s a sense of growing anxiety and growing panic in Rafah. People have absolutely no idea where to go after Rafah.”

Lazzarini said air strikes had hit near UNRWA’s base in Rafah on Thursday, heightening tensions and fear among civilians, and putting into doubt the agency’s overall relief effort.

UNRWA operations were “on edge”, he said, adding: “I don’t know how long we will be able to operate in such a high-risk environment.”

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The agency chief said the situation was worsening throughout southern Gaza, where police were becoming increasingly reluctant to provide escorts for aid trucks because of civil disorder.

Desperate Gazans were mobbing convoys in search of food. On top of that, eight police were killed in three separate air strikes in the last four days, he said, adding: “They’re saying, enough is enough.”

Lazzarini had previously warned that the lives of at least 300,000 people in central and northern Gaza were at risk because of a lack of food but UNRWA was unable to get to the region.

The last time the agency was allowed to deliver supplies to the area was on January 23.

The United States on Thursday warned Israel that a push into Rafah without proper planning could lead to a “disaster”, particularly to those sheltering in the city with nowhere else to go.

© Agence France-Presse