Conflicts & War

UN says Israeli offensive in ‘overcrowded Rafah’ could amount to ‘war crimes’

Geneva, Feb 6 (EFE).- The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned on Tuesday that any planned Israeli military offensives against the densely populated Rafah governorate in the Gaza Strip could amount to “war crimes.”

The comments by the UN came after Israel warned of expanding its ground offensives to the southern city.

“Any move by Israel to extend its full-scale invasion of Gaza into the massively overcrowded southern city of Rafah could lead to war crimes which must be prevented at all costs,” OCHA said in a statement.

According to OCHA, due to the continued exodus of Gazans to the south of the Strip, Rafah’s population has increased by “fivefold” to over 1.1 million people since the conflict between Israel and Hamas began on Oct. 7.

“We can make (it) clear… under international humanitarian law, indiscriminate bombing of densely populated areas may amount to war crimes,” OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told journalists in Geneva.

The remarks come as OCHA reported an “increase in strikes” in Rafah on Sunday and Monday, following Israel’s recent announcements of plans for a ground invasion of the overcrowded governorate.

Laerke said that thousands of Gazans continue to “flood” into Rafah, including many who have fled intense fighting in Khan Younus as the Israeli military expands ground operations towards the south of the enclave.

He described a dire situation in Rafah, where residents are already grappling with a health crisis due to inadequate public services, leading to a “mental health emergency” with nearly “each and every child suffering some type of trauma.”

“To be clear, intensified hostilities in Rafah in this situation could lead to large-scale loss of civilian lives and we must do everything possible within our power to avoid that,” Laerke underlined.

Meanwhile, speaking at the same press conference, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies spokesperson Tommaso Della Longa denounced recent attacks on the offices of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and Al Amal hospital in Khan Younis, where aid worker Hedaya Hamad was killed.

“In the last more than two weeks the hospital was surrounded by heavy shelling, fighting, no way in, no way out, (it was) hit several times and the last time was last Friday when this colleague was killed,” the spokesman said.

He added that at least 8,000 displaced people who had sought shelter at the hospital left on Monday after Israeli authorities “guaranteed safe passage.”

However, nearly 100 people remain inside the ailing health facility including elderly patients and others with disabilities who could not be moved, along with staff and volunteers.

The situation in Gaza is “beyond catastrophic…a nightmare” that continues to get worse, he said. EFE

Is/bks/sc

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