Warnings mount as Israel plans ground invasion of Rafah

12 February,2024 07:33 AM IST |  Gaza Strip  |  Agencies

Israeli airstrikes killed 44 Palestinians, hours after Netanyahu asked military to plan evacuation

Smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment over Khan Yunis. Pic/AP

Israel's neighbours and key mediators warned on Saturday of disaster and repercussions if its military launches a ground invasion in Gaza's southern city of Rafah, where Israel says remaining Hamas strongholds are located - along with over half the besieged territory's population.

Israeli airstrikes killed at least 44 Palestinians - including more than a dozen children - in Rafah, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he asked the military to plan for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people ahead of an invasion. He gave no details or timeline.

The announcement set off panic. More than half of Gaza's 2.3 million people are packed into Rafah, which borders Egypt. Many fled there after following Israeli evacuation orders that now cover two-thirds of the territory following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war. It's not clear where they could go next.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said any Israeli ground offensive on Rafah would have "disastrous consequences," and asserted that Israel aims to eventually force the Palestinians out of their land. Egypt has warned that any movement of Palestinians into Egypt would threaten the four-decade-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

Another mediator, Qatar, warned of disaster, and Saudi Arabia warned of "very serious repercussions." There's even increasing friction between Netanyahu and the United States, whose officials have said a Rafah invasion with no plan for civilians there would lead to disaster.

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The Israeli military says it has discovered tunnels under HQ of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza, alleging Hamas militants used it as an electrical supply room. The unveiling of tunnels marked the latest chapter in Israel's campaign against the UN.

Egypt threatens to suspend key peace

Egypt is threatening to suspend its peace treaty with Israel if Israeli troops are sent into the densely populated Gaza border town of Rafah, and says fighting there could force the closure of the territory's main aid supply route, two Egyptian officials and a Western diplomat said Sunday.

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