Israel's plans for Rafah offensive trigger concerns

Israel is set on attacking the city of Rafah in Gaza, where Palestinians have sought refuge from the conflict. Even allies like the US and Germany are put off by the plans

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to Rafah, the city that Israel plans to attack. (photo: DW)
Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to Rafah, the city that Israel plans to attack. (photo: DW)


Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn't mince words. On Saturday, he said that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will march into the city of Rafah in southern Gaza — even if negotiators manage to arrive at a deal that would see Hamas release all remaining Israeli hostages.

"Even if we achieve it, we will enter Rafah," Netanyahu said in a televised address. "We're going to do it."

According to Israel, 130 hostages are still held by Hamas.

There are currently an estimated 1.4 million people crammed into Rafah. Many of them have fled, some multiple times, from elsewhere in the Gaza Strip to find refuge from Israeli attacks. The IDF began large-scale operations in Gaza in response to the October 7, 2023 terror attack in which militant-Islamist Hamas fighters killed roughly 1,200 people and took around 240 hostages.

So far, more than 28,900 Palestinians have died in Israeli strikes across the Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. In Rafah, the humanitarian situation is disastrous, with many people living on the streets or in tents in cold temperatures, with little access to food and clean water.

Israel's plan to attack Rafah has triggered concerned reactions across the world.

United States

The US, Israel's strongest ally, said on Sunday that it would veto a planned UN resolution, the draft of which calls for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza, and rejects the forced displacement of Palestinians.

But even US President Joe Biden seems to be wary of the plan to launch a ground offensive in Rafah. On Thursday, he told Netanyahu in a phone call that Israel should not proceed with military action in Rafah without a credible and executable plan to protect Palestinian civilians, Reuters reported.

Netanyahu has only said that Israel is "working out a detailed plan" for where the more than one million Palestinian civilians, who have been ordered to evacuate other parts of Gaza and cannot leave the territory, should go to be safe.

"The areas that we've cleared north of Rafah are [safe] — there are plenty of areas there," he said.


Berlin has been an ardent supporter of Israel throughout the current conflict, yet Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has warned against attacking Rafah.

"An offensive by the Israeli army in Rafah would be a pre-announced humanitarian catastrophe," Baerbock wrote on social media platform X, formerly Twitter. "People in Gaza cannot just vanish into thin air."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview with daily Süddeutsche Zeitung that he was "very concerned" about the consequences of the planned ground offensive in Rafah. At the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, he reconfirmed what has been Germany's line since the conflict started: "Israel has the right to defend their own country."

Saudi Arabia

Before October 7, Saudi Arabia and Israel were on the way to normalizing their relationship via the Abraham Accords. But these efforts have stalled in the wake of Israel's offensive in Gaza. And Riyadh has made it very clear that it strongly opposes an attack on Rafah.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia warns of the very serious repercussions of storming and targeting the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, which is the last resort for hundreds of thousands of civilians forced by the brutal Israeli aggression to flee," a February 10 statement from the government's Saudi Press Agency read. "The Kingdom affirms its categorical rejection and strong condemnation of their forcible deportation, and renews its demand for an immediate cease-fire."

South Africa

South Africa has taken Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing it of genocide of the Palestinian people. On Friday, South Africa's request to the court to institute measures to safeguard Rafah specifically was rejected by ICJ judges.

The court stressed, however, that Israel must, "fully comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention…, including by ensuring the safety and security of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip" and that it continues to be bound by the ruling the court handed down in January. Back then, the ICJ had responded to South Africa's request for provisional measures by ordering Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza.

Israel: We won't lose the war

Israel meanwhile rejects international criticism, saying that attacking Rafah is a necessary step toward achieving its goal of destroying Hamas.

"Those who want to prevent us from operating in Rafah are basically telling us: Lose the war," Netanyahu said on Saturday. "It's true that there's a lot of opposition abroad, but this is exactly the moment that we need to say that we won't be doing a half or a third of the job."

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Published: 20 Feb 2024, 8:50 AM