Beyond Ceasefire Talks: Israeli Attacks Feared To Intensify As Situation Worsens in Rafah

Disagreements over terms of a ceasefire and the Hamas attack on Kerem Shalom Crossing have triggered Israel’s heavy offensive on Rafah which is feared to intensify.

AP Photo/Ramez Habboub
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on buildings near the separating wall between Egypt and Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 7, 2024. AP Photo/Ramez Habboub

Gaza has found itself on the brink yet again following the attacks on Rafah on May 6. This had led to the closing of the Rafah and the Kerem Shalom crossings which are key for the flow of aid into Gaza. If this seizure of Rafah is a prelude to full-scale assault on the place, is still subject to conjecture but experts fear an absolute collapse of medical and humanitarian support if it amplifies in the coming days. The initial disagreements over terms of a ceasefire and the Hamas attack on Kerem Shalom which triggered Israel’s heavy offensive on Rafah seem to have dug deeper over the last few days, as a few senior officials said, on Tuesday, that the military offensive would not stop before the total elimination of Hamas in Gaza or the release of hostages held by them.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden made the US’ stance very clear in an interview with CNN, after the US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller had earlier confirmed that Israel’s attack on the Palestinian side of Rafah happened without Washington’s approval. “I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem,” assured Biden, if the IDF decided to move into civilian territories of Gaza.   

Israel’s offensive on Rafah is feared to intensify over the coming few days. According to numerous reports, southern Gaza is the last major Hamas stronghold in the territory. According to the BBC, US officials have warned “that an operation in the city - where the population has swelled with refugees from other parts of Gaza - could lead to extensive civilian casualties”.

Having acknowledged that US ammunition had been used by Israel to kill civilians in Gaza, Biden confirmed that he has made it clear to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the war cabinet that they're not going to get the support of the US, if they plan on targeting such ‘population centres’. According to Al Jazeera, a delivery of high payload ammunition has been paused by the US amid rising concerns of Israeli attacks, as confirmed by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Worsening Humanitarian Condition

The head of the UN’s World Health Organization has said that the hospitals in southern Gaza only have three days of fuel left to course through this crisis, as they keep getting flooded. According to Al Jazeera, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has urgently called for re-opening the Rafah Crossing gate which has halted flow of essential aid into the Palestinian side of Rafah from Egypt, warning of an absolute threat to humanitarian response to the crisis. They further warned that water, food and medicine in Gaza are reaching “dangerously low” levels and urged for civilian protection in Rafah.

Numerous reports have also mentioned how hospital staff are being tortured and disappeared in Gaza. “There’s over 200 cases of disappearances or abductions essentially of healthcare workers, many of whom we don’t know if they’re still alive or dead,” Dr Omar Abdel-Mannan told Al Jazeera. Having taken testimonies from a number of healthcare workers, accounts of harrowing daily torture have come to the forefront.

According to The Guardian, the medical situation has worsened with fears of an increasing number of people suffering from outbreaks of hepatitis and gastroenteritis- consequences of overcrowding, insanitary conditions and rising temperatures with summer approaching. The main maternity hospital in Rafah has also now been forced to stop admitting patients. Reports claim that only one-third of Gaza’s hospitals and primary health care centres are working and with all of them facing acute shortages of medicine, basic medical supplies, fuel and manpower. While the flow of aid is being completely neutered, the scarcity of drinkable and desalinated water keeps soaring in Rafah, where a major population of children continue to seek refuge.

“Everything that is vital for daily life is not entering anymore: no humanitarian aid, no medical supplies, no food, no fuel,” Aurelie Godard, MSF medical team leader in Gaza, said in a statement.

Where The Sides Stand

Izzat al-Risheq, a member of Hamas’ political bureau has accused Israel of using the ceasefire talks in Cairo as a “cover to invade Rafah city and occupy its crossing with Egypt.” Last month, Benjamin Netanyahu had pledged to launch the incursion into Rafah 'with or without a deal'. Later on Tuesday, according to the NYT, Netanyahu and his war cabinet unanimously believed the proposal Hamas had agreed to was very far from Israel’s core demands, as they issued a warning to evacuate eastern Rafah where approximately 100,000 Palestinians are sheltering. The proposed forced move to Muwasi, an Israeli-declared safe zone, that Israel claimed has been expanded and will be equipped with field hospitals, shelter materials and other facilities has been criticised as the place is not suitable to shelter deluge moving into the area.

Earlier this week, Hamas said it accepted a draft deal of a ceasefire put forward by Qatar and Egypt, that aimed to bring an end to the war over three phases. “Hamas’s acceptance of the mediators’ proposal disoriented Netanyahu and put him in trouble. Hamas is sticking to its position that it conveyed to the mediators…Netanyahu is trying to create excuses to avoid negotiations and putting the blame on Hamas and the mediators,” al-Risheq said in a statement.

Around 34,904 people have been killed and 78,514 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza.